Awesomeness The community of all things totally awesome. <![CDATA[ More than a Club]]>
The answer is that you can find him kicking around in the European soccer regular season with FC Barcelona, one of the most dominant teams in La Liga, the top level of professional soccer in Spain. Although the English Premier League's Manchester United FC is widely regarded as the most popular professional sports team on Earth, FC Barcelona would give them a run if popularity strictly according to social media is any indication. Wikipedia runs a line in their FC Barcelona entry that Barca is the most popular secondary club for fans to follow.

Like most European soccer teams, the history of FC Barcelona goes back. Way back. Back all the way to the founding of La Liga, in 1899. To be more specific, is was in October 1899 that a man by the name of Joan Gamper led a group of soccer players from Switzerland, Spain, and England who wanted to create a new soccer club, by placing an ad for open auditions in a newspaper. Ten guys showed up, including Walter Wild, who later became the club's first athletic director. By the following year, Barcelona was already wearing their iconic red and blue color scheme. As for the results of the open tryout, though, well, you would think this would be what would happen these days of a professional team tried such a thing: A bunch of out-of-shape fans who work in the office, believing they know more about the sport than anyone else on the planet Earth because they had a few glory years as the king jocks of their high schools, dropping in and totally embarrassing themselves. Well, I don't know what transpired with the open tryouts in Barcelona, but I do know that it took a mere three years before Barca emerged as one of the best sides in Spain by 1902. That year, Barca won its first trophy - the Copa Macaya in the Campionat de Catalunya - and played in the Copa del Ray final, losing 2-1 to Bizcaya. As the years went on, the Campionat de Catalunya declined in importance before eventually disappearing altogether by 1940. Barcelona won the damn thing a whopping 23 times in that span, and came in second another seven times. The runner-up in titles won? RCD Espanyol, who won (yawn) nine times. The Copa del Ray, however, still exists and is still one of the most sought-after trophies in Spanish soccer.

Barcelona didn't win anything again, though, until several years later. By then, they were on the verge of bankruptcy because everyone loves a winner, and Barcelona wasn't really that by then, having not won anything at all since the now-defunct Campionat de Catalunya in 1905. So in 1908, Gamper took over as president of the team in order to rescue it. The move helped the team open a stadium, thus picking up a stable income. The team responded by winning the Pyrenees Cup every year from 1910 until 1913. The Pyrenees Cup was founded in 1910, and being the first international cup competition, it was set up to be the most prestigious cup contest in Europe. For five glorious years, it looked like it would become just that, with Barcelona winning the first four before FC Espanya broke up their monopoly in 1914.... Then it was cancelled because of a certain conflict you've probably heard of. Goes by the name of World War I.

In June of 1925, a lot of Spaniards were kind of fed up with the country's ruler, Miguel Primo de Rivera, and a Barcelona home crowd let everyone know exactly how they felt by booing "Marcha Real," Spain's national anthem. As a reprisal, the place was closed for six months and Gamper was forced to resign. He committed suicide in 1930 after personal and financial problems brought a period of depression. The team also entered a period of decline. Although they frequently fielded players like Josep Escola, Spain's increasingly boiling political situation caused attendance to plummet while everyone met in coffee shops to talk political shop. While Barcelona won the Campionat de Catalunya five times in the 30's, well, that title was only the Championship of Catalonia, and everything higher eluded them. In 1936, the Spanish Civil War began, and a lot of Barcelona's players signed up to fight against the military uprising, right alongside other players from Athletic Bilbao. The conflict had a huge cost to the club when Falangist soldiers murdered their president, Josep Sunyol, who, oh yeah, also happened to represent the pro-independence political party. Now dubbed the Martyr of Barcelonisme, his murder became a defining moment in the history of not only FC Barcelona, but Catalan identity itself. While the team toured North America in 1937, it was received as an ambassador of the Second Spanish Republic, which gave it financial security but also resulted in half the team needing political asylum in Mexico and France.

The Spanish Nationalist side happened to be supported by the Axis Powers, so in 1938, Barcelona was facing air raids from Italy. The club's office was hit by a bomb, and when Catalonia became occupied, the team became a symbol of "undisciplined" Catalanism and faced a shitload of restrictions. Barcelona represented rebellion and resistance while their archrival club, Real Madrid, became a symbol of those in power. Things were heated when the two rivals played against each other in Copa de Generalisimo in 1943. Barcelona won the first match 3-0, but before the second leg, Franco's director of state security dropped into their locker room and just casually mentioned that the only reason they were playing in the first place was because of the regime's "generosity." Second match, Real Madrid kicked Barca's asses, 11-1. The incredible thing about the political situation, though, is that Barcelona still had a successful run during the unrest. With coach Josep Samitier leading players like Cesar, Ramallets, and Velasco, they won La Liga in 1945, 1948, and 1949. They also won the first-ever Copa Latina in 1949, which amounted to another piece of deadweight when the Copa Latina was abolished in 1957.

In 1950, FC Barcelona signed their finest player, Ladislao Kubala. He and coach Fernando Daucik spearheaded runs to just about every available trophy of the period in 1952, including the Liga title and Copa del Ray. They followed it up with Liga and Copa del Ray victories the next year. But it was an event in 1951 that stood out, and by now it shouldn't surprise you to learn said event was political in nature. After Barcelona beat Santander 2-1 one fine Sunday, the crowd left the stadium and refused to ride any trams. That was because the team's fans decided they were going to stand in solidarity with the striking tram workers. At that point, many forward-thinking Spaniards began to view the team as a defender of human rights and freedoms.

The 1960's began with a bang. Barca now had coach Helenio Herrera and players Luis Suarez Miramontes, Sandor Kocsis, and Zoltan Czibor, who won another La Liga title in 1960 and became the first club to beat Real Madrid in a European Cup playoff. Then they lost to Benfica in the final, beginning a down period which saw Real Madrid monopolize the 60's. They did restore a little pride by winning the Copa del Ray a couple of times, but never truly returned to full strength until the mid-70's, when the team finally found something remotely resembling stability.

In 1982, Barcelona signed Diego Maradona, whom many knowledgeable soccer fans recognize as the guy who supplanted Pele as the greatest soccer player of all time. His time with Barcelona was short, but he still scored 22 goals in 36 appearances and took the club to the 1983 Copa del Ray. They also took aboard English top scorer Gary Lineker and keeper Andoni Zubizarreta in 1986, but didn't achieve any success with them. In 1988, the players rebelled against the club's president in an event called the Hesperia Mutiny. That year also had the assembling of the Dream Team, signing a group of Liga stars as well as a bunch of great international players like Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Romario, and Hristo Stoichkov. They also brought up Josep Guardiola through their youth program, who went on to international acclaim. Under manager Johan Cruyff, Barcelona started the 90's by winning the Liga title every year from 1991 to 1994. They also won the 1990 Copa del Ray and the 1992 European Cup, and Cruyff, with 11 trophies, became known as the greatest manager in Barcelona's history. In the late 90's, the club signed Ronaldo - NOT Christiano Ronaldo, but a totally different player - who, like Maradona, stayed a short time while shoveling the ball into the net a million times. During the 90's, Barcelona won the Liga title six times overall.

The millennium brought more great things. It's where Ronaldinho and Lionel Messi come in, and where they won three of their four European Cups. The current squad fields Lionel Messi and Neymar. Messi, like I said, shares a spot on the ever-arguable list of best players in the world with Christiano Ronaldo and Luis Suarez. Suarez is reportedly going to be let go by his current club, Liverpool FC in England, and there are VERY powerful rumors that he's about to be signed by Barcelona. Ronaldo plays for Real Madrid.

Real Madrid won more titles than Barcelona, but in terms of overall trophies to add to the case, Barcelona has Real Madrid trumped. Between every single trophy Barcelona has ever won, the club has a haul of 82 titles, top probably in the world. They've won La Liga 22 times; Copa del Ray 26 times, the record; and the Champions' League (European Cup) four times. There's not a Premier League team with such accolades. As I noted in my review of Manchester United, if you're going to follow European soccer, you can't really go on your American instincts by adopting an underdog team because Euro leagues aren't capped, and there's a process called relegation. That means at the end of every season, the worst teams in the league get booted. And since the top levels of soccer are the ones with the best exposure, you have every incentive to be a fan of the biggest and best. FC Barcelona is one of three La Liga clubs which have never been relegated, along with Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid. (What? You were expecting Elche CF?) It's worth noting that while the English Premier League is considered the best overall soccer league in the world, their top clubs are probably still worse than the very best clubs of La Liga, Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Barcelona has a regional rivalry with Espanyol. As everything with FC Barcelona seems to be, the rivalry is very politicized in nature. Espanyol was founded exclusively by Spanish soccer fans, which is a wild contrast to the multinational founding nature of Barcelona. Spanish nationals basically used to look at Barcelona as that foreigner team. This doesn't hold any more relevance, though, as Espanyol eventually translated its official name and theme from Spanish to Catalan. What followers and fans really care about, though, is the BIG rivalry: Real Madrid. Again, this has very political roots, as well as deep-seated cultural roots, plus that thing where the two best teams in any given soccer league are rivals. The Real Madrid/Barcelona game is referred to as El Clasico, and it's the ultimate manifestation of a huge cultural clash. Barcelona and Madrid are rival cities. Catalonia and Castile are rival regions. During Spain's dictatorial years, every language in Spain except Castilian Spanish was officially banned, including Catalan Spanish. So while Real Madrid became symbolic of the ruling hierarchy and prevailing order, Barcelona became a symbol of the Catalan desire for their own cultural freedom. Since Barcelona came to be so important to Catalans in their drive to keep their identities, the team adopted the motto "Mes que un club," which means "More than a club."

Forbes magazine, in 2010, evaluated FC Barcelona's worth to be around a billion bucks in US cash. That ranked them fourth in the world, just behind Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Arsenal, another Premier League team. In 2013, Forbes ranked them third, behind Manchester United and, of course, Real Madrid. Barca uses that cash influx, too; it has THE highest average salary per player of all professional sports teams in the world. The club has an ownership system somewhat similar to that of the NFL's Green Bay Packers, but instead of actual stock shares, Barca supporters are only allowed to buy membership in the club. The members, called socis, form an assembly of delegates which is its highest governing body. Barcelona has over 170,000 socis. Manchester United is believed to be the most popular and beloved professional sports team in the world, with over 300 million people claiming to follow them to some extent. If social media is any indication, though, Barcelona not only tops them, but massively blows them out. Barcelona is the most popular sports team of all on Facebook, with over 68 million followers. For contrast, Real Madrid has around 66 million, while Manchester United has 51 million. They can also add 12 million Twitter followers, again tops on social media. (For those wondering about American sports teams, the Los Angeles Lakers lead the pack with 20 million Facebook followers, and an additional three million on Twitter.)

My favorite European soccer team overall is Liverpool FC from the English Premier League, but I have a strong loyalty to FC Barcelona too. As you can see, Barcelona really gives meaning to their motto, "More than a club." If you've ever gotten sick of the rich coffeehouse intelligentsia who keep on bitching about professional sports and how they don't really mean anything (a view which I admit to largely agreeing with most of the time), it's FC Barcelona, perhaps more than any other sports team in the world, which makes the argument that it isn't always just former high school hotshots trying to live failed dreams of professional sports glory who are emotionally tied to their favorite teams.]]> Tue, 8 Jul 2014 14:31:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ Bayoucon 2014]]> Bayoucon is a fan-run convention in Lake Charles, LA that takes place every June.  I have attended this event (and was even the vice president of the convention's board at one point) every year since its inception with the exception of 2012.  Originally this convention was primarily a science fiction based event, but it took a shot at anime last year.  This year, it seems as if the convention went back to sci-fi, featuring guests from Stargate SG-1, Star Trek:  First Contact, Star Trek Continues, The Walking Dead, and one anime guest.  I'll speak about some of these later on.

I attended the event as a guest panelist and as a member of the crew of the USS Lafitte, a Lake Charles based Star Trek fan club that is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this year.  I arrived on Friday and met up with the Lafitte crew for the evening.  Neither of my two panels took place on Friday night, so I had a lot of time to walk around and check out the event.  I also got to visit with a lot of friends, some that I had not seen in a very long time.  Attendance was okay, but there was still plenty of room to roam around without being crunched shoulder to shoulder with other guests and fans.

Saturday was a bit more active than Friday night.  All of the celebrity guests were available for autographs, photos, small talk, etc. on this day, and I took a little bit of my free time to speak with the lovely Noelle Hannibal, who many of you might recognize from Star Trek:  First Contact.  A few more of you eagle-eyed fans might remember her from the TV series, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and I commend you if you recognize her from that, because she was in full makeup for that show.  We talked for a bit and I got a photograph and an autograph from her.  She was very cordial and a pleasure to speak with.

Saturday was also the day that the lovely ladies of Orion's Envy made their appearance in all of their green glory.  These ladies are excellent dancers and capture the allure of the Orion Slave Girls with perfection.  It's hard to say anything bad about these ladies because A) they are as friendly and lovely as can be and B) they are real Star Trek fans.  I consider them friends and look forward to seeing them at any convention that I attend.  They performed on Saturday evening for the crowd in between sets by the Consortium of Genius, who jammed out to a ton of original tunes culled from multiple genres.  COG (as many people refer to them) also cranked out an epic version of the theme from <em>Doctor Who, </em>which is my favorite series of all time.

I hosted a panel about the Fifth and Tenth Doctors from Doctor Who on Saturday.  I called it Five and Dime and briefly highlighted the multiple similarities and differences between the men (Peter Davison and David Tennant) that portrayed these two incarnations of the Doctor and how the two relate to one another in real life.  I was shocked at how many people attended the panel.  Apparantly the Lake area is hungry for Who.

Sunday was much, much more laid back, and attendance lightened as the day went on.  Despite the small numbers, though, I had a nearly packed house for my second panel, Upgrades:  From Mondas to Cybus Industries, which covered the ever-changing Cybermen from Doctor Who.  This panel was much looser than my previous one, drawing a lot of interplay from the crowd, and we even went off on a few tangents like Superman and Harry Potter, but it was still a lot of fun and well-attended.

The event closed with what was supposed to be a panel focusing strictly on Cliff Simon, but he suggested that all of the celebrity guests take the stage with him and it basically became a free-for-all where photos were snapped, autographs signed, and plenty of fun was had by all.

After the convention called it a day, I managed to grab an autograph from Michael Koske, a featured Walker from The Walking Dead.  I asked him how many times he died on screen as a Walker and he told me that of the forty-three Walkers that he portrayed, forty of them bit the dust on the screen.  He was a genuinely nice guy and I wouldn't mind seeing him at another convention down the road.

I also got to hang out for a bit with Larry Nemecek, who is bascially a Trek library full of knowledge about not just the many series and films, but of many other Trek related things.  He also portrayed Bones in the first two episodes of Star Trek Continues, a fan created series headed up by Vic Mignogna, who is best known as an anime voice actor.  If you ever get the chance to check out the show, do it!

The best thing about small cons like Bayoucon is the fact that you spend almost no time in lines to meet celebrities, shop vendors, or interact with artists.  Even better than that is the fact that you get to hang out with friends in a very loose environment.

Bayoucon has had many ups and downs over the years and still seems to be trying to find its footing, but two very important staff members, the husband and wife duo of Michael and Jenni Moreau, have managed to make this an enjoyable event.  They go out of their way to make this event special, and they should be recognized for their work on this event.

If you're ever in the Lake area during the early days of summer, be sure to check out Bayoucon.  I plan to attend this event again next year, and hopefully with new panels to present.

]]> Mon, 23 Jun 2014 21:50:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Little Convention With Big Things Ahead]]>
These smaller conventions are great places to meet up with friends, some of which I only get to physically see at conventions, and hang out with them.  These smaller conventions also allow you more face time with minor celebrities.  Sometimes these celebs are background actors, stuntmen, or just say a few lines in a very popular program. 

One convention that seems to be on the cusp of becoming a mid-sized regional event is CyPhaCon, which started a few years ago as an almost purely anime event.  It's first year was much more successful than another local event that was into its third year.  Each year since, CyPhaCon has grown in both attendance and, more importantly, quality.

This year was the convention's largest one yet, with three packed days of events, panels, celebrities, and fun.  I purchased a weekend pass for the convention, and took in as much as I could over that three day weekend.

I ventured out to the convention on Friday evening.  I walked around, visiting many friends that I had not seen in awhile, and checked out the vendor area.  It was there where I found a brilliant artist by the name of Jessica Grundy.  I had seen her work before, as I am friends with an artist she often attends conventions with, but I had never purchased anything from her.  I ended up purchasing prints, a mirror, and a wooden portrait from her over the course of the weekend.  She also drew autograph cards for Chuck Huber, who I'll talk about a little later in this review.

I also attended one panel that evening, "Self-Defense With Batman."  No, you didn't read that incorrectly.  It was a panel taught by a friend of mine who dresses up as Batman and attends conventions.  He is trained in multiple martial arts and schools of self-defense, and he gave five quick tips (with demonstrations) on how to protect yourself in certain situations.  It was a brilliant panel.

Saturday saw the arrival of the celebrity guests, which included the aforementioned Chuck Huber, anime voice artist Tiffany Grant, and Kandyse McClure of Battlestar Galactica.  I didn't take the opportunity to talk to Grant, simply because I'm not personally familiar with any of her work.  I did speak at length with Chuck Huber, though.  He's a well-known anime voice artist, but I wanted to talk to him specifically about his work on Star Trek Continues, a web-based series that picks up where the original series left off on television.  Huber will be portraying Bones beginning with Episode Three, due out later this month.  I also sat in on one of his panels.  He is an extremely funny and friendly person.

I once again visited the vendor area, bought more stuff from Mrs. Grundy, and attended panels by the 501st group, Star Trek costumers, the Rebel Legion, and a few others as well.  Food was provided by Stellar Beans and Mary Ann's Cafe, two local places (I'm particularly fond of Stellar Beans, a great coffeehouse).

I also got to meet Kandyse McClure.  While I'm not that big of a BSG fan, she was very pleasant and friendly.  She has a very unique perspective on llife, as she's originally from South Africa and grew up in Canada.  Her stories of dealing with racism in Hollywood were very interesting.  I snagged an autograph from her and turned her on to Tabasco Ice Cream.

Saturday night was topped off by an improv performance group and the Suzaku 7, an alternative anime-theme song band.  I picked a copy of their CD, Super Effective, and got them to autograph it for me.  They were very good and I recommend checking them out if you are so inclined.  I don't even watch much anime, but I really enjoyed  their music.

Sunday was filled with more visiting, more panels, and a few "till next times."  I bought more stuff from Jessica Grundy and picked up a Commander Appo figure from Paper Heroes, a vendor that has a comic shop in Lake Charles.  I had to leave a couple of hours early on Sunday due to other obligations, but it's safe to say that the event was a success.  I can't wait until next year, which promises to be bigger and better.]]> Fri, 6 Jun 2014 17:32:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not Your Average Winter Bills (Redux)]]>
I'm from Buffalo, New York, and when football came to my personal radar, it turned out I had been born at the right time. When I was about seven years old, the Buffalo Bills began a run on which they became one of the most dominant teams in the league, and it lasted for such a long time that onlookers were thinking the Bills were finally about to shed their history as a league doormat for good. Then they went back to being a free victory, and now I scoff whenever I hear the hip, new, young commentators talk about the "once-powerful Buffalo Bills." There's a real illusion of the team's past because the Bills have had great, huge moments of such significance that they tend to overshadow everything else. Unfortunately, that "everything else" is rife with some of the most incredible losing you can imagine.

The Bills were founded in 1959 by insurance salesman and automobile heir Ralph Wilson Jr. as a charter member of the AFL. They named themselves after the old All-America Football Conference team, which was absorbed into the old Cleveland Browns when the AAFC and the NFL merged in 1950. There was no connection between those Bills and the current Bills, but the name - after Buffalo Bill Cody - proved to have staying power, so Wilson went with it. Wilson was the part-owner of the Detroit Lions, and he even had the early Bills teams dressing in their colors. The Bills went 5-8-1 in their inaugural season, and for the first few years, things only got worse. In 1961, the Bills became the only NFL team to play - and lose - a game with a CFL team, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.

It wasn't long before Buffalo started stocking up on offensive talent, though, and so the 60's saw the influx of Jack Kemp, Billy Shaw, and Cookie Gilchrist and one of the most stubborn defenses in the league. In the offense-based AFL, the 1964 Bills were known as a defensive team, and they even set an impressive record when they only allowed 913 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns in the year, total. That record still stands. They also registered 50 sacks, which is still the team record. They were the first AFL team to win 13 games in a single season. In the AFL Championship, they smothered the San Diego Chargers, 20-7. That success spilled over into 1965, with the Bills beating the Chargers for their second title, shutting them out in the Championship game 23-0. In 1966, the Bills returned to the AFL Championship once more, but their opponents, the Kanas City Chiefs, were just BETTER. They beat Buffalo 31-7, but that game still stands out as a seminal moment in Bills history and is the subject of many what-could-have-been conversations among old school Bills fans. The 1966 season was the first time the AFL and NFL decided to play their league Champions against each other to see, once and for all, who was better. Today the AFL-NFL World Championship Game is known to football historians as Super Bowl I, and if Buffalo had beaten Kansas City, they would have been the AFL representative. They also would have gotten totally creamed by Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, but that's not something you should try to mention to anyone in Buffalo.

The Bills had a backup quarterback named Daryle Lamonica who was very exciting and very ambitious. Unfortunately for him, Jack Kemp was a great starting quarterback, so Lamonica was shipped to the Oakland Raiders, where he became their template. This proved to be a problem for the Bills in 1968, because Kemp got hurt and their backups at the time were so bad that the team tried to convert one of its wideouts to the position. It didn't end well. The Bills dropped to the league's worst, but hey, high draft picks, you know?

The projected star in 1969 was a gimme: USC had a Heisman man by the name of OJ Simpson, and the Bills won the right to draft him first overall in 1969. It was right in time for the merger, but not enough to help the Bills. While Simpson was able to slice and cut through defenses like nothing nothing anyone had ever seen, the Bills went 3-10-1 in their first NFL season. In 1971, they finished 1-13, scored the fewest points in the league, and allowed the most points. In 1972, they went 4-9-1. Adding to everything, the team's home, War Memorial Stadium, was falling apart and Ralph Wilson started making the first of many threats to move. 1973 was a year of real change: Ralph Wilson Stadium - then called Rich Stadium - opened, and Simpson, behind a world-class offensive line nicknamed "The Electric Company" because they "turned on The Juice," slaughtered every rushing record in the book. He ran for 2003 yards, and is still the only player to ever hit the 2000 mark in 14 games. The team won more than it lost for the next few years, but they were never really, ahem, a contender. They only made the playoffs once, with a 9-5 record, losing the wild card game to the eventual champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Part of this was because the Bills spent the whole decade neatly setting a record by losing to the Miami Dolphins in 20 straight games, which is still the record for consecutive losses by one team to another. The Bills were outright bad again by the late 70's, and Simpson was traded to the San Francisco 49ers in 1977 where, his body just about murdered over the previous eight years, he played one more season before retiring.

Things were looking up again in 1980. The Bills beat the Dolphins for the first time in 11 years and won their first-ever division title. The next year, they returned to the playoffs and won a playoff game for the first time ever in their history, against the New York Jets. In the 1983 draft, they picked Jim Kelly, who quickly bolted to play for the Houston Gamblers of the USFL instead. The Bills stank up the league through the mid-80's, but the joke was on Jim Kelly when the USFL collapsed and he was forced to return to Buffalo. In 1986, the Bills hired former CFL coach Marv Levy and general manager Bill Polian, who got right to work and stockpiled talent like Bruce Smith; Andre Reed; Thurman Thomas; Ray Bentley; and Cornelius Bennett, a linebacker who evoked favorable comparisons to Lawrence Taylor. 1987 was a coming out party. The Bills were good; not Good, but GOOD, for the first time ever. They went 12-4 and earned their first trip to the AFC Championship, where the Cincinnati Bengals overwhelmed them with a new offensive form called the no-huddle.

Levy tried to discourage use of the no-huddle, but then the league wasn't buying, he developed a very unique way of throwing a hissy fit: He installed a revolutionary version of it with the Bills called the K-Gun. Jim Kelly called his own plays, and is the most recent NFL quarterback to do that to such a complete level. The Bills rode the K-Gun to the Super Bowl in 1990, clobbering the Los Angeles Raiders 51-3 in the AFC Championship. They went 13-3, which made them the first AFC team to win 13 games in one season. They were unstoppable.... Then, in the Super Bowl, the New York Giants slowed them down. They hogged the time of possession, and put together a gameplan so brilliant that the plan is in the Hall of Fame. During the media junket, Lawrence Taylor confessed that the Giants tricked the Bills into buying into their own hype. The Giants played at their absolute peak level while the Bills played like the season was already over, and yet, the game was STILL the closest Super Bowl in history. The Giants won. The final score was 20-19, and the outcome wasn't sealed until the kick that would have won the game for the Bills flew wide right with eight seconds left in the game. Although the Bills had been favored, it's becoming chic for NFL historians to write cute little revisions trumping how the Bills stood no chance. Anyone with a brain shouldn't be buying that bullshit. The Bills should have dropped 17 on the Giants in the first quarter and cruised through the game.

The Bills weren't discouraged, though. They returned to the Super Bowl every year for the next three years.... And lost them all. The second and third Super Bowls - against Washington and the Dallas Cowboys, respectively - were honest blowouts. The third, however, saw the finest hour in Bills history in the wild card game. Against the Houston Oilers, with Kelly and Thomas out, the Oilers jumped out to a 28-3 halftime lead, which went to 35-3 early in the third quarter. The Bills then went on a 28-point binge while holding Houston to just a field goal afterward. In the fourth quarter, Buffalo took the lead, and they earn the victory in overtime, thus capping The Miracle Comeback, the largest in NFL history. The fourth, against Dallas again, saw the Bills carrying a halftime lead. But after a third quarter fumble, their haunted history got into their heads, and then they just tanked. The Super Bowl teams were out of gas after that, aging. Kelly retired in 1997.

In 1998, fleet, speedy Doug Flutie was signed, and the Bills continued to terrorize defenses for a couple more years. Unfortunately, they made a trade for another quarterback - the Jacksonville Jaguars' Rob Johnson - that same year. Flutie had the keys in 1998 and 1999, taking the Bills to 10 and 11 wins in those years. Flutie was much older, though, and the Bills needed a franchise guy, and Johnson impressed in a few games. So rumor has it that Ralph Wilson told then-coach Wade Phillips to start Johnson in the 1999 playoffs against the Tennessee Titans. The Bills were leading that game 16-15 after a field goal with 16 seconds left, and on the ensuing kickoff, the Titans scored a touchdown that featured a lateral play. That was called the Music City Miracle, but even though science and math have proven that it was totally legit, Buffalo still thinks of it as The Forward Lateral. That's the most recent playoff game the Bills have played in.

The Bills had a chance to turn their historical fortunes around for good in 2001. There was a serious quarterback controversy between Johnson and Flutie. Flutie was dynamic and could win, but old. Johnson was young and showed flashes of greatness, but he was mostly terrible, had a glass jaw, and good at absorbing sacks. The Bills took Johnson. After going 3-13 in 2001, the Bills traded for former New England Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe, who gets a far worse rap for his Bills years than he deserves. In 2002, he took the Bills to an 8-8 record with the league's number two offense. The next year, instead of capitalizing on that strength, then-coach Gregg Williams stupidly decided to try shifting to a run and defense oriented plan. Receiver Peerless Price left the team because he wanted a chance to be a number one receiver, and couldn't do that with the great Eric Moulds on the other side. Tight end Jay Riemersma - a receiving tight end - was released for blocking tight end Mark Campbell. Receiving fullback Larry Centers was released for blocking tight end Sam Gash. That's over 100 receptions that were cut. 2002 rookie receiver Josh Reed had a great debut year, but no one could have seen his bad sophomore year coming. The 2003 Bills won six games, but a year later, Bledsoe managed to salvage the little receiving talent he still had to lead the Bills to a 9-7 record in 2004, the last time they surpassed seven wins. Everything afterward has been a messy retread. The Bills have the longest active streaks without either a winning record or a playoff appearance.

A few years ago, the Toronto Series was instated, and it's a source of fan embarrassment. The Bills are basically forced to surrender one home game a year to play in the Toronto Skydome. The official excuse is to expand the fanbase, but the fan theory is that Roger Goodell is trying to test the international waters for expansion. The games haven't been selling out, and the reception there is so bad that the league has resorted to giving out tickets literally by thousands. The Bills have won just one game in Toronto, a 2011 match where they beat up always-hapless Washington 23-0. It's no exaggeration to say half the spectators in Toronto show up to root for the other team, so no one - including the Bills players, who have been vocal in their opposition to playing in Toronto - is fooled into thinking it's a home game. The 2013 game against the Atlanta Falcons was a special embarrassment: The Bills choked away a 14-point first quarter lead, gave up a couple of late leads, and blew a couple of surefire touchdowns against a Falcons team worse than they were. Atlanta won in overtime, and their players said it felt almost like a home game for them. The team president is saying he's giving serious thought to axing the series after that.

The Bills, like many other teams, have a Wall of Fame. Among the names on it are OJ Simpson, Jack Kemp, Marv Levy, Kent Hull, Darryl Talley, Joe Ferguson, Steve Tasker, and Bill Polian. Only one number - 12, for Jim Kelly - has been officially retired. Kelly is considered an all-time quarterbacking great, although not quite in the same tier as Joe Montana, Johnny Unitas, and Peyton Manning. The numbers of OJ Simpson, Thurman Thomas, and Bruce Smith aren't officially retired, but they're all out of circulation. Simpson still stands out for a very horrible and peculiar reason: He was the face of the Bills, and he never spoke badly of the team or fans. Cleveland sports fans have The Decision, where NBA star LeBron James used a national TV special to say he was leaving his team. That was probably unimaginably embarrassing to Cleveland, but the thing is this: NO ONE DIED. Hell, Cleveland is starting to look like it might embrace James if he decides to return and finish what he started there. OJ Simpson proved to be a true scumbag in private, when a murder arrest in 1994 revealed his true character. While John Law says OJ didn't do it, the public at large thinks he did, and that Simpson got off easy when the race card was played. When Simpson later committed a robbery and was given a disproportionate sentence for that, it was the law making up for what it didn't do years earlier. Buffalo believes to the letter that Simpson is guilty, and a number of petitions have been circulated to have his name removed from the Wall of Fame. The Wall, though, celebrates how good a person played football, and in that respect, Simpson deserves to be up there.

The main rivalry focus has shifted in the last decade. Where most fans of my generation grew up hating the Dolphins, the Dolphins are regularly mired in messes even more absurd than Buffalo's. It's hard to think Miami once played through a whole season completely undefeated, won two Super Bowls, won 20 straight against Buffalo, and that during the years with Dan Marino and Jim Kelly, Bills/Dolphins was a marquee NFL game. Now the hate is reserved for the New England Patriots, who have always had a wild rivalry with the Bills, but one that got almost as one-sided as the 70's Bills/Dolphins after Tom Brady became their quarterback. Since 2001, the Bills have only won two games against the Patriots: A 31-0 blowout in 2003, which the Patriots nevertheless wrote off on their way to their second Super Bowl victory, and a hell of a game in 2011 in which the Bills came back from a 21-0 deficit to win. The Patriots wrote that loss off on the way to a Super Bowl appearance that year, too. There's also a rivalry with the New York Jets, which was the biggest in the Namath era.

The Bills have an intensely loyal fanbase, but their stability has run out. Although the team claims to have made a deal that will keep them in Buffalo for the next decade, anyone with half a brain regarding practical economics knows the Bills are going to bolt soon. The city keeps discussing a new stadium which it can't possibly afford, the team already lent itself to Toronto for extra money, and the Bills are always at the forefront of any and all talks regarding a new Los Angeles team. Ralph Wilson's heirs have already admitted there's no way they can afford to keep the team in Buffalo after taxes. It's a case where the team and city need to leave each other in order to save themselves, but the people don't want to accept that because the Bills are the final hanging thread connecting today to Buffalo's days as a true power. That being said, Ralph Wilson Stadium is highly renowned for its tailgating experience, and the people in Buffalo do know how to grill good meat, so anyone who wants to enjoy great tailgating with some of the best, friendliest, and most knowledgeable fans in the NFL better come to Buffalo and do that while there's still time. Ralph Wilson is the team's only owner, and he's in his 90's.

There are a few good reasons to adopt the Bills if you're looking for a team. If you don't mind the fact that they'll be gone in a few years, then by all means. If you're adopting them for civic reasons, though, you'll have to find someone else. Even though the Bills are the only NFL team in New York (the Jets and Giants are both based in New Jersey), there actually a pretty good chance you'll be better off adopting the Jacksonville Jaguars, and that's just pathetic.]]> Sun, 2 Mar 2014 13:58:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ Crazy Fun In The Big Easy]]>
Comic artists such as Neal Adams, Arthur Suydam, and the legendary Stan Lee descended upon the Crescent City this year, and brought with them a whole host of celebrities from science fiction, fantasy, and horror that included Matt Smith (Doctor Who), Norman Reedus (The Walking Dead), Robert Englund (Nightmare on Elm Street), and everybody's favorite pilot, Alan Tudyk (Firefly).  There were many other comic artists and celebrities, but there are much to many to list here.

The convention lasted three days, February 7-9, and featured multiple panels and activities for convention goers to take part in.  There were also many fan groups there such as the 501st Legion, the Southwest Louisiana Browncoats, the USS Lafitte, the USS Neptune, the Krewe of Chewbacchus, and the lovely ladies of Orion's Envy. 

Some of the events included Sci-Fi speed dating, Shoot-A-Trooper (501st Charity), a huge after party, photo ops, LEGO panels, and a whole lot more.

I was there as a representative of the USS Lafitte and CyPhaCon, a convention held annually in Lake Charles, LA.  Myself and a few friends handed out over 700 flyers to promote our convention and were well received.  We met tons of new and interesting people and hung out with some great friends.  All three days of the convention were packed, which is odd for most conventions as Sunday is usually a pretty dead day.

While the convention itself was excellent, the night life was pretty awesome as well.  On the first night of the convention, myself and a friend dressed as Batman headed over to the Howlin' Wolf to check out a costume contest, three science fiction based rock and metal bands, and Orion's Envy.  While not officially a part of the convention, it was loaded with con goers.  The bands, Space Metal, C.O.G., and Sci-fried, were all excellent.  Orion's Envy danced their hearts out as usual (they are dear friends of mine, so I'll promote them all I can). 

When the curtain closed on events at the Howlin' Wolf, we hit the streets of New Orleans.  Not only did we get invited to a bar mitzvah (a first for me), we also got a little celebrity treatment on Bourbon Street, as everyone wanted to take pics with Batman.  He even got tipped a few times.

Saturday was packed with more fun.  I met Sara Jean Underwood (G4's Attack of the Show) and Zach Galligan (Billy from Gremlins).  Ms. Underwood was nice, but Zach Galligan stole the show.  He was a truly nice guy and I'm glad I got the chance to meet him. 

On Sunday the convention was packed once again.  On this day I managed to get an autograph and photo from Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead.  He was a very friendly guy, but he looked completely worn out from signing autographs, taking photos, and shaking hands all weekend long.  Our meeting was brief, but fun.

Wizard World 2014 has set the bar high for 2015's event.  If they top it, I'll consider Wizard World a true success.]]> Thu, 13 Feb 2014 19:13:52 +0000
<![CDATA[ Manchester Unlimited]]>
Unfortunately, picking favorite soccer teams - in any of the big Euro leagues, not just the Premier League - ain't like grabbing onto the most appealing baseball team and charging forward. The problem - actually, it's one of the major appeals of the sport, another thing the European leagues get right - is this process called relegation. European leagues aren't split into conferences and divisions and all those other weird, forgiving Yankee niceties. There's one cross-league table for however many teams are in the league, so whatever spot a team is in at the end of the season is their finishing place. And if your team is in one of the last few spots, there's no "better luck next season," like in the United States. Finish too low, and YOUR ASS GETS BOOTED FROM THE LEAGUE. They get sent back to a lower league, while the best teams from the lower level get promoted to take a shot with the big dogs.

Unfortunately, being kicked from the top level means less international exposure, which makes it exponentially harder to adopt a team. Since the 1992 inception of the current form of soccer's top league (note: There has always been top flight soccer and relegation, but 1992 is merely when the league took the name it uses now), only seven teams have been able to avoid relegation completely: Manchester United, Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur, Aston Villa, and Everton. Those clubs are the seven giants. They have money and coverage. And of them, it's Manchester United that is always the safest pick to win the league and produce a solid showing in the Champions' Tournament. It's Manchester United which is the team that capitalized the most on Nike market sports media. As a result, it's Manchester United which gets showered in glory. It's the team of the world's most popular transcendents: David Beckham, Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo. They're the team whose supporters are least likely to be mentally preparing to hate their favorite players when Real Madrid inevitably signs them. They are the most popular professional sports team in the world; over 300 million people claim some level of affection for Manchester United, and there are supporter branches in every country. They're the richest franchise in the world, too, and although they're NOT the most successful team, they ARE most definitely up there.

Yeah, if Mr. Casual Sports Fan in the States has ever heard of one single English team - or hell, one single European team at all - it's almost certainly this one.

It wasn't always that way, though. Manchester United Football Club, like pretty much every other popular soccer team in England, was started as a factory team in the hopes that the workers would abstain from the popular (read: only) vices like drinking and unionizing. They would take any warm body who happened to work in the factory. The club, Newton Heath, first applied for the Manchester and District Challenge Cup in 1884, when they lost the Final. The loss didn't deter them very much - they returned to the Final five more times, winning four of them. In 1887, the Heathens entered the FA Cup for the first time and drew a 2-2 draw when Captain Jack Powell refused a period of extra time. This pissed off Newton Heath, and they imposed a Football Association exile on themselves until 1889. They tried to form a league that year, but after the league folded, they applied to the new Football League. When the application was rejected, they became one of the founding members of the Football Association in 1890. They were relegated a couple of years later and spent the decade roaming the Second Division.

By 1902, Newton Heath had very few connections left to its origins, so new owner John Henry Davies renamed it Manchester United Football Club. And hey, Davies had money, you know, for good players, and the team started performing exponentially better. They finished fifth in 1903, which is coincidentally also the year they hired their first manager. In 1906, they finally won promotion, and went to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup. They also signed Billy Meredith, maybe the era's best player. In 1908, Manchester United won its first League Championship. By 1912, they had falled to 13th place, and 1915 was a low point; three of their players were found to have been conspiring with Liverpool players to fix matches. They were all banned for life.

World War I stopped everything on the pitch, and the return to soccer was rather inauspicious for Manchester United in 1922 when the side was relegated again. Although they returned to the First Division in 1925, they spent the next few years struggling, never getting above 12th and then being relegated again in 1929. By 1932, the team was in such bad shape that they were a mid-table Second Division team by 1932, couldn't pay their players, and needed a financial bailout. Fortunately, James W. Gibson was just around the corner, and he offered help on the condition that he got to be the Chairman and pick the directors. The influx wasn't immediately helpful; Manchester United avoided getting bumped into the Third Division by a single point in 1934. The next year was more what Manchester United expected from themselves: They thumped the Second Division, took the title, and returned to the First Division again.... And got relegated again the next year. Fortunately, they were also breeding stars like Johnny Carey, Jack Rowley, and Stan Pearson by then, and the season after that, Manchester United returned to the First Division, where they finally halted the eternal game of divisional bumpy they had been playing for the next 36 years.

A few of those years, however, were due to league suspension due to a ridiculously small-scale territorial conflict. Nothing major, really. Just World War II. Their stadium, Old Trafford, was used as a depot until a German bomb raid in 1940. Although soccer continued, the Association was effectively suspended. The bombing of Old Trafford forced the team to move its games.

In 1945, Association soccer returned, and the appointment of Matt Busby turned Manchester United into the force it's known as today. Busby demanded - and got - a Jerry Jones level of control over the team including selection, transfers, and training. Unlike Jerry Jones, though, he knew what he was doing, and by the late 40's, the Red Devils (the team's nickname) were beating up on the First Division. In 1948, they won the FA Cup, and in 1952, they won the First Division for the first time in 41 years. (In European soccer, instead of a single, decisive title, teams spend their seasons vying for several different trophies, all of which are won in different ways. The League Championship is decided by finishing standings, others are decided by different tournaments. I know it comes off as confusing when you first start following European soccer, but - and I'm completely serious here - it makes a LOT more sense than American college football.) By 1957, Manchester United was the first English team to compete for the European Cup. The youth movement of the decade was known as The Busby Babes.

1958 marked a tragedy. The Munich Air Disaster. The team plane dropped into Munich to refuel, and takeoff had to be aborted twice due to a problem called boost surging which was common back then. The fuel mix was too rich, which caused engines to accelerate too quickly. The pilots got control of the surging during the third attempt, but as they reached the speed where you can't abort a takeoff, the airspeed dropped and the plane crashed through a fence and into a house. the tail and left wing were ripped off and the fuselage hit a fuel tank and exploded. Of the 24 people who were were killed on the spot, ten were team members. Three more were critically hurt, with one dying 15 days later. The disaster hung over the team.

The initial shots at rebuilding didn't go well, but by 1963, Manchester United had their Holy Trinity in place: Bobby Charlton, Denis Law, and George Best, whose surname hardly does him justice. The Red Devils won the League Title in 1965 and 1967, although they were knocked out of the League Cup tournament by Blackpool in the second round, in 1968, they rose up and won their greatest triumph: The European Cup, beating the Portuguese club SL Benfica. The end of the era was 1969, when Busby retired. After his replacement, Wilf McGuiness, proved to be a lousy hire, though, he was coaxed into one final season of work before leaving for good in 1971. His replacement then, Frank O'Farrell, also only lasted a season. Tommy Docherty came in the following year and saved the team from relegation, but that was staving off the inevitable as Manchester United was finally relegated again in 1974. They were promoted again in 1976, when they also reached the FA Cup Final and got beat by Southampton. They did win the FA Cup the next year, though, and beat Liverpool, which was basically the best team in England at the time.

Management briefly went through one of those horrible revolving doors for the next ten years. The Red Devils did have highlights at the time - Manager Ron Atkinson took them to the FA Cup in 1983 and 1985, but the club finished fourth in the First Division that same year, and by November the next season, they were in serious danger of relegation yet again. Atkinson was fired. Along came Alex Ferguson, and the rest, as they say, is history. Ferguson's run with Manchester United went until 2013, during which he oversaw the Red Devils through the First Division's transformation into the Premier League and the team's transformation into a global brand. Although it seems like Manchester United is the bad guy, it's under Ferguson that they truly achieved that reputation. Before him, they were modestly successful. After him, they were arguably the most successful club in the history of English soccer.

Here's Manchester United's run of successes: 20 League Titles, 13 of which were won under Ferguson. 22 titles if you include the two they won during their various stays in the Second Division. They've also won 11 FA Cups, four League Cups, and 20 Community Shields in domestic competition. In European competition, they've won the most prestigious trophy in Europe - the European Cup - three times and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup (not a typo) and UEFA Super Cup once each. In worldwide competition, they've hauled in the Intercontinental Cup and FIFA Club World Cup once each. Hard to argue with a list of accolades like that. Their number of League Titles and Community Shields surpasses those of any other team.

Manchester United maintains big rivalries with several other clubs. And as you've probably heard, rivalries are much bigger deals across the pond than in the United States. Their biggest rivals are Arsenal, Liverpool, and cross-town boys Manchester City. Also, surprisingly, Leeds United. Leeds United is odd because they've never been a power, at least not since the First Division became the Premier League. Hell, they were actually relegated in 2004 and that's the last the Premier League has seen of them since. At one point, they actually dropped into the third tier! The rivalry with Manchester City is obvious, as it is with Liverpool, another working-class British city with a club that has tons of soccer success. The rivalry with Arsenal comes from the number of times the two teams have fought over the Premier League title.

While the team's greatest success is pretty bottom-heavy, they fielded some true superstars: From Charlton, Law, and Best to earlier greats like Billy Whelan and Duncan Edwards on The Busby Babes to the early Earnest Mangnall, and later greats like Ryan Giggs, Joe Cantona, and Cristiano Ronaldo, fine athletes have lit up Old Trafford. Matt Busby revolutionized the way soccer management works, and Alex Ferguson may be the very best in English soccer history. The team's current Captain is Wayne Rooney, and its current manager is David Moyes.

Manchester United is one of the reigning crown jewels of English soccer, and they were the first team to capitalize of sports globalization. Translation: They're fucking RICH. All the good times that came under Sir Alex Ferguson don't look like they'll be in any immediate danger of going anywhere soon. European soccer doesn't have a salary cap, so across the pond, your team is either money or screwed. Sometimes, teams will luck out and a new owner will come along and turn a bad team into a real contender. Manchester United has been estimated to be the richest sports team in the world by Forbes. Deloitte ranks them third, behind Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona.

With all the success, money, and branding, of course, come enormous swaths of fans. I mentioned above that some 300 million people on Earth swear some kind of loyalty to the Red Devils. That's a common guesstimate. More conservative estimates put the number at around "only" 75 million, while the most wildly liberal estimate I've read is 333 million. For comparison, the world's fourth-most populated country, the United States, has just under 315 million people, including immigrants. With the success, of course, also comes a kind of fervent sports hate, the likes of which you've never experienced before. You know your feelings toward the face teams of corporate sports evil in the United States, the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees? Well, take those, put them together, and quantify it by about 100 times, and THAT is the general attitude of the non-Manchester United supporter.

Full disclosure: I myself am a Manchester United hater. I support Liverpool. But there's no denying the kinds of things Manchester United brings to the table in English soccer. Manchester's universities use them to attract foreign students. Back in the start of the millennium, their ubiquity helped expose non-soccer countries to the Premier League, and Manchester United became the My First Soccer Team of many fans who fell in love with the sport. The Premier League is a much stronger league with the presence of Manchester United, and I'd be an idiot to avoid acknowledging that.]]> Sat, 4 Jan 2014 16:56:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ An Everyday New Year]]>
However, this whole New Year's-is-magic thing is something I'm never going to understand. The whole process only has relevance because it's so close to Christmas and, by proximity, it gets the shit advertised out of it. Yes, folks, New Year's Eve and New Year's Day are more corporatized holidays, but unlike every other corporatized holiday, there's no real sound basis for it. Valentine's Day - which I outright rebel against - at least celebrates love. What's New Year's? A new beginning? If people were actually serious about the whole new beginning thing, they wouldn't be saving their self-improvements until then anyway. Even though I make resolutions, I know full well in advance what they're going to be and how they're going to help me reach a higher plateau. I don't create them on some wistful December 31 whim, yanking them from the air because that's what people are apparently supposed to do. Doing that is probably why so many people keep their resolutions for about two weeks.

So if you pull your resolutions out of the equation, just what the hell is this? Sometimes you get invited to a party. It's nice - hang out with your buddies, have a few drinks, stay up late, kiss someone at midnight. An all-around good evening, really.... And nothing you don't do at any point earlier in the year. Hell, for people in their 20's, that's basically the after-work schedule. The only difference I can spot is that you're a lot more uncomfortable on New Year's, because you've decided to trap yourself in some tight-ass tuxedo for no other reason than because, hey, that's what it is to be an adult, right? Also, you're boozing on overpriced champagne instead of beer, wine, or whatever cheap spirit is your signature.

It's a pricier night out is what it is.

I found myself at the Buffalo ball drop a few times, which was nice because the fireworks display at the Electric Tower is very beautiful and choreographed to the classic rock music that is the city's signature musical sound. The best New Year's Eve I've experienced in my life was on December 31, 1997. My family went to see the Buffalo Sabres that night, and we ended up watching Sabres goaltender Dominik Hasek tie the all-time record for number of shutouts in a single month when the Sabres beat the Ottawa Senators.

Besides all the hype, the calendar starts all over again, whoop dee do. The Earth starts another revolution around the sun, which is a meaningless statistic considering how much we bend and maul the calendar to fit our own personal convenience. Even the most accurate measurement of time on Earth, the atomic clock, is so accurate that it actually manages to overshoot the mark.

I prefer literally any other holiday. Martin Luther King Day, Presidents' Day, Independence Day, Easter, May Day if this country ever grows enough of a fucking brain to start observing it.... New Year's is, to me, nothing more than another day in the life. I'll still happily accept party invitations, but don't expect me to get too worked up about how awesome the magic of New Year's is.]]> Thu, 2 Jan 2014 16:40:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Dark Territory of It's a Wonderful Life]]>
There was a brief window of my life when I made a tradition, like everyone else, of watching It's a Wonderful Life during the holiday season. I was just a few years into it, though, when I noticed that there was something about it which really wasn't sitting right with me. I had hit a low point in my life at the time and was contemplating suicide harder than I ever had - it's fairly safe to say only my religious beliefs at the time kept me from going through with it. That, of course, puts me in a situation similar to that of George Bailey, James Stewart's main character. The movies takes us through George's life story, bringing us to the moment the movie begins, when God - yes, THAT God - is commanding an angel named Clarence to talk George out of his suicidal depression. Clarence visits George, shows him what everything would be like of he never existed, and George is magically happy again.

If only real depression were that simple. In real life, there's no Clarence, and George offs himself. The problem with the movie's premise is that George is set up and defined as a man of very significant impact. It's true that George has thwarted dreams that are similar to my own in a couple of ways, but it's difficult to get me to believe George really had it that bad. His dream of traveling the world, after all, is something he surrenders willingly, even if he does do it quite often. George first takes over a business that was threatening to stop writing loans out for the poor because the board heads would only continue doing that if George was running it. I don't have any problems with this; but George gives his college cash stash to his brother Harry, and that's where the problem begins. Harry takes George's cue and then seemingly coasts through his life on a series of implausible breaks. Harry marries into a rich family and becomes a war hero.

George, meanwhile, runs his company and keeps roadblocking his own path. His gestures are admittedly noble: At one point, he gives his honeymoon money to depositors to satisfy their immediate needs. At another, he turns down the job of his dreams when it's offered because his nemesis, Potter, is planning to take over his city.

Throughout all this, by the way, George is able to find the time and means to marry his longtime love and sire four kids. He buys a home, too. During the never-born sequence, George's wife, Mary, ends up being a shy, perpetually single librarian, as if she could never have found a man who wasn't George Bailey and a fulfilling career. (Well, okay, this movie is from 1946, so the career isn't very likely.)

A supremely ironic point that occurs to me right now is that so far, the movie and I are in agreement over the main theme: George is leading a life most people would consider very significant and fulfilling. But that's where our similarities end. George is very well known and beloved throughout his community because of the willing selflessness he shows, constantly sacrificing pursuit of his dreams in order to better the lives of those around him. Everything he did, except getting rejected by the military, was something he gave up by personal choice. He has good friends and a devoted wife and a good home in a nice community.

This is basically magical Hollywood depression. It's sanitized nicely for people who believe a few inspiring words are more than enough to snap anyone out of a funk and return them to their jolly old selves. Just like real depression and real suicidal contemplation, I swear, knowing from experience. It's basically the same, except take away George's communal niceties, flowing opportunities, family, and largely decent job. Strip him of all the status, prestige, and trust he earned from the people around him, and put him in a much more menial situation in which the livlihoods of a lot fewer people depend on his fortunes and you'll start to get the idea.

The one inspirational thing that I did take away from It's a Wonderful Life is actually the life story of Frank Capra himself. He got himself stuck in a life rut very similar to my own, and our ages during this rough patch weren't that far apart. Capra was going through his during much worse circumstances. Yet, he still found a way to overcome his obstacles and eventually become one of the most important directors in the history of American film.]]> Fri, 27 Dec 2013 20:58:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ What rhymes with "duck" that I can use for this review title?]]>
Even odder was George Lucas as one of the creators of the movie chose this for a movie.  Howard the Duck was a weird 70's comic about a duck who had weird adventures with his friend Beverly.  Howard wasn't the cute kind of ducky either.  He smoked, drank, read smut, Beverly was a nude model and in short, he wasn't exactly a role model but more or a dark horse (err duck if you will this movie loves it's lame duck jokes).  Cut to the 80's and when this movie came, it was with a PG rating, but all of Howard's bad habits stuck around meaning it would be sure to alienate the kids and parents it was targeting yet be too silly for an older audience.

Our not so fine little movie starts with a parallel world where ducks are sentient lifeforms.  Howard comes home to crack open his duck beer and read some duck dirty magazines, when all of a sudden a rumbling comes and pulls him to Earth and lands in Cleveland to save a woman named Beverly, a hottie indie rocker who becomes his friend.  Along the way Howard will meet a dipshit scientist, a man posessed with a monster, angry truck drivers and even work at a sleazy spa.  Sound like wacky fun?  Sure, but one thing.  The script is terrible.

This movie is pretty notorious for a couple of reasons.  While I personally don't mind the voice for Howard, Howard in the comics is supposed to be a shady tough type but he ends up sounding lame sometimes-the voice is more fitting for more comical actions and again, a lot of Howards jokes fall flat.  The movie also rushes into it's conclusion half way through and most of the film stretches out a plan to get Howard back home and stop monsters from invading.

The biggest disconnect is the material.  This is a PG movie, light entertainment and kids stuff but if you haven't noticed, Howard isn't too kid friendly (he even has a duck condom in his wallet) the monsters are scary and gross and all the jokes are of the worst puns or of lame (duck) delivery.  If you thought Arnold in Batman and Robin with all of his puns were bad, you get the same here, but duck jokes.

Howard The Duck is dippy and doofy and has a real disconnect.  A dirty duck stuffed into a kid friendly movie with bad jokes and scary monsters.  If you want some Howard action, pick up the old comics instead.  While I've never read them, they can't be as bad.]]> Mon, 28 Oct 2013 03:25:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ Flashback To Childhood]]>
With the 2013 Saga Legends line, though, Hasbro has done something different or oddly familiar depending on your age. Fans old enough to remember when Kenner was king and produced tons of 5 POA Star Wars figures will instantly recognize the similiarities between the old Kenner lines and the 2013 Hasbro line.

Gone are the multiple points of articulation. What has replaced them are a barebones, 5 POA line of figures including Obi-Wan Kenobi, Anakin Skywalker, a Shock Trooper, Mace Windu, R4, a Super Battle Droid, and Yoda. There are also two figure Mission Series packs, but that's for another review.

I've noticed that collectors either love, severely hate, or don't really care one way or the other about these figures. I love some of them and shake my head at others. There is a great lack of consistency on paint jobs for these figures, but when you find one that is right, it looks perfect.

I picked up the Obi-Wan figure because I'm a huge Obi-Wan fan. The paint job was excellent (although I sifted through quite a few figures to find the perfect one), and he comes with old school Kenner 5 POA and a lightsaber.

There are no "secret weapons" like the older Saga Legends line had, nor are their dice and game cards (I actually miss those).

Hasbro claims that this line of figures is meant for children and the Black Series is meant for serious collectors. With that said, though, I have to admit that the Black Series figures are a bit lacking for the most part. I'd much rather drop about five bucks on the Saga Legends figures, open them, and pose them on display. Sure, they don't move very much, but I don't plan on playing with them much either.

It ultimately depends on what you are looking for to determine if you should buy these Saga Legends figures. If you want multiple POA, skip these figures. If you'd like to feel a bit nostalgic, grab one or two of them and see what vibe they give off. I'd personally like to see the 5 POA figures in the Vintage packaging. Now THAT would be nostalgic!]]> Wed, 2 Oct 2013 21:19:02 +0000
<![CDATA[ Yahoo! It's Run by its Namesake]]> Later, I opened two more Yahoo! accounts, one for fun and another for business.

Come the next few months, I'll be closing down the two that remain open. This is going to include knocking out my Yahoo! Sports account, which my fantasy football league runs through. Why? Because I'm sick of the way Yahoo! has been destroying itself from the inside.

For my first few years with Yahoo!, everything was fine. There was nothing particularly special about the account, by to me, email is email, and it has a couple of functions: Send mail. Receive mail. After those, everything else is superfluous. Yahoo! at first did that. It wasn't especially spectacular about it, but it functioned. Then after awhile, Yahoo! began engineering changes which were supposed to make the account more efficient.

The way Yahoo! went about the changes was silly. First, whenever I logged on, they would offer me the chance to switch to the new format. Did it matter? Nope, not since they would be switching formats on a certain date no matter what I wanted. If they were going to make the switch no matter what, why even bother interrupting my email with what's basically a full spam page offering the switch in the first place? Why not just go ahead and do it, since it apparently takes mere seconds anyway?

The change to the current format was supposed to make Yahoo! faster and more efficient. To their credit, it IS faster and more efficient, but only when it decides it wants to work. That's the real gamble nowadays. About half the time, the email page doesn't even load. And often enough when it does, I get nothing but error messages. Provided the whole page loads and I can actually look at emails, I open up my email and then THAT page either comes up blank, refuses to load, or pops up an error message. There appears to be a problem loading my message list. Gee, ya think?

Have I an email or two to delete? Yes, in fact I usually have to delete emails pushing two dozen. Sometimes the Yahoo! system is so buggy that even after deleting them all, they'll all mysteriously reappear back on my page like Penn and Teller were pulling some prank.

When I try to back out of a page after reading an email, I do it by clicking on my inbox icon because simply hitting the back icon has frequently resulted in my getting booted from Yahoo! Mail altogether. If I want to, you know, send a message to someone else, well, it the errors aren't coming more often than not, they certainly feel like they are. I'm trying not to send attachments over Yahoo! anymore because I fear what kinds of shit will happen to them in transition.

To be fair to the spam filter, it does catch most of what it's supposed to catch. It also works a little TOO well sometimes, and I find myself flipping through the spam mail regularly because it also catches several messages that I WANT to receive. Not spam messages I like to read for amusement, but little updates from sites that I frequent and in some cases have subscribed to. Meanwhile, some spam still finds its way through to my regular email list. Also, the email lists don't let you use proper up and down arrows now.

The final straw was that Yahoo! now sees it fit to apparently place spam emails from their advertisers at the top of my email lists sometimes. I can't get rid of them, since they're from the people supporting Yahoo! Although they only put one at the top of my message lists for now, how long before these things completely take over and I have to scroll down before getting any of the messages I wanted to see?

Yahoo! really is an excellent name for this email system. It feels like it's being run by a bunch of luddite yahoos. I'm done there within the next few months, after I figure out how to switch all my accounts.]]> Thu, 5 Sep 2013 15:11:45 +0000
<![CDATA[The Simpsons Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Thu, 15 Aug 2013 17:33:17 +0000 <![CDATA[Yelp Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Mon, 5 Aug 2013 12:17:20 +0000 <![CDATA[YouTube Quick Tip by BaronSamedi3]]> Mon, 5 Aug 2013 12:10:51 +0000 <![CDATA[Hooters Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
Hooters is an okay place to dine out, though while Titled Kilt is a little more expensive, you get much better food and hotter ladies serving you.]]> Wed, 31 Jul 2013 03:59:31 +0000
<![CDATA[ No Need To Prove Themselves In My Book!!]]>
Here we go.

Geek girls are ladies who are just like their male counterparts with the obvious anatomical differences.  You see these young (and old) geeky women all over the place.  Some of them are comic geeks.  Some of them are science fiction geeks.  I'm pretty sure that a few of them are anime geeks.  Heck, I bet that a couple of them are even actual scientists, historians, illustrators, writers, etc.

In actuality, there are a ton of geeky ladies and girls out there who happen to be all of the things I listed above.  Many of them are much better versed than their male counterparts in their respective geeky realms.  These ladies are not only enjoying whatever geeky goodness they identify with, they are actually contributing to said geekiness via work, lifestyle, and fashion sense.

Despite this large (and growing) number of women in the world of geekdom, many of them  have come under attack for their level of genuine "geekiness."  There is a growing trend on the web and in the real world in which a group of people (primarily men, but there are females who fall in league with this group) are accusing women of all ages of becoming "geeky" because it's the trendy thing to do.  This group claims that women have gotten into everything from cosplay to Star Wars because it gains them attention, both positive and negative.

Female cosplayers have really been taking a lot of heat over this subject in recent years.  Some of their detractors claim that they prey on the lonely male geeks and nerds out there by dressing up in skimpy costumes, flirting or taking photos with said geeks and nerds, and selling photographs online and at conventions to any socially awkward male with a PayPal account.  Other naysayers claim that these ladies are "less attractive" or "not 10 material" and enjoy the attention they receive from shy guys at conventions.  I've read in some places where men claim that these girls are a five or six in the real world, but with a Wonder Woman costume at a convention, they rate a nine or ten with meek men.

As a person who attends conventions on a regular basis, I can say this much about female cosplayers.  If they are dressing up solely in order to get attention and/or money from shy men, they definitely don't act that way.  I cannot count how many times I've seen women dressed as everything from Poison Ivy to Hermione Granger happily agree to pose for a photo with a guy and then have that guy either totally creep her out by putting his hand in an area that isn't necessarily a proper place or make some lewd comment toward her.

I've taken photos with cosplayers many times.  The first few times I did this I must admit that I was the uncomfortable one.  I wasn't sure of the proper protocol for taking photos with cosplayers.  As I got used to it, though, and saw how others interacted with them, I quickly learned a few tips about taking photos with cosplayers: 
  1. Let them determine the proximity of their body to yours.  If they reach out to put an arm around you, consider that as a hint that they don't mind if you either put your arm around their shoulder or waist.   However, keep your arm in the "safe zone" of the shoulders or mid-waist.  No cheap grabbing of any bits you wouldn't touch on your mother!  If they flinch or step back a bit, put your arm down!  If they simply stand next to you, just stand there and be happy with the fact that they are taking a photo with you.
  2. DO NOT make rude comments about the cosplayer's weight, attractiveness, or what you would like to do to them.  Again, use your mother as a guide.  If you wouldn't tell her that you'd like to have a Mockingbird/Supergirl sandwich with her, don't say it to a cosplayer.
  3. Ask them for a photo.  Don't be that idiot who follows one girl around all day taking photos of her bum every time she bends over!
  4. DO pay them compliments on their costumes.  If a lady has on an excellent She-Ra helmet, let her know.

Another group of women who take a lot of heat for their genuine "geekiness" are a bit harder to pick out than cosplayers.  This group of women includes ladies who are genuine fans of specific franchises, characters, or programs.  They might be walking down the street with a Star Trek shirt on or have Doctor Who sneakers on their feet.  A few of them might actually have on glasses that they need in order to SEE with!  These ladies are often confronted by men (and women) who are determined to prove that they aren't "geeky" enough to wear said shirt or shoes.  They get asked obscure questions about an actor who portrayed "third red shirt from the left" on Episode X of Star Trek:  TOS.  They get attacked by jerks who laugh at them for mispronouncing the name of a character from The Hobbit.  They get noses turned up to them if they haven't heard about the latest video game in a specific seriees.

These ladies probably have it tougher than anyone because A) nothing they say or do can prove their "geekiness" to the types of idiots who question them about it and B) even if they do answer any and every question thrown at them, the idiot asking them questions will eventually fall back on low ball techniques such as name-calling or making fun of them in some other sophomoric manner.

These ladies are basically in a no-win situation with certain types of fools.  However, if you are reading this and find yourself in a situation where you can speak up for one of these ladies, do so.  Why?  Because geeks always harp on how tolerant they are of others.  Prove it!!!  I'm not telling you to go into "damsel in distress" mode, I'm simply saying that by showing a geeky lady support, she will see that not all socially awkward nerds are jerks. 

Another group that takes a lot of heat for their geekiness are women who are legitimate scientists, doctors, artists, writers, etc. who are looked down upon for the simple fact that they are female.  Blatant discrimination is wrong, and it pains me to see brilliant women get doors shut on them or backs turned to them NOT because of their intelligence, but because of their gender.  Support them by backing their research, artwork, ideas, etc.  This can be done by simply purchasing the fruits of their labor or helpiing to fund whatever project in whatever field they happen to be in.  Simply telling them that you appreciate their efforts is helpful as well.

I think what is most sad about this particular topic is that ultimately the jerks that are making fun of these people or attacking them are doing it simply because they can't deal with the shortcomings and failures in their own lives.  Honestly, how sad of a person must you be if your only source of pleasure comes from demeaning a lady for not knowing the particular year that Batman first appeared in the comics or why Firefly used so much of the Chinese language in dialogue?  Quit being such a pitiful loser and give a bit of respect to these ladies.

Heck, a few of them might even become your friend!

Respect the geeky ladies of this world.  We need them!

]]> Mon, 29 Jul 2013 17:13:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ Something From Nothing]]>
Now, on the day to day basis, Seinfeld being about nothing was nothing more than a little marketing scheme for idiots or jaded 90's people. Each and every episode was not only about something, but they were all written and woven in very clever roundabout ways. Do you really believe the episode with The Soup Nazi was about nothing? Or the episode with the marble rye bread? The chicken roaster? The bet? All of those episodes had plots! The finale of Seinfeld was one of television's most infamous letdowns because it was believed the show had lost its way. In that respect, yeah, indeed it did - where the show had no great, overarching theme throughout its entire run, now in its finale, creators Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld went big and extravagant and in the process, they ended up squeezing an honest to god theme into Seinfeld. If you buy the idea that each individual episode was about nothing, though, you don't have the right to complain about the finale because it was merely doing what Seinfeld had always done in the first place.

Seinfeld centers around four characters: Jerry Seinfeld (Jerry Seinfeld), a stand-up comedian of some renown who, between performances, hangs out with his three best friends: George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Elaine Benes (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss), and Cosmo Kramer (Michael Richards). They hang out at Jerry's apartment, and they hang out at a local diner, and they get into and out of romantic tangles, and sometimes, they fight the ongoing evil of Newman (Wayne Knight). Mostly, though, the show is about the four of them hanging out.

These four people are clearly bored, because in just about every episode, they have nothing better to do than sit around fighting about common social conventions. A huge bulk of the humor from Seinfeld actually comes from this. They debate about the proper situations to say God Bless You after someone sneezes, at what point garbage truly becomes garbage, and when the right point to help your friend move is. They introduce a bunch of well-known catch phrases which wormed their way into the English lexicon.

The plots, although they're obviously there, are weak, and so Seinfeld relies on strong characterization to drive the show along. Name a character and you're likely to identify them by traits and not particular actions: Jerry is the show's Only Sane Man. George has a bit of a temper. Elaine is impulsive and bubbly, and Kramer - whose first name we didn't learn until a few seasons in - is just weird. The plots are driven by the absurd actions of the main characters, not the other way around. Therefore, a lot of what happens on Seinfeld tends to be extremely low-key. There aren't any Very Special Episodes, very few big revealed secrets, and even a lot of the show's major events aren't given any more emphasis than anything else. Over the run of Seinfeld, Jerry got a TV show, George hopped jobs and got engaged to a woman who died licking cheap wedding invitation envelopes, and these things were treated like anything else that happened on the course of the show.

That fits with the ethos of David and Seinfeld, who went into the show following just one ironclad rule: No Lessons, No Hugging. They kept that rule consistent through nine years on the air, so don't go into Seinfeld expecting to see tearful reunions or saccharine I Love You moments or anything in those veins. As a result, it's absurd how many people the four main characters know outside of their own exclusive little social circle. Yet, supporting characters on Seinfeld pop up everywhere, and everyone is treated like they've been part of the characters' lives all along. If there was a new character being introduced on Seinfeld, chances are it was a one-shot appearance and that character would most likely disappear and never be seen or mentioned again. The characters flew in and out of relationships at a similar pace, although George gets into a long-term relationship with a woman named Susan Ross (Heidi Swedberg) and Elaine has an odd relationship with a man named David Puddy (Patrick Warburton). For the most part, though, significant others are frequently referred to be colloquialisms, like The Woman with Man Hands and The Woman with Great Breasts.

It seems to me that the majority of Seinfeld's plotlines revolved around social conventions and coincidences. A lot of the happenings on the show are about one of the four breaking a long-sacred social norm, and he questions just what it meant anyway, and a string of relevant coincidences begins and ends with the characters either right back where they started or humiliated. No one gets anywhere, and a reset button is usually pushed.

I think the reason this show was embraced so hard is that it managed to capture the muskrat cynicism which defined Generation X in the 90's while giving them something to laugh at. To really be able to enjoy Seinfeld to its fullest, you can't feel a whole lot for the characters, and the show doesn't convince you to even try. Seinfeld almost encourages its audience to have a strong sense of detachment. Let's face it, as much as we love all these characters, they certainly don't make it easy, and there are times they seem to want us to hate them. My mother hates Seinfeld, and she frequently cites George's reaction to Susan's death as the instigator - George's reaction was extremely muted, due largely in part to the fact that he was starting to rethink the idea. The show wants us to have an outlooks that says "meh," and it succeeds. Most of the time, the characters act indifferent toward each other, even though they've been friends for a long time.

Seinfeld was one of the final great memes before the internet made memes things. Even today, you can still hear it being quoted everywhere. Unfortunately, Seinfeld is possibly the most dated show of the 90's, and so one of the funniest and darkest shows of all time is lost on Millennials. Everything that was a major breakthrough in Seinfeld is now a tame version of shows that are much more extreme, like It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Family Guy. Still, those of us who remember the heyday of Seinfeld will never forget how special it once was.]]> Thu, 18 Jul 2013 16:58:30 +0000
<![CDATA[ Chicken Wings - Eating "Buffalo" Wings Like a Buffalonian]]>
Forget all the imitators, like Buffalo Wild Wings. Buffalo is still the only city on Earth that does proper wings. Everyone on the outside just screws it up. There's absolutely no debate about the right way to prepare buffalo wings: You deep fry them. I know oven cooking has its champions, but then they're not wings. The real deal is ALWAYS done in oil in the deep fryer. Also, when I say wings, I mean WINGS - not those itty bitty little popples that are thumb-size. REAL wings are about the size of your fist. Once they're done deep frying, you slather them in hot sauce. For an authentic wing, make sure it's Frank's Hot Sauce. It's like going to Philadelphia and ordering a cheesesteak: There are NO substitutes. If anyone asks you what kind of sauce you want on your wings, you're at the wrong joint. All the wings in Buffalo are served with hot sauce unless you ask otherwise. Carrots and celery and blue cheese on the side. The wings themselves are normally a side dish to a pizza. If you're complaining about your cholesterol at this point, why the hell are you even eating out?

In Buffalo, to properly order a dish of wings, it takes only a trio of words: Double wings hot! The first is the size of the order: Single, double, or triple. Single is ten, double 20, and triple, well, you can figure it out. The second is the order itself, the wings. No, no one in Buffalo ever calls them buffalo wings. They're just wings. If you're being formal, they're chicken wings. Asking for buffalo wings will net you nothing but confused looks from the server and mark you as the person from out of town. The final word is the degree of hotness in the sauce: Mild, medium, or hot. Make a note that if you ever drop into Duff's, every sauce degree is one up from what the label says. Mild is medium, medium is hot, hot is very hot, and they do serve a very hot there which I'm not crazy enough to try to order. The highest heat degree served at Duff's is called Suicide, and that's the official name. Be very, VERY careful with those suckers.

Wash down with ice-cold beer or pop while bitching about the terrible fortunes of the local sports teams. There's plenty to bitch about.

Real wings should be crispy on the outside, more tender on the inside. The meat can't afford to be dry, and you shouldn't be fighting to chew or drinking as you chew. The main taste of the wings comes from the chicken skin being dunked in hot sauce. Proper wings DO have bones - none of this boneless bullshit, that's watering them down for the masses. They're also large - if you're trying to eat wings smaller than your thumb, they're not proper wings, and that's that.

Wings are an integral part of the culture in Buffalo. They're the city's contribution to the American cuisine landscape. You know how ubiquitous they are in Buffalo? Let me put it this way: There's a nationally famous festival, the Chicken Wing Festival, which is held every year in Buffalo. That festival might sound like a fatherly tradition dating back to the 70's, but nope! The Chicken Wing Festival was only first held in 2002, and it was inspired by a late 90's animated movie called Osmosis Jones, in which Bill Murray played a character who lived a very unhealthy lifestyle and was determined to get to a chicken wing festival in Buffalo. It was a natural idea, but chicken wings are such a part of the culture here that we were taking them for granted and ignoring a great idea for a festival. The city's light flipped on and, a few years later, the Chicken Wing Festival was an annual tradition drawing vendors from all over the world.]]> Mon, 1 Jul 2013 12:45:22 +0000
<![CDATA[ A Drag-Out Brawl That Spans Realities]]>

Borrowing elements from the classic 1964 story arc “Crisis on Earth-Three” and Grant Morrison’s “JLA: Earth Two”, this film features a heroic Lex Luthor (Chris Noth) who seeks out the aid of the Justice League. Luthor is on the run from the Crime Syndicate; an alternate reality where powerful beings very much like the Justice League have taken over the world. Turning himself over to the authorities, Luthor convinces the League to free his world from the Syndicate, save for Batman (William Baldwin) who chooses to stay behind. Once there, Superman (Mark Harmon), Wonder Woman (Vanessa Marshall), The Flash (Josh Keaton), The Martian Man hunter (Jonathan Adams) and Green Lantern (Nolan North) face off against beings very much like themselves, but it won’t be easy since Ultraman (Brian Bloom), Johnny Quick (James Patrick Stuart), Power Ring, Superwoman (Gina Torres) and Owlman (James Woods) have their own super-human cohorts. Plus, Owlman seems to have plans of his own for the reality called “Earth-Prime”.



The premise of the movie is pretty simple, it is all about good vs. evil or the many ‘faces‘ of the universe and the story revolves around the action. It does manage to add some nice touches that make this alternate reality different and at the same time, very much the same from the League’s universe. Admittedly, the story lacked the raw narrative strength of the Justice League animated series’ “Justice Lords” but this was a pretty decent movie that features alternate realities and all the mumbo-jumbo that goes with it. The story is pretty well-scripted and developed. It presents several surprising twists that made the plot much more intricate, albeit its development wasn’t as strong as I would’ve wished.

I appreciated the way this alternate universe was presented. It made variations on characters that are familiar, and yet different. Johnny Quick was the alternate Flash, Ultraman was alternate Superman, Owlman was Batman, Superwoman was Wonder Woman and so forth. I also enjoyed the fact that it did not forget to make variations of supporting characters such as Jimmy Olsen (looked like Blockbuster), Lobo, Model Citizen, Vibe, Elongated Man among many others. What I truly liked the most was that Slade (Deathstroke) was the president of the United States and his daughter, Rose (Freddi Rogers) gave a hint of romantic subplot. This subplot may feel a little out of place, but it served to wrap up its narrative quite nicely. Owlman was surprisingly the more well-rounded character among the Syndicate, as he presented a more dangerous and insane version of Wayne. His goals may not be as well-defined in the narrative, but it worked pretty well for the movie’s final act.



This movie is built for action sequences, and the animation work does deliver. The movements are smooth, and the battles could get pretty intense (they even had some blood). I liked the way the League fought with their respective personalities that reflect the style in the animated series. The Batman-Owlman fight may have taken much of the focus, but I liked most of the individual battles. Flash used his super-speedster style of fighting, while Wonder Woman fought like a true warrior with a grudge. Green Lantern’s use of the ring was more creative than the ones used by John Stewart in the earlier seasons of the animated series, as reflected by the Hal Jordan ring-slinger. I do have to say that none of the DCU animated films ever portrayed J’onn J’onzz as a being as strong as Superman, his style had always leaned towards intangibility, shape-shifting and telepathy. The character designs were pretty inspired by Morrison’s “Earth-Two” but I did not care too much for the Ultra-eye-liner to make Ultraman look much more imposing than the gentle Kal-El. I thought the Owlman designs were derivative of “Night Owl” from “Watchmen” but it did not bother me much. I thought the voice-acting was decent, even though the voice-cast obviously did one or two more characters to stay within its budget.

“Justice League Crisis on Two Earths” is a good animated direct-to-dvd feature. It was loads of fun to watch and it was always nice to see Batman’s paranoia seen from two points of reality. I also enjoyed the inclusion of other less known members such as Firestorm, Aquaman, Black Canary, Red Tornado and Black Lightning as they made significant appearances. I am not sure if I should laugh or what when I saw Batman doing a homage to Ripley in “Aliens”, but hey, it did not harm the flick. “Crisis on Two Earths” is one of the more enjoyable DCU animated features indeed. Humor, action and even the Invisible Jet, what more can a fan ask for? Recommended! [4- Out of 5 Stars]

        ]]> Sun, 23 Jun 2013 22:22:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ This One Is "Con"tagious]]>
Their guest of honor this year was anime voice actor Kyle Hebert.  He was very entertaining during his panels, and although I didn't visit directly with him, he seemed to be a very hospitable person.  The crowd really enjoyed listening to him and it was very obvious from the multitude of anime cosplayers that his fans were there in full force.

Not only was this the first time to attend CyPhaCon for me, it was also the first convention that my young son ever attended with me.  He was a bit taken aback by all of the cosplayers, but with a little coaxing I did manage to get him to warm up to members of the 501st and the Rebel Legion, two Star Wars cosplaying groups that do countless hours of volunteer and charity work.  They are two really great organizations.  I hope to join up with them in the very near future.

Other groups present at the convention were the USS Lafitte, a local Star Trek fan club, the Red Stick Rebellion, which is a Baton Rouge-based Star Wars collectors club, the Calcasieu Parish Library Association (who handed out some really cool fandom-based flyers), a multitude of artists, author Michael Moreau, and the Louisiana StarGators, a Stargate fan group.

Myself and my son attended quite a few panels.  We were particularly interested in the Red Stick Rebellion panel on Star Wars LEGOS, since my son has taken quite a bit of joy in building those types of sets lately and he loves the franchise to death.

We also played around with a local LARP group that provided swords, shields, axes, and even crossbows to attack each other with. 

Also in attendance were the lovely ladies of Orion's Envy, a Star Trek-inspired dance troupe that perform in full Orion regalia (including green skin).  Not only were they easy on the eyes, but they were super friendly as well.

For a small convention, CyPhaCon is doing everything right.  The staff was friendly and made sure that everything ran as close to plan as possible.  I've done time on a convention staff before, and all I can say is that CyPhaCon's staff has their program together.  I predict a bright future for this convention and plan to attend as often as possible in the future.]]> Fri, 7 Jun 2013 15:37:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ My Favourite Movie]]> must see. Energetic, funny, genius, you cannot help but fall in love with this film. I recommend it to everyone. I mean it.]]> Mon, 3 Jun 2013 20:05:06 +0000 <![CDATA[ Literally epic]]> Ryan Gosling in this film is so perfect. He barely says a word yet all the emotions that come from him are awesome. Such a good, tense movie. Carey Mulligan was in it, who I HATE, but not even she could ruin this movie. There isn't a lot of violence but the violence they show is pretty grim
And on a more serious note....Ryan Gosling is so fucking hot.

]]> Mon, 3 Jun 2013 15:24:21 +0000
<![CDATA[ An American Office]]>
Okay, I passed on season eight, but who didn't?

There aren't many sitcoms in the world about real adults. Usually the adult contingent on TV is represented by the parent, the conservative square, or the douchebros in their 20's who still think they're in high school. It seems like shows about adults are getting to be a once-a-decade thing. In the 80's, there was Cheers. The 90's gave us Frasier, a Cheers spinoff which established itself as one of the greatest TV shows of all time. In the Millennium, The Office decided to come along, but even so, The Office was different. Even the most adult sitcoms on TV tended to portray people leading lives of glamor. The Office took that all out for a portrayal of a workplace not unlike yours or mine.

Hell, The Office doesn't even take place in a glamorous city. This ain't Los Angeles. It ain't New York City of Philadelphia, two places which are referenced an awful lot on the show. It's not Miami or Seattle. The Office happens within the confines of Scranton, a city in Pennsylvania. Not a suburb of a large city, but a city of its own which is so insignificant that most viewers of The Office probably never heard of it until the show debuted. The characters are Rust Belt archetypes. Although one character - Andy (Ed Helms) - loves to pimp his Ivy League degree from Cornell, most of these guys nailed their high school diplomas to their walls and decided they were officially done with education. Then they took the first available open spot in whatever little place they could get into, and flipped their dream switch to the off position. None of them is working in the titular office because they want to be there. Okay, well, there's a possible exception with Dwight (Rainn Wilson), but nearly every character on the show is working at said office because they happened to fall into the position.

The Office is a branch of a struggling, rather unremarkable little paper company called Dunder Mifflin. (And later, Sabre.) The workers do the nine to five thing every day under the watchful eyes of their managers. The Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin has had several managers come in and out over the years: Deangelo Vickers (Will Ferrell), Rob California (James Spader), Creed Bratton (Creed Bratton, yes the character and actor have the same name), and now, Dwight Schrute. But the manager who is unquestionably synonymous with the position was Michael Scott (Steve Carell), the manager for the first seven seasons of The Office and arguably the very face of the show. For the first seven seasons, the operations of Dunder Mifflin in Scranton revolved around Michael Scott's ineptitude, relentless need to always be the center of attention, and a lack of self-awareness which would make a pop music diva look grounded. Michael was a terrible manager, but certain academic theories - especially the Peter Principle - argue that Michael was just given a job above his competence level. Several times over Michael's years, he's shown to be a fantastic salesman and a shrewd, tactful negotiator. He's one of those managers who would rather be a friend to his employees than a boss, and he thinks his relationships with his employees are a lot better than they are - especially with poor Ryan Howard (no, not the baseball player, BJ Novak) and Stanley Hudson (Leslie David Baker). He has a weird man crush on Ryan which Ryan finds more than a little creepy, and considers the latter his black friend, despite Stanley's contempt for Michael being obvious. Michael makes a lot of backhanded remarks based in racial stereotypes, and they naturally rub Stanley the wrong way. Michael's feelings toward Toby Flenderson (Paul Lieberstein) are quite the opposite - he hates Toby's guts for seemingly no reason, to the point where he once tried to plant drugs on Toby in order to get him arrested. (Michael had second thoughts about the plan, eventually, and the "drugs" turned out to be a salad anyway.)

Michael wasn't especially fond of Dwight, either, although his relationship with him was more like/hate. Dwight loves Michael to death, and is in fact the one employee of Dunder Mifflin who appears to have any real commitment or conviction to his job. While Dwight is just a supporting character, we probably know more about his background than we do any other character on The Office. There are some episodes which take Dwight to a farm he owns, and Dwight is also just a very animated character. He often brings props into work to make some weird point or intimidate his co-workers.

The Office is more driven by a theme than by any kind of story arc. This makes perfect sense because the show is seen through the lens of a group of documentarians who are filming the daily goings-on in the office to reveal a typical American workplace. Although a lot of the things that go on in the office space are hilarious, the real fun begins when the various characters are speaking directly to the camera. They tend to reveal their deepest, most forbidden thoughts about the others in their space. You would think they would be a little bit coy about what they say, being as they're, you know, TALKING TO A FILM CAMERA, but nope! The documentary was apparently being made for a period of ten years, and it's only over this past season - the final season of the show - that these characters are finally starting to snap out of their complacency and realize that holy shit, people are going to be WATCHING me say and do these things! Stanley has suddenly become aware of the fact that his three extramarital affairs may be broadcast ("If I turn up dead, let me save you the trouble: My wife did it.") Andy preempted his inevitable (and very deserved) firing by quitting to pursue his acting and singing careers.

The way The Office presents itself can best be described as this is the office, this is the people who work in the office. Therefore, The Office shows many shades of Seinfeld in the way it grows and develops its revolving array of characters. Their traits aren't forced on them by the writers, but they instead tend to sort of gradually crop up. I haven't seen very many character traits that feel forced, because they're organically weaved into the show by a crew of writers which involved many members of the cast. They clearly knew what they were doing, and so The Office probably has the most realistic character development I've ever seen in a TV show. Every character on the show has insufferable traits which balance out the redeeming traits. Almost every time one character is just about to soar over one line or another, the writing causes them to suddenly pull back so the audience can be reminded of that character's humanity. The most glaring example of this is probably Angela Martin (Angela Kinsey), a stern, no-nonsense worker and a homophobe who is visibly disgusted when one worker, Oscar Martinez (Oscar Nunez), comes out of the closet. (Read: Forced out of the closet by Michael.) She also carries on affairs with Andy and Dwight at the same time, and the two of them eventually end up dueling over her. According to Angela, it's the second time in her life that two men she was having affairs with fought over her in a duel. The show also did this a lot with Michael Scott. Andy's character development seems to have an arc. The only character this method missed is Dwight, who was supposed to be a little over the top and just got more absurd and paranoid as The Office moved along.

This has caused a unique problem for the show: With a cast that rotated so often, not every character got a chance to develop this kind of humanity. A lot of otherwise great characters ended up getting shafted a little bit because the writers couldn't take years to gradually work on them. The former warehouse manager, Darryl Philbin (Craig Robinson) eventually worked his way into the Assistant Regional Manager position. Pam Beesly (Jenna Fischer) began as a quiet, reserved, and timid receptionist. She gradually became a more assertive risk-taker, married co-worker Jim Halpert (Jon Krasinski), worked her way through sales, and managed to bluff her way into a nonexistent position as Office Administrator. More recent characters, though, just get quirks taken up to eleven. The weirdness of Rob California is a large part of why I was put off the eighth season. Gabe Lewis (Zach Woods) doesn't seem to have changed THAT much. He was introduced in the Sabre storyline in the sixth season. Receptionist Erin Hannon (Ellie Kemper), the receptionist brought in when Pam leaves the position, just kept getting more and more lovably naive. I can't say I complain very much about the less-developed new characters, though, because they bring a purely comedic bite to the show which is sometimes necessary. Erin has become one of my favorite characters on TV. In one episode, she takes the last picture with a disposable camera, then immediately throws it into the trash, commenting about how wasteful they are and how you never get to see the pictures. Her incidents with a cake and a pen shipment are some of the most priceless scenes on the show.

The problem I have with The Office is its series of ridiculous romantic entanglements, each more ridiculous than the last. Jim and Pam I went along with because the two of them are one of TV's great couples. When the series began, Pam was engaged to a guy named Roy (David Denman), a boorish, inconsiderate, and rude person whom Pam thinks it was a mistake to be engaged to. She eventually married Jim, and their relationship went by mostly drama-free, and included a pair of kids. A turn for the worse happened in the past season when Jim took a job in Philadelphia, which I think happened because the writers got bored. But for the most part, everything went hunky dory for them. Michael also got a happily ever after sendoff with his longtime love, Holly Flax (Amy Ryan). The affair between Ryan and customer service representative Kelly Kapoor (Mindy Kaling), I was also happy to go along with because it brought some wonderful comedic fodder to the show.

A lot of the other love triangles on The Office, though, are better for daily afternoon TV than weekly prime time TV. The serial relationship between Ryan and Kelly was pushing it as it was, but Kelly was also briefly involved with Darryl too. New worker Pete Miller (Jake Lacy), Gabe, and Andy have all been been Erin's worse half. And with an engagement to Angela also under his belt, Andy is apparently the office player. It's enough to make me go to Dunder Mifflin in Scranton and fill out an application just so I could have a shot with Erin myself. (Let's face it, Ellie Kemper is just cute as a button.)

Yeah, to cook all this daytime soap opera bullshit up, the writers must have been exceptionally bored. It wasn't as if office life wasn't being mined for all the gold that could be grabbed from it. Part of the reason the series resonate so much with so many people is that it involves a very sympathetic portrayal of office life, with workers who despise their job and often have to invent silly little time-wasters just to stave off terminal boredom. And the general story arcs were also done well: Over the course of the series, the Scranton office absorbs workers from closing branches of Dunder Mifflin. The company gets bought and merged, causing the workers to fret for their jobs. So the workers create little work parties, an Office Olympics, make silly little bets with each other, and hold absurd contests. If there's some unnecessary obligation that needs to be attended to, the office workers grudgingly take care of it, fighting fatigue and boredom the whole way. The love triangles don't enhance the series much at all. They bog it down, in fact.

The Office was supposed to have a spinoff featuring Dwight's farm, but it was shut down and the show's pilot was worked into The Office's canon for the final season. I'm glad this happened - I love Dwight, but the man is just too nutty to carry a whole show, and in any case, the pilot made it look too manic for its own good. The Office is about to end a fine run of nine years, which is perhaps for the best, so it doesn't become a franchise zombie. Even though I missed the first few seasons, I'll be tuned in for tomorrow night's finale.]]> Wed, 15 May 2013 17:31:29 +0000
<![CDATA[Seinfeld Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> For many, many years, I never really understood the gargantuan hype surrounding Seinfeld.  I don't think it's a terrible show, but I find most of the show to be lukewarm in its humor.

With that said, there were occasional moments of hilarity, such as this.

On a sidenote, Jason Alexander may be most famous as George Castanza in this show, but I found him much funnier as the title character in the cult cartoon Duckman.

]]> Thu, 9 May 2013 00:45:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ Excellent for a housewarming gift!]]> Thu, 25 Apr 2013 00:32:32 +0000 <![CDATA[ Take a Bite]]>
Other than that, it's difficult to peg the Nashville Predators. They were officially awarded to The Music City in 1997 when Wisconsin businessman Craig Leipold made a nice little presentation to the NHL brass asking "Why not Nashville?" Nashville had an arena built, and when Gary Bettman and league officials visited Nashville, thousands of people gathered on the arena plaza to greet them. In June that year, four new teams were created: The Nashville Predators, Columbus Blue Jackets, Atlanta Thrashers, and Minnesota Wild. Actually, Nashville's team wasn't created AS the Predators. The team actually designed the logo behind everyone's back, then unveiled it to all before asking the population of Nashville "So, what would you like to name the team that wears this logo?" The logo had been inspired by a saber-toothed tiger skeleton found under Nashville in 1971, and from a list of 75 suggestions, four were pulled to be the finalists: The Ice Tigers (honestly, what originality stems from slamming the word "ice" in front of a piece of 90's marketing hubris?), the Fury, and the Attack. As you can see, Predators was really the only choice. The others reek of such terribly dated 90's marketing hubris that I'm surprised the names Extreme (wait, sorry, it's the 90's, so: Xtreme) and/or Express weren't among the names considered.

Before the team even played a single game, rumors began going around that the team would be moving. There was a rumor of a franchise swap with the Edmonton Oilers, in which Liepold would take the Oilers and move them to Nashville while the new Predators owner would take the Preds to Houston. Leipold shot it down quickly, quipping there was no chance, but as you're going to see, it will be the definition of the Nashville Predators' entire existence.

On the ice, it was expansion pain time! In 1999, Nashville finished with a record of 28-47-7. They finished with the same record the following season, though the NHL standings don't say that they way they should because the league had adopted a ridiculous standings format that said wins/losses/ties/overtime losses which ran from the 2000 season to the 2004 season. Not that it really mattered to the Predators, who didn't make the playoffs until they slipped into the eighth spot in 2004. They had only a few highlights during the rocky years: In the 2001 season, they opened with a pair of games in Japan against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That same season, they finished just ten points out of a playoff spot behind goalies Mike Dunham and Thomas Vokoun. In 2002, the Predators became the second-fastest expansion team from the 90's to reach the 100-win plateau. In the 2003 season, Barry Trotz broke the record for the most games coached by the first coach of an expansion team. Considering he's still with the Predators, I'd say this record is going to be safe for some time, if not altogether untouchable.

The first few years didn't yield any real marquee players in Nashville. Their scoring leader through all four years was Cliff Ronning, whose point totals were very good, but not great. Through those first four years, only Ronning, Greg Johnson, and Scott Walker broke the 50-point barrier. Ronning was out in 2004, just in time to miss the team's first playoff trip and subsequent first-round exit at the hands of the all-powerful Detroit Red Wings. Trotz, of course, was still around. Expansion team or not, talentless or not, people with his record over the first few years are usually gone. It's a great testament to the organization's faith in him that they still didn't switch, and he was about to pay them off for it.

After the 2005 lockout, the Preds became one of the great beneficiaries of the new rules. In the 2006 season, the Predators surprised everyone by screaming out of the gate with an 8-0-1 start before a 5-1 loss to Edmonton made them the last team to lose its first game in regulation. With their new toy, Paul Kariya, lighting up the scoreboard with 85 points, three other players cracking 50 points, two more missing the 50-point barrier by one and Scott Hartnell missing it by two, the Predators spent the year going on a 49-win tear. The end result? A glittering record of 49-25-8 for 106 points and the fourth seed in a Western Conference which saw a 92-point team and three 80-point teams miss the playoffs. Their trip to the playoffs was a short-lived five-gamer against the San Jose Sharks, though.

The next year, the Preds outdid themselves once again. They got veteran center Jason Arnott and David Legwand in free agency, and those two tied for the team's top goal scorer with 27 each. During the year, they got arguable the biggest fish of all: Two of their former first round picks, Scottie Upshall and Ryan Parent, plus a couple of future picks were sent to the Philadelphia Flyers. Who did they get in return? Peter Forsberg! Seven players, again led by Kariya, cracked the 50-point mark again. The Predators went 51-23-8 for 110 points, third in the NHL just behind Detroit and Presidents' Trophy-winning Buffalo. Due to the league's fucked-up methods of deciding playoff standing, they were only the fourth seed in the Western Conference, which led to another first round match against the Sharks…. And a second five-game exit.

The Predators receded over the next couple of seasons due to roster decimations. 2008 ended with 91 points and another first round knockout against Detroit. The next year, they missed the playoffs completely, but you can't really call Nashville's season a bad one - if a 40-34-8 record and 88 points are bad, your standards might be a bit too high. 2010 brought in Marcel Goc and Francis Bouillon, and Patric Hornqvist had a breakout year. Going 47-29-6, the Preds finished with 100 points and seventh seed in the playoffs. They FINALLY faced a new playoff opponent: The Chicago Blackhawks. Unfortunately, the Hawks were the Team of Destiny that year, and the Predators got the script right on time. Nashville put up a fight, and managed to tie the series at two. In game five, they were even leading 4-3 with just over a minute left. Then Chicago's Marian Hossa hit defenseman Dan Hamhuis from behind, Chicago got an odd-man rush on the ensuing power play, Patrick Kane scored the equalizer, and Hossa became an overtime hero in Chicago. That deflated the Predators, and they lost the sixth game and the series.

Over the last two years, the Predators have been a regular season powerhouse. They posted a 104-point season last year, and missed the 100 barrier by a single point the year before. They even managed to make it to the second round of the playoffs in both years, too. Unfortunately, they've been awful this year. Their current 38 points is leaving them pretty much out of contention altogether barring a flawless surge and a bunch of other teams holding the mother of all tank jobs simultaneously, and even that wouldn't guarantee anything. Maybe it's just an aberration - a quick drop in standings THAT far is too crazy and rare to be written off as anything but the players being out of shape because of the lockout. If this year is a hiccup, the Predators will return to normal for the next few years and have a real shot at the Stanley Cup. If it's an ongoing thing, massive repairs will be necessary in Nashville.

The Predators haven't had any real transcendent players, which makes their great regular seasons pretty impressive. Their biggest drawing cards have been Chris Mason, Paul Kariya, and Peter Forsberg. Their current Captain is Shea Weber. Poile's GM work has netted him the Lester Patrick Trophy, Dan Ellis won the Roger Crozier Saving Grace Award back when that was a thing, Steve Sullivan won the Bill Masterson, and Mike Fisher - who gives the Predators a little bit of celebrity status by being married to singer Carrie Underwood - was awarded for his humanitarianism. Weber was an NHL First All-Star twice, and Pekka Rinne was a Second All-Star once.

The Nashville Predators share their division with the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks. Both of them are Original Six teams. They also share it with the St. Louis Blues, one of the teams from the NHL's first round of expansions in 1967. Predators fans will probably argue about their rivalries with any one of those three teams, and they can almost certainly make a few cases. Let's be honest about it, though: Those three teams are too busy beating the shit out of each other to give any real thought to the Predators. They're long-established teams with great stability, long histories behind them, and much more firmly entrenched fanbases. The only team that can be considered a true rival to the Predators is their fellow expansion Columbus Blue Jackets, who were created together and can grow and reveal their own stories together. If Columbus/Nashville is given a chance to thrive as a rivalry, it can become a great one.

Of course, that's assuming they're both still around to do it. The Predators, despite their success on the ice, have an ungodly level of instability off the ice even by NHL standards, and THAT is saying something. They're right down there with the Phoenix Coyotes in that respect. Anytime there's speculation of unconquered new potential territory for the NHL, the Predators are one of the names that keeps coming up. In 2007, original owner Craig Leipold was reported to have reached a tentative sale of the Predators to Jim Balsillie, head of Research in Motion. Now, Balsillie is a big-hearted guy with a lot of philanthropic instincts, but he also has an overpowering obsession with getting a hockey team to Hamilton, Ontario. Now, there's no way the NHL will ever let this happen; Hamilton's broadcast territory already overlaps that of two other major hockey markets, Buffalo and Toronto, two cities which are a 90-minute drive apart by car. Hamilton is right smack in the middle of the drive. While Balsillie told the NHL he didn't intend to move the Predators, and he never actually owned the team, he had already began taking the necessary steps to move them. He even went as far as to start advertising for season ticket deposits for the Hamilton Predators on Ticketmaster. Leipold eventually backed out strictly because Balsillie had no intention of keeping the team in Nashville, had directly interfered with the team's relationship with the people of Nashville, and would only buy the team if he could guarantee moving it, despite interrupting two fantasies and having to compensate the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. This should have been obvious - Balsillie had tried this same shit with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the past. He went on to try it with the Phoenix Coyotes. When the NHL didn't bite, he decided to try wiping out the middleman. Or, perhaps he didn't, but what I know for sure is that the Sabres were put up for sale in 2011. An anonymous man made a hefty bid for them. All I know about the anonymous bidder is what the Sabres said, and the Sabres said he fit Balsillie's description and wanted to move the team to Hamilton.

In June 2007, Leipold again tried to sell the team, this time to venture capitalist William Del Biaggio III. HE wanted to take the team to Kansas City and made no secret of it. Like Balsillie, Del Biaggio was already selling tickets for a team he didn't own in a place the team didn't play. In july 2007, a third party made a bid for the Preds in part to actually keep them in Nashville. That same month, a rally was held that drew about 7500 fans and sold 726 full-season ticket packages. Ironically, the Tennessee group that wanted to keep the team in Nashville included Del Biaggio, but as a minority holder. In June 2008, Del Biaggio ran into trouble about unpaid loans and had to file for bankruptcy. Those unpaid loans had been acquired through fraud and used to buy the Predators. This seems to happen quite a bit in the corporate world, but it couldn't have come at a worse time for the NHL, which was already fighting a black eye because of other scams revolving around John Spano, who briefly owned the New York Islanders, and majority Buffalo Sabres owner John Rigas, who was convicted of fraud in 2005.

The Nashville Predators' arena has The Cellblock in section 303, a fan organization that has been recognized by the team's front office. The fans as a whole have made a fan tradition of giving the team a standing ovation through the entire final TV timeout. The Predators could be showing some real promise as a team on the ice. Off the ice, though, it's different. I'd like to give the Predators a positive rating, but I'm not gonna do that until I know they're stable enough to not be brought into the NHL's latest discussion about who's heading to Seattle or Houston or wherever else.]]> Thu, 18 Apr 2013 15:41:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Real Mickey Mouse Team]]>
Here's what happened: In 1992 there was this awesome movie called The Mighty Ducks that came out. Everybody loved it. Today, its still highly regarded as, at the very least, a classic of sports movies. It was a big enough hit to spawn a pair of sequels, and get the career of one of its young leads, Joshua Jackson, off the ground. When the NHL was going through its early 90's expansion round, The Walt Disney Company decided it wanted to take a shot at this hockey ownership thing. It's Disney, they got their team, and what was the first name that sprang to mind? Why, since a kids' movie came out that was called The Mighty Ducks, the name Mighty Ducks must be popular now! Time to sponge off that popularity and call the team the Anaheim Mighty Ducks! Except, for even more of an embarrassment, the Mighty Ducks didn't even get the dignity of a proper team name. Officially, they were called the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

The new team didn't use the sweater logo from The Mighty Ducks movie. It quickly mocked up a new design of a traditional goalie mask angled to resemble a duck bill. Their first coach was first-time NHL coach Ron Wilson who, aside from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998 while coaching the Washington Capitals, has had a resoundingly average career. At least they got one thing right: Their first draft pick was Paul Kariya, who went on to become the first face of the team for a long time afterward.

Despite Kariya's presence, the Mighty Ducks got to be known as a low-scoring team for their first few seasons. They missed the playoffs in their first few years, although their first record of 33-46-5 was substantially better than that of their expansion-mates, the Ottawa Senators, who had managed to lose 70 games that same year, and the second-year San Jose Sharks, who lost 71. In the middle of their third year, the Mighty Ducks made a big trade for Winnipeg Jets star Teemu Selanne. He teamed up with Kariya and Marc Chouinard to form a very potent line, but the Mighty Ducks still kept on missing the playoffs. The Mighty Ducks didn't make the playoffs until 1997, finishing with a record of 36-33-13, their first winning record. Seeded fourth in the first round, the Mighty Ducks fought a hot contest against the Phoenix Coyotes, winning in seven games before being swept in the second round by eventual Stanley Cup Champions Detroit Red Wings. Through all the bumps and expansion pains, coach Ron Wilson was kept aboard, but after the season, he was fired for saying he would like to coach the Red Wings. On came Pierre Page for the 1998 season! And out went Paul Kariya for the year with a concussion. The Mighty Ducks made the playoffs again in 1999, but were swept by Detroit again, this time in the FIRST round.

In 2000, the Mighty Ducks finished again with a winning record, but missed the playoffs by four points as the Sharks slid into the final slot. That was the last we heard about how mighty the Ducks were for the next couple of seasons, heh heh. In the 2001 season, Selanne was traded to the Sharks for Jeff Friesen, Steve Shields, and a draft pick. Their coach - Craig Hartsburg, who had taken over from Page after he was fired after his first season - was fired during the year, and the Mighty Ducks did good enough for last place in the Western Conference.

The Mighty Ducks didn't go back to the playoffs until 2003, with new coach Mike Babcock. They had actually posted a good record to get there too - 40-33-9. Okay, it was actually 40-27-9-6 this year in NHL parlance because the league was going going with that stupid standings method reading wins-losses-ties-overtime losses, but still, the point standings don't lie, and the Mighty Ducks post 95. It was good enough for the seventh seed. They shocked the NHL by finally getting even with the Red Wings for all the times the Red Wings swept them, by sweeping the Red Wings! In the second round, the Dallas Stars loomed. The first game was the fourth-longest in NHL history, and Anaheim's Petr Sykora gave the Mighty Ducks the series lead being the overtime hero. Dallas lost in six, and in the Western Conference Finals, they played against their fellow Cinderella brethren: The Minnesota Wild. Anaheim swept Minnesota, and goalie Jean-Sebastian Giguere emerged as the Mighty Ducks' MVP allowing Minnesota only one goal over the course of the entire series.

This bought the Mighty Ducks their first ticket to the Finals, against the New Jersey Devils. This Finals had a good storyline: The Devils had a star named Scott Niedermayer. He had won the Stanley Cup with New Jersey twice already. He had a ringless brother named Rob who was playing for Anaheim. The series went the distance, with the home team winning all seven games. In game six, Devils Captain Scott Stevens knocked out Paul Kariya, but Kariya returned to the game and managed to score the fourth goal. The Devils eventually emerged victorious after a hard series, but Jean-Sebastian Giguere was vaulted into elite company by winning the Conn Smythe Trophy, which is awarded after the Stanley Cup Finals to the MVP of the playoffs. In the playoffs, Giguere had gone 15-6, 7-0 in overtime, posted a breathtaking 1.62 GAA, and recorded a streak of 168 minutes and 27 seconds without letting in a single goal. It was only the fifth time in NHL history the Conn Smythe was given to a player on the losing team.

Kariya promised a return to the Finals, with a Stanley Cup to go with it, for the following season. I wonder how specific he was about that…. Okay, I don't really, because it doesn't matter. It didn't matter to Anaheim, because Kariya left over the offseason in which he made that promise, and it didn't matter to the Colorado Avalanche, the team he wound up playing for, because they didn't get that far either. Giguere couldn't repeat his playoff heroics, and the Mighty Ducks finished in twelfth place.

In 2005, the great lockout came along, and the Mighty Ducks actually seemed to have benefitted from the time off. The team was sold, first of all. Second, Teemu Selanne returned. Third, once his contract with the New Jersey Devils was up, Scott Niedermayer signed with Anaheim because he wanted to be on the same team as his brother. When hockey finally returned for the 2006 season, the Mighty Ducks, not expected to be much better than they had been in the couple of years immediately following the Stanley Cup run, did surprisingly well under the new rules. They posted a nice record of 43-27-12 for 98 points and didn't stop in the playoffs until the Western Conference Finals, where the Edmonton Oilers beat them in five game.

The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim weren't finished there, though. Oh, no! They were only just beginning! For the 2007 season, the first thing the team did was make a change that was badly needed since their creation - they dropped the embarrassing Disney moniker. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim were, at last, no more. The players and fans could finally hold their heads up with far more pride than they were accustomed to after the official team name was changed to the Anaheim Ducks. Maybe the Disney association was embarrassing to them, but even so, the fans HAD loved their team, and apparently they wanted them to retain at least some kind of connection to their past. So the Ducks dropped the "Mighty" and became just the Ducks. Although the "Mighty" was missing from their name now, though, it certainly wasn't gone from their game. With Chris Pronger added to the lineup, a deadly scoring line featuring Rob Niedermayer, Samuel Pahlsson, and Travis Moen, and a great defense, the Ducks were a chic pick to win the Stanley Cup. In the first 16 games of the season, the Ducks didn't lose a single game in regulation, going 12-0-4, a record since broken by the Chicago Blackhawks. They rushed out to a record of 48-20-14, tied for second place in the conference (with the Nashville Predators) and league (beneath the Detroit Red Wings and regular season champion Buffalo Sabres, who won the Presidents' Trophy with victory numbers as a tiebreaker). After storming through the Minnesota Wild, Vancouver Canucks, and Detroit Red Wings, the Ducks returned to the Finals to face their expansion-mates, the Ottawa Senators. The was not a Finals that was ever in doubt. Although three of the games were of the one-goal differential variety, Anaheim destroyed Ottawa in the attack, neutral, and defensive zones in the five games it took them to win the Stanley Cup. The Anaheim Ducks became the first California team to win the Stanley Cup, beating out their two rivals: The Sharks, and also their fellow southern Californians, the Los Angeles Kings, who were founded in 1967. The Kings responded by finally winning one of their own five years later.

The 2008 season started without Selanne and Scott Niedermayer, but Todd Bertuzzi and Mathieu Schneider made up for them. Selanne and Niedermayer had been thinking of hanging up their sticks, but they did return after all, and the Ducks finished with a 47-27-8 record. The Ducks haven't been back to the Finals since winning the Stanley Cup, but they've been far from bad. Currently, they're occupying the second slot in the Western Conference, just behind Chicago, and they have a legitimate shot at both the Presidents' Trophy and the Stanley Cup.

Despite the team's extremely young existence, they can field a fairly good all-time roster. Paul Kariya and Teemu Selanne are probably the best-known faces of the team. Ryan Getzlaf is there. Jari Kurri, one of the great players from the legendary Edmonton Oilers dynasty, played a small window in a Ducks outfit, as did Boston Bruins great Adam Oates. Bobby Ryan made the NHL All-Rookie Team in 2009. Jean-Sebastian Giguere isn't a bad goalie to have around. They even have one of the fiercest enforcers in history in Brad May.

While the Ducks won the Stanley Cup in 2007, it was their 2003 run that does more to define them. After all, they held their own against one of the modern dynastic teams in the Finals, beat a much better Red Wings team in the first round to get there, and beat the Cinderella Minnesota Wild, a team which had, in both previous rounds, won after coming back from 3-1 series deficits. While the Ducks have a cross-southern California rivalry with the Los Angeles Kings, but that's not the big one. It seems there's a bigger rivalry with the San Jose Sharks up north, which makes sense because Los Angeles and San Francisco have been big cultural and economic rivals for a long time. And there is surprisingly a potent rivalry against the Detroit Red Wings, because the two teams have met in the playoffs so often, and lately they've been fielding comparable talent.

Let's not kid ourselves: We ALL know the Anaheim Ducks are primarily identified through one thing, and it's being The Disney Team. Yes, it's nice they're taking so many steps to distance themselves from that past, but it hasn't been nearly enough time yet. Although the original Mighty Ducks movie used a completely different sweater logo than anything the team came up with, the Disney Company produced a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles-like Saturday morning cartoon in order to promote the team. Also, both sequels were unmistakable promos for the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. D2 was far more subtle about it - Mike Modano of the then-Minnesota North Stars made a cameo, and the jerseys that gave the movie team its Duck Power were the NHL jerseys, but they didn't appear until the climactic third period. D3 was, without any sense of shame, leaching off the team and trying to tell everyone the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim are a thing. The guy who announces the Big Game in the end spends half of it kissing cameo star Paul Kariya's ass.

And here I thought the New Jersey Devils were supposed to be the Mickey Mouse Team! That's what Wayne Gretzky once called them, anyway. Now, the Ducks actually have a lot going for them: Stability and quality are two very important factors to look for in a team, and the Ducks have both. The Ducks could damn well win another Stanley Cup very soon. But when your original team name looks like a way of telling The Great One to go fuck himself, well, just be prepared to sndure the relentless taunts and catcalls of hockey fans. A few years ago, a Ducks fan could always point to his team's Stanley Cup as a way of getting back at Kings fans poked at the Disney association too much, but the Kings are now the defending Champions, so they don't even have that anymore.]]> Sat, 13 Apr 2013 21:16:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ Another childhood favorite that still holds up really well. 84%]]> For all of my childhood, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has been one of my favorite movies. Thankfully, it's another one of those movies that still holds up really well as an adult.

1988 was quite a year for animation. Out in Japan, Grave of the Fireflies, My Neighbor Totoro, and Akira were released in theaters and were all superbly animated films that in scales from good to masterful, delivered storylines and themes unheard of at the time. Over in America, we were treated to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which gave audiences a hybrid of live-action film and animation that to this day, is unmatched in how sublime it is, which is also helped by its other strong qualities (more on that later).


It's 1947 in Los Angeles, and cartoons (known as “Toons” in this movie) aren't mere pictures on celluloid, but rather like real actors. Eddie Valiant (Bob Hoskins) is an alcoholic private detective in LA, and after being paid by cartoonist R.K. Maroon (Alan Tilvern) to take pictures of Marvin Acme (Stubby Kaye) playing patty cake with Jessica Rabbit (voiced by Kathleen Turner), causing Jessica's husband, Roger Rabbit (voiced by Charles Fleischer) to lose his mind. Eddie soon gets tangled in a murder mystery after Marvin Acme was murdered, and must uncover the truth as to who really killed Acme.


For the most part, the characters in this movie are done really well. As an adult, I really appreciate the fact that Eddie is a troubled man struggling with booze because given the tragedy he had in the past (I won't spoil it for you), gives him a layer of realism. Also, Judge Doom (Christopher Lloyd) is one of the creepiest villains from movies in my childhood, as he maintains a consistently menacing persona and does really cold-blooded things that can put Doom in the same league as the best horror icons. Roger and Jessica Rabbit are great at providing solid humor, along with Doom's gang of cartoon weasels. However, I wish characters like the bartender Dolores (Joanna Cassidy) had more time to develop.


The humor in this movie is really solid. The humor is a perfect homage to the masterful slapstick and exaggerated bodily distortion of the classic Tex Avery and Looney Tunes cartoons. One of the funniest things in this movie was when Eddie goes to the nightclub the night Acme gets killed, and the opening act is Daffy and Donald Duck in a piano battle. Seeing these two iconic cartoon ducks engage in slapstick antics against each other was hilarious (especially when Donald fired a cannon at Daffy). Another was when Eddie faces his fears about driving into Toontown, he dumps his glass flask of whiskey and using a cartoon gun that Yosemite Sam gave him some years back, fires a cartoon bullet that's a caricature of an American Indian, and the bullet uses a giant tomahawk to smash the flask. Another is when Dolores catches Eddie in his office with Jessica with his pants down (literally), and she says to him “Are you dabbling in water colors, Eddie?” There's plenty of other funny parts in this movie, but I think you get the picture.


The cinematography for this movie is marvelous. The set designs perfectly capture that 1940's noir feeling, and the designs of the cartoons perfectly fit the setting it takes place in. The animation of the characters is totally fluid, and is even more impressive considering that the “interactions” with the cartoons and real people was seamless. With this being made before the age of CGI, it's even more impressive to see all this and see the cartoon characters believably carry around real props like guns. I think along with John Carpenter's The Thing, Who Framed Roger Rabbit has some of the most remarkable special effects and visuals ever done in cinema.

On a sidenote, the interior of the Acme gag factory looks a bit like something out of Tim Burton's imagination.


Alan Silvestri's score for this movie is near perfect. Like the visuals, the music fits the setting of this movie like a glove, and one of my favorite pieces of music is near the end, when Eddie has a showdown with Judge Doom and his weasel minions, since it's so heart-pumping and memorable. The original song “Why Don't You Do Right” is pretty catchy and is a great fit for the style of the movie.


Even though this is a PG movie, there's some scenes that kids might not get or could scare them. Some of the adult innuendo provided by Jessica Rabbit and even the weasels at times will probably fly over some kids' heads. However, there's a really creepy scene near the beginning where Judge Doom demonstrates his brand of justice by grabbing a squeaking cartoon shoe and slowly kills it in a barrel full of a chemical cocktail made specifically to “kill” cartoons called “the dip.” This scene scared me a lot when I was a little kid and even as an adult, still get creeped out by this scene. Similarly, there's some parts near the end during Eddie's showdown with Doom that were creepy, but I won't mention these because I don't want to spoil anything big in relation to the movie's story.

On another sidenote, it's funny to think that there's plenty of bad anime titles like Elfen Lied and Gantz that abuse bloody gore and dismemberment scenes ad nauseam to seem “creepy” yet the dark scenes in WFRR actually feel intimidating without using bloodshed.


Who Framed Roger Rabbit is certainly a classic, and a really good homage to 1940's noir and of the Golden Age of Cartoons. If you love the aforementioned things, you owe it to yourself to reserve a movie night for this live-action/cartoon hybrid gem.

]]> Wed, 3 Apr 2013 19:26:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ An Agnostic/Atheist Easter Story]]>
The Stations of the Cross wasn't a concept I had any kind of attachment to, at all. It sounded like another bit of Christian dogma my pastor had not bothered to teach me about in confirmation class. At least, I didn't remember being taught anything about it. Considering that I hated confirmation class and had been seething quietly through what I considered an elaborate initiation ritual which would allow me full membership into my church's wine and wafer club, I was concerned with getting just enough info to pass the final than actually learning anything. Confirmation class was a course I spent two years sitting through, after all, when no one I knew could offer a remotely satisfying answer to the question: WHY am I being denied what is obviously a very important sacrament of Christianity until I listened to my minister's blah blah blah-ing for two hours every freaking Tuesday for two freaking years? Apparently I had missed a commandment somewhere along the line. Thou shalt have no other gods. Thou shalt not kill. Thou shalt take a two-year course to determine thine communion worthiness. Yeah, sounded about right.

Well, my inquisitiveness took its toll. Seven years after my confirmation, I had ditched Christianity entirely for a whole new religion. Three years after that, I ditched religion entirely. One of the instigators of my religious walkout was that everyone was dying for me to be able to perform rituals and recite passages on command, like some kind of dog/parrot genetic mutation. I was – am – an atheist, in large part because of these unbending dogmas I was being taught, and in even larger part because I had a bad habit of asking just where these rituals were written out in the Bible. The people I was questioning had an even worse habit of telling me the church does it that way because the church has ALWAYS done it that way. Grace Commons, my faith community in Chicago, was a breath of fresh air when I stumbled into it because here, at last, was a community which was challenging the very fundamental core of religion. The questioning of old religious tenants didn't keep them from partaking in some of the rituals, though, so I saw no harm in partaking in the preparation and execution of the Stations..

Grace Commons being Grace Commons, they needed to give the Stations of the Cross an artistic spin. I was game and, truth be told, a little eager to see if I could get away with a little bit of stealth blasphemy. We created 15 stations with our own metaphorical spins on the traditional imagery. In the third station, in which Jesus fell for the first time, we created a drawing of a cross being pushed over by a montage of images of the world's suffering and injustices, and propped back up with another montage of positive images of things which prop people in times of need. The tenth station, in which Jesus is stripped, was a board covered with red paint and black fabric. The fourth station, where Jesus met his mother, was a hand drawing of Jesus and Mary consoling each other.

I had a grand old time creating the exhibits. While creating the little clay crosses, I was given artistic license to create them however I saw fit, long as they were crosses. So I made a bunch of kooky-looking traditional crosses, some Celtic crosses, and one slab of clay on which I carved the word "CROSS" in large, commanding letters. I painted them however I saw fit, and I also created a weird little mold of my hand. Still, while I was doing these things, it was more out of my enthusiasm for being a creator than out of any attachment I had to Christianity. I had no feelings toward the Stations of the Cross one way or the other. As far as I was concerned, they were just another unwritten faith tenant the church had culled from the air in order to control the masses by promising some extra brownie points with God. My mother was more excited for my participation than I was. The Stations of the Cross had been something she knew while growing up as a Catholic. She was more appreciative of rigid religious observances and routines than I was, even though she's a bit of a religious upstream swimmer herself.

The big day came, and I walked in fully prepared to make a few observations and maybe crack a few jokes. Basically, I was expecting to be at least mildly underwhelmed. I had never been particularly moved by the religious displays I had seen everywhere growing up, after all. Maybe it was just a result of the fact that everything about the killed-for-my-sins idea seemed was so distant, or that the questions I had surrounding the entire doctrine had wrecked it for me, or that I had been numbed by the imagery, but the common images always left me with a rather blase attitude. Well, my visit to this display felt a lot different. It WAS different, in a few ways. Instead of the redundant imagery of Jesus going through his crucifixion, the imagery in the Grace Commons Stations felt current, relevant. The focus of the Stations were rarely on Jesus, and few of the Stations featured his likeness at all. I saw the first Station (the condemnation of Jesus) with its portrayal of mob violence, and it clicked. My sense of cynicism had departed by the second Station, a painting of a man grieving the loss of his firstborn child, a metaphorical representation of Jesus being given the cross he had to bear.

Each Station was questioning me, and leaving me challenged; challenged about my ideas of injustice and sin; challenged about my role in fighting them; challenged about how I might have been a contributor. Many ideas which I held to be black and white in the past were being stirred up and tinted in grey. My mind searched for answers and coherent thought with each display as I moved along, and I began to withdraw into myself in a way I had done very few times in the past. By the 14th Station, a display of Jesus being placed into the tomb, I felt drained and somewhat broken down. Station 14′s display was that of a ghostly white face, against a white background, with a translucent white shroud covering it, inside of a pitch-black room lit only by a small flashlight which was there only to illuminate a real prayer, written by a Jew during the Holocaust, asking for the captors to be forgiven of their sins.

Station 14 was the point where I finally tore up. I choked up and fell silent and, in dire need of a breather, I returned to the area where the service had taken place. My thought had now overwhelmed me to the point where everything was now blending together and being replaced by a raw, unnamed emotion. As a handful of others slowly filed into the room after me, all I did was sit and watch the candle flames perform their silky tango. It was a half hour before anyone was able to say anything, and it was only once everyone had processed what we just saw that our usual post-service chirpiness started filling the room.

The traditional pictures of the Crucifixion had never affected me. Having seen them since a very early age at which I wasn't able to understand what they were, I didn't realize they were supposed to be affecting pictures of a suffering deity, and so I never had any feelings toward them one way or another. And now I was sitting here, with a series of images seemingly disconnected from the event, moved in a way I had never been by anything religious. Of course, it wouldn't send me running to dunk my head into the baptismal font, but after many years of religious instruction being hotly questioned and abandoned, I couldn't help but feel like something was finally working.]]> Mon, 1 Apr 2013 11:22:37 +0000
<![CDATA[Who Framed Roger Rabbit Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> Sun, 31 Mar 2013 06:17:47 +0000 <![CDATA[ Desert Dogs Who Need Bones]]>
Okay, now that I've noted that, on to the obvious question: Even with the growth of hockey, what ever made him think the NHL could thrive in the desert? A desert in which the people are barely even registering the NFL team which also lives out there? Phoenix, Arizona is not anyone's first definition of a traditional hockey market, and the fans there have proven that repeatedly. Here we have a team that can't seem to get it together either on or off the ice. The Phoenix Coyotes have been one of the NHL's poster boys for the whole-the-hell-are-they? teams, the teams that no one follows, cares about, and seems in constant danger.

It wasn't always like that for the Coyotes. They were formed in the city of Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1972. Not as an NHL team, though - apparently hockey-hungry Winnipeg just wasn't good enough for the elitist suits running shit in the NHL. The NHL had recently expanded to 16 teams at the time. The problem was, in those rounds of expansions - 1967 creating the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Minnesota North Stars, Oakland Seals, Los Angeles Kings, and St. Louis Blues; 1969 bringing in the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres; and 1972 introducing the Atlanta Flames and New York Islanders - only created ONE team in Canada! (Meaning that yes, the NHL was always this fucking stupid.) As you can imagine, Canada wasn't pleased, and a couple of opportunistic American businessmen - Dennis Murphy and Gary Davidson, who had previously founded and run the American Basketball Association - teamed up with Bill Hunter, president of the junior Western Canada Hockey League, to see if they could get hazard pay outta some pissed off Canadian cities who felt a little jilted. They went and formed the World Hockey Association, bringing teams to Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Quebec City, and Ottawa. The WHA was set up to challenge the supremacy of the NHL, giving the senior league its first major competition since the Western Hockey League collapsed in 1926.

The WHA was pretty open about the fact that it was ditching the hated reserve clause, and that allowed the league to roam around raiding the NHL's best and brightest. Meanwhile, a certain team in the NHL which shall remain nameless (hint: It rhymes with "Schmicago Schlackshawks") was being run by a man named Bill Wirtz, a frugal owner who wasn't paying his preeminent stars what they were worth. This royally pissed off a player named Bobby Hull, which wouldn't have meant a whole lot if Hull wasn't, you know, the greatest player in this team's history and one of the greatest players in NHL history. Hull ditched his old team (The Blackhawks, alright? They were the Chicago Blackhawks) to jump aboard the WHA and the Winnipeg Jets. Once the Jets were done raiding the NHL, they then pioneered a whole new way of looking for the cream of the crop of hockey talent: Checking out the best players in Europe. That found them a couple of linemates for Hull with Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson. It also made the Jets the premier team of the WHA. The WHA lasted for seven years before merging with the NHL. The Jets played in the Finals in a whopping FIVE of those years, winning them three times.

In 1979, most of the teams in the WHA folded while the Jets, Hartford Whalers, Edmonton Oilers, and Quebec Nordiques joined the NHL. Of course the senior NHL, being the NHL, was a complete dick about the merger and forced the n00bs to pay a heavy price for entry into the league. The NHL threw a big initiation party for the WHA teams in the form of something called the reclamation draft. It cost them three of their top six scorers, and in the regular draft, they had to draft 18th out of 21 teams. One of the players they protected in the reclamation draft was a defenseman named Scott Campbell, who showed a lot of promise but also suffered from a chronic asthma which was exacerbated by Winnipeg's nasty weather. He was out of the league completely in 1982.

Setting off their place as an NHL team, the Jets immediately paid their dues. Their first couple of years were wretched. In 1981, they won all of nine games. There was a bright spot in the suffering, though, with draft picks. In 1980, they drafted Dave Babych second overall. The next year they drafted Dale Hawerchuk first overall. With them being keystones of a strong nucleus, the Jets were restored to respectability quickly, but they were also hit with a hell of a dire misfortune: They were stuck in the same division as the Oilers and Calgary Flames. Back then, the league and playoffs were set up in a way which pretty much guaranteed the path to the Campbell Conference Finals would take them through one of those cities. Knowing that, I don't think I have to elaborate very much on the Jets' fate in the playoffs. In the 1985 season, they finished with a record better than every other team in the league except three. They accumulated 96 points, the best they would ever do in Winnipeg. And while they were actually able to beat the Flames in the first round of the playoffs, they were swept by Edmonton in the following round. Between 1983 and 1990, the Jets and Oilers faced each other in the playoffs six times, and Edmonton won every matchup. Just to rub it in, the Jets only won four total games in those six series. The Jets were just destined to languish in the playoffs back then. They only won two playoff series through the 80's - the one I previously mentioned in 1985, and a second in 1987, where they beat Calgary again (only to lose to Edmonton in the second round again).

Time to give Gary Bettman a bit more credit: During his commissionership, player salaries started to go up to the point where they were comparable to the salaries of players in other popular sports. What that meant for the teams was that operating costs were also rising. Meanwhile, the value of the Canadian dollar was going down. This started smacking the Canadian teams like a rented mule, because while they collected revenue in Canadian dollars, they had to pay salaries in American dollars. On the ice, the Jets' win totals also started going down. In 1990, they traded Dale Hawerchuk, their star and Captain, to the Buffalo Sabres. They began missing the playoffs with regularity, and even on the occasions they were able to sneak in, they kept losing in the first round. The fans were troopers about it; the Jets had a very loyal following, but there were questions about whether Winnipeg was big enough to support them. Their home building was also one of the worse arenas in the league; it was an aging barn with views so bad, they obstructed the luxury suite views…. Or at least they WOULD have obstructed the luxury suite views, had there been any luxury suites!

Various people stepped in, drawing up every scheme they could think of to save the Jets. All the efforts by local businessmen fell through, so the Jets were sold to American businessmen Steven Gluckstern and Richard Burke, who planned to move the Jets to Minnesota, where they were to fill in the void left by the recently-departed North Stars. That didn't go anywhere, and the two of them made an agreement with Phoenix businessman Jerry Colangelo to move the Jets to Phoenix. Off they were, while Winnipeg was left to accept a new minor league team called the Manitoba Moose for consolation. The NHL finally returned to Winnipeg in 2012, creating a new Winnipeg Jets team by heisting the Atlanta Thrashers.

In Phoenix, meanwhile, everyone apparently thought the name "Phoenix Jets" or "Arizona Jets" would sound stupid. So they threw a contest to come up with a new name, and thus the name "Coyotes" was created. To create a little bit of buzz, the 'Yotes signed one of the NHL's best and brightest: Jeremy Roenick, fresh off a starring stint in Chicago because they had an owner, Bill Wirtz, who was frugal and didn't want to pay him what he was worth. Roenick teamed up with such players as Keith Tkachuk, Shane Doan, Mike Gartner, and Nikolai Khabibulin to lead the 'Yotes to a stretch of six seasons where they finished at .500 or better, making the playoffs every year but one. And the one year they didn't get that far, they managed to post 90 points, which made them the first team to post 90 points and miss the playoffs. Unfortunately, they still couldn't make it through the first round. The best they could do was the 1999 playoffs, where they built a 3-1 series lead which they proceeded to squander to the Blues. They fell in overtime in the seventh game.

There was another problem that cropped up: During the team's first eight years in Phoenix, their arena, America West Arena, was absolutely state of the art!…. For the NBA's Phoenix Suns, whom - it should be properly stressed - the place was built for. Now, if you've seen hockey and basketball arenas, you'll note there's a bit of a size difference, and America West Arena wasn't built with a hockey team in mind. The floor was barely large enough for a standard NHL rink, and so the team had to quickly re-engineer the joint to accommodate a 200-footer. As a result, there were parts of the upper deck that were actually sticking out over the rink! Therefore, capacity had to be cut after the first season, and a new arena was built in suburban Glendale.

In 1998, the team was sold and one of the people who became a part owner was Wayne Gretzky, recently retired and looking for the next big thing. Unfortunately, he got on at the worst possible time. For one thing, the Coyotes were back to stinking up the league again. For most of the millennium, they were barely competitive. Since a good team is important to attract fans who might otherwise not have any interest, attendance also started to drop in a way that was seriously worrying to the league. The team also had a downright shitty lease with Phoenix, which resulted in massive financial losses which they still haven't really recovered from. To try to give the team a shot in the arm, the Coyotes signed Brett Hull (Bobby's boy). Two days later came one of the ultimate embarrassments in hockey: Wayne Gretzky hired himself as coach, despite having never coached before, at any level, unless you count his kid's little league team. Five games after the season began, Hull had recorded all of one assist, and decided he wasn't capable of playing anymore. Just like that, he retired. Gretzky stepped down in 2009.

The on-ice product since then has been sorted out. Dave Tippett took over as coach in 2009 and he's turned them into a real, honest to god force. In his first season, he got them across the 50-win barrier for the first time, ever. In 2012, he brought them to the brink, getting them to the conference finals for their first time, ever. Things are looking up for the Coyotes right now on the ice. Off the ice, though, it's a much different story. The Coyotes declared bankruptcy in 2009, and the NHL has been running the team itself ever since. The NHL was planning to present the former owner, Jerry Moyes, with an offer to sell the Coyotes to Jerry Reinsdorf, who owns MLB's Chicago White Sox and the NBA's Chicago Bulls. But hours before he could, Moyes put the team in bankruptcy with the intent to sell it to Jim Balsillie, who intended to move them to Hamilton, Ontario. Now, Balsillie is obsessed with getting the NHL to Hamilton. Unfortunately for him, the league won't let him do it because the overarching broadcast area runs through that of two teams: The Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs. Buffalo and Toronto are 90 minutes away from each other by car, and if you drive from one to the other, Hamilton is smack at the halfway point. The NHL had blocked his ownership bids twice before, once with the Pittsburgh Penguins, then again with the Nashville Predators, and in 2011 an unnamed bidder who fit his description made a massive bid on the Sabres themselves. But I digress. The NHL is currently pending a sale of the Coyotes to former San Jose Sharks owner Greg Jamison, after other bids fell through. The current deal with Jamison was delayed because he can't reach an agreement with the league.

The Phoenix Coyotes are very deferential to their past as the Winnipeg Jets. It's seen in their list of retired numbers: Keith Tkachuk, Bobby Hull, Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Sheen, Teppo Numminen, and Jeremy Roenick. Of those players, only Roenick played for them exclusively in a Coyotes jersey. Unfortunately, this team isn't exactly swimming in All-Star talent. Brett Hull and Mike Gartner played for them at the absolute ends of their careers - Gartner was there for a year before retiring, and Hull played all of five games for them. Shane Doan is their face, their Captain, and the only player on the team now who goes all the way back to Winnipeg. He's a career Jet/Coyote, something which can't be claimed by a ton of players.

The Coyotes are a western team, so their games and rivalries tend to not get as much airplay as a lot of others. I guess the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings are there as far as rivalries go, but they're not rivalries a lot of NHL followers seem to take seriously. Back in Winnipeg, the Jets had those playoff series with the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers, but those are long gone, and the Coyotes are also disadvantaged by the fact that they're usually pretty bad. The fans the Coyotes do have seem to be more concerned about ownership than getting themselves up for a hard fight against a team from southern California, and it's tough to blame them at this junction.

The Coyotes really don't have a very good identity to hinge on. When they arrived in Phoenix, they were identified primarily by horrid sweater designs which exemplified all the worst aspects of 90's marketing hubris. Cartoons, color complexity, and a design meant to come off as in your face. The sweater logo looked like a hockey-playing Picasso coyote. Their designs now are a lot more simplified and a lot better, with the sweater logo being the head of a howling coyote and the color scheme having a dominant sedona red with sand-colored accents. And those old shirts are actually the best part of their identity. What really sucks about being a 'Yotes fan now is that the team is identified as clearly being one of the most unstable in the NHL. Until last year's conference final run, everything we heard in regards to the Coyotes was: Have they been sold? Who is buying them? They haven't moved yet? Where are they going to move? Why aren't they moving now? You can forgive born and bred Phoenix hockey fans for cheering for some other team, because this chatter isn't the kind that causes confidence in a fanbase. If they DO cheer for the Coyotes, in fact, they have a lot of courage in sticking to them. If they don't, you can't blame them, because they probably don't want to emotionally commit too much to a team which may not be around very much longer.

I think it says everything about the Phoenix Coyotes that most NHL onlookers seem to care about the team's finances than its recent performance surge. If you're a fan of the Coyotes, well, no matter how lowly I grade a team, I have always stressed the importance of not letting my grading discourage adopting fans. What I haven't done is give out the advice I'm going to right now: Abandon ship. If you don't, godspeed to you all.]]> Sat, 23 Mar 2013 20:19:42 +0000
<![CDATA[ Faith and (Final) Fantasy]]>
Final Fantasy X

Final Fantasy X was more or less an impulse buy. I was at Media Play one morning, talking to a friend who happened to be working as one of the clerks there. That was something I did pretty regularly to help make her clerk job a bit more bearable, and I would usually show up around the time the store opened so there would be a minimum of traffic for her to fend off while talking to me. I had had an interview at a nearby Sears for a job her own walking away left open, and my school was only about a half hour walk away, so I would sometimes pop in to say hello. The day I bought Final Fantasy X was the very day it started to show up in the bin for the Playstation 2 Greatest Hits collection. It was $20 now, and since I had liked or loved most of the games in the series to that point, I decided to go ahead and take a stab at it.

I never quite learned to develop the fondness for Final Fantasy X that I had for Final Fantasy IX or Final Fantasy IV from the Chronicles package. Maybe those two games had spoiled me, because it had been a long time since I played Final Fantasy VII, which was basically my gateway into the series. Final Fantasy X was a radical departure from the way the games themselves were made. The Playstation games had contained vastly updated graphics, but Final Fantasy X utilized voice acting, traditional turn-based combat, and had a heavier reliance on CGI cutscenes than any of the other games in the series I had played before. It also allowed the players to switch their characters during combat, which had never been done before in the series. I liked the customization system, the grid sphere, because of the convenience of it.

The main story was a little thin, but Final Fantasy X found a particular resonation to me for one reason: It was the first video game I had ever played in which the characters were openly confronted with the idea of questioning long-held sacred traditions. At the time I started playing Final Fantasy X, the whole idea of doing that in my personal life was becoming tantamount to the way I had decided to live. The game's plot revolves around the main character, Tidus, fighting off a giant monster eating his hometown and being thrust 1000 years into the future upon doing so. The game opened with the monster fight and Tidus's little time adventure. Tidus was a star player in a sport called blitzball, and one of the earliest scenes in the game shows a character performing a prayer. Tidus recognized the prayer as a sign that players in his sport gave to each other in his own time. Final Fantasy X certainly didn't take very long to get to the core of what it was really about.

The main villain of the game, as introduced to me, was simply called Sin. He was the giant monster in the beginning, and the the people from the game's world believed him to be the manifestation of their sins against their god. It also confronted evangelism, and the idea of hypocrisy within the church.

I had turned into a religious conservative as a kid, at least in secret, because my church had been teaching repetitious passages to be taken at face value. (My parents are NOT responsible.) Most of the folks there also had a very askew idea of the way the younger culture and real world worked, and a lot of what was preached there was extremely dated. I soaked it up mostly because I was a little kid and all the adults I trusted all seemed to be saying this "God" character existed. He also appeared to have written – or at least inspired – a history book about supermen who could actually talk with this god, and apparently were able to ask him to level cities, create swarms of frogs, flood the world, and cause complete darkness. People who were immune to fire and being eaten by lions and could rip apart temples. This god apparently had a son who was sent to be killed to redeem us from sins we hadn't committed. Who was I to question all this? The church was giving me the impression that the answer to that question was "someone asking for a good smiting, that's who."

It was all well and good back when I was eight years old, but I had noticed a few inconsistencies with my science classes by the time I was about 13. I also noticed a few small discrepancies with the scriptures that weren't sitting very well, either. Even though I was naturally curious, well, I didn't want to get smitten. My questions couldn't stay buried forever, though, and by the time I was 19, I had rejected my originally taught religion for an entirely different religion which was soon causing the same questions and therefore, the very same set of problems I had with my old religion. By the time I was 23, I was done. God, religion, and the idea of needing religion to teach morals and values were dead to me.

Final Fantasy X was projecting a lot of my thoughts onto a disc, and that was important to me because Buffalo is uber-religious and South Buffalo even more so. Although the religion presented in Final Fantasy X wasn't the one I had been taught growing up, it was a relief to me because it made me feel like I wasn't just being crazy. Maybe it was a little weird taking this kind of comfort from a damned video game, but video games are programmed by people, and in this case it felt like the people doing the programming were encouraging me to think. Besides, in a witch-hunt city like Buffalo, I had to take whatever I could get. In a city where a popular way to discipline kids was to tell them they would be sent to live at Father Baker's boys' home (Father Nelson Baker was a Catholic Priest who was renowned for helping the poor and is currently under consideration for sainthood), most people didn't dig the idea of difficult theological questions and would wave them off using the usual answers: Pray more, read the Bible more, or go to hell. My mother was the only person in the neighborhood who was receptive to my questioning, so that made for a very suppressing atmosphere for me within the city. In an atmosphere like that, Final Fantasy X became something of an important release for me, as well as a good place to run and hide.

I'm still playing Final Fantasy X sporadically. My interest started to wane a little bit because I had other games on my plate, and when Final Fantasy X suddenly took a steep curve into far more difficult territory, I decided there wasn't any point to frustrating myself over it when there were plenty of other good games there. In spite of the poorly-done difficulty curve, though, Final Fantasy X is still a game I can count on to be there for a very unusual religious reason.]]> Sat, 23 Feb 2013 15:27:26 +0000
<![CDATA[Star Wars Quick Tip by FreeDom4]]> Thu, 31 Jan 2013 07:21:24 +0000 <![CDATA[ The Lagniappe Con!!!]]>
The first convention was big, featuring celebrities like William Shatner, Stan Lee, and Adam Baldwin.  It also featured some great comic artists, a lot of vendors, and a ton of fan groups.

Initially, New Orleans Wizard World Fall 2012 looked to be just as big, if not bigger.  Slated to appear were the entire core cast of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, Gillian Anderson of X-Files fame, Dean Cain of Lois & Clark, and a few other celebrities.  Stan Lee was also slated to return.  As the event drew nearer, though, many celebs cancelled. 

Patrick Stewart was unable to attend due to filming.  Gillian Anderson cancelled for unknown reasons.  Dean Cain also had to miss the event.  Things were looking a bit glum, but Wizard World pulled together some great guests to replace those who had to cancel their appearance.  Norman Reedus, Michael Rooker, and Jon Bernthal (all of The Walking Dead), the core cast of Star Trek:  TNG, Stan Lee, Adrienne Curry, Michael Madsen, Jason David Frank, Amy Dumas (Lita of WWE), and a number of other wrestling divas showed up for the convention.

Also in attendance were some brilliant artists, including my friend, Vo Nguyen, whom I snagged an exclusive print and a Nightcrawler piece from, as well as some great vendors, the 501st, the Rebel Legion, and regional fan groups and conventions like CyphaCon, CoastCon, Krewe du Who, and the Redstick Rebellion.

As I mentioned in an earlier review, I've freed myself of the baggage of being a part of a convention board, so I was able to roam the con floor freely, take tons of photos, sit in on panels, and generally enjoy myself.  Krewe du Who, a Doctor Who fan group, had a TARDIS available for photos and put on an excellent panel that gave brief talks on all of the Doctor's incarnations.  There were trivia panels and panels featuring the celebs as well.

There were quite a few cosplayers roaming the con floor, and I took photos of them and with a few.  I met up with a few of my old cosplaying friends, took my traditional photo with my friend who cosplays as the Predator, and met a few celebs as well.

As far as meeting the celebrities went, most of them were excellent.  I waited nearly an hour in line to meet Michael Rooker.  It was well worth it, though, as he joked with everybody in the line.  He refused to smile in the photos he took with people.  His excuse for doing this was that he was doing Merle's smile from The Walking Dead.  I actually got two photos with him, as I closed my eyes in the first one.  When the young lady taking photos said she needed to retake the photo, he faked being angry and started yelling at me, "No retakes.  One photo, that's all!  You're killing my business here!"

After meeting Rooker, I lined up to meet Jon Bernthal (Shane from The Walkind Dead).  I was prepared to meet a somewhat cocky and brash man, but Mr. Bernthal was brilliant.  He seemed genuinely surprised that people wanted to take photos with him and hang out with him.  He was a great guy.

I did not get to meet Norman Reedus, as his line was massive.  Instead, I opted to meet a few of the Star Trek:  TNG cast.  First on my list was my personal favorite, LeVar Burton.  Of all of the Star Trek actors out there, Burton is my favorite.  He was a big influence in my life thanks to Reading Rainbow.  I talked briefly with him, but it was great to meet him.  After meeting Burton, I headed over to Brent Spiner's table.  He autographed a photo twice for me, since the photo featured Data and his brother, Lore.

The final celebrity I met was Michael Dorn.  I was a bit disappointed with Mr. Dorn.  There was no one in his line and yet he acted as if he didn't really care if I bought an autograph from him or not.  He hardly said anything to me and, to be honest, I felt a bit blown off by the guy.  I wish I would have picked Jonathan Frakes or Gates McFaddin for an autograph instead.

Overall, New Orleans Wizard World Fall 2012 was a great experience.  The uninterested Michael Dorn aside, everyone I talked to and met was nice.  I can't wait for Wizard World to return to New Orleans in 2014!]]> Tue, 29 Jan 2013 04:45:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ Gonna Make a Resolution]]>
I thought about resolutions this year and came to these, mostly because I don't see any other good ones. Much of my endeavoring this year is going to the goal of getting me back out of Buffalo, either soon or in due time. I expect it will be the latter, and I'm not sure where I'll wind up. Chicago would be the ideal, but I can't say I'm so dead set on it that I'm going to blind myself to opportunities in other places.

Number one is something I've been trying to do for a few years. I've been wanting to get back into college for some time, but just when I was starting to get off the ground back when I decided I wanted to do it, it would get tangled up in some other thing I wanted to do. Or I wouldn't be able to afford the application fee. Or, back during my messenger days, my debts would get in the way; I was poor enough as it was when the economy went to hell because my income was entirely commission, and there was no work for me to do. Right now there isn't much of an excuse for me to not be able to focus on this goal, and I've also finally narrowed down something I want to specialize in. I knew I was interested in a medical-based field and gave serious thought to therapy, but then an out-of-nowhere candidate came in and took the top spot: Nutrition. My sudden interest in nutrition was sparked by my body's apparent inability to stay at the nutrient levels required by blood donors, and I began being more careful about what I eat. (Well, more so.) It also had to do with my next resolution.

After years of doing just enough to stay in the decent shape I'm in, I've decided to try to build real muscle. Although I normally eat and act in healthy ways, this is going to require a much greater commitment on my own part. Watching food portions and exercising every day are great starts, but actually going out and - well, dare I actually use this term? - bodybuilding will be putting my body through an ultimate challenge it hasn't been through before, and certainly my mutation will add an extra dimension to finding a reasonably workable program which can get me off the ground. The ruling logic behind this radical idea is the same logic which caused me to make my pop-quitting resolution back in 2010: I've tried to do it on a more gradual basis, and kept blowing it. So I decided that, in an instant, that would be that and I was going to go all the way with it or it wasn't going to happen at all.

I'm going to finish my book and start trying to submit more writing samples. My book is actually almost finished as it is. As for general writing, I've been stuck for far too many occasions, and to a point I've been afraid of sending queries because it seems like all the publications I want to send them to use regular staff members to do their writing instead of contributors. Although I've tried to get published in the past, I'm kicking myself for not doing this sooner, because what's the worst that can happen? It isn't as if I haven't been rejected from anything before. The only difficult part is finding a unique and interesting topic to write about.

I've been wanting to try stand-up, since I've been listening to it since I was about six or seven years old. I used to tell stories at slams in Chicago, and a few years ago, with a little encouragement (actually it was more like a challenge) from my friend Dana, I began writing an act. I would like to have the chance to finally try it, and to learn what works and what doesn't work for me. I'm also going to continue writing for it more. Speaking of writing, I will maybe get a bit more serious about journal-keeping, because there are some thoughts that I just shouldn't say out loud or on a computer, or really in public at all.

What's the point of living if you're not expanding your list of interests, after all? Hell, ten years ago I didn't know anything about global politics or alcohol, but I learned a bit about those subjects in short order. Ten years ago, I never had never seen a full baseball game, and now baseball is one of the sports whose teams I have genuine emotional attachments to, plus a little internet fame as a baseball book reviewer. Unless it can be proven otherwise, I'm still convinced that we're here to learn and grow as much as we can. First, though, I have a little stop to make in Chicago!]]> Thu, 24 Jan 2013 13:49:29 +0000
<![CDATA[Buffalo Wings Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
These restaurants offer what I think are stellar buffalo wings.

Pizza Hut/Wing Street
Zuni's House of Pizza
Tilted Kilt
Marti's Place at Ramsay's Landing
Quaker Steak & Lube]]> Thu, 24 Jan 2013 05:28:12 +0000
<![CDATA[Christmas Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> Even though Christmas is over as of writing this, I feel like talking about it now.

Despite abandoning my Christian faith in 2001 (I'm an agnostic with really strong leanings toward atheism), I still practice Christmas because I think it's a wonderful time to spend with friends and family, and that I see it more as a cultural tradition in the Western world than an exclusively-Christian holiday.  I guess it helps that since 2006, I've been spending my Chirstmases with family that don't bog down everyone's spirits with their dramatic crap or downright malice for others.

My ideal Christmas consists of comics and games for gifts and Mexican-styled food for dinner and dessert.


]]> Thu, 24 Jan 2013 05:06:10 +0000
<![CDATA[Rugrats Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> When I was a kid, I especially related to Chuckie since like him, I'm a redhead with glasses that was phobic about so many things (though I'm not nearly as phobic as I used to be as of writing this).  It should probably go without saying that Angelica is the prime example of a bitch, as she was horrible to Tommy and his pals.

Even with the show's generally light-hearted nature, Rugrats was even capable of moving someone to tears, since even today, the "Mother's Day" episode still makes me squirt tears near the end.

I wish either Netflix would have all the episodes available to watch or if Nickelodeon would release official DVDs of the show.]]> Wed, 23 Jan 2013 05:11:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ Crown Them with a Halo]]>
For years, though, there had been talk of placing an existing team on the west coast, and Los Angeles - Hollywood, baby! - was always the subject of the talks. They started planning a move back in the 40's, but kept seeing excuses not to go through with it: Pearl Harbor. The sale of the Saint Louis Browns. On again, off again, blah blah blah. In the end, it took until 1957 to finally get a team out there. And what a team! They were in the midst of a string of Pennants and had won the World Series for the first time just two years before. Upon their landing in Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Dodgers proceeded to fulfill the potential they first showed in their native Brooklyn, creating a dynasty right off the bat which won three World Series titles and was fronted by one of the greatest pitchers in history, Sandy Koufax. Now in most instances, this would have been game, set, and match. However, in the early 60's an enterprising baseball fan from New York City who missed the Dodgers wanted a team in the worst way. MLB, refusing to expand, laughed in his face. And so that man, William Shea, decided to create a whole new league, the Continental League. It was totally a ploy to get Major League Baseball to comply with him and force them to expand. Of course, they didn't know that, and when a bill allowing MLB to be the exclusive baseball league in the United States was struck down in Congress, it occurred to MLB that a Continental League COULD ACTUALLY BE CREATED! It would give them.... COMPETITION!!! (Gasp!) So now that Shea had everything he needed to get his new team and league, MLB finally sat down and said "Now, let's discuss this like reasonable men, shall we?" 

Shea got permission to build his team, which became the New York Mets. One-team expansions are rare, though, and so the 60's saw a round of expansions. With the Mets came the Houston Astros, and before the Mets were the Washington Senators and the Los Angeles Angels. Cowboy legend Gene Autry was a baseball nut who had wanted a team, and this was the one they gave him. The Angels started playing in 1961.

For an expansion team, they actually put up a pretty respectable showing. They went 70-91 in their first year, which is actually still the best record ever put up by an expansion team. It kept them nine games in front of the Senators and Kansas City Royals. It also impressed the hell out of the National League brass, who apparently believed new teams should get to the back of the line and pay their fucking dues before being allowed to, you know, win. When the Astros and Mets were created the next year, the promising showing of the Angels convinced the National League owners to create a new rule allowing them to reshuffle their rosters before the expansion draft, and that resulted in the Astros and Mets both getting royally fucked over; the Astros were atrocious that year, and the Mets put on a display of baseball so unrelentingly ugly that they remain one of MLB's grand poster children for baseball ineptitude. They went 40-120, finished last in a ton of statistical categories, and are not only arguably the worst baseball team ever fielded, but pretty much inarguably the worst team of the Live Ball Era. It wasn't until 2003 that their ineptitude was even challenged.

In 1962, the Angels signed pitcher Bo Belinsky, who brimmed with potential. On May 5 that year, he hurled the first no-hitter in Angels history. Unfortunately, Belinsky was also a real nightlife kinda guy, a street kid from New Jersey who was into pool hustling and womanizing. His career took a turn south, and he never regained that no-hitter form. Even so, the Angels did spend most of that season in serious Pennant contention. The Angels got rid of him in 1964, and he then proceeded to burn through four more teams until 1970 closed his eight-year career. (He eventually landed on his feet, though.) Also in 1962, the Angels became tenants of Dodger Stadium, which pissed Dodgers owner Walter O'Malley off to the point where he, of course, worked a bunch of asinine conditions into their lease contract, like charging them for half the stadium supplies even though the Angels were drawing only half as good as the Dodgers. No one supported giving the Angels a new stadium, so in the end, Autry had to move his team. Long Beach beckoned, under the condition that the team be named the Long Beach Angels. Well, there was no way he was going to accept that stupid name, so he took the offer from Anaheim, who even built him a stadium. It was 1965 when Autry gave the Angels their identifying moniker, the California Angels. When the Angels led the American League in attendance that year, they knew the move was the smart choice.

By 1967, the Angels were contending. They were part of a five-team Pennant race that year which the Boston Red Sox eventually ended up winning. The Angels were very competitive right through the end of the 60's, showcasing guys like Alex Johnson, Clyde Wright, Ken McBride, Jim Fregosi, Albie Pearson, Leon Wagner, and Buck Rodgers. The 70's would see some bad years from the team, although the pitching rotation did have one very notable player: Nolan Ryan. Ryan had been a reliever on the 1969 Miracle Mets team which won the World Series, and all he cost the Angels in bringing him to California was Jim Fregosi. Ryan went on to set a lot of strikeout records, including 383-strikeout mark in the 1973 season which still stands. Now ordinarily, teams sign guys like him for megatons of cold, hard cash. General manager Buzzie Bavasi, however, had something different he wanted to try with Ryan: Letting him go in free agency after Ryan went 16-14 in 1979, remarking that he could easily be replaced by two pitchers who go 8-7. Ryan turned up with the Houston Astros, spending the rest of his prolific career with them and the Texas Rangers. Bavasi later admitted that letting go of Ryan was the worst mistake he ever made. It was particularly rough because 1979 was also the year the Angels finally reached the playoffs. The won their division, but lost the ALCS to the Baltimore Orioles. 

That was only the beginning of what would become a very frustrating existence for the Angels from that point forward. In 1982, the Angels made their grand return to the postseason. They also had the burden of being helmed by Gene Mauch, a great manager who was also the heartbreakingest heartbreaker of possibly every baseball manager ever. The man was good, no doubt, but he was also the guy who was managing the Philadelphia Phillies during The Phold of 1964, an oft-repeated part of baseball lore in which the Phillies had twelve games left in the season, were in first, and needed one win to clinch the Pennant when they went on a losing skid that saw them fall into third place. The Angels won the first two games of the ALCS, which was a five-game series back then. Their opponents, the Milwaukee Brewers, proceeded to win the following three, giving them the only Pennant they ever won. 1986 was even worse: The Angels won the AL West again, and were leading in the ALCS three games to one. (The ALCS had been increased to seven games by now.) At the top of the ninth inning in game five, the Angels were leading their opponents, the Boston Red Sox, 5-2. They were one strike away from victory, but the Red Sox came back and managed to pull through the whole rest of the series that year, running an incredible marathon in a classic ALCS. Boston won the Pennant and was, ironically, in the same situation California was in came game six of the World Series - a single strike away from taking it all before the opposing New York Mets came roaring back.

The Angels were briefly subject of curse talk. In the aftermath of the ALCS, fans identified Boston's go-ahead homer as the moment the team had come closest to the World Series. That home run was given up by closing pitcher Donnie Moore, and fans being fans, Moore of course became the scapegoat. He became one of those infamous scapegoats, where the team was so close, except for our one guy who blew it…. He became a scapegoat at the level of Bill Buckner, who was maligned after the 1986 World Series for letting a ground ball roll between his legs which, if fielded, would have clinched the World Series for the Red Sox; or NFL kicker Scott Norwood, just as unfairly vilified by fans of the Buffalo Bills for shanking a kick wide right in the closing seconds of a Super Bowl which decided by a single point. Buckner and Norwood, while both very hard on themselves at first, accepted their errors as part of their sports and moved on with their lives. Moore - who had fought depression in the past - couldn't quite get over giving up that run. It haunted him for the rest of his life to such an extent that in 1989, Moore lost his mind in an argument with his wife. He shot her three times before committing suicide. (His wife was driven to the hospital by his daughter and survived.)

The Angels fell back out of contention for some time. They spent an enormous part of the 90's playing terrible baseball, because by this time there was quite a bit of confusion in the office. Gene Autry still owned the team, but in name only. His health was getting poor, so his wife Jackie seemed to be in charge half the time. At other times, the Disney Company seemed to be guiding the reins, since they had a minority ownership in the team. After disastrous years in 1993 and 1994, the team finally seemed to be on the rise in 1995, when they started winning games in bunches. By August, the Angels had a ten and a half game lead in their division, but they started to slump. At one point, from August 25 to September 3, they lost nine straight games. From September 13 to September 23, they endured another nine straight losses. They finally rebounded to win their final five games, but at the point that was only worth a tiebreaker game against the Seattle Mariners, which the Angels lost. When the worst baseball collapses in history are discussed, this one tends to get overlooked, but it shouldn't. No, it doesn't help that a leading team's momentum slows down, but we frequently don't give enough credit to second place teams who catch fire at the right time. Everyone knows the story of the 1951 Brooklyn Dodgers, who held a 13 and a half game lead over the New York Giants only to lose to them and the Shot Heard 'Round the World. The Dodgers, however, didn't collapse badly - they went 26-22 down the stretch, which most times would be enough to hold on. In the same stretch, the Giants ran an incredible 37-7 record. All respectable baseball fans know the story of the 1978 Boston Red Sox and their loss to the New York Yankees through the Boston Massacre and Bucky Fucking Dent. Less discussed is the second half of that season, when Boston went 37-32 while New York ripped the AL to shreds in a 52-20 tear. The 1969 Chicago Cubs had a nine and a half game lead on August 14, which the New York Mets reduced to two over the next 13 days on the way to mowing them down and winning the division and their first World Series title. For the 1995 California Angels, there was no hot team. The Mariners went 16-13 while the Angels were going 13-17 for August, took first on a seven-game winning streak while California was losing nine straight, and lost first when they lost three of their last five while California was winning their final five. You think Seattle was on a hot streak? Nah, I thought not. This was a REAL collapse to a team which was merely lukewarm at best.

In 1996, the Disney Company took control of everything, and the curse rumors started getting serious. The Curse of the Cowboy is what it would be called, and it would have made sense because of the whole Cowboys and Indians image. Gene Autry, who died in 1998, was known as a singing movie cowboy and his team played in a stadium built on an ancient Indian burial ground. (Or so that's the rumor, anyway. Anaheim historians haven't been able to either confirm or deny it.) The team also officially changed its name to the Anaheim Angels in 1996, prompting an outcry from fans that calling them after Anaheim would make them a small time team. Those protests eventually fizzled out. The uniform designs also changed. The spelling of "Angels" on the front was replaced with a Disney-made logo featuring a large angel wing to the left of the A on new vest jerseys with pinstripes. The new design was hated by absolutely everyone. Chris Berman called them softball beer league uniforms. Angels fans themselves called them the periwinkle jerseys. In 2002, due to universal ridicule, the jerseys were scrapped and the old jerseys were brought back.

That was just the beginning of a very eventful year. The baseball gods smiled upon the Anaheim Angels in 2002. First, they got rid of a disgusting jersey design which caused millions of retinas to howl in agony. Then, all the curse talk was scrapped. Sure, the Angels started the year with a pathetic 6-14 record. In the end, though, they came through when it counted, and managed to win 99 games in the regular season. It was four games behind the Oakland Athletics, but still more than enough to qualify for the wild card spot, which would give them the privilege of getting killed in the ALDS by the Yankees, still in their dynasty years and defending their Pennant from the previous year. At least, that's what everyone thought would happen. The Yankees won the first game, but Anaheim won game two. A few days later, they clinched the series in four games after scoring eight runs in the fifth inning during game four. In the ensuing ALCS against the Minnesota Twins, the Angels split the first two games at the Metrodome before clinching at home with three straight victories, winning their first Pennant. They moved on to face the San Francisco Giants in the World Series, a highly underrated, high scoring affair which went the distance and featured an Earth-shattering clutch performance from Giants star Barry Bonds, who by most logic should have won the MVP and probably would have had he not made a deadly fielding error in game six which let Anaheim continue six-run rally that began in the seventh inning and grabbed San Francisco's momentum. In a decidedly anticlimactic game seven, the Giants took a 1-0 lead in the second inning, which the Angels matched with a run of their own at the bottom of the second. The Angels added three more runs at the bottom of the third. The 4-1 score was the final, and the Anaheim Angels won the World Series. After so many decades of bad baseball interspersed with heartbreaking near-misses, Angels fans were at last able to hold their heads high and look Dodgers fans in the eyes.

In 2003, Disney sold the team. In 2005, the team lost a lot of goodwill by making the worst name change on Earth. Hoping to expand on their fanbase and piggyback off Los Angeles, they went back to their original name. Sort of. They were the Los Angeles Angels again, but not exactly. They embarrassed themselves by officially renaming themselves the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. (And just when fans were finally getting over the Brooklyn Dodgers of Los Angeles!) Everyone thought this name was fucking stupid, and argued they shouldn't name themselves after Los Angeles if they didn't play there (even though the NFL's Los Angeles Rams spent a very long time in Anaheim and no one cared) and said the name was a lingual farce because it mixed an English term - "Angels" - with the Spanish word for Angel - "Angeles" - in a heavily Spanish-speaking city. The cities of Anaheim and Los Angeles, The Walt Disney Company, and Orange County all banded together and sued the team for it, claiming a lease violation! The team countered that the lease demanded a name that merely CONTAINED the word "Anaheim." Fan resistance eventually subsided, but legal resistance continued until 2009, when the Anaheim city council dropped the case. The full name, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, is used on official press releases and documents. In other contexts, the name Angels or Angels Baseball is used. MLB simply uses the affiliation of Los Angeles, as do most sportscasters and writers.

The baseball, however, has been stellar ever since. The new owners want the team to win again, and are shelling out the big bucks to make it happen. In 2004, they went all out to get Vladimir Guerrero. In 2006, the team paid up All-Star Gary Matthews Jr. Not a GREAT pickup, but it fueled speculation of getting Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, or even Alex Rodriguez. In 2007 the Angels ponied up for outfielder Torii Hunter, stealing him right from under the noses of the Chicago White Sox, who wanted him badly, were willing to pay, and made no secret about any of it. In 2008, they traded for first baseman Mark Teixeira. They got Bobby Abreu in 2009, Hideki Matsui for 2010, Albert Pujols in 2011, and most recently, they signed Josh Hamilton. Yeah, the Angels want to WIN, and they want their fans to believe in their team as well. And they've been winning the division a lot - five times, to be exact. They just haven't been winning the postseason games that count.

There have been twelve Hall of Fame players with the Angels, but none of them are depicted wearing an Angels cap. Still, the list includes Reggie Jackson, Whitey Herzog, Nolan Ryan, and Dave Winfield. Their list of retired numbers includes Jim Fregosi, Gene Autry, Rod Carew, Nolan Ryan, and Jimmie Reese.

The Angels have developed rivalries in and out of their division. They have rivalries with the Yankees and Red Sox as well as their great divisional rival Texas Rangers and area NL rival Los Angeles Dodgers. The Red Sox rivalry goes back to a bet between Gene Autry and Tom Yawkey over who would win more games. The two teams have endured a lot of theatrics, from fights to rallies to the 1986 ALCS, and heartbreaker for Angels fans for which the Angels got even in 2009 by sweeping the Red Sox out of the playoffs. The Angels and Rangers have a lot of former players now playing for each other. Vladimir Guerrero going to Texas while Josh Hamilton plays for the Angels is a prominent example. The Dodgers just happen to share the territory, so there's a turf war and a fight for fans. The Angels have had a share of huge, memorable moments in their history. The 1982 ALCS, the One Strike Away game, game six of the 2002 World Series (hell, the World Series itself), Nolan Ryan's no-hitter, and Bo Belinsky's no-hitter are there to whet the appetites of baseball fans.

The reigning image of the Angels is unfortunately their Disney tenure. It's because of Disney that the Angels are still seen as the cute little sibling to the Dodgers, and it's not without reasonable justification. Would those awful wing uniforms in the late 90's and early millennium have existed without Disney? What about a crappy 1994 remake of the movie Angels in the Outfield? Even the non-Disney traditions have come to be resented. If you're not a fan of thunder sticks, the blame can be laid at the feet of the Angels. They created them. They also created the Rally Monkey, a mascot monkey named Katie who jumps up and down on the video board if the Angels fall behind. And in a similar vein of the Chicago Cubs hoisting a flag with a W or an L on it depending on whether they won or lost the game that day, the Angels light up a 230-foot high letter A with a giant halo after every Angels victory.

The downside of the Angels is accepting a tragic history. I'm not talking about heartbreaking baseball; I've covered that. Remember when I mentioned the suicide of pitcher Donnie Moore up there? That was part of the reason the Angels got so much talk about a curse, and it wasn't the only time someone from the team was killed. In 1978, they had a star outfielder named Lyman Bostock who was shot to death paying a visit to a few friends of his in Gary, Indiana. In 1992, the team bus crashed in a very nasty way. No one was killed, but twelve players were injured.

The Angels don't have the great originality of the Dodgers, but they've been very prominent and important in their own right. They've had a dramatic history, perfect for a Hollywood script, and now is a better time than ever to get on board with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Even despite the embarrassing name.]]> Wed, 9 Jan 2013 16:58:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ LG's Magic Remote, Finger Gesture and Smart Share Enhance TV Browsing Experience]]> The Magic Remote comes in two models, one that comes with LG’s premium Cinema 3D Smart TVs and features LED-backlit buttons, and another for standard Cinema 3D Smart TV models. There are of course more functions that the magic remote can assist and there's a video detailing that in full.

On the other hand, Smart Share features one-touch NFC tagging to instantaneously transfer media content from one device to another using WiFi or 3G/4G. Smart Share will also support other protocols like Miracast and Intel WiDi to ensure all possible content sharing functions are supported to enable users to easily share multimedia and other content stored on a smart phone, laptop or other mobile device on the LG Smart TV.

At the end of the day, LG aims to take the complications out of the picture and let technology enable users to enjoy what they wish to do best as seamless as possible. That is LG's design philosophy in developing and improving their products - to make Life Good.]]> Wed, 9 Jan 2013 06:10:14 +0000
<![CDATA[ Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
However, like what the mighty Madpenguin has said in his review, Amazon isn't the ideal place to post reviews.  If you're a guy like me, who often thinks a little differently from the status quo (especially with anime), you're gonna be attacked for not liking something that everyone else does.  These fascist little twerps will slander you for being "contrarian" and a "troll," even if you articulate and analyze really well in your reviews.

Amazon is a great place to shop, but if you're interested in posting reviews, you're better off posting reviews on Epinions and Lunch instead.]]> Thu, 27 Dec 2012 05:19:24 +0000
<![CDATA[ A childhood favorite that holds up pretty well. 66%]]>

The McCallister family is getting ready to fly from their Chicago home to Paris before Christmas. The night before the family leaves, Kevin gets into a fight over pizza with his older brother, Buzz (Devin Ratray). Kevin gets punished for instigating the fight and causing a big mess, and in a fit of anger, wishes that his family would disappear. After the power gets knocked out that night, the family is running late for their flight and forget about Kevin in the rush. All the while, a pair of burglars, Marv (Daniel Stern) and Harry (Joe Pesci), known as the Wet Bandits, have their eyes set on robbing Kevin's house.


While not perfect, I thought the characters were well done in this movie. While I'm not really a fan of Macaulay Culkin, I thought he was good as Kevin in this movie. Kevin is a believable kid, since he generally hits the “right spot” in between overly likeable and being an annoying little brat. He's generally a good but misunderstood kid, but can show signs of selfishness.

John Heard and Catherine O'Hara are good as Kevin's parents, Peter and Kate. They're shown as parents who seem to be a little cold towards Kevin, but deep down, they really do love and care about him.

The supporting cast was decent as Kevin's other family, and it's funny to think that Michael C. Maronna played one of Kevin's family members (Maronna would later become Big Pete in the classic Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete & Pete). Roberts Blossom is great as Marley Murphy, a man misunderstood as a bad guy, but turns out to be a good person.

Pesci and Stern are quite good as Harry and Marv. Unlike a lot of family comedies revolving around a kid outsmarting the bad guys, Marv and Harry are actually pretty convincing as burglars. They show to be menacing and believable in how they act before their “showdown” with Kevin. Despite being victims to Kevin's creative traps, they're shown to be a little smart and ruthless at times, and these don't feel forced.


The humor in this movie is quite solid. Of course, the funniest parts of this movie are when Marv and Harry try to break into Kevin's house, unsuspecting of Kevin's traps. Some of the funniest moments in this phase of the movie are when Marv accidentally steps on a bunch of Christmas ornaments with his bare feet, when he accidentally steps on a nail with bare feet, and when Kevin puts a tarantula on Marv's face, causing him to scream like a little girl.

Even before the phase of the movie where Kevin faces off against Marv and Harry, there's still some good humor to be found. Some examples are of the scenes where Kevin puts aftershave on his face, causing him to scream and when he goes to see a local Santa Clause, and you see this Santa smoking and ranting about getting a parking ticket.


I would have given this movie at least a percentage in the 70's, but after analyzing some of the logical fallacies in this movie, I had to bring the rating down a notch in order to give all of you a more fair and balanced review.

Some of the biggest logical flaws in this movie are when Kevin pranks the pizza guy into thinking someone is shooting at him and the other is when he sets up the traps in his house. The former in that it's pretty odd that the pizza guy didn't call the cops after the incident, though he might have been really scared to report it to anyone. The other in that Kevin sets up some pretty messy traps in the house, such as the tar-lined staircase in the basement. Did Kevin even think of how he could clean that up?


The cinematography in this movie is splendid. Julio Macat captures lots of great imagery of winter suburban Chicago and even of Paris in some scenes. For a family-oriented Christmas film, these clean, pristine images are perfect.


John Williams's music for Home Alone is very good. Many of the instrumental compositions in this movie are almost Christmas time staples nowadays, and they stir up all the right emotions.

The choice of more “traditional” Christmas tunes wasn't bad, either. They sound good and fit the movie like a glove. I'm glad the Chipmunk Song wasn't used in this movie, as I HATE that song (though that's a different kettle of fish).


This is easily the best Home Alone movie in the whole series. While not mandatory viewing, Home Alone is a pleasant Christmas family film, and essentially John Hughes's last good contribution to cinema.]]> Tue, 25 Dec 2012 04:38:33 +0000
<![CDATA[Home Alone (movie) Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
I initially loved this movie when I first saw it back in the very early 90's, and even after some more critical, analytical thought, it still holds up well.  Despite some feelings of contrivance here and there (especially some logic issues, thus why I now rated it a 3 instead of an initial 4), the characters feel more believable and sincere compared to the second movie (and especially the third and fourth ones).

This movie is simultaneously touching and funny.  I still get a great laugh when Kevin puts the tarantula on Marv's face and he screams like a girl.  John Williams's soundtrack for this movie is also well done.]]> Mon, 24 Dec 2012 06:32:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ Vader's Fist]]>
In "Star Wars III: Revenge of the Sith," the clone troopers with blue markings who marched into the Jedi Temple on Coruscant behind a freshly dubbed Darth Vader walked into Star Wars canon as the 501st. This figure (along with a few others in other lines) cements the group's canonicity even more.

The figure's sculpt is excellent. It looks exactly like the troopers from the film. The paint job is excellent as well, featuring the token blue markings and even a bit of battle damage from purging Jedi from the galaxy.

The figure comes with "secret weapons" and a Galactic Battle card and die as well.

The only reason I give this figure three stars is as far articulation is concerned, the toy falls short. The legs are primarily stationary at the hip, with very little articulation at all. The arms are limited in range due to the armor as well.

If you're just purchasing this figure to add to your collection mint in box, I recommend getting the Vintage Collection version of the figure. If you're picking it up for yourself or your chld to play with, go with this Saga Legends version.

It's a nice looking figure, it just doesn't move very much.

In its Saga Legends box, I recommend this figure to folks who enjoy opening and playing with their toys.

]]> Fri, 21 Dec 2012 15:45:36 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Maverick Jedi Of Episode I]]> Star Wars Episode One:  The Phantom Menace.  I've burned the film myself in a few reviews over the years.  However, with the passage of time, my distaste for the film has lightened so much that I actually enjoy watching it on a regular basis.  I blame my son for this, as he loves Darth Maul so much that we've watched the film together multiple times solely to see that Sith's brief moments on the screen.  We even went to the theater and saw the film together for its 3-D release (a memory that I will never forget, as it was the first time my son saw any of the Star Wars films on the big screen).

One of the few characters that I really enjoyed in the film from the very first time I saw it was Qui-Gon Jinn.  He is also one of the few characters that I own an action figure of for the simple fact that I've never really liked any of the molds.  Recently a local department store offered eight figures from Hasbro's 2012 Movie Legends line in a multi-pack at a very low price.  I picked up a couple of these packs for my son and one for myself.  Why?  So I could get my hands on a Qui-Gon figure, an Obi-Wan figure, and a Darth Maul figure from The Phantom Menace together at one low price.

The Qui-Gon figure is suitable for display.  Although the likeness doesn't quite match up to Liam Neeson, it is fine enough for me.  The figure is of Jinn without his Jedi robe and apparently ready for his battle alongside Obi-Wan Kenobi against Darth Maul.  The figure comes with a forgettable grappling hook accessory and that brilliant green lightsaber that we see Qui-Gon wield in the film.  The figure is also very poseable.

A Galactic Battle Game die and card are also included.

I bought this figure strictly as a collector.  I did open it and plan to display it and the Obi-Wan figure in a standoff with Maul.  It's also a good figure to keep in-box and, of course, it's fun to play with as well (no matter how old or young you might be).

Highly recommended.]]> Tue, 18 Dec 2012 15:05:02 +0000
<![CDATA[ Magnificent Figure!!]]>
Featuring Kenobi in his "General Kenobi" Clone Wars armor, this figure comes with two lightsabers (one ignited and the other powered down). The figure can hold either the ignited saber or the hilt in his hands, and the deactivated hilt also fits onto Kenobi's belt.

I am particular fond of the armor, which features Republic insignia and the signature battle damage found on so many of Hasbro's other figures in all of their Star Wars lines.

The likeness of Ewan McGregor is very good, and the sculpt even includes the mole on McGregor's forehead.

Overall, this is an excellent figure to both collect and to play with. Definitely a keeper!

]]> Tue, 18 Dec 2012 14:41:04 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fun This Is, Sometimes]]>
After Thanksgiving (but not on Black Friday), I visited a local big box store to see what deals I could get my hands on. One of the best deals was a pack that included eight of the Movie Legends figures in one set. Each figure came in its original packaging and these were all encased in one large package. There were a number of sets available, some focusing on the "Clone Wars" animated series, others focusing on the "Movie Legends." I picked up two sets, one of each, and instantly had multiple Christmas presents for my son to open on Christmas day. I did go ahead and give him a couple of the figures ahead of time, though.

One of the figures I gave him early was in the "Movie Legends" set, the 2012 Yoda figure with "whirling lightsaber" action. The figure itself looks pretty decent. The likeness to Yoda from the films is pretty good. It comes with a detachable right hand that has an ignited lightsaber attached to it. There is a second right hand included that is open and suitable to hold the included walking cane. Also included is a detachable cape that, quite honestly, isn't worth the trouble. It doesn't look right on Yoda's back, and I don't particularly like it.

The figure comes with a "whirling lightsaber" action feature which allows you to twist Yoda's waist, push down his head, and watch him spin around muck like he did in "Attack of the Clones" and "Revenge of the Sith" when he took on Count Dooku and Darth Sidious. The only bad thing is that this feature is hit-and-miss (at least with the one I purchased and my son rarely uses that particular feature.

The figure also comes with a die and card for the Galactic Battle Game. This is actually a pretty fun game and myself and my son have collected a number of cards in the set already.

If you are strictly a collector and do not open the boxes, I'd say that this Yoda is passable. If you are the type of fan who enjoys opening and displaying your figures, this Yoda is okay but there are much better molds out there. Finally, if you're just buying this toy for your child or for yourself to play with, it's decent. Like I said before, the "whirling lightsaber" action is hit-and-miss, so you might want to skip this Yoda altogether.]]> Tue, 18 Dec 2012 14:36:25 +0000
<![CDATA[Pizza Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]> I know I'll piss off some people who only like fancy-pants food that's small, dainty, and overpriced, but I think pizza is among the finest contributions in the culinary world.  There's noting quite like a thin crust pizza with pepperoni and jalapenos on it, with a close second being a stuffed crust with pepperoni and bacon.

My favorite pizza chains are Pizza Hut and Papa John's, while my favorite local pizza places are the Pizza House in Lowell, Zuni's (various locations, but the one I go to is in Cedar Lake), Goodfellas in Cedar Lake, and the House of Pizza in Hammond (all of these are in Indiana).

]]> Tue, 4 Dec 2012 21:38:33 +0000
<![CDATA[ The Oriole Way]]>
There was a team in the 1890's featuring Wee Willie Keeler and John McGraw which dominated the National League and won three straight Pennants, known as much for their innovations as their dirty tactics. In spite of their success, they were contracted out of the NL after 1899, and their best guys caught the tail of the Brooklyn Dodgers afterward. There was also an American League team called the Baltimore Orioles which was around at the league's creation in 1901. They stuck around until 1903, when they bolted to New York City and renamed themselves the Highlanders. That team is still around nowadays. They've taken on a different nickname - the Yankees - and despite MLB making a lot of attempts to forget their existence, they've journeyed in on occasion to win a Pennant or a World Series every now and then.

The modern Orioles can be traced back to beginnings in Milwaukee, where the Milwaukee Brewers were created in 1894. When the Western League adopted the name "American League" in 1900 and started operating as a major league, the Brewers happened to be there. Teams were shifted around, and the Brewers were one of the two teams that initially managed to avoid that. (The other was the Detroit Tigers.) The original plan was to move them to Saint Louis, though, and that idea flamed out.

Or did it?! In 1902, the team packed up and moved out to Saint Louis anyway, a larger city whose team was known once and for all by then as the Cardinals. The new kid on the block adopted the name Saint Louis Browns, as a tribute to the Cardinals, who began in the 1880's under the Browns name themselves. The also came to be known throughout their history in Saint Louis as a second division team. During the 1910 season, they etched their name into baseball batting race lore without fielding anyone who was threatening to win the title. The race that year was between Napoleon Lajoie of the Cleveland Indians and Ty Cobb of the Tigers. In the last game of the season, Cobb had the lead, and was pretty much in the clear save Lajoie being perfect at the plate. Cobb was also a bit of an asshole, and nearly everyone hated his guts. So when the Browns played their last game of the year against the Indians, they stationed their third baseman in shallow left field. Lajoie stepped to the plate six times. He bunted down the third base line five times, and made it to first five times. The sixth time, he got his base on an error, thus turning his at-bat into a base without an actual hit. Browns catcher-manager Jack O'Connor and coach Harry Howell tried to bribe the scorekeeper to change that last at-bat to an actual hit, offering to buy her a new wardrobe, but she didn't, and Cobb won the title by one point. The outcry triggered an investigation by AL President Ban Johnson, which resulted in Howell and O'Connor both getting fired and informally banned for life.

From 1901 to 1922, the Browns only had four winning seasons. In the 20's, new owner Phil Ball, who had bought the team in 1916, didn't pull any financial punches, and the Browns were competitive - one could even say they were GOOD - for most of the decade. In 1922, they even finished second. Unfortunately, he also made several bad errors in judgement with running the team. Misstep number one was firing Branch Rickey in 1919 because the two of them couldn't stand each other's egos. He must have forgotten what a genius Rickey was, because Rickey was automatically snapped up by the crosstown Cardinals, where he changed baseball by creating and building today's farm system. In 1920, Sam Breadon, who owned the Cardinals, talked Ball into letting the Cardinals and Browns share the same park. Breadon sold the Cardinals' original park and put the funding into Rickey's farm system, creating a wealth of talent and star power which turned the Cardinals into a much bigger draw. Although the Browns were fielding the likes of George Sisler, .300 batter Jack Tobin, and Ken Williams, the first 30/30 player, Ball's blunders dogged the Browns for pretty much the whole rest of their years in Saint Louis. At the outset of the 1926 season, Ball made one of those legendary doomed guarantees, saying there would be a World Series in his ballpark in 1926! You have to [ay close attention to that wording, because Ball was right. In 1926, the Saint Louis Cardinals played in and won their first-ever World Series. Yes, I said CARDINALS. Ball had failed to specify a team in his prediction.

Starting in 1927, the Browns became acquainted with their familiar basement home again. Until 1943, they only had two winning records, and their losses included a 43-111 debacle in 1939 which is still their worst ever. That all changed in 1944, when the Browns shot to first place and their first-ever Pennant, becoming the last of the original 16 MLB teams to make it to the World Series. It took World War II to enable them to do that, and so they were lucky to strike when the talent was overseas. The Browns still had a lot of their best players, though, because most of them were classified 4-F; unfit for service. That might have been a grand triumph for the Browns; unfortunately for them, their Fall Classic opponents were thir crosstown rivals, the Cardinals, thus bring Saint Louis its only Subway Series ever. Surprise surprise, the Browns were quickly dispatched in six games by a Cardinals team which won three World Series in six years during the 40's.

In 1951, Bill Veeck bought the Browns. Veeck was a showman hated by the baseball orthodoxy for his wild antics and tack promotions. Saint Louis was the home of probably the best-known Veeck promotions that happened outside of Chicago: In one game, he gave the spectators placards with orders on them and instructed manager Zack Taylor to do whatever the spectators' placards said he should do, thus making the whole stadium manager for a day. In another stunt, he signed 3-foot-7 midget Eddie Gaedel to an actual contract and sent him to bat, under the orders to never swing. Since there wasn't a strike zone to speak of, Gaedel was walked on four pitches in his only at-bat, which gave him an on-base percentage of 1.000. There's a popular myth that Veeck had a guy with a high-powered rifle trained on Gaedel, with orders to shoot him if Gaedel took a swing. It blows me away that there are people dumb enough to believe it.

In the 1950's. Saint Louis reached its peak population of almost 860,000 people, but Veeck sensed a decline was near. (He was right, as it turned out; Saint Louis today has only about 320,000.) He didn't believe the city was large enough for two teams, so he was doing everything with the intent to drive the Cardinals out of town. He signed a lot of players who had been popular with the Cardinals, signed legendary Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean as a broadcaster, and grabbed Rogers Hornsby to manage. He destroyed all the Cardinals' material in their shared park and devoted it exclusively to the Browns. The team did start drawing again, because being a fan of the Browns was suddenly a lot more fun than going to watch the stodgy old Cardinals, who were starting to feel Branch Rickey's 1942 departure to the Brooklyn Dodgers. The 50's were the first decade since the 20's which would go by without the Cardinals winning a World Series, and their owner was caught evading taxes and forced to sell the team. Since credible offers to buy the Cardinals weren't coming in from local interests, Veeck was suddenly looking like the big bird in town.

Just as Veeck was uncorking his victory champaign, though, the credible local offer for the Cardinals showed up. The Anheuser-Busch brewery, makers of Budweiser, stepped up and specified the very intent of buying in order to help the Cardinals stay put. They also had far more money and resources than Veeck could ever hope to tap. Today, Anheuser-Busch still owns the Saint Louis Cardinals, and that's why Saint Louis is a Cardinals town and not a Browns town. Veeck decided he was better off not competing with his suddenly gigantic competitors, ceded Saint Louis, and looked to the Browns' original home of Milwaukee for relief. That move was blocked, though it was more for the personal reasons of people who hated Veeck. So he turned to Baltimore, where the city was looking to bring in some baseball after close to a half-century without. He was rebuffed again, and eventually had to sell out his business stake entirely because the people upstairs just hated him that much. Their blocked moves were an effort to push Veeck out of the sport. Don't feel too bad for him, though; in 1959, he returned to baseball in his defining gig, running the Chicago White Sox for over 20 years.

The Saint Louis Browns were moved for the 1954 season. Unlike the other teams who were moving around in that era like the Dodgers, Giants, Athletics, and Braves, the Browns decided not to cling to their past by holding on to their old name and history. They made a try to almost completely sever any connections to the old Saint Louis Browns. First, they renamed the team the Baltimore Orioles, a tribute to the old baseball teams of the city's rich baseball legacy. Aside from the National League dynamo of the 1890's and the early-century team which eventually turned into the Yankees, there was also a Baltimore Orioles team from 1903 to 1953 in the International League, one of the higher-level minor leagues. They had won nine league titles and in their earliest years, featured a young southpaw pitcher named George Ruth. Calling the MLB newcomers the Orioles only made perfect sense. Further distancing themselves from the past, they made a 17-player trade with the Yankees that included most of their more notable players in December 1954. It didn't do much for them on the field, but it did help them establish a new identity.

Paul Richards was both the manager and general manager of those earliest Orioles teams. They were the hip new attraction in the city, so they drew a lot even though they only posted a .500 record just once in their first few years. In the 60's, anyone who felt bad for the shitty team that even lost its home in Saint Louis stopped feeling so bad when the Oriole farm system started producing Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, and Dave McNally. In 1960, they finished second, the first time they were a factor in a Pennant race since 1944, or even further back if you want to discount that war fluke. It was a sign for the AL that, since the Browns weren't there to be anyone's doormats anymore, they were going to be the league steamroller from now on!

In 1965, pitcher Milt Pappas and a few other players were sent to the Cincinnati Reds for Frank Robinson. Frank Robinson was just what the Orioles needed. In 1966, he won the batting title and Triple Crown as he powered the Orioles to the World Series, where they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers. Instituting a policy of conduct which came to be known as The Oriole Way, the team stressed hard work, professionalism, and a strong understanding of baseball's fundamentals. Whatever they called it, it sure as hell worked, and the Orioles were one of the most feared teams in the American League from 1966 to 1983, a stretch which saw them win six Pennants and three World Series. They were the best team in MLB during that run. They produced three MVP's - Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, and Cal Ripken Jr. They found four pitchers who won the Cy Young - Mike Cuellar, Jim Palmer (who won it three times), Mike Flanagan, and Steve Stone. Three of the players were Rookie of the Year - Al Bumbry, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken Jr. Manager Earl Weaver, one of the greats, had his managerial savvy questioned by a reporter. A reporter quipped to the Orioles' general manager that Weaver was just a push button manager who benefitted from his talent. The general manager said back Weaver built the machine and installed the buttons.

After the 1983 title, the Orioles began to decline. In 1986, they suffered their first losing season in a long time. In 1988, they fielded one of the worst squads ever, a disaster that lost 107 games. They led sort of an up and down existence until the mid-90's under new owner Peter Angelos, a penny pincher who seems to treat his fans with contempt. In 1996, they returned to the playoffs, playing the ALCS against the Yankees. It was in game one that a young fan named Jeffery Maier interfered with a ball hit by Derek Jeter, thus awarding Jeter a home run which may or may not have impacted the game. The Yankees took that momentum to win the series after that, and eventually won the World Series that year. They went wire to wire in 1997, wiped out the Seattle Mariners in the first round, and lost the ALCS to the underdog Indians. After that year, the team's manager, Davey Johnson, resigned because of a dispute with Angelos. In 2001, longtime team cornerstone Cal Ripken Jr. retired, and the team took a nasty downturn.

The Orioles struggled in the millennium. Occasionally, they could tease; in 2005, they held first place for 62 days, before a rash of injuries to key players let the Yankees and Boston Red Sox take them down. In July, Rafael Palmeiro collected hit number 3000. That was a joyous occasion, and it would continue to be one of Palmeiro's career highlights if he didn't deny using steroids in March. That proved to be a nasty hit to his reputation, though, because 15 days after hitting number 3000, Palmeiro was caught violating the MLB drug policy and suspended. He filed for free agency at the end of the year, but no one took him up. His career is over. Sammy Sosa, also facing trouble for 'roiding up, put on his worst show in ages and enjoyed terrible relationships with other players and his batting coach. Basically, the Orioles were the 2005 equivalent to today's New York Jets in the NFL - a soap opera.

If they weren't already pissed, 2005 was the final straw for even longtime diehards. Angelos had screwed up in a thousand ways, insulted the fans, used new imagery which wasn't exactly embraced, and refused to call the team the Baltimore Orioles. He apparently had the belief that the Orioles were the Maryland and Washington DC team, because he had even taken the name "Baltimore off the road jerseys. Fans started staging protest rallies, with fans - who bought tickets! - walking out of games. The fans who didn't go in for that showed Angelos just how wrong he was to assume the state and capitol were both his. That year, the Montreal Expos moved in and became the Washington Nationals, and fans started defecting. That appears to have finally snapped Angelos back awake, and he gradually started rebuilding the team. They gradually got better, but still continued to play losing seasons until 2012, when they stunned the baseball world by winning 93 games and going a full five against the Yankees in the ALDS, a series the Yankees were quite lucky to win.

As the Saint Louis Browns and Milwaukee Brewers, the very distant past doesn't have a whole lot to include in Orioles lore. The Brewers had one Hall of Famer with Hugh Duffy. The Browns had a bunch, but the only two specifically there for contributions to the Browns are George Sisler and Bobby Wallace. Fortunes took a better turn in Baltimore, whose Hall of Fame players include Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Cal Ripken Jr., Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Earl Weaver. Those same six guys are also the list of players whose numbers have been retired by the Orioles. Ripken got the special honor of being the one player in baseball history to ever appear in more consecutive games than the legendary Yankee Lou Gehrig. Gehrig was nicknamed the Iron Horse for starting 2130 games in a row, a record which many believed would never be touched. Ripken broke it in 1995. Naturally not a guy for a day off, he kept going. The absolute WORLD record for consecutive games played was 2216, held by Japanese League player Sachio Kinugasa. Ripken broke that record too, with Kinugasa in attendance. He kept going after that, too, and so both records were not just broken, but thoroughly shattered by a man who would eventually play in an incredible 2632 games in a row. On September 20, 1998, Ripken took a personal day for the first time ever. He said he did it to avoid any offseason controversy about his playing status, and to end it on his own terms. His replacement player that day, Ryan Minor, was a rookie that year and thought his teammate were pranking him when he was told he was slated to start.

The Orioles' biggest rivalries haven't felt like real rivalries lately, what with all their suckage and the non-suckage of the Yankees and Red Sox. They exist, though; Baltimore fans certainly haven't forgotten about them. Now they're competing against the Washington Nationals too. This contest is going to get very interesting in the coming years, since the Nats struggled as much as the Orioles upon first moving into their territory and are now hitting a peak which saw them post the National League's best record last season.

The Oriole Way doesn't seem a bad way to play ball. It's the team's very identity, and it worked for a long time. Although Peter Angelos seems to be a snake as an owner, the Baltimore Orioles have a glorious and dominant past even during the lowlights. In 1969, they were the first baseball team to ever lose the World Series to an expansion team; that was the year of the New York Mets' famed Amazin's squad, which won it all out of nowhere. Unfortunately, bragging about the past only invites mocking from more knowledgeable baseball fans, who know about those pesky days when the team was floundering as the Saint Louis Browns. Browns memorabilia is still available in some places.

It's a shame I can't give this team a better rating. Peter Angelos is still there, after all, and so are the Saint Louis Browns. But the Baltimore Orioles have given their longtime fans good reasons to be very proud of their team. There's a reason why, despite the Nationals defections, many other fans still haven't given up on them yet.]]> Tue, 27 Nov 2012 19:04:17 +0000
<![CDATA[Steve Jobs Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
The people that compare Jobs to folks like Nikola Tesla don't know what they're talking about.  Tesla not only had great ideas, but he actually got his hands dirty to actually create machinery and other devices to bring alternating currents to practical use.  Similarly, Bjarne Stroustrup not only had the idea to make computer programming easy and logical, he actually worked from 1980-83, buidling off the computer language C to invent C++ (a computer language that's the backbone of so much computer software and video games today).  Tesla and Stroustrup were real geniuses.  Jobs, on the other hand, was just a guy who had wacky ideas but made his team of computer hardware and software engineers do all the work for him, while Jobs took all the credit.

Jobs, you might have fooled a lot of people into thinking that you were a genius, but you haven't fooled me.]]> Wed, 21 Nov 2012 20:22:57 +0000