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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Natch Batch

Pittsburgh Steelers football is a way of life around these parts. Their fans travel well. Just look at all the Terrible Towels that were flying in Tampa. We’re nicer, too. You’d never see us throw snowballs at Santa Claus. If you happen to be travelling, you can usually find a Steelers bar in any town across America to watch a game. For a team to have such a nationwide presence it’s hard to believe that The Steelers were not picked to be America’s Team. Actually, they were. Art Rooney turned down the honor. He said, “We’re not America’s Team. We’re Pittsburgh’s Team.” That they are. The fact that so many Pittsburghers had to leave after the collapse of the steel industry makes for a widespread fan base. A lot of displaced Pittsburghers now live in cities all around the country and have carried their love for the six time Super Bowl champs with them. They passed it on to their children, who are now passing it on to their children. Steelers Nation may look Red White and Blue but they bleed Black & Gold.

Steeler fans have loved the team through the lean years, and contrary to their trophy case and record since the 70s, the Steelers were an awful team for the first 40 or so years. And regardless of what issues come up, deep down our love of a team is greater than any individual player’s faults. It’s no surprise that The Steelers are still 3-0 despite losing two quarterbacks to injuries and one to suspension. The team rallies around itself and patches up the holes left in the wake of injury. They are like liquid, able to fill a container with no empty space. The defense has proven their worth over these past three games and it should be noted that having Troy Polamalu back on the field has added a much needed line of defense.

But, how quick we are to forget that in the early weeks of the year, perhaps beginning at training camp, one of their own was considered a lost cause. Charlie Batch has been with the Steelers since 2002, always in a backup capacity. Regardless to being prone to injury, a game in the hands of Batch has always been considered manageable and winnable. Batch has the poise and the wisdom of a veteran and is not likely to fall apart under pressure. When it was said that Byron Leftwich was rejoining the Steelers, some asked, “What about Batch?” With Ben as the starter and Byron competing with Dennis Dixon for the number two spot, that leaves Charlie up in the air. Will he be cut? Can he compete, at the age of 35, for a spot on the depth chart? Why is the man, who has been number two since Ben Roethlisberger became the starter, suddenly on his way out?

“He’s 35 and prone to injury.” That’s the party line. Yes, Batch has suffered a lot of injuries in his years. But, then again, look at how many times he has had to fill in because Ben was injured. So, let’s not look at how prone to injury Batch is, let’s look at how prone he is to coming in when needed and doing what has to be done. In most cases, he wins. In fact, he Batch Slapped the Buccaneers, throwing for 186 yards, rushing for 24 in a 38-13 win with three TDs, two interceptions, and no sacks giving him a 106.5 passer rating.  Not bad for a guy who was staring down a pink slip.

If I was given the choice of who I would want on the back of a Steelers jersey, Batch would be a close second. The first choice would be Troy and duking it out for the second spot would be Charlie and Jerome Bettis. Charlie would probably win out because he is a home town boy. He is a true Pittsburgher. He is reliable. He is dependable. He is an all around class act. During halftime he goes out and saves nun filled busses from going over cliffs, solves the economy, feeds homeless, reads to blind children, and then comes back refreshed for the second half. He should have had to fight for a spot on this team.

In fact, he didn’t. In training camp, Batch did not get as many looks as Dixon or Leftwich, probably due to the fact that Batch was a solid player with understanding of the playbook and would likely be third string in Ben’s absence. They also did not want to get him injured during camp and pre-season. Was there some psychic readings going on here? Also, the sports media all gave up on Charlie. The common theme was that Charlie’s too old and too fragile. He will not make the team. It’s a shame. I have said, time and time again, if our starting quarterback were to go down, I would want Charlie in to manage the game. I have that much faith in a 35 year old quarterback. I’m 35 and I don’t trust myself with a plastic knife, sometimes. So, when Byron Leftwich went down in preseason and Dennis Dixon went down in week two. Who was left? Charlie Batch.

Once again, that team cohesiveness comes into play. Where an offensive line would only need to give Ben enough time to make a play or pull one out of his ass, he is pretty good at protecting himself. Dennis Dixon is also a strong scrambler, usually relying on his feet more so than his arm. Now, with Batch in the game, the offensive line has a renewed commitment to protecting the QB. He’s the only we have left for two more weeks. And even then, he’s the backup. I say keep Charlie primed and ready to go. Ben will be undoubtedly rusty. He has practiced with the team since preseason. It is likely that his rhythm will be off as he hasn’t been put in real game decisions at full speed with the bone crushing defenses coming at him. It’s only fitting that his first appearance will be pretty much a tune up game against Cleveland. No worries there, right?

In my opinion, which coupled with $0.50 will get you half a Coke, this team will need Charlie Batch to make the playoffs. In fact, this team has the makings of being a seven times champion. When Dennis and Byron come back, it is problematic to justify Charlie’s spot on the team. However, I would think that if karma has taught us anything this season, losing Batch would be a big mistake. I would like to see Charlie go out a winner, responsible for at least three wins this season. I want to see him go out with a third Super Bowl ring, the biggest of any of the others. He should get to decide what it looks like. If you had to construct a personification of this team from the parts of the players on it, you would take Ben’s arms, Troy’s hair, Harrison’s backbone, Hines’ heart, Mendenhall’s feet, Hampton’s girth, Stark’s voice, LeBeau’s brain, Tomlin’s stare, Reed’s toe, Sepulvada’s shoulders and Batch’s will. It would be a very hairy and quite possibly ugliest thing alive, but you would never question its determination to give 110% every time, even if you sat it on the bench, all season long. In times of doubt and worry, the answer is clear. Natch Batch.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Don’t Touch Other People’s Stuff

It’s something you try and teach your children at an early age. It’s something I am continually trying to teach my child. She’s in preschool, now, and there is a germ factor to deal with along with an ownership issue. First of all, kids aren’t the cleanest of beings as they touch everything without regard to what they can’t see on surfaces and objects. They will proceed to touch themselves or you and transfer who knows what in the process. In addition, if it doesn’t belong to them and they have not received explicit permission to handle it, they shouldn’t be touching it. This is what I’m trying to tech and it includes all remote and game controllers, purses, keys, knick knacks, and anything else not built out of an industrial strength alloy or space age polymer in my house.

But when an adult exercises such a lack in judgment you can’t help but become shocked by their inability to remember those childhood lessons. What the hell goes through some people’s heads? This post spawned after a quick shopping trip to my local Giant Eagle grocery store in Harrison City, PA. I needed to pick up a few things and relied on the Self-Checkout lanes for quicker service. Usually, my wife is with me and she bags while I scan, but being on my way home from work, at the time, I needed to multi-task.

I grabbed what I needed and headed to the front of the store. Swiped all my items and sent them down the belt. Paid for purchases and went to the other end of the belt to bag and place in my cart and that’s when it happened. Some dick touched my stuff.

As a rule, especially in this economy, every little bit helps. My wife will clip some coupons here or there and on occasion, we will get coupons at the checkout lane from using our Advantage Card. The Advantage Card is like other grocery store cards, I’m sure. You swipe it and receive discounts on certain items. Also, for every $50 we spend, we get $0.10 a gallon for gas. In turn, for every 10 gallons of gas you pump, you can earn 1% off of your grocery bill up to 20%. It also prints out coupons at the register which can be used for future purchases as well as the occasional advertisement which is thrown away at the register nine times out of ten. Regardless of how we acquire coupons, we appreciate them when we get them. Now, I don’t know if there is some unwritten rule out there about grocery stores but if we have a coupon for something we don’t use or will not purchase before the expiration date, we usually leave it on the shelf with the product. I see them left by other people a lot and sometimes they come in handy. Also, when we get printout coupons at the register, I tend to leave the ones I don’t use on top of the Self-Checkout register for others to use.

On more than one occasion and in multiple stores, I’ve seen employees walk by the Self-Checkout registers and throw away coupons left by shoppers for other shoppers. I understand why they do it. After all, a coupon is a loss to revenue. If it’s there, it’s considered trash and should be thrown away to help maintain the appearance of the store. However, there is a similar perk in convenience stores and gas stations called the penny tray. Have a penny, leave a penny. Need a penny, take a penny. So, I don’t see this as anything different. Have a coupon, leave a coupon and so forth. It’s a bit petty and “corporate” like to just walk by and throw away these coupons when the intention was for helping out your fellow consumer. I have a point here, bear with me.

So, as I’m bagging up my groceries last Friday, this guy comes by, grabs the coupons I had received from the register, crumbles them up and throws them away. I’m still in the line, mind you, watching all this happen. I was so shocked at the balls this guy had that I was just stunned speechless. Now, he wasn’t dressed in typical store uniform so I cannot guarantee that he was an employee. He was pushing a cart that had empty cardboard boxes in it so he may have been a vendor who was stocking specialty items from the manufacturer. Still, it was rather brazen that he just walked up and did what he did. Of course, two can play at that game. I have already proven that I can be a dick with the best of them.

So, it should shock no one that I took the time to go back to the front of the checkout lane to retrieve the coupons that dickhole threw away and placed them back on top of the register. Dickery turned to outright rage when I realized that he not only threw away any coupons that were laying there, but my receipt as well. MY EFFING RECEIPT. He yanked it from the printer, crumbled it up and tossed it in the garbage can underneath the counter. I use a credit card for grocery shopping and while not all of my numbers are on the receipt, still, who would throw a receipt away in plain sight inviting the possibility that someone could use it against you.

I wanted to find the guy. I wanted to wander all over the store, bags in tow, looking for the guy to just give him a “Don’t touch other people’s stuff, Eff-tard!” prepared statement. He even looked like one. Think of the bad guy from Lethal Weapon 3. He looked like him, complete with the gray brushtache. Yes, I said brushtache because it looked like a brush hanging off his face.

Well, I didn’t find Brustache the Eff-tard which is my World of Warcraft name… kidding. But I did get the satisfaction of going back and wasting energy by digging through the garbage for two advertisements and a coupon for Activia. I don’t care. You don’t touch other people’s stuff. Obviously, I wasn’t finished yet because my receipt was still there. And two. YOU DON’T TOUCH OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF! Oh, to be a fly on the inside of the windshield on the way home from the store. You know those moments you have where you talk out loud to nobody about what you would say or do to the person who pissed you off at that moment. You even start to verbally take it out on other drivers who aren’t even involved. “What, you wanted to turn at that stop sign, but I went first, causing you to lurch forward and slam on your brakes? Too bad, dick, you didn’t have your turn signal on at the time and you probably touch other people’s stuff, too. Eff off!”

I know there were other ways to handle the situation, the least of all, blogging about it. But, hey, if someone has a problem with that, come talk to me about it. I’m up for debate about the finer points of being a dick. Just ask my wife.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Parking Lot Dickery

As a self proclaimed prick I take pride in my acts of dickery. However, I at least try to do no harm. It’s all about the absurdity of a situation for me. What’s the one thing that could make an event turn completely on its axis and shoot off into another direction? Kind of like when Christ Pontius, on Jackass, would dress up like a Chippendale dancer and just show up somewhere. Most of my shenanigans are done for comedic effect and usually result in no one being hurt, especially me. And be relieved, no Speedos or thongs are involved. In any case, I was reminded of a particular stunt I pulled, soon after I began working at my current job, after a conversation with one of the people who witnessed it.

It was back in 2001 and our office was in the outskirts of Pittsburgh near the offices of WTAE Channel 4. It was a building that was used, not only by us, but by other companies so the parking lot was full of cars and parking was at a premium. Unfortunately, I was on a later shift since I had just started working there and since I didn’t have to be at work until 10:00 am, I was left with whatever parking space I could find. On the rare occasion that I had to come in for training or had the 11:30 to 8:00 shift, I was able to snag a nice space up front on the top level. I either was there before the rush of people or as those who went out for lunch had left. Parking on top was ideal because it was a short seven or eight steps from the ground while. Otherwise, I was forced to circle the lower level of the parking lot which was tight to maneuver. Luckily, I had a 97 Cavalier which didn’t take up too much space.

Pretty much everyone on my team was screwed because we handled West Coast customers and had that weird 10:00 AM to 6:30 PM shift. Our desks were right up against the window, so we could see all the lucky bastards who had earlier shifts leaving for the day. However, there was this one guy we couldn’t place. He must have worked for one of the other companies in the building because he was always leaving at 4:00. No one had those kind of hours where I was at. We didn’t care who he worked for, he was evil and needed to die for having a life. We sat our desks and when 4:00 hit we’d stare out at the parking lot and fire mind bullets at him.

It’s amazing how you can live vicariously through others just by watching the parking lot. There was the people who drove the big SUVs and we imagined they were upper middle class yuppies who had three kids in soccer and after school activities. This was all before 9-11 and life was different. People drove big cars and had big houses and didn’t think in ten years they’d be going through a recession and have to worry whether they still had a mortgage they could afford. Then there was the corvette that belonged to someone who didn’t have a job near important enough to actually own one. It was probably someone compensating for something or having a midlife crisis. But most intriguing was the person who parked far away from everyone else, usually towards the back of the parking lot. With everyone jockeying for prime parking spots, this person was bucking the trend and staying away from people. But why?

It wasn’t the soccer mom with the SUV. It wasn’t the corvette owner. It was a Pontiac Grand Am, for Pete’s sake. It didn’t even look brand new. It looked like a late 90s model. Who the hell owned this thing and felt it was so important that it had to be isolated from the possibility of being breathed on by other people? But all this speculation went away as 4:00 rolled around and our favorite mind bullet target appeared in the parking lot. Tall and skinny, he walked with a nerdy gait and carried a briefcase. Completing his look was a Member’s Only jacket that looked straight out of Burt Reynold’s 80’s collection. As he trotted up the steps he began to pass one row of cars. Then he passed another row. Oh my God! He’s the guy. He walked up to the Pontiac like he was approaching a King Cobra poised to strike. If he moved to fast, the slightest change in wind direction could cause it to age or something. That sealed it for me. In my best Jack Burton voice I said, “Son-of-a-bitch must pay!” [machine gun cock]

The next day I arrived at work to see my new best buddy, once again, parked at the back of the parking lot. I instantly made a bold move. I parked right next to him. There was even a real choice spot up in the front of the lot, next to the steps, but I didn’t care. I was going to be a dick for the sake of being a dick. This was one of my pet peeves. When someone thinks their car is so new and shiny and untouchable that they feel the need to park away from everyone I want to just key the damn thing. Worse yet is those who decide that they don’t want to park far away to prove their point so they take up two spots allowing for extra room on either side of their doors. I’ve always wanted to stop these people and say, “You know what? If you think your car is some inherent danger, you shouldn’t take it out of the garage.”

So, this situation was double jeopardy in that not only did this guy get to leave early, he feels his car is in danger and has to park far away. “Commence dickery,” I thought. I didn’t park right up against him, but close enough to his passenger’s side to give the illusion that I could ding his Pontiac, getting out. Of course, I was very careful in getting out of the car as to not actually hit it. Remember, no one gets hurt. It’s all about the illusion and absurdity. I do another little gag when I’m walking up towards our break room, which has all glass in the front that faces the hallway. When I see someone coming out and they aren’t paying attention to hall traffic, I slightly knock on the door and then hold my nose like I just got hit in the head. It usually gets a reaction of “OMG! I didn’t see you!” Which I let them believe they actually hurt me for like two more seconds then I let them in on the ruse. Like I said, I’m a dick but just for laughs.

After a long day of answering the phone I couldn’t wait until 4:00, even though, I had two and a half more hours to work. I had clued my coworkers into my dickery so we could all watch the show because while our mind bullet sniper sessions were great watching what happened next was priceless.

4:00 on the dot and ‘Member’s Only Man’ began his nerd walk. He made it up the steps and started towards the back of the lot and paused. The lot was half empty on top that day so there was no need to use the back row in the first place. But there my Cavalier was, snuggled up alongside his Grand Am. He took a few seconds and then approached the car. He seemed unsure as to what was happening but it was great to watch. We all laughed out loud at him when he stopped in his tracks. He got in his car and drove away and the joke was over. Or was it? Not by a long shot. He almost escaped. He almost got away unscathed but he made one fatal mistake.

The next day, when I arrived at work, I couldn’t help myself. Once again, the parking lot was half full and the perimeter spaces, along the wall of the lot, were all empty. As I made my way into the lot I saw Member’s Only Man parked on the opposite side, all alone. I couldn’t believe it. He moved. He actually moved because, the day before, I parked next to him. Unreal and opportunistic for me. Not only did I park next to him, again, I parked backwards so that my driver’s side door was facing his. Like before, I was careful not to hit his car, getting out.

4:00 rolled around and a larger crowd now gathered at the windows to watch the show. Nerd walk up to the lot. Pass by rows of cars. Stop dead in tracks. I could only imagine what was going through his mind. “Was this a trap? Is there someone with a camera watching? “ He started looking around the lot for someone, anyone watching from the bushes. He slowly walked up to his car. Now, usually, comedy comes in threes. But I was willing to end the joke right here and now to save on it becoming stale. However, you can’t write this stuff. Sometimes the jokes come right out of the situation and I was inspired to go at least one more day because he actually checked his door for dings. He was honestly afraid that I dinged his precious Pontiac. So, not only did I continue it one more day, I went the rest of the week.

I suspect that he was on to us because the next day he challenged me by not moving. He must have sensed that we would have to be watching him in order to continue carrying out the joke. Eventually, I got tired of parking far away and just ended it. But not before another co-worker joined in and parked on his other side on the third day. That was too funny. He tried to play off the reaction but it was obvious he was beginning to realize he was being made fun of for his parking choices. After that he started parking with everyone else and I felt satisfied in my attempt to be a dick for no reason.

I don’t know what happened to that guy and I’ve stopped doing things like that at work because I usually get in around 7:00 AM, which is before most people. I still see some, parking their shiny new status symbols far away from people, but we are also in a different building with only our company as tenants so it would be pretty easy to figure out who was doing the dickery. Still, it was fun while it lasted.

For those about to mock, we salute you.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Someone Throw A Flag At Roger Goodell

Ok, here we are, gearing up for Week Three and Pittsburgh is down to one uninjured quarterback, Charlie Batch. Guess what? As much as I love Batch as a reliable quarterback who can manage a game, he is prone to injury. He’s been injured a lot over the last million years. But he’s still good and he’s our guy. So, how can the Steelers, who are now 2-0 and alone at the top of the AFC North keep winning when we are averaging a lost quarterback a game? It’s called defense. It’s called Troy Polamalu. It’s called Jeff Reed earning his paycheck by being the leading scorer on this team. And who is to blame for all this mess? You thought I was going to say Ben Roethlisberger, didn’t you?

No, I don’t hold Ben accountable for this debacle of a “so far” winning season. I hold Roger Goodell responsible. Why? Because he suspended Ben Roethlisberger for being a douche bag. Read what I just said there. He suspended Ben, not for committing any actual crimes, but for being a putz who let his fame corrupt his character. Whether or not he actually sexually assaulted anyone is not what’s being called out here. I am calling out Goodell because he punished a quarterback, a team, and a city. He punished an entire roster of players, two of which have been hurt doing the job Ben is better at doing. He is punishing an entire city of fans that bleed black and gold. This is a man who wants to have an extended season of 18 games, yet is trying to curb injuries to players and reduce later in life problems resulting in the constant pounding of players on the field.

Now, some will say Ben deserved what happened to him. I might agree with you. But what I don’t agree with is the severity of Ben’s punishment compared against the leniency or overall lack of punishment for players who actually broke the law. Let’s look at Goodell’s greatest hits and misses.

Ben Roethlisberger – Quarterback For The Pittsburgh Steelers
Crime - Twice accused of sexually assaulting women, overall d-baggery “All you bitches take my shot” is second only to “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” as best use of English in the media, allowing his ego and fame to continually put him situations that could result in conduct unbecoming of a NFL Quarterback and human being. Never charged.
Result – Six game suspension (reduced to four by the gregarious Goodell), not allowed to practice, dress or be on the sidelines, have any contact with players, or fans, or women under the 21 and the influence of alcohol. Can’t talk to teammates about football or anything football related. Persona Non Grata in the downtown area.

Braylon Edwards – Wide Receiver For The New York Jets
Crime - Arrested and charged with DWI while already on probation for a bar fight in Cleveland, which he pleaded no contest to and avoided suspension.
Result – Suspended one game, but is allowed to dress and be on the sidelines.

Shaun Rogers – Defensive Lineman For The Cleveland Browns
Crime – Carried a loaded handgun into an airport with the intent to board a plane, which should be a felony, I believe.
Result – No suspension. $400,000 fine.

Vince Young – Quarterback For The Tennessee Titans
Crime – Caught on tape in a fight at a strip club. Well, let’s see Strip Clubs and Fighting are exemplary conduct for a role model quarterback, right?
Result – Nothing. No suspension. No Fine.

Cedric Benson – Running Back For The Cincinnatti Bengals
Crime – Punched a bartender in the face and was charged with misdemeanor assault. This follows a sordid past with authorities as he was arrested twice in 2008, once for boating while intoxicated and resisting arrest, and then additionally he was arrested for DWI.
Result – The Bears released him after the second incident in five weeks back in 2009. However, he has yet to receive a suspension in his latest fracas and will probably not receive one although he has shown a pattern of behavior that goes against the conduct policy.

Ronnie Fields – Defensive Lineman For The Denver Broncos
Crime – Arrested for unlawful carrying of a weapon in May of 2010
Result – None yet, but consider that the incident involving Ben came out in March and he was suspended in April. It’s been almost five months and no decision on Ronnie Fields.

Hey Goodell, how many times are you going to look the other way or fail to act after setting this precedence with Ben? Seems like you are not holding up your end of the bargain of holding players accountable for their actions. How many guns have to be involved in incidences? How many people have to be killed in accidents involving drunk driving players? So far, you’ve been lucky, but let’s stop acting all high and mighty, suspending a guy for acting like a dick (no charges filed) and go after some real criminals. Maybe, the tale of Plaxico Burress should be a lesson for all players. The only reason he’s not playing is because he’s still in jail and the only one injured in his arrest was himself. But how many players get a pass or a fine, which is a joke considering their salary, instead of real punishment?

Someone throw a flag. Goodell is offsides!


Monday, September 20, 2010

Stix Nix Dix Pix

Sometimes you just have to get a grip. You can’t let these things dangle out there like low hanging fruit. You have get a firm hold on the issue. Enough imagery? Thought so.

It was reported that the Central Blood Bank was going to show a presentation to students at Norwin High School, which is about five minutes from where I live. Instead, for about 30 seconds, the students got a different kind of education. The representative from the blood bank used a flash drive [snicker: flash] to show the presentation and during those 30 seconds there were several pictures of nude males and their dangly bits. Now, the parents want to sue the Central Blood Bank for emotional damage.

Sue? Ok, let’s, for a minute, err on the side of caution and say this was damaging. I don’t want to imagine the scenario but it could go something like this.

CBB Representative reaches into his pants and says, “Excuse me while I whip this out.” The kids all gasp in horror as he produces a flash drive. Sighs are heard.

I mean, honestly, does anyone believe this was more than just a horrible mistake on the part of the CBB rep? He didn’t set out to intentional scar someone for life. He either grabbed the wrong flash drive or was dumb enough to have stored nude pictures on his work drive. Of course, he was suspended and of course an apology is merited but legal action?

Oh, and the best part? The lawyer representing the students and their parents is named Peter Payne. I will pause as you compose yourself after that remark.

Let’s face it, had this been a guy, or even a girl, and the pictures were of females, there would be no thought of legal action. Ok, maybe there would be because we’re a sue happy society but to say that there was scarring and emotional damage. The only one emotionally scarred in all of this was the guy who showed the world a few of his favorite things. The students were probably just taken aback by the sights. I imagine it’s like arc welding. They tell you not to look at the bright light without protective goggles but you end up glancing up every now and then just because. And to think that high school kids have not seen this type of stuff is insane. Teenage sex and sexting is rampant within schools, nowadays. I bet the parents would be more shocked to know what their kids have seen without the visual aids provided by a representative of the Central Blood Bank.

This all smells like college tuition funding. And what do the parents really hope to gain by suing a non-profit organization that is supposed to help people in need. If those parents sue and win, the next time there is a crisis or disaster and the C.B.C. is looking for donations, I’d hit these parents up. Well, we’d like to save these people but we recently lost a lot of funding due to some asshats suing us for pictures their kids had probably already seen on the Internet prior to the little incident in class.

Actually, I’m thinking of using this to my advantage. The CBB calls me nonstop, I mean like everyday wanting us to donate blood. “I’m not done using it yet!” Actually, I don’t know if they really want mine, it’s probably more like syrup. In any case, they next time they call I want to answer the phone and say, “You want me to donate blood? Well, maybe. You’re not going to show me penises while I’m there, are you?” I just want to hear the reaction on the other end of the line.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mongo's Halloween Giveaway 2010

Over at the shirt side of Mongo Angry Mongo Smash there is some big news. I’m holding a giveaway for Halloween. Now, last year I held a contest and it might have been a bit of a challenge compared to what I was giving away. Identify 10 of my designs for one measly item of your choice from my stores. Well, mistakes were made, others were blamed, and not one person entered the contest. But, I will not be deterred in my efforts to give something away. So, I’m trying again. However, this year, I’m not just giving away a shirt. I’m giving away TWO shirts… along with eight other neat prizes all wrapped up into one prize vault for one lucky fan.

Today launches the 2010 Halloween giveaway and one person will win TEN items all within the themes of Halloween, Pittsburgh, Zombies, Movies, and Horror. Let’s look at what the prizes are:

  • Battery Powered LED Mini Strobe Light
  • 50 Pack of Glow Bracelets
  • Halloween Sound Effect CD which also doubles as a DVD with Night Of The Living Dead on it.
  • Very Scary Music CD with tracks from classic Horror and Thriller films like The Exorcist, The Shining, and Poltergeist.
  • $20 Skreened Gift Card good for online or in store (Columbus, Ohio) purchases.
  • The Monster Squad on Blu-Ray Disc
  • Brand New Zombie Survival Guide Book (paperback)
  • Zombies: Eat Flesh shirt courtesy of Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash!
  • Zombey Road shirt courtesy of Mongo Angry! Mongo Smash!
  • Signed Photo from David L. Early of Dawn of the Dead, Creepshow, The Dark Half, and Silence of the Lambs fame, and all around cool guy.

And I’m making it super easy this year.   Between Friday, September 17th, 2010 and Friday, October 1st, 2010, go to either my store blog or my Facebook group and pick your favorite Monster Hunter.  To be qualified just  leave a comment in the comments section of the blog post or Facebook note (NOTE: You will have to LIKE the group to enter on Facebook.)  After the last day of the giveaway I will pick, at random, one winner out of all the comments from both places and that person will win the prize vault.  I am hoping to have it shipped out to them before Halloween.

Good luck!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Six Shows With High Expectations From Me This Fall

The Fall season has arrived and my DVR is asking for leniency. “Mercy is for the weak,” I tell it. I do not plan my recording schedule to be merciful. But I have been trying to be nice to my DVR. I managed to clear out all but three episodes of Castle from last season, all Glee episodes, and I am working on Bones and Chuck from last season. That leaves me with about 11% free space on my DVR for the upcoming onslaught of shows. I spend waaay too much time watching Sprout (three year old involved) and flipping through classic movies that I have seen 400 hundred times to knock back the rest of my DVR recordings but I blame my wife who was the reason why I haven’t been able to watch these shows because she watches them too. She’s been too caught up in her books and would rather do that. Pffft, books. Who wants to read? Kidding. I’m glad she’s reading. At least one of us is culturally advanced.

So, as my DVR does some cardio to keep up with the cavalcade of shows I want to watch, I am looking for some specific expectations from new and returning shows. Here’s six I’m keeping an eye on this season.

I have managed to trim the fat from shows I watched last season to this season. Gone are Desperate Housewives and Grey’s Anatomy. 2010 has a been bit of a down year for me personally and the last thing I need is a hospital drama where people constantly die. But that’s not say I won’t pick up some new shows in a balancing act of comedy and drama.

The only true comedies I’m going to peek in on are Mike & Molly and Shit My Dad Says. (I don't have time to substitute symbols when we all know what it means.) Mike & Molly stars a Pittsburgh native, Billy Gardell, who is finally getting the exposure he deserves as a comedic actor, and that’s really the only reason I’m going to watch it. Shit My Dad Says should be a hoot just because it’s Shatner and I love Shatner. Other than a cursory glance at these two, I am keeping my eyes on two new shows.

Based on a comic book about a zombie apocalypse Walking Dead promises to be what I have hoped for in a long time. After reading the Zombie Survival Guide I was convinced that there needed to be a serialized zombie story. One that moves along at the same pace as LOST and offers a chance to build up a lot of character back story. Granted, the real draw here is the zombies but seeing how society will function, or more in this case dysfunction, after a complete breakdown of the world we know is more of a selling point to me. Sometimes, the bad guys aren’t always the dead ones.

The expectations for this show are simple. I want to see great storytelling along the lines of Stephen King and Team LOST. I want to see some dead walking around and realistic looking dead. I’m kind of hoping for the Romero zombies vs. the Zack Snyder / Danny Boyle zombies. Shuffling zombies can be scarier when you find yourself surrounded then if you are constantly on the run. Seeing as how AMC has been knocking it out of the park with shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men, Walking Dead should be pretty good to go.

I confess, I’ve never watched the original series with Jack Lord. My experience with pre 80s television goes as far back as Lost in Space, The Monkees, and M*A*S*H with the first two in reruns. I have done what I can to become familiar with the classics like Wild Wild West and other shows but never got the chance to see Hawaii Five-O. Now, there was a series about six years ago called Hawaii, with Michael Biehn and Eric Balfour that, I felt, was cancelled before its time, and I felt it was a great mix of a procedural drama with some comedy and great locations. That’s usually how it works. I really like a show and it gets cancelled. The fact that Hawaii Five-0 is on CBS and not NBC gives me some hope but it really wreaks havoc on my recording as it is on at the same time as Castle on ABC.

Having the main character be the son of Jack Lord’s character is almost a stretch, though Alex O’Loughlin and I are roughly the same age and my father is almost 70. Jack Lord would have been almost 90 if he were still alive and that is a big stretch considering that there is also a sister McGarrett who is played by Taryn Manning, a 31 year old singer / actress. While I would have made Steve McGarrett, Sr. his grandfather, not his father.

I have no opinion, either way, on Alex O’Loughlin, (though, I hated that Moonlight was Angel Lite) I will give the show a go simply because I like having Daniel Dae Kim on television and would like to see Scott Caan on a weekly show. He’s got some comic timing chops stemming from roles in Varsity Blues, Gone in Sixty Seconds, and the Ocean’s trilogy. As long as he uses that wit and the humor doesn’t feel scripted, all will be fine… and speaking of fine, Grace Park as Kona is a good move.

The first season was a bit of a hit and miss effort for me. I am a diehard fan of the original miniseries and to some extent the regular series, though it became rather silly towards the end. So far, I am willing to go another with the update even though the special effects are pretty atrocious. Considering this is ABC and 2010, I expect better than cheesy green screen backgrounds on the ships. LOST set the bar for the special effects expectations and the ones I’ve seen on V last season were on par with the original miniseries.

My hope is that the renewal will give them a chance to really delve into the background of the V’s origins and intentions as well as give the resistance a chance to build out the ranks some. I still don’t know where Scott Wolf’s ageless journalist, Chad Decker, stands in the battle but I’d like to see him grow the character more than a one dimensional puppy. I’d also like to see them grow Morena Baccarin’s hair because she’s very beautiful but this short hair look with that pouty lip makes her look sickly. Rumor has it that Jane Badler is coming on as Anna’s mother, Diana.  This is a true nod to the original miniseries and a check in the win column for me. It would even cooler if they could get Marc Singer to guest as Elizabeth Mitchell’s father and have him be named Mike after his character from the original miniseries.

Season two could be the deciding factor in this series. Look what happened to Heroes in season two and they had a strong first season. V needs a strong sophomore year to ensure the invasion continues into 2011.

When this show debuted in 2005 it caught the tail wind of Angel and Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s fan base. It didn’t hurt that the creative team behind the show was made up of some great talent from Team Whedon and The X-Files so they understand the nature of the beasts they deal with on the show week in and week out. It’s a shame they lost Kim Manners in Season 4 due to her death from cancer. She was extremely talented as a director and producer. That being said, Supernatural kind of hit a big ceiling at the end of the fifth season, which was supposed to be the last one. I mean where do you go after you’ve released the Devil from his cell, you take out The Four Horseman, and you have Angels and Demons all gunning for the Winchester’s as the apocalypse approaches? Back to the beginning, that’s where.

With Bobby walking tall again and Castiel back to his angelic and extremely hilarious self, the chance to go back and do the monster hunting that made the first season awesome is a great direction. With Mitch Pileggi back as Grandpa Winchester this season looks to not be the last, either. Let’s hope. I do have some expectations.

I want to see more self contained episodes pulling on urban legends and folklore monsters. I want to see Dean Winchester continue to be the wisecracking, sarcastic, demon hunter that has made him a great pop culture observer that he has become in the last two seasons. The spoof on Twilight this year ought to be a riot for the writers of Dean’s dialogue. I am want to hear more classic rock music in the Impala. Having music from bands such as Styx, CCR, Kansas, Blue Oyster Cult and AC/DC is such a big part of what I like about the show. There was a lack of that in this past season. So, more please. Also, don’t cheap out on the effects. This show has pushed the envelope on gore and acceptable violence. Don’t back down on it.  It makes you one of the scarier shows out there. Lastly, can someone please find a way to resurrect John Winchester for at least one episode? If Dean and Sam can die a thousand times over and come back, the least you could do is have Jeffery Dean Morgan pop in for a storyline involving his father in law. After all, the biggest head fake of the show has been that John Winchester was not a lifelong demon hunter. He married into the business.

Season one ended on an even note. New Directions did not place at Regionals but were given another year to prove themselves. The one thing that can keep this show fresh is its constant awareness of pop culture trends while paying respects to classics. The first season saw a tribute to Journey and Madonna as well as Lady Gaga. Don’t stop believing in that formula. The other thing that works well is the arrangements of those songs. The duet of "Poker Face" by Lea Michele and Idina Menzel actually made me like Lady Gaga for that one moment and the mash ups they do on this show are kick ass. But, deep down the real glue of glee is the sinister Sue Sylvester. But a lot can go wrong in season two and realize that there is a shelf life for this show. It’s set in high school and no one wants to be Saved By The Bell College Years or The New Class. Finding replacements for this cast will be hard.

As far as expectations go, I want to see the same kind of musicality as season one. I am looking forward to the Rocky Horror numbers and love that Emma Pillsbury is doing "Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch-a, Touch Me." That ought to be hilarious. They need to do some more Billy Joel and find an excuse to do some Jason Mraz. I’d also like to see April Rhodes come back and have a run in with Shelby Corcoran so that we can have a Wick’d moment. The Britney Spears episode makes me want to cringe but giving second banana Heather Morris a chance to shine as Brittany is a great idea. Also, keep Sue in the mix. The season finale as well as other stand out episodes solidified Jane Lynch’s deserving of that Emmy she won and I don’t want to see her soften up or change direction.

Family Guy is such an easy show to hate and love. On one hand it is a pop culture blitzkrieg and you have to be really on top of your game to get some of the references, but during the roast of David Hasselhoff, Seth McFarlane got nailed dead to rights over his continual mooching off of shows like South Park and The Simpsons. The fact that it was coming from second rate comics doesn’t sting much but the devil is in the details. I watch it because I enjoy the humor and the constant need for really awful humor to balance out all that high brow, hoity toity culture I get on a regular basis. It’s all about moderation, folks.

I don’t hold a lot of expectations for Family Guy because I’d rather not be disappointed. I will say that I am expecting a kick ass season finale, titled "It’s a Trap", which can only mean one thing. Return of the Jedi gets the Family Guy treatment. In the last parody episode we got to see Ernie The Chicken as Boba Fett, genius move there. With Jedi, the traditional route would be to have Peter, as Han Solo, bump the rocket pack on Chicken Fett, sending him flying into the Sarlacc pit. However, in true Family Guy Fashion there should be a long drawn out fight scene between the two of them, lasting several minutes and ending with Chicken Fett falling into the Sarlacc pit, complete with Chicken Wilhelm Scream sound effects. That would be sticking to the format of Family Guy episodes. Also, I was wondering if they would go with Meg being cast as Jabba, the Rancor Monster or the personification of the Sarlacc and it looks to be Sarlacc according to WIkipedia. Looks like Joe Swanson will be Jabba, according to IMDB. Scouring the rest of IMDB’s cast listing I see Rush Limbaugh as the voice of the Rancor and Arianna Huffington as an Ewok. It seems likely that they will at least make an effort to joke about the removal of Darth Stewie’s helmet, which will reveal… Stewie. I assume he will look like he normally does which is akin to how Sebastion Shaw looked when Luke Skywalker pulled off Darth Vader’s helmet. Then at the celebration, when Luke goes off to see Yoda, Obi-Wan and Anakin as ghosts, they ought to make a joke about Lucas replacing Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christiensen. Can’t wait to see that one. I can only imagine if they were to go after the prequel trilogies but I kind of hope they don’t.

I will probably see a reduction in my free time as well as the death rattle of my DVR in the near future so who knows what I will get a chance to watch in the upcoming weeks. I’ll keep y’all posted.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Jar Jar Binks: Scourge of the Star Wars Universe

I told you I was going to do it. In Horror Beyond Imagination, I wrote about my three year old being introduced to the saga of Star Wars by watching the original trilogy. I went on ad nauseum about my love of Return of the Jedi and how Palpatine’s failure might have been a huge plot hole. Brain cells and hours of productivity were lost in that post. But now, I’m back with another geek filled Star Wars related post sure to make your eyes bleed or at least have you reaching for a drink in your local cantina.

Jar Jar Binks. The name strikes fear and loathing in the most diehard of Star Wars fan. Why? For the 35+ crowd it was evidence to the madness of King George (Lucas) in that he sold out to the kiddie crowd. Critics cited that Jar Jar was a racial stereotype of Caribbean or Southern minstrel archetype. To me, he was just a bit annoying. His speech was a poor attempt on capturing the magic of Yoda’s dyslexic dialogue and the physical humor, while somewhat funny did not add to the story. In fact, throughout the entire prequel trilogy the physical and sight gag humor fell flat for me, even with R2-D2 and C-3PO. The subtly of the humor between R2 and 3PO perfectly complemented the action and drama of the original trilogy while the "played for laughs" robot head switch in Attack of the Clones was just dumb, in my opinion. In fact, among Episode’s I-III I was only able to find one line that truly made me laugh. That was Obi-Wan’s declaration that they were “Smart than this” after being captured by Dooku in the opening scenes of Revenge of the Sith.

Now naysayers will… um… nay say that Jar Jar was no different than the cute and cuddly Ewoks of Jedi. I say a pox upon you for that. The Ewoks, as teddy bearish as they were, were warriors. Jar Jar Buster Keaton-ed his way into victory on the battle field while the Ewoks used strategic war tactics. Ewoks were never played strictly for comedy while Jar Jar functioned as a clown or comical escape. You never felt that Jar Jar could actually be in danger or killed while Ewoks blew up left and right during the Battle on Endor.

But all this is prologue for the true evil of Jar Jar Binks. Let’s set the stage.

It’s the beginning of The Phantom Menace and a mysterious Sith is pulling the strings of several puppets which leads to war. Palpatine, as Sidious, has manipulated the Trade Federation into blockading and invading Naboo. He is doing this in order to force the Galactic Senate to fight back, allowing him a shot at becoming supreme chancellor and then ultimately, Emperor. To that end, you could say that he has orchestrated every single move of the characters in the films, including, as it is speculated, the birth of Anakin Skywalker. That means he has created a Jedi that will eventually become his apprentice by moving the characters of Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan around a chess board in order to arrive on Tatooine with Padme, thus bringing Anakin to Coruscant and pushing him towards Padme years later in order to use her as leverage in bid to seduce Anakin to the dark side.

Now, for all of this to happen you have to have Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon arrive on Naboo and make it to Theed to rescue Amidala. If Jar Jar would have not been so clumsy or, better yet, not in the film, Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon would not have gone to Otoh Gunga to meet Boss Nass. One could argue that they could have eventually made it to Theed on their own, rescued Amidala and continued Palpatine’s game but it’s possible that by then, Amidala could have been killed, already signed the treaty, or have been in a position that would have made rescue impossible. In any case, Jar Jar puts the Jedi on a path with destiny. His intervention sets the wheels in motion for Padme and Anakin to meet which causes Darth Vader to be “born.”

“Ok, hold up!” You might say, “You’re telling me that without Jar Jar Binks, there would be no Clone Wars or Emperor Palpatine.” In short, yes. “Why?” I’m so glad you asked. You see, Jar Jar might have been a catalyst for the Jedi’s mission to rescue Amidala which in turn positions Palpatine to assume chancellorship in the Senate after Amidala calls for a no confidence vote of Chancellor Valorum. That is true. And I am willing to assume that even without Jar Jar’s involvement the Jedi could have reached Theed, rescued Amidala, crashed on Tatooine, and brought Anakin along. However, Jar Jar assumes duties within the Senate as a Representative to the Senator of Naboo and calls for emergency powers to be given to the Supreme Chancellor in order to combat the Trade Federation and the Separatists. Had Jar Jar not been involved and allowed to carry such weight the Clone Army would not have been used to fight the droid armies on Genosia and Order 66 would not have been utilized to assassinate the Jedi. Once again, Jar Jar sets the wheels in motion for Palpatine to continue his plan and causes the destruction of the Republic, the Jedi Council, the Jedi, and nearly everyone else.

Thankfully, he was hardly seen at all in Revenge of the Sith and appeared in a small part of the film including Padme’s funeral. According to some EU information he was moved to a secure location by the Emperor and then later was back on Coruscant during the end celebration of the various worlds overjoyed at the news of their liberation from the Empire.

There you have it. Jar Jar Binks is the reason for everything bad that happened in the Star Wars movies. He is the real Phantom Menace because he was a CGI character and not actually on screen as an actor. OK, that was stretching it a bit but you have to admit, if Jar Jar was not included the films and the events within them might have turned out better. But wait, there is another…

Stay tuned.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The First Day Of School

And so it begins. Tuesday was my daughter’s first day of school. Well, preschool / daycare if you want to be academically accurate, and half day if you want to be chronologically correct. I took an extra day off for the Labor Day weekend so that I could be there for moral support. Had things been different, my wife would have had her mother riding shotgun on our daughter’s first trip to school. Sadly, her mother died this past Spring and I felt that I needed to be there, even if I was a poor substitute, to make sure everything went smoothly since my wife was a little apprehensive about this. She felt a little guilty sending the little one off to school. She felt she should be at home with her instead of leaving her in daycare. But, with October around the corner, it’s getting to be that time of the year and that means she’ll be back to work at the local farmers’ market she’s been working at for the last 16 years. We had originally thought about holding off a year since our daughter will be going into Kindergarten after she’s already turned five. She’s a July baby, after all.

The truth is, I’m glad. Not because she’s out of the house. I’m at work so I don’t get any benefit from her being in preschool. Besides, we have to pay for her to be there and that pretty much makes whatever my wife makes at her job a wash. It’s been a little rough the past few months. With my wife’s mother passing away in April we’ve kind of taken a hit in the wallet. It’s purely on us, though. I’m not blaming anyone but myself. We don’t cook much and when we do, we cook for my father-in-law as well. You see, before April, we spent close to three or four nights a week eating dinner with my in-laws at their house. Again, we don’t cook much. We’d also go out to eat at least three nights a week with them. Since April, we’ve been going out a lot more or cooking for her Dad. It doesn’t seem like a lot but it started to add up.

So, my wife decided that she needed to go back to work, if for anything to have money for Christmas. The only reason she’s even doing Christmas this year is for our daughter. Now, we could easily make three changes that would save us enough money to not have to worry about Daycare but we’re lazy. Sometimes, when you get home from working an eight hour day and you spend the next three hours teaching piano lessons you would rather just go out to eat instead of cooking dinner. But all of this is neither here nor there and my going off on that tangent was just as bad as that cliché I threw out there at the beginning of this sentence, so we’re moving on with the story.

Needless to say, my wife had to go back to work and that caused my daughter to have to go to some form of preschool or daycare. My father-in-law picked up more projects at work and has been going every day and cannot watch her like he had. That was Grammy’s job before she died since she was “retired” [read: job was eliminated] The concept of putting our daughter in preschool so my wife could work which was necessary to pay for the preschool is a snake eating its own tail puzzle. Still, socializing the child with other kids, her age, and allowing her to pretty much play in the Petri dish that is preschool would help her immune system. The kid already has a few strikes against her in the heredity department. Both our family histories are riddled with issues from cancer to MS to diabetes. Thankfully, she has been very healthy in her first three years and hopefully she inherits my immune system.

So, all of this build up and tangent taking and misdirection hasn’t caused you to flip over to ICANHASCHEEZBURGER for a mind numbing kitteh fest? Ok, I’ll get to it. First day went off without a hitch. We got to scope out the place last Friday and the munchkin seemed to be ready to stay there all weekend. She was a little upset with having to get up early on Tuesday and couldn’t understand why she wasn’t able to wear her pajamas to school. I told her save that for college. When we walked her in we had to drop off her paperwork and while my wife dealt with that I was having my arm pulled out of my socket by my kid trying to get into the classroom. We were told that it was best if parents said goodbye and then went away because hanging around might give the child a sense of anxiety if she saw the parent having a problem letting go. So, we said goodbye and she gave us a kiss and never missed a beat going back into playing. Apparently, it would be OK.

We both decided to grab some breakfast and went back to the house. Here I was, home from work, free to do whatever I wanted for the next four hours and I was bored out of my skull. I watched a little TV, played a little PS3, and basically surfed the Internet for awhile with no real direction. I even got a progress report in my email box from the school. The little one was completely acclimated to her surroundings. They couldn’t even tell that it was her first day. She even made fun of one of the boys in her class. “Aw, she’s just like her mother,” I thought.

Actually, I’d venture to guess she was more like me. I never shied away from a social gathering when I was a kid. I was all about being in the mix. Granted, I have become embittered by the world around me in my older age and lead a somewhat hermetic existence. Offline, that is. But growing up I learned to roll with the punches and adjust to the situation. I explained to my wife how my first day of school went. I realized within five minutes of entering the classroom on my first day of Kindergarten that I needed to keep a low profile when it came to fear and anxiety. Now, I had some preschool under my belt and some might say I was the scourge of the classroom. I led a few revolts and even enlisted the aid of another classmate in a black ops campaign which resulted in the flushing of another classmate’s sandwich down the toilet. I don’t know why we did it but I apologize immensely for it happening. Anyway, since I had some schooling beforehand I wasn’t walking blindly into the fray but I was a bit nervous. It was only a half day but it was every day. And it wasn’t just for fun, there was actual learning to be done and the class was a bit bigger than what I was used to. All of this added up to me feeling a little scared when I walked in but I kept it hidden.

However, there was a moment that solidified my thoughts on how to handle myself in these types of situations. I had walked across the room and my mother was still standing in the doorway, just in case I needed an escape plan. I turned to make a decision, feeling a little overwhelmed, and then it happened. There was a blood curdling scream coming from the door. Another boy had shown up and he was not exactly prepared for his mother to leave. She let go of his hand and was turning to exit and he went four alarm kablooey. It was like a train wreck but I wasn’t watching him. I was watching everyone else watching him. That was the moment I realized I needed to play it cool. If for anything else, it’s 30 years later and I still remember that moment and I remember the kid’s name. I would like to be remembered in 30 years but not because I had a complete meltdown my first day of school. I simply looked at my mother and we both shared an unspoken moment that went like this.

MOM: What do you think?
ME: I’ll be fine.
MOM: You sure?
ME: Are you nuts? Did you see what just happened?
MOM: Right. I’ll see you in a few hours.

Now, it’s day number two for my kid and it’s a full day at that. I got the progress report from my wife and everything went just fine. I have yet to hear the Silent Hill like sirens blaring overhead so I will take that as a good sign that she's behaving well and having a good day.  I think the parents have more hang-ups about their kids going off to school than the kids do. Although, considering the display put on, by that kid back in Kindergarten, I could only imagine what his mom did out in the parking lot. She might have spontaneously combusted right there in her station wagon. I at least waited until I got out of the parking lot to shed one lone internal tear. No one saw it and that’s 30 years of conditioning still going strong.
Class dismissed.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Off To See The Wizard

When a man’s been given suspension
For creating a lot of tension
With help on the media’s part.
And whether he committed a crime
He still has to do his time
So, Ben won’t get to start.

Please hold your applause.  

Ben Roethlisberger, love him or hate him, is the backbone of the Steelers offense. Yet he won’t play for what will probably be a month after all is said and done. When the QB went down to Georgia and caused a ruckus in a bar bathroom resulting in a alleged sexual assault of a woman under the age of 21 he brought down the full fury of Roger Goodell on him. The result was a maximum six game suspension for violating the league’s conduct policy. Now, Ben and a few of his friends are off to see the wizard named Goodell to see about asking for a reduction of that suspension. It was possible that it could have been reduced to four games which is widely been reported due to Ben’s turnaround in character. He is going to ask the wizard for a further reduction to possibly three games. A: Do you think he deserves the full six games? B: Do you think he deserves less? C: Do you care? D: Is Goodell off his rocker to start?

Regardless of whether or not Ben did anything wrong, no charges were filed and in the courts that results in no crime being committed. If he did do anything wrong he’s certainly been given enough time to reflect on his choices as a young superstar quarterback with two Super Bowl rings and a multimillion dollar contract to his name. This should be a wakeup call and it might have been the one he needed. It certainly wasn’t the motorcycle crash that took place the summer after Super Bowl win number one and it wasn’t the allegations of sexual assault charges that came crashing down on him after Super Bowl win number two, although the alleged incident occurred in the previous year. I’m actually afraid of what might happen if Pittsburgh wins another Super Bowl. He might die in some weird motorcycle accident after crashing into a bar bathroom while trying to have sex on his bike.

Notwithstanding the lack of charges, the punishment handed down from the NFL commissioner may fit the supposed crime. What Ben DID do was fail to represent the caliber of an individual who is privileged enough to be in his shoes. A role model to young children and athletes, he tarnished his choir boy image of a family and religion oriented hero and sullied the already disintegrating image of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Over the years, the Steelers have been a number of things. They’ve been winners, losers and average Joes in their 75 plus years in the league. Throughout it all, many have perceived the image of the Steelers as a blue collar working man’s team. One that is more appropriately described as America’s team than the Cowboys are. They have always appeared to rise above the general BS that has made the National Football League appear more like a prison league than professional one in recent years.

But that was the past. Recent seasons have been plagued by kickers trying to take a swing at police officers, a former wide receiver tweeting remarks about a woman he allegedly assaulted and being arrested for possession of drugs, and various other accusations of assault, both domestic and sexual. None of these were more high profile than Ben’s off the field conduct which landed him no formal charges but a suspension for the beginning of the season.

Now, with the preseason over, the job for starting quarterback in Pittsburgh has come into question. We had Dennis Dixon, Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch all trading snaps during preseason. With Ben out for four or six games the Steelers need a strong leader in there to ensure that when Ben gets handed the keys he can keep the momentum going for the rest of the season. The forgone conclusion was that Leftwich would be starter in Week One, but last night’s final preseason game left us with only two quarterbacks. Leftwich sustained a knee injury that could put him on the bench for most of Ben’s suspension. Dixon, who is a good scrambler, failed to show real promise after a dismal preseason loss against Denver. He either doesn’t know the playbook or is relying too heavily on his feet instead of his arm. Charlie Batch is a dependable quarterback, when he’s healthy. The 13 year veteran has been out with a lot of injuries during his career. He’s also 35 and been passed over in training camp. One wonders if he was simply not a choice for the temporary starting position or if the coaching staff knew they could rely on Batch and wanted to keep him healthy, just in case. That “Just In Case” scenario has presented itself with Leftwich’s injury. What to do for Sunday?

But this whole drama was predicated by Ben Roethlisberger’s conduct off the field and he has the burden of knowing that the Steelers are lost without him and ultimately in this mess because of him. It’s nice to be needed but horrible to be the reason for the need. Right or wrong, Ben screwed up, but his actions are only slightly more reprehensible than those of the man who deemed him a shame to the conduct policy. Roger Goodell has completely overstepped the sanity line by handing down such a punishment. Should Ben have been punished even though no “crime” was “committed?” Absolutely. He should have had this wakeup call but Goodell isn’t being consistent in his doling out of punishment. He is about as consistent and reasonable at handing out punishments as the MPAA is at handing out ratings for films.

Vince Young and Shaun Rogers are prime examples. In both of these cases, there was a clear and present violation of those much revered “conduct policies” that Goodell delivered from the Mount. If anything, they were cut and dry violations of the law. Rogers carried a loaded gun into an airport and attempted to get on a plane. He gets a fine of around $400,000. Gee, that hurt. Young was caught on tape in a fight at a strip club. He was given no punishment, whatsoever. Boy, Roger, can you explain why Roethlisberger was given a six game suspension over allegedly assaulting a woman in a bar bathroom? Forget that he might have done it. Forget all the personal problems Ben has going on, take Goodells punishment as it pertains to the actual crime or lack thereof. Had Ben been charged and convicted, he should have been gone. End of story. The fact police did not find enough evidence to charge him gives him reasonable doubt and the possibility of a “he said / she said” scenario. In that case, give him a fine and a one game suspension. But to punish an entire team over a lack credible evidence and hearsay is ridiculous when you have another quarterback caught on tape in a brawl and defensive lineman arrested for carrying a gun into an airport. That’s a felony! What, because he later assisted in the arrest of a drunk driver, he should be commended?

So, today, Ben is meeting with Goodell to discuss the suspension and ask for leniency. What he should ask is why Vince Young and Shaun Rogers are suiting up on Sunday and he’s going to be watching the Steelers struggle against Atlanta. Perhaps if Roethlisberger had dressed up in a mask and cape and nabbed some bad guys around town, Goodell would be impressed. Whether or not he is sincere in his actions, Roethlisberger has shown that he is taking this seriously and has been a good boy. Perhaps if he brought Roger the Wicked Witch of the West’s broom to the meeting, it would help.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Horror Beyond Imagination

Warning: There will be copious amounts of geek and nerd discussion throughout this post which will last a very long time.  Long winded doesn't even begin to cover it.  If you feel that by reading this post you will undoubtedly become a geek or have geek leaning thoughts, please leave now.

I’ll wait.

If you’re still around… boy are you lame. Kidding [wink / finger snaps / guns]

I have no real point to all this madness but it’s Wednesday and I really didn’t want to do a lot of heavy thinking during my lunch break but I had carbs so the mind wandered off onto this rant. So, I’m just throwing shit at the wall to see what sticks. You should be so honored.

Actually, I’ve procrastinated finishing this post from a few weeks ago. Here’s the run up. Awhile back, my three year old took her first step into a much larger world. She got to see the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. I should preface that by saying she watched the re-mastered, re-envisioned, re-WTF-GEORGE-YOU-PUT-HAYDEN-CHRISTIANSEN-INSTEAD-OF-SEBASTIAN-SHAW versions on Spike TV. Small steps, right. One day, when she’s a little older I’ll reach into the bag of holding and grab the original, original trilogy on VHS. Hey, if she can watch the same ten episodes of Kipper and Caillou on Sprout without getting bored she can handle watching these films again, right? Right. That’s what I thought. Represent!

Anyway, I was kind of worried how she’d react to seeing the biggest bad ass of the galaxy, Darth Vader. After all, she’s only three and seeing a big hulking robot with an upper respiratory infection could frighten her. However, I was pleasantly surprised as she was totally sucked in by the films. As she should. A couple of highlights from the her critique of the films.

“The black guy is a nice guy.”
At first I thought she might have been talking about Lando Calrissian but he hadn’t shown up yet, so she was obviously referring to Darth Vader. I told her he wasn’t a nice guy but she insisted that he was. I didn’t want to ruin the movie but informing her that, yes, by the end of the movies he is a good guy, again, but for right now, he’s bad. I simply said, “Honey, he’s a bad guy.” She insisted that I was wrong. Smart kid.

“The big camels are bad guys.”
She was, of course, referring to the Imperial AT-AT Walkers in Empire Strikes Back. The last time she spoke the word camels was in reference to there being camels in our pool. I was baffled at this declaration until she reinforced her point by stating there was camels like chlorine in the pool. “Oh, chemicals. Yes, there are chemicals in the pool.” Here, she called the AT-ATs camels which is exactly what they were called in the Family Guy’s spoof, "Something, Something, Something Darkside." This just confirms my thoughts that, either Seth McFarlane is as mature as a three year old or my daughter is as smart as Seth McFarlane. I say win-win.

“The Golden Guy is good.”
Yes, C-3PO is definitely a good guy but not very well kept in the loop on anything. This is probably to the betterment of the rebellion because keeping 3PO in the dark is your best bet. He has a tendency to talk too much and is liable to give away the entire plan before it has a chance to work.

“The Brown Guy is good.”
OK, now we must be talking about Lando. Nope. She was speaking about Chewbacca. “Yes, he’s a good guy.”

“That’s not going to make him happy.”
She was referring to the Emperor’s divulging his knowledge of the rebel plans and assuring Luke that the rebellion would be crushed. What can I say, the kid was paying attention.

“I’m going to shock that guy. He’s not very nice.”
This was accompanied by her wiggling her fingers at the screen as The Emperor was using Force Lightning on Luke.

“He helped him because he loved him.”
This referring to Vader waking up from his nap and punting The Emperor over the side of the railing.

“He’s not a robot. He’s a man!”
Can’t get nothing past her. When Luke removed Vader’s helmet I was afraid that the pasty and scarred Humpty Dumpty like appearance of Sebastian Shaw as Anakin Skywalker would freak her out, but she was actually excited to find out that Vader wasn’t a robot. Quite the philosophical observation. Vader had gone on with the Empire’s way of thinking and acting like a robot, following orders. Only now, in the end, he finally stands up and goes against the norm and becomes human again. Yeah, I’m gonna go with the fact that she was just surprised to see a guy in that suit. One can dream, though.

Beyond the artistic critique of a three year old, I went into geek mode to wax nostalgic about the films, but mostly about Return of the Jedi. I saw Jedi in the theater, and I mean when it was originally released back in 1983.. I was eight years old and went with my brother and sister and remember sitting on the aisle seat in a row of two. In 1983, Reagan was President and art and life were not mutually exclusive of each other. Science Fiction was bleeding over into real technology and the times we lived in bled into the stories on screen. Of course, Star Wars was already an influence on everything from politics to television. V, the original miniseries, came out in 1983. The Strategic Defense Initiative a.k.a. known as the Star Wars program came out in 1983. And the culture and aesthetic feel of 1983 was apparent in Return of the Jedi. I don’t want to get too sociopolitical on the subject so, I’ll end that topic right there and move onto the film itself.

Most people will contest that Jedi was the weakest of the three original films in the sixolgy. Um, sexology? Er, Hexalogy. Whoops! Yeah, Hexalogy. Sheesh. OK. As I was saying, I loved the film, but you already knew that, but most people look at Return of the Jedi as the selling out point for Lucas. He ties up all the loose ends of the trilogy and manages to snag the kid friendly award by positioning living teddy bears as the underdog that overthrows the Empire. Severely outmatched, the pint size protagonists use guerrilla style tactics and weapons fashioned from the forest that would have made Dutch from Predator proud. Now, others tried to hit on a deeper level to the conclusion of the series. Suggestions from Harrison Ford that Han Solo should be killed off can either be taken as his attempt to give the film some tension because, if you can kill Han Solo, anyone can be killed. Of course, this could have been taken as his attempt to end the life cycle of his character so that he can move on and not get pulled back into the mix, should Lucas decide to continue the series beyond three films. And there were also ideas that Luke Skywalker would just wander off alone at the end instead of joining up with his rebel friends, leaving the audience and the movie unresolved with a sad and depressing conclusion. So, you can see why the finished product could come off as a popcorn fluff resolution instead of the dramatic ending to a saga that hit its light speed rhythm with Empire’s ending.

But apart from all the rumors and speculations, I loved the finished product. Even though I am still on the fence over this past May’s finale of LOST, I love a good conclusion episode and Jedi brought one of the greatest film series ever produced to a satisfying end. It was also the end of an experience that shaped the way I grew up in this world. To all the naysayers out there I say, "Ee Choo Tah!"

Let’s delve a little deeper, shall we?  Oh come, on. Like you have anywhere good to be for the next ten to fifteen to seventy-two minutes.

First of all, look at the color schemes we get. We have three distinct feels going on in the film. We start off with bright yellows and rusty reds and browns for Tatooine. We then move into the greens and browns of Dagobah and Endor. Finally we have dark blues for the space battle and fight scenes on the Death Star. Whoever colored the film was a genius. The colors really popped out more than they did in Empire Strikes Back. Empire was a very blue film with the exception of Cloud City’s airy, fleshy feel. It had a real human color tone, like someone looked at one of those human body medical models and used the flesh and muscle colors from it as a palette.

Secondly, the cast dynamic is great. If you take a look at some early hero tales and adventure you’ll see a common thread of separation of forces. In Empire Strikes Back, our band of rebels are split into two forces much like Scooby Doo often splits up the gang into two groups. Here, Shaggy is represented by Luke and Scooby Doo is portrayed by R2-D2. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that the Millennium Falcon is a riff on the Mystery Machine but you could convince me that C-3PO is a representation of Velma, bespectacled and brainy and often speaking over everyone’s head. But, I digress. Usually, in these types of stories, two factions are working simultaneously towards a conclusion and in Jedi you have three, I guess. You the ground forces supported by Han, Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO while the air strike is led by Lando and Wedge. Luke sort of functions on his own quest to redeem his father and complete his journey to full blown Jedi. But in each storyline you have dependencies on the others. Lando relies on Han to bring down the shield around the Death Star while Luke depends on Leia to accept her destiny should he not return and if you don’t realize it, Luke went into his quest with the acceptance that he would not return. He was almost acting as a distraction as much as the Ewoks were. Luke was sort of tasked with occupying the Emperor’s time so that he wouldn’t be able to escape once the attack on the Death Star was completed. And how about that Death Star?

Talk about budgetary crunches. Yeah, it was fully operational but it was missing a hell of a lot of walls, or at least windows. I gather that the price tag on it was rather inflated from the original. I’m sure they prototyped it and maybe even had prefabrication units for easier deployment. Think of it. The first one served as a pilot run and once you templatized the process you could produce multiple Death Stars to increase your forces. Think about this. The first Death Star is seen in its skeletal form in Revenge of the Sith, which is set 19 years before its first official use in A New Hope. It gets blown up and four years later, they have another one, already half built. There had to be some forethought into replication of the process and material acquisition. Then again, you have to have enough people to man it. As it was, the original trilogy back story has been expanded to include information concerning the discontinued practice of cloning Storm Troopers. So, they’re recruiting, not cloning their ranks. Talk about the law of diminishing returns. The more you grow your ranks in terms of vehicles, the more you have to grow your ranks in human stock. You’re putting a lot of eggs into one basket. Suddenly, that two meter wide vent shaft becomes a huge deal. Wow, tangent land, population, me!

Next, let’s take a look at those Ewoks. Critics of the prequel trilogy will be quick to point out Jar-Jar Binks as the albatross around the neck of the movies, more so than Hayden Christiansen's acting. That may be so, but he is no different than the Ewoks in that he was designed as a comic and somewhat likable character that aids the missions. The difference in Jedi is that the Ewoks are not overtly played for laughs. Jar-Jar was played strictly for camp. The Ewoks were in fact warriors on Endor and were as dangerous as a pack of wild animals, no matter how small they appeared in comparison to the Empire.

Another thing that made them dangerous was their home field advantage. The Empire, for all its technology and firepower, was simply no match for the terrain and indigenous life forms’ ability to use the landscape to their advantage. You're talking about big bulky machinery and its agility in a wooded landscape.  There's a limited amount of flexibility to their walkers in tight areas, especially dense forests.  Saying that it’s unfathomable to think that Ewoks could ultimately bring forth the collapse of the Empire is ridiculous and inaccurate. They were simply a second unit attack, used primarily as a distraction to help deplete the opposing forces which would allow the rebels to achieve their goals. Without the rebels, there is no way the shield could have been brought down in time. That’s not to say that the Ewoks, given enough time and planning, could not have destroyed the shield generator but it’s unlikely that they could have succeeded within the window of opportunity given.  The Ewoks were not responsible for the downfall of the Empire, they were merely additional forces that served a function.

Next up, the Emperor’s New Apprentice. The one thing that Lucas maintained in the prequel trilogies was Palpatine’s desire to buck the system, no matter what. Logic surrounding the Sith and the line of succession always dictated that there are only two, a master and an apprentice. In most cases, the master is always overthrown by their apprentice in a case of a self fulfilling prophecy of power and aggression. It’s like a snake eating its own tail. It’s always the nature of a Sith to take what it wants and never accept their place in line. If they don’t take action to secure their place as master, their master will ultimately replace them because they know that their usurping of command is inevitable. Yet, when they achieve that position, they are usually in it for a very short time because their appointed apprentice is already eyeing the spot.  Palpatine is the exception to the rule in that he constantly replaces apprentices in order to either account for a lack of quality among Sith underlings or to circumvent destiny.  Eventually, he chooses the wrong one, Anakin, which causes his downfall.   Further analysis of Palpatine's folly is that Anakin is quite possibly the product of Palpatine’s manipulation of the force. So, in fact, we have a character that can manipulate both birth and death as told by his exchange with Anakin during the opera scene in Revenge of the Sith. Whether or not he could actually do what he says is debatable. He could in fact be playing on Anakin’s fears over the impending death of Padme during childbirth. However, he gets a sense of hubris and sticks with Vader for 23 years as his apprentice, knowing that eventually Vader should probably turn on him.  It's in the nature of a Sith to want to be number one, by whatever means.  Why Vader waits is beyond me?   But I have a theory later on in the post. LATER? OMG (INTERNET/TEXT SLANG AND OR ABBREVIATION QUOTA REACHED) THIS HAS BEEN GOING ON FOREVER. That’s OK, you should have seen my kid’s eyes rolling in the back of her head when I explained all this to her. Kidding.

Back to Vader and Palpy. Palatine, first. He’s a very good at multi-tasking. He orchestrated the entire separatist movement, the trade blockade, the removal of Chancellor Valorum from the Galactic Senate and his own rise to political supremacy. Meanwhile, he’s playing Anakin right into the hands of the dark side by pushing him towards Padme and pulling him away from the Jedi council. That’s a hell of a game of chess he’s playing. This, of course, is all shown to him through the force by his own admission. Yet, somehow he manages to overlook human nature and even misses Anakin hiding the fact that Padme is pregnant by him. Now, Anakin had no clue that Palpatine was a Jedi, let alone a Sith. How could Palpatine not pickup on this? Obi-Wan even states that the Emperor knew that if Anakin were to have any offspring they’d be dangerous to him. I guess the conclusion was that Padme’s death was prematurely accepted by Palpatine and he was unaware that she survived long enough to give birth to Luke and Leia.

Then, flash forward to Jedi. Palpy thinks he’s got this all locked up, right? He’s seen the attack on the Death Star. He’s seen Luke fighting Vader. He’s seen all of this pointing to a conclusion that declares him as victor. The pivotal moment is when Luke decides he won’t kill Vader. It means nothing in terms of Luke’s resistance to the dark side of the force. In fact, in the end, Luke really means nothing. He either replaces Vader or he dies.  If he’s not going to turn, he’s as good as dead, anyway. Yet, Vader extends an offer of apprenticeship to Luke at the end of Empire.  Well, either Vader is finally getting the nards to knock off the boss or he's playing into the Emperor's plan of finding Vader's replacement.  Now, all of a sudden, the tide turns and Luke is all, "Oooh, I'll show you dad.  I'll chop off your hand, too.  Sucks doesn't it."   On a side note, Vader/Anakin is pretty danger prone.  That's three times in as many movies that he's lost a hand.  Anyway, back to Jedi.  Luke tells Palpy, "I am a Jedi, like my father before me.  Neener Neener, you eat bantha weiner."  So, force lightning kicks in and Luke gets a little fricasseed. Then Vader steps in and does a Sith toss over the railing. The greatest Sith in the galaxy is taken down because he picked on some guy’s kid. That is either a huge gaping hole in the logic of how the nature of the force works or, this could all be a waste of time because it’s just a big old plot hole. But you have to admit, for a guy that was very good at spinning all these plates in the air, how could Palpy miss all this coming? Human nature, that’s how.

Vader is the key to all this. Remember, Anakin is the chosen one. Not because he became the Jedi that everyone thought he’d become but because he ended up being the one to get rid of The Emperor. Perhaps he was never fully evil to start, just mostly evil. Human nature won over power and aggression, here. The one thing that Palpatine used to his advantage brought about his own demise. He turned Anakin to the dark side by providing the means to save Padme or at least the promise. Anakin attacks Mace Windu to keep Palply alive to get that information and that betrayal of the Jedi opens the flood gates for Palpy to manipulate his soul with the dark side. Then, his love, coupled with his new found rage, causes him to lash out at Padme over her perceived betrayal of their relationship when she shows up with Obi-Wan on Mustafar.

But it’s love that brings Anakin back and Palpy forgets that love is a greater power than hate. It’s not that he views Luke as a personal threat to him. We see full well that Luke is no match for the power of The Emperor, but Luke calls out to his father to help him. "Please. Father. Help me."  He’s not whimpering or whining. He plays on the same heartstrings as Palpy did when he turned him. Yoda said the dark side was not more powerful than the light. Hate is not more powerful than love. It’s easier, quicker and more seductive than love but not more powerful. Luke knows this. He effing knows that there is a conflict brewing inside that old rust bucket and he uses it to his advantage. He takes that power from Palpatine and turns Vader on his master. It took about twenty years and multiple of viewings of Jedi for me to get this. I merely thought Luke was whining, as usual, and begging for help. Hell no, that bad line delivery was all staged. It was the trump card. Maybe he went in there with the game plan already worked out. Maybe he secretly let out the knowledge of Leia being his sister to bait Vader into fully recognizing his family tree. By seeing the full picture he reaches that part of Anakin that was so hell bent on saving Padme that he now wants to protect his children.  OK, that might be stretching it because he goes full on attack mode and chops off his Dad’s hand. That was pure aggression, there.

No, I think the realization came as he was being shocked. I think he made a last ditch effort to turn the tables and called out to Dad. However, I think the real problem with that realization is either in the editing of the scene or in David Prowse’s performance. Of course, there’s no way to see the struggle because of the suit. There could have been another moment edited in there to help. There could have been an edit or an angle that offered the audience an inkling that Vader was transitioning. He simply pantomimed, “Hey, that’s my kid. Eff you, raisin face. Your ass is going over the side.” But it worked. Vader saw his son, the product of his love for Padme being harmed and he sprang into action. Love conquers all. The protection of your family greatly outweighs your allegiance to an idea of power. He ends up dying but he finally gets it. 

I don't think there's enough of a realization in Sebastian Shaw's performance after Luke removes Vader's mask, probably because of the lack of knowledge that 16 years later, Lucas would tell the story of how Anakin became Vader.  The specifics of what caused Anakin's turn to the dark side are never revealed in the original trilogy.  He was simply seduced by the dark side, hunted down the Jedi and betrayed and murdered Anakin Skywalker.  In away it does a disservice to both sets of films because you want to tell a specific story and you have to be cognizant of where you've been and where you are going.  If there would have been some grandiose revelation from Anakin about being a servant to the force instead of its master and the Jedi's place as defender and protector instead of trying to force things to be a certain way, then it serves the prequel trilogy's depiction of Anakin's fall.  Anakin never intended to be the bad guy.  He was just a guy that bad things happened to and he figured that he should know best because of the burden of his destiny.  However, if you stick to the notion that Anakin was simply seduced by the dark side as told by Ben Kenobi, then you totally have no place to go in terms of story with the prequel trilogy.

And that is why Jedi is an awesome movie. Does your head hurt? Are your eyes reddened and cracked from the onslaught of geek discussion? Good. Maybe, next week I’ll give you a treatise on how Jar Jar Binks is ultimately responsible for the entire chain of events in the Star Wars saga and not Palpatine. Talk about Horror Beyond Imagination. And if you are cool enough, you’ll understand the title chosen for this post. It was the working title of Return of the Jedi used to keep people from knowing what was actually being filmed. All too easy.

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