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An Appeal to Reason

Frontier Elementary School here in Payson, Arizona, is a performing plus school. It is one of three elementary schools serving the Town of Payson. It’s a rather unique school in terms of layout. The school is divided into domes that double as both classrooms and all-weather PE halls. My mother-in-law volunteers there and sometimes I join her, eager to obtain some classroom experience before I test the waters of a degree in education. The children here are remarkable, and the school has some of the lowest class sizes I’ve ever seen. The class I serve in, a small room full of bright third graders, has only eighteen students. Even this small amount is enough to keep the teacher, myself, and my mother-in-law on our feet most of the day.

As most of you might know, public education in Arizona has seen brighter days. From kindergarten all the way up to the state universities, budget cuts handed down by the Republican-dominated state legislature have sent administrators scattering to fill the gaps. Here in our small town of about 18,000, the result has been enormous layoffs. The school district no longer has any librarians. The vice-principal of Payson High School was laid off less than one year before his scheduled retirement day. Even with a budget override of $1.2 million passed by the town, the schools have been told that all of them will have to make do with shared principals, reduced staff, fewer teachers, and larger class sizes. Nine faculty and staff were laid off last month. Had the override failed at the ballot box, the result would have been close to 30. Worse yet, there is no word from the local school board on whether or not these positions will ever return.

Arizona Prop 100, a temporary one-cent sales tax increase sent to the ballot by the Arizona legislature and Governor Jan Brewer, is a needed measure to help balance the budget without resting the brunt of it on the backs of our educators and public safety officers. Education is a fundamental part of a successful economy, moreso than just about anything else. Should this measure fail, the coming onslaught of cuts would decimate the system beyond repair. The cost of doing nothing would be a lot worse than one penny on every dollar spent. Frontier Elementary, a school that has become rather dear to me in the short time I’ve been in Payson, would be on the chopping block permanently. Its 200+ students would be uprooted from the school they enjoy and forced to go across town to Payson or Julia Randall Elementary, bloating the class sizes there by perhaps as much as 35%. The hardworking staff would be out of a job. I can’t imagine the prospects would be much brighter in other parts of Arizona.

Do I think hiking sales tax is the right answer to solving our budget woes over the long term? NO. Arizona needs to get serious about corporate and property tax rates and ending its over-reliance on a shaky, regressive form of revenue. Sadly, the right-wing extremists who’ve controlled the state legislature since 1993 are not inclined to get tough with their pals in corporate boardrooms across our state. Hell, most of the state legislature didn’t even have the testicular abundance to pass the sales-tax hike themselves despite seeing the trouble the state is in financially. Instead, they were too busy passing bills prohibiting centaurs, dehumanizing people and denying them basic rights, and revoking sensible concealed carry laws. These robots have never seen a spending cut or deregulation they didn’t fall in love with, and they’ve never seen a tax they didn’t want to end forever. They are the root of the problem.

That’s why I present this appeal to you, readers in Arizona, to preserve our schools, our highway patrolmen, our streets and our social safety net. Get out to the polls on Tuesday, May 18, and vote YES on 100. And then, on November 2nd, kick out the bums who didn’t have the nerve to pass this themselves.

Thank you.

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Firefly Episode 4: Jaynestown

With the fourth episode of Firefly, we are finally hitting something resembling character development. It might just be a red herring, but for once it seems that things are finally happening to shake up the crew of Serenity. Things are actually…you know…happening? It’s about two episodes too late, but I guess we can forgive a bit of tardiness if it has a reason. That remains to be seen.

In “Jaynestown”, Mal’s crew visits a planet that specializes in the manufacture and sale of mud. Because this is a sci-fi show where western themes are shoehorned in, it is replete with your typical wild west cliches: filthy taverns harboring all manners of dirty-looking people, all manners of cruel and unusual punishments for criminals, and so on. It’s like a bad episode of Bonanza meets Star Wars every week. It turns out that Meathead visited this planet with his partner named Stitch four years before the events of the episode, stealing sixty thousand hillbilly dollars from the town magistrate. As he was attempting to get away from the planet with his ill-gotten gains, his ship was having maneuverability problems and they were forced to jettison everything, including Stitch and their plunder. Stitch was caught by the magistrate, arrested, and placed into a box for four years (how he ate, slept, kept himself strong enough to toss Mangina around like a ragdoll, and voided himself of waste matter is never explained). Meanwhile, the money that Meathead tossed off the ship found its way to a town of “mudders”, the indentured servants who work in the mud fields. As a result, the folks consider Meathead a hero, even dedicating a song detailing his legendary escapade. What was a simple robbery to him was an act of profound charity and goodwill to them.

I need to give credit where it’s due. The premise is interesting enough: what happens when someone is morally torn about using an egregious misconception to ease his way toward his objectives? What is the right thing to do? I could see this going somewhere, but it really doesn’t. The potential is spoiled because Meathead is a two-dimensional cardboard cutout whose emotional and mental range goes from stupid and angry to stupid and snarky.

The selling point of this series was supposedly the witty banter and themes of camaraderie amongst the crew of the Serenity. What does this mean to Joss Whedon?

“You’re like a trained ape! Without the training!”

HURR. HURR. HURR. Stop it, Joss, my sides are hurting!

Whedon’s trademark preaching about the evils of religion continue in “Jaynestown”, only this time it’s our resident nutcase River sounding the call for universal atheism, and Book serving as the Alan Colmes strawman to her arguments. An opportunity for Whedon to actually explore the themes of religious faith in the light of its own illogical conclusions is smothered by his need to expound his opinion as the only one worth hearing.

So, this episode also goes on about a supposed budding romance between the ship’s mechanic and Mangina. Of course, Mangina’s about as smooth an operator as…well, as I am, so he manages to bag Kaylee and then sufficiently piss her off enough that their relationship toward the end is left to interpretation (or fulfillment in future episodes). I guess it’s a workable sub-plot, but it seems shoehorned in, since the two characters have hardly had much opportunity to get to know each other on-screen since the series began.

What grinds my gears, though, is that I still have yet to receive a reason to care about the cast. The characters range from infuriating (Meathead, Mangina, Nutcase) to just plain boring (Shuttle-Whore, Mal, Reverend Colmes). There doesn’t seem to be any larger themes behind their travels other than to create chaos and steal from the governments of all these different planets they visit. It’s quickly becoming repetitive as well as disheartening. There’s no impetus to empathize with the crew at all, period. On the surface, they’re cold-blooded outlaws who are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. When you dig deeper…they’re still cold-blooded outlaws who are willing to kill anyone who gets in their way. The only difference is that sometimes they engage in that aforementioned witty banter that’ll have you rolling down the aisles!

An amusing thing that I hadn’t realized before now is that this series single-handedly ended the careers of the entire main cast except Fillion, who now stars on the ABC series Castle. Rightfully so, c0nsidering he’s the best actor on the show by a huge margin. The curse of Seinfeld has got nothing on the curse of Firefly. Gina Torres has had one supporting role on a show that didn’t last one year. Alan Tudyk, whose acting I praised last episode, has had nothing but voice-acting roles and bit parts since 2002. Morena Baccarin has suffered the same fate. Adam Baldwin is on Chuck and still chewing entire sets of scenery, but before that he was more-or-less out of work. Jewel Staite can’t find work outside of the Syfy Channel backwater. Sean Maher’s been hit especially hard, having failed to land even one role lasting longer than one episode anywhere. I knew Summer Glau from Sarah Connor Chronicles before I knew her as Nutcase, and that show got terminated toot-sweet. Old Ron Glass got his first role in three years in Death at a Funeral. Joss Whedon still gets work, but none of his shows since Firefly has lasted longer than two seasons. Despite the claims of “rampant success,” this series hindered the careers of everyone involved in it.

I will continue my adventures in shit-tastic Firefly-land next week. Stay safe, kiddies.

Oh, and Devin McCourty better be a damn good corner.

Firefly Ep. 3: Our Mrs. Reynolds

I just finished watching Episode 3 of the show I love to tear open, Firefly. In this episode, the beloved crew of Serenity take on a castaway named Saffron who ends up proclaiming herself as Mal’s wife because of some baroque ritual on her planet that he participated in, ignorant of its deeper meaning. If this sounds familiar, congratulations! You have a passing familiarity with a lot of really bad one-off episodes of a lot of mediocre sitcoms!

In all honesty, this episode was a fair deal better than the first two. It’s still barely passable and nowhere near the critical acclaim it has been handed, but we’re working toward almost being…respectable! That’d be a milestone that ol’ Jossie-boy has yet to earn from me. I’ve hated everything to ever come out of this bonehead’s noggin.

A lot of what redeems this episode is guest star Christina Hendricks, who plays Saffron. You might know her as the sassy broad from Mad Men. Her acting is phenomenal, she is a hell of a lot more believable than 90% of the cast, and she’s just downright awesome toward the end. I won’t spoil what she does to earn this, but trust me: it’s something I’ve been looking forward to for a long time.

I’m usually not one to pick on poor pacing, but for fuck’s sake: we are three episodes in and there is still not an overarching plot narrative to be found, or even a hint of one. Now, I admit, I love a lot of anime where the themes of the main narrative take several episodes to be revealed, but those are half-hour shows with a great deal of action and fun to keep everything interesting. Here, the only interesting things are Christina Hendricks’ boobs, and I’m sorry: they aren’t enough to carry an entire episode (though not for lack of ampleness).

Wherever a true plot narrative might be uncovered, we’re left with naught but confusion and poor writing. I think I am getting closer to the identity of the “Companion” chick (should have figured Whedon would make an interstellar whore character!), but I’ll be damned if I can remember her name, or why she’s on the ship, or even what her deal is. Besides that, there’s really nowhere for this season to go. There’s nothing that happens that lasts from episode to episode. There’s no reason to pay close attention to each episode. Everything is status quo from the beginning. For a supposed drama, going nowhere and expecting your audience to stay motivated to follow along is a sizable bill of goods.

Whedon’s author filibusters have been some of the most egregious in the entirety of modern Western fiction, and they are no better here. Mal is Whedon’s Gary Stu, and it shows through the very atheist/feminist views this supposedly battle-hardened captain spews on a regular basis. And I’m not saying there’s anything at all wrong with being a feminist or questioning the existence of a Supreme Being, but it sounds very tacky and out of place for characters in a science fiction show to preach controversial social commentary. Call me old-fashioned.

Anyway, back to my specific nags with this episode. I called the plot twist about ten minutes in, and I wasn’t the least bit surprised when it turned out that I was vindicated twenty minutes later. After a while of watching Whedon, you start to get a feel for how his creative mind works. Jossie-boy is a fan of the trite, the familiar, the ever-so-subtle hijack of themes from other, better forms of media. As soon as you realize that, you can pretty much call him out anytime.

Another actor from this show that is starting to become very good is Alan Tudyk, who plays the pilot. Again, this show is nowhere near compelling enough for me to start remembering names, so don’t ask. He’s still a little hammy, but he looks like Humphrey Bogart compared to the over-the-top, commercial-grade cheese of Jewel Staite and the Baldwinmeister.

So, that’s about all I’ve got. This series is starting to kill brain cells, so I think the next episode needs to wait a week. Stay tuned: something tells me we’re nearing some good old-fashioned badness to sink our teeth into.

Firefly Ep. 2: “Bushwhacked”

Well, here it is, the first of my “Live Blogs” of Firefly. Feel free to follow along. I’ll list the timestamp that I see each of my observations if you’re playing at home.

0:13 – You know, the Alliance doesn’t seem so bad. It isn’t any worse than the kind of shit the United States has done throughout its 300 year history.

0:26 – “People struggle to get by with only the most basic technologies.” Yes, because a bullshit political statement is totally worth reverting from space-age ubertech back to the 1700s, amirite?

0:39 – “Find a crew. Find a job. Keep flying.” Taunt everybody you meet. Spew one-liners like Reb Brown.

1:02 – Nothing calms down a tense crew like a tough game of idiot ball!

1:41 – River looking around like this silly recreational activity (can’t really call it a game) is the most interesting thing she’s ever seen. It makes me laugh.

2:33 – Yeah, that scene? Entirely pointless.

5:09 – Zzzzzzz…Am I supposed to give a shit about what’s happening here?

5:56 – Yeah! Stealing things is awesome! We’re the good guys! Go team!

6:23 – “Where do you think you’re headed?” Any direction away from your crummy acting, Baldwin.

7:16 – You know, this guy’s whole “tough guy” routine would be a lot more credible if it weren’t for the fact that the medic just buckles like a belt in the presence of this ham.

7:31 – STOP. Stop, stop, stop stop stop…What the fuck’s with the metallic shoulderpads on their spacesuits?

8:18 – I see they were shameless enough to pillage Joss Whedon’s backyard for junk to litter this abandoned cargo ship. A bicycle and a beach ball?

8:42 – I’ve seen this scene before, and it ends with “I am assuming control.”

9:00 – In the future, all on-board ship’s computers will be 1980s-era Macs!

9:24 – “It’s a personal log. Someone was in the middle of an entry.” I guess they couldn’t afford the Captain’s Log from Star Trek, so they’ve got DOS Box loaded onto these tiny Macs for writing their diaries.

9:46 – You know, Jayne has a point. Why are the meager, supposedly barely-subsistent crew carrying around this waste of space that just walks around, clutching her head and screaming at nothing in particular? I’d have sent this nutcase through the airlock last episode.

10:06 – “In seven days, you will see the ring!” See, I can say vaguely scary shit, too.

10:22 – It’s the 26th-century, but we’re still using six-shooters? Really?

10:58 – I get the feeling something bad is about to happen to our Mangina Medic.

11:16 – OK, what the hell was the point of those stupid spacesuits if they were just going to take them off inside this ship? And when the hell did Kaylee get down there? EXPLAIN, WHEDON! EXPLAIN!

11:35 – Oh, wow, Jayne pulled a prank on Mangina! What a bunch of kooky characters! Aren’t these guys adora-I just felt my faith in humanity die again. *sigh*

11:50 – Kaylee and Mangina are going to be a team? Really, Mal? You don’t want to assign anybody, you know, halfway competent to escort these morons?

12:33 – “Keep the engine running, we shouldn’t be long.” Is Mal genre blind, or what?

12:48 – ALL HANDS ON DECK! WE’VE GOT CLOUDY WITH A CHANCE OF NUTCASE FORECASTED TONIGHT!

13:01 – This…won’t end well…

13:50 – Meathead’s got a soft spot for C-Rations. He’s like Solid Snake minus the charisma, and the credibility, and the badass.

14:09 – You know, this is really Mass Effect 2 all over again. Only Mass Effect 2 was enjoyable.

14:20 – Mal breaks out his “Dr. Insano’s” custom welding goggles.

16:07 – You guys…um…you gonna respond to Nutjob who just sorta invited herself aboard the derelict ship? No? Didn’t think so.

16:28 – Did I really just see Jayne get his ass slammed by some skinny-looking twerp? LOL!

17:38 – Mmmm, that trail of ketchup just might lead to the french fry kingdom.

18:22 – Yeah, Mangina gets points for that.

19:10 – OK, maybe Mal is a bit more genre savvy than I give him credit for.

20:24 – “Reavers?” Ugh, it makes me sick to think that my favorite western RPG of all time was inspired by this tripe.

20:39 – I wish I knew what the budget was for this show. The confines of Serenity look like Joss Whedon’s man-cave.

21:52 – Glad to see our fearless meathead cowers in fear as soon as something bigger than him comes along. This character is unlikeable in the worst way.

22:25 – OK, stop just a second. This is part of what I was talking about when I said that Nathan Fillion was rather miscast for this role. I hate to say it, but he just isn’t enough of a “leader” to be plausible when we’re talking about the captain of this particular group of social retards. He buckles about as often as Mangina.

22:55 – “Just when I think I’ve got you figured out.” Yeah, that’s not because he’s an enigma, it’s because he’s a poorly written character.

24:13 – Those Reaver bastards got BILLY IDOL! GRR…

25:15 – Yeah, way to get that blatant lesbian fanservice pumping, Joss! You da man!

No, actually, you suck.

26:35 – Shut up, Adam Baldwin.

28:06 – See that, Mal? That’s what leadership looks like.

28:58 – This guy’s about as annoying as Tidus. You’re about to join Meathead on my shit list, Mangina!

29:36 – I daresay the only thing more stupid than the crew of this ship walking around with revolvers is the Alliance carrying M-16s. Has weapons technology really just completely stopped evolving for the last 500 years?

29:59 – Yup. That there’s my collection of car batteries.

32:16 – That’s cute and all, but I still have no idea what a Companion is, what your role on the crew is, or why you’re even here.

35:25 – The bitch is grinning. That can NOT be good.

41:09 – They’re doing all they can to make these Alliance guys look evil, but they’re not. They’re just lawful neutral.

43:08 – Um, why does the Reaver guy have pepperonis stapled into his face?
And that’s the end. Wow, that was pretty shitty. I’m still not sure what the hell’s going on in this series, and after two episodes, that doesn’t bode well for it. Next one will be coming once I’m back in Payson.

Firefly: The Full-Time Gamer Blogs!

OK, so I sat through the first episode of Joss Whedon’s critically acclaimed sci-fi western shenanigan named Firefly.

Let’s just say that there are a few very good reasons why this silly show never caught on the way that Whedon’s previous creation, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, did. The casting decisions are terrible. Adam Baldwin’s a hack. The characters (supposedly the selling point of this shipwreck) are two-dimensional cardboard cutouts that make Legend of the Seeker‘s cardboard cutouts look like the cast of a fucking Shakespearean tragedy in comparison. The acting is either way too over-the-top or not nearly emphatic enough to hold scenes together. The special effects are not only intrusive, but below-average for something made in the last decade. Adam Baldwin’s a hack. The silly “sci-fi spaghetti western” motif gets really played-out at about the thirty-five minute mark of the first episode. The convenience of several illogical plot holes is just unbelievable. Adam Baldwin’s a hack.

There’s some stuff to be positive about. The outdoor sets are pretty except when they’re blighted with CG that looks like something out of a Linkara video. Nathan Fillion is the main protagonist and leader of this supposedly effective crew of sarcastic, bullying bigots onboard the Serenity. He’s a good actor, and he turns in a fine performance here, but he’s one of many victims of piss-poor casting. His unconventional looks and mannerisms make him look a little too meek and unassuming for me to believe that he can unite these people who seem all too happy to verbally vivisect each other for no reason. The dialogue is witty at times, but it relies on more one-liners than a Schwarzenegger impersonator convention and the scenes with Baldwin in them are almost painful to watch.

I’ll never be able to escape the fandom of this nonsense. I’ve actually had people dare to come up to me and tell me that this is the best thing Fox has ever canceled. With a straight face, no less.

SO, I figure that I will do my best to snarkily destroy this over-dramatic and underwhelming waste of celluloid in a pseudo-Live Blog! I’ll try to do one episode every few days or so. I’ll be doing them in the order they are presented on Netflix Instant to save myself the headache of trying to figure out the order that that overrated B-movie writer Joss Whedon believes it should have been broadcast. It starts this weekend, so stay tuned.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the Final Fantasy XIII review…it’s coming. Soon. I promise.

2010 NFL Preview

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

OK, maybe not really, but if the season were to start today, here’s what I’d predict happening in the standings:

AFC East
Patriots        12-4
Jets        11-5
Dolphins    6-10
Bills        3-13

AFC South
Colts        12-4
Texans        10-6
Titans        10-6
Jaguars        4-12

AFC West
Chargers    11-5
Chiefs        8-8
Broncos    5-11
Raiders        3-13

AFC North
Steelers    10-6
Browns        9-7
Ravens        8-8
Bengals        6-10

NFC East
Cowboys    11-5
Giants        7-9
Eagles        7-9
Redskins    3-13

NFC South
Falcons        12-4
Panthers    10-6
Saints        7-9
Buccaneers    3-13

NFC North
Packers    14-2
Bears        9-7
Vikings        8-8
Lions        6-10

NFC West
49ers        11-5
Seahawks    8-8
Cardinals    8-8
Rams        4-12

As you can see, I’m predicting next year that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and the stifling Packers’ defense improve to become the league’s pacesetters, and that Falcons QB Matt Ryan finally makes the jump from promising young quarterback to elite passer. Not only that, but the Lions will post a 6-10 record, their best since 2007. The Saints will not repeat their Super Bowl run or even have a winning season next year due to drastic improvement by the Falcons and Panthers. The 49ers will continue to be a defensive force while improving on defense, and win the NFC West for the first time since 2002. Dallas will repeat their 11-5 finish from last year and take the East. Carolina and Chicago will wrap up the Wild Cards.

Unlike most pundits, I’m not picking the Colts to steamroll their opposition again this year. QB Peyton Manning will be 34, the age that most quarterbacks start to see declines in production as age sets in. They’ll win the AFC South, sure, but the Texans are a tremendous up-and-comer in the conference and will give Indy all they can stand. The Steelers will reclaim the North. New England will take home the AFC East for the seventh time in eight years with the Jets close behind once again. The AFC West will be the Chargers’ division for the fifth straight year, while a decline by the Broncos leaves coach Josh McDaniels in the hot seat.

As for Super Bowl picks…wouldn’t it be amazing if we got to see Houston go to the Super Bowl in their first year in the playoffs as a Wild Card? Call them my pick, as their young defense improves to become top-flight and joins the prolific all-encompassing attack the Texans employ on offense. The Packers emerged from the regular season as the league’s hottest team, put up 45 points on the road against a decent Cardinals defense, and they’ll ride homefield advantage to a trip to Arlington. I’d like (and expect) to see the Packers take home another Lombardi, but anything goes in the big game.

Again, this is ridiculously early to be making in-depth picks like this, but I figure it’s a fun way to pass time. Let me hear your opinions in the comments!

Categories: Football, Rants, Uncategorized Tags: ,

Madden NFL 10: OMG WTF!?

January 15, 2010 2 comments

In the game Madden NFL 10 there’s a mode called Superstar, where you play your character from his humble beginnings as a rookie all the way through his career. It’s like the game’s ubiquitous franchise mode, only you follow a specific player instead of the functions of owning a team.

And oh. My. God. This thing has the worst fucking ending of anything I’ve ever seen.

In previous editions of Superstar, when you were done with your character, you could call your agent and announce your retirement. Bing, bang, boom. Done. You’d see your Superstar (or rather a generic sketch of a dude on a podium), get a quick little ditty on his career statistics, and you’d get to see whether you fulfilled the goal set at the beginning of the mode: earning immortality by being enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

I just played my Superstar through 19 backbreaking seasons of football. It’s like current Vikings QB Brett Favre, if Favre had never retired. The game would not LET me retire him for some reason, so he just kept playing. Over the years, he accumulated over 60,000 yards passing (third most of any quarterback in history), 530 touchdown passes (most all-time), 9 Pro Bowl selections, an MVP award, and 3 Offensive Player of the Year awards, as well as a lifetime quarterback rating of 93.5 (seventh-best). My biggest accomplishment, by far, is the record FIVE Super Bowl rings my Star won, with three different teams. My resume should be headed to Canton engraved in silver and wrapped in a silk blanket. You know how the game rewards me for this success?

You…really…want to know?

At the end of my 19th season, a little box pops up. At the top of it says “TIME TO RETIRE.”  The dialog states: “You’ve had a good run, but I think it’s time you called it quits.” The game then boots my sorry ass out to the menu screen. That’s it. No Hall of Fame, no retirement announcement, I don’t even get any sort of stats to record. The game just…ends. “Sorry, bitch! You think you accomplished something? Too bad! Now, get your pansy ass out to the game store and pre-order Madden NFL 11, or we’ll get LT to dance some more!”

Me: ……

FUCK YOU, TIBURON! FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU FUCK YOU! COME ON! HOW DO YOU GET RID OF THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF SUPERSTAR MODE AND GIVE SOMEONE WHO’S THROWN HUNDREDS OF HOURS PLAYING YOUR SHITTY FOOTBALL GAME THIS KIND OF TREATMENT!?!? I DON’T EVEN GET TO KNOW IF MY SCRAPPY LITTLE QUARTERBACK GOT TO THE HALL OF FAME! FUCK!

EDIT: Also, the game tries to play me for a fool by selling DLC that will delay your Superstar’s retirement for a year. I think EA takes pleasure in being evil, evil gaming overlords. Wouldn’t you agree?