Friday, November 25, 2011

Top Ten Presidential Names

A while ago, I tweeted that I don't think that people appreciate how awesome the name "Barack Obama" is, regardless of politics. It has a great flow, and miss of hard and soft sounds, and just sounds like a powerful name. This made me think about the names of other presidents. The most common are:
George (3)
John (4)
James (5... though 6 if we include Jimmy Carter)

Those may be the most frequently occurring names, but most of the names of our presidents have been horribly conventional. This is my list of the best presidential monikers. I tried my best to divorce politics from the equation, but I'm blessed with a lack of intimate knowledge of some of these people. 

1. Barack Obama
File:Official portrait of Barack Obama.jpg

2. Rutherford B. Hayes

3. Ulysses S. Grant

4. Millard Fillmore
(the only president to have consecutive consonants, maybe even letters, in his first and last name)
File:Millard Fillmore by George PA Healy, 1857.jpg

5. Grover Cleveland
File:Grover Cleveland portrait2.jpg

6. Theodore Roosevelt
(may rank so high because I can't divorce his awesomeness from his name)

7. Martin van Buren

8. Abraham Lincoln

9. Chester A. Arthur
File:Chester A Arthur by Daniel Huntington.jpeg

10. Dwight D. Eisenhower
File:Dwight D. Eisenhower, official Presidential portrait.jpg

Lesson taken from this list: Including your middle initial goes along to making your name sound badass.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

My First Time: Castlevania

I had what I thought was a great idea for a recurring feature for this space. There's a vast number of classic video games that I've never played so I thought it'd be fun to play them for the first time and write about the experience. The obvious place to start was to check out the games on the Wii Virtual Console since I can easily download the games, play them with actual controllers (as opposed to using the keyboard for emulators), and as long as I stick with NES games, it's cheap. Spending five bucks a month to have some fun and write a blog post is worth it to me.

The first game up is Castlevania. I owned the second in the series, Simon's Quest, but didn't know at the time or even until a few years ago that it's widely considered to be one of the worst games ever and was actually the Angry Video Game Nerd's first ever review. I never got too far in Simon's Quest and nothing really hooked me into the subject matter, though now I'd probably be all over it. Once Castlevania finished downloading, I was ready to go and quickly realized the problems with this feature...

For one, it's hard to talk about video games without having video (which as AVGN and numerous others show, is already well-worn territory). There's only so much about the experience that can be related through words and if the reader isn't already familiar with the material, then it's even harder. Maybe if I played more video games I'd have a firmer grasp on how to write about them, but I feel like I've already reached my first hurdle.

Secondly, a lot of these early games (and judging by some of the tomes you can buy for new games) there's a lot to be gained from say, a Nintendo Power subscription (or at least back catalogue). I know I never would have accomplished a thing in The Legend of Zelda without some assistance. That assistance also includes the social experience. I know I learned a lot from watching friends play, playing with them, and trading at every death. I'm flying solo through this game and know that there are plenty of secrets that are going unfound because I don't know to look for them. This was certainly the case when I played Super Mario World with a younger cousin. That's not to say the game is a complete mystery as many of these games follow similar tropes. If you have a history of playing video games, it's pretty easy to guess where some of the mysteries are hidden. I'd go to GameFAQs, but that seems like taking the Nintendo Power assistance to an extreme level. It's too much like cheating.

Lastly, I forgot how frustrating these games can be. I'm not very good with one player games to begin with. I tend to get bored if I don't have someone to share the experience with. It starts to feel like I'm just wasting time for the sake of wasting time instead of having fun (with a few exceptions). Add to that the ceaseless repetition of those levels and scenes that you just... can't... get... past... and my tolerance of the experience drops. I was never one of those kids who broke controllers playing video games, but I did get angry at times and frequently blamed the controller for not working right and would throw my hands in the air in exasperation yelling some mild to harsh expletive to the heavens. So, how did Castlevania go?
It was a lot simpler than I thought it'd be game play wise. As far as I know, there are no doors to enter or secret passageways to deal with. Just a basic side-scroller (with occasional scrolls on the y-axis). Weapons are easy to come by and the monsters are straight forward. Things progressively get harder and more hectic which is when frustration begins. There's a strategy to learn as to which special weapon you should keep (the time freezer, the throwing sword, the boomerang cross, etc) and the walls are where the secrets are found, but it's pretty basic.

The biggest surprise of the experience was that it's relatively unexciting. By design, you have to move cautiously, so things slow down quite a bit no matter what the threat is. It's totally unlike Contra or Mario Brothers in that respect (to bring in other side-scrollers). The pace made it feel pretty redundant to me because there's a lot of time to think about how each step of the game feels like the step before. Even when the monsters are overwhelming me, I thought that I died because of my impatience or not hitting the controller at the right time (or mishitting it) and not because the game was actually challenging. Even the point at which I stopped wasn't because I was overwhelmed but because when you get hit by something, it doesn't kill you but it does knock you backwards and I kept getting knocked into holes and fell to my death, which doesn't really feel like it's my fault. It was simply annoying to keep dying due to stuff that felt like it was out of my control.

The music is pretty cool though and writing about it now does make me want to give it another shot since I know more about the gameplay and could probably get much further this time around without having to continue (the continues, thankfully, don't start you back at the beginning of the game and are unending, at least in the Virtual Console version. Much appreciated in lieu of the ability to save). I don't know if I should be surprised that I'm no in love with the game, but it's hard not to appreciate the fact that I can just pick up the controller and play as opposed to any game now where you have to contend with 8+ buttons and any number of variations and combinations of those to do certain things.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Shifting Definition?

I got into a semantic discussion with a coworker last night about a word. I've had this exact discussion once before and I understand where they're coming from because in essence, they're right. However, my assertion is that the word's definition has shifted. I come here to offer my point of view and to allow you all to dictate my beliefs. The word in question is euphemism.

The discussion started with me stating that "gash" is a euphemism for "vagina" (as with all semantic arguments, they must feature the basest level of subject matter possible). I was called out for misusing the word in question because at the very least, "gash" is a neutral, if not negative way of regering to a vagina (I acknowledge that our examples may not be the best to use since many people are bashful about saying "vagina" and may actually consider "gash" to be a nicer way of putting it. My personal feelings about the word "gash" lead me to think that's not the case, but it illustrates that some words carry different baggage for different people and therefore inoffensiveness is relative).

My argument is as follows: I would wager that at least 90% of people don't know what the antonym of "euphemism" is and thus have no ability to refer to it when necessary. I certainly didn't, hence why I used "euphemism" in the first place. The antonym/s is/are mentioned in the link above, but if you didn't click it or read that far, take some time to think of what you would an offensive way to phrase an expression (a pretty poor definition, mind you). An example given for this type of thing is "snail mail" instead of postal mail. I wouldn't know what to call that if not a euphemism.

So since the antonym/s (there are three words listed as possibilites, though one specifically makes sense to me as the best antonym) are out of favor in common language, it is my belief that the original definition of euphemism has shifted (or is shifting) to cover the inoffensive, offensive, and neutral categories of substitution. Words are changing and adapting definitions all the time, so I don't see why that can't be the case here, but I could be alone. If that's the case, I will accept defeat with dignity and grace.

Incidentally, the antonym is dysphemism.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Pitchers as MVP

Justin Verlander won the MVP award in addition to the Cy Young this year. Good for him. He clearly deserved it. But what shocks me is that there are still people out there who don't believe that pitchers should be considered for MVP. Some say that they already have their own award in the Cy Young award. Others, like Jim Ingraham (quoted at the bottom of this article), believe that pitcher don't play in "79% of their games" likening the situation to a quarterback who only played in three games of the season being named MVP.

Can Ingraham really not see the difference in these scenarios? Does he not understand baseball at all? A pitcher may only pitch once every five days, but when he's playing, he's exerting himself consistently on every pitch of the game. The only other person who touches the ball as much as him is the catcher. The strain on the arm is immense and has done loads of harm to many pitchers. The rest is an essential part of being a consistent pitcher and for having a long career.
Another factor: he looks like a nice guy, too.
Secondly, just because position players play nearly every game, they spend much of the time not participating. And many plays don't require them to give 100% of their effort. They aren't called routine fly/ground balls for nothing. Baseball is a pretty leisurely game that's interrupted by bursts of action. That's one of the appeals of the game for me. As a result, the players have a lot of "idle" time (in quotes because they should still be paying attention). As Ingraham mentions, part of the experience is the 162-game season. Well... who really wears down more? The player playing every game but only needing to exert himself at intervals or the pitcher who pitches 100 pitches every game, many in high stress situations, and can't afford to let up on the intensity at risk of giving up runs.

Plus, just because pitchers have off days doesn't mean they are sitting on a couch eating Cheese Puffs. In my experience, pitchers are required to run more than any of the position players because their position is an endurance one (don't believe me? Try pitching in 95-100 degree heat). They also have pitching sessions to keep themselves loose and to fix kinks in the motion. And let's not forgot all the time they spend studying film of other teams and developing the strategy for their next start.

Pitchers may not play in every game doesn't mean that they should be left out of the MVP race. It's ignorant and asinine. They are as much as part of the team as anyone. As the link above shows, Verlander was tied for league lead in WARP (Wins Above Replacement Player). Therefore, even though he only played in about 21% of his teams games, he added more wins by himself than anyone else on the team. It's times like this that I wish FireJoeMorgan was still churning out new content.

October Leftovers

In preparation for watching horror movies all month long in October, I move about 25 representatives of the genre to the top of my Netflix queue*. Since I dropped my subscription to two DVDs and unlimited streaming, I didn't go through as many DVDs as normal, I had some leftovers and didn't feel like mixing them back in with the rest. Plus, I was looking forward to watching them.

Blood and Black Lace -- Mario Bava
I've by no means exhausted Bava's library of films, but thus far, I'm unimpressed. I acknowledge that he was important and influenced the direction of the genre heavily, but I can't really get behind his particular brand of horror and camp. Basically, his movies are too (unintentionally) silly for me. Part of it is that I don't have much connection to the giallo genre. They are basically all the same movie to me and it feels like there is a cap on how good they can be. My feelings on the genre and Bava aren't enough to put me off watching more, but I don't have the same excitement about approaching them that I used to.

Dead Birds -- Alex Turner
It's funny watching a movie like Dead Birds now because seeing that Henry Thomas (Elliott in E.T.) has lead billing in a recent movie (i.e. one where Henry Thomas is not still a child) over Michael Shannon is absurd. Of course, Dead Birds was released two years before Shannon appeared in Bug which was if not his first starring role, his highest profile role to that date. But just two years before Bug, you can still tell Shannon is a much greater presence that Henry Thomas, who always seems vaguely disinterested in the material. As a whole, Dead Birds is a decent low-budget horror movie with a good cast and some lousy creature effects. Once again, CGI kills low-budget horror more than bad puppets ever would. It's certainly a lot better than the comparable The Burrowers.

Magic -- Richard Attenborough
I can't really express how high my expectations were for Magic. It's directed by Richard Attenborough and I'm fascinated by anomalies in anyone's filmography (in this case, a horror movie). William Goldman wrote the novel and the screenplay. He is the shit. Anthony Hopkins is in it, Jerry Goldsmith did the score, and, shockingly, Ann-Margret exposes herself to the audience. My expectations led me a bit astray. Magic is a lot different than what I was led to believe. I was thinking it was going to be along the lines of the Talking Tina episode of The Twilight Zone and the ventriloquist dummy came to life. However, it's far more subtle than that and I wasn't prepared for it. Magic is more psychological horror than outright horror and I can't knock if for that just because it wasn't what I thought it'd be. I will knock if for the stupid love story angle that's poorly conceived. And I'll knock it once more for not casting Gene Wilder, who apparently everyone but the producer wanted on board. But then, I want Gene Wilder in everything.

Devil -- John Erick Dowdle
Consider this covered.

Sublime -- Tony Krantz
My main interest in Sublime is that it stars Tom Cavanagh who I've like since Ed and loved since I started listening to Mike and Tom Eat Snacks (I would have loved him since Ed, but he always seemed mildly hyperactive and annoying on talk shows, but it appears he was just trying to play to the audience instead of being himself if MATES is to be trusted). Just because I'm a fan of Cavanagh doesn't mean I'm going to rush out to see Yogi Bear, just that I'll take into consideration these efforts that fall outside of my perception of the man. It's the least I can do. I just wish Sublime was better. Aside from a paycheck, I can't really see what attracted Cavanagh to the role. Nearly all he does is lay (lie? I can never get that straight) in bed while stuff happens around him. Often, he's just staring into space. He's like the most passive protagonist ever. Everything happens to him and he initiates nothing. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't so clear that what we're seeing isn't exactly what we're getting. We may not know exactly where the movie is taking us, but it's pretty obvious that a particular thing is happening (don't want to spoil it for the curious). In the end, I think Sublime is really trying to tell men to be worried about getting their colonoscopy.

Return to Horror High -- Bill Froehlich
As much as I hate the '80s, the end of them really signaled the end of good, gory, fun horror movies for a while. Much like the Sleepaway Camp sequels and Uncle Sam, Return to Horror High is light on the gore to its detriment. If you're out to make a silly, campy, horror comedy, you need to give the audience something to latch onto just in case the comedy doesn't work. Otherwise, you're just making an unfunny movie without any visceral thrills. It's boring. Return to Horror High almost works. The hooks nearly sink in early and it's bizarre structure is mildly interesting but it's unsustainable. Now, it's most noteworthy for featuring George Clooney in an early role and much like Michael Shannon in Dead Birds or Tom Hanks in He Knows Your Alone, Clooney is clearly better than everyone else (except Alex Rocco who always plays the same character but does it so well) even though he's only around briefly.

Another VHS box I remember vividly from my childhood.

Let's Scare Jessica to Death -- John D. Hancock
File another film in the "Not What I Was Expecting" folder. Let's Scare Jessica to Death is very deliberate and not overtly scary. There's some tense moments and bizarre whispers on the soundtrack but basically the film is building to the final ten minutes. I'm not really sure what happened in those last ten minutes, but that's to be expected when everything is filtered through the eyes of a fragile mind (we're going to pretend that fragile minds have eyes here). The film looks great, but it can be a bit of a slog to get through and there's obnoxious voiceover of Jessica's thoughts that are really obtrusive and inorganic that could have been communicated with looks and cuts. The title implies something sinister, and there may be, but don't go into this film expecting a huge payoff to the title. Interestingly (to me, at least), the director also directed Band the Drum Slowly.

*I rarely adjust my queue because I've no doubt that certain movies would never get watched because I "wouldn't be in the mood" for them. However, I do wish that there was a Randomize button for the queue so that it would mix everything up for you (keeping the TV series as one entity so they don't put the third disc of season three before disc one of season one, of course).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Poor Ron Underwood...

Well this is disappointing. The man who made this:

Also made this (and about four other made for TV Christmas movies since 2006):

Friday, November 18, 2011

Baseball Bits and Pieces

It's halfway through November and I'm in some serious baseball withdrawal. I love the Hot Stove action, but the problem is that news comes in fits and starts. Many of the big moves haven't happened yet and anything else (like Dale Sveum going to the Cubs instead of the Red Sox... more or that later) is worth only about an hour of discussion. However, there are a few things worth talking about and my reaction to them varies.

One article deals with two of these issues (it's how I found out about both. I swear I'm not just poaching someone else's blog post. I SWEAR!). First on the chopping block: The Astros are moving to the A.L. West! Periodically in the past, I'd wonder why one division only has four teams while another has six. It didn't make sense to me. Then I'd remember that there are thirty teams and if they were split down the middle, that would leave two teams in each league dangling without a matchup. Of course, interleague play has been around for a while, so having those teams face each other isn't such a big deal, but having two leagues with fifteen teams doesn't do much to help balance the already unbalanced schedules. A team like the Orioles has to play the Yankees, Red Sox, and Rays (all with 90+ wins) over 50 times during the season wheres there was only one 90+ win team in the A.L. Central. Throw in some unlucky interleague pairings and some teams are going to get screwed big time. On the flip side, though I'm not much of a fan of interleague play, I like the idea of having it occur with two teams randomly throughout the year instead of as big chunks of space with forced "rivalry" games.

My solution to all of this is some good, old-fashioned English Football-style relegation. Since it would be asine to add six more teams so each division broke down into six teams each, let's chop it down to 24 teams. The six bottom teams get relegated to the minors while six top minor league teams can join the pros. There's stuff that would need to be worked out to make the system work, but not only does it bring each division to an even four teams, it adds a lot of incentive for the bad teams to keep playing hard. Those end of season Royals-Twins games would be a lot more exciting. Which brings me to...

...The revamped playoff system. I've ranted about this before (ignore all of the stuff about the Red Sox and Braves, if you could) and I still think adding teams to the playoffs is a bad idea. Even at ten teams, MLB would still have the smallest percentage of teams making the playoffs of the four major sports, but having a one game playoff to between to Wild Card teams to see who moves on to the Division Series seems pretty pointless and a recipe for more confusion and additional one-off games. The point of the playoffs is for the elite teams to fight it out for supremacy. The more teams added to the mix, the more mediocrity has a chance to infiltrate the system. But that's not really the big issue. Look how close we came this year to having two ties for the Wild Card spot. Expanding the playoff pool into the pack means that you start getting to that cluster of teams with similar records. Is it that hard to imagine that there could be a tie for the second Wild Card spot? Or even a three-way tie? Now it's not just a on-game playoff, but a one-game playoff to get into the one-game playoff to get into the playoffs. And all of this flies right in the face of having a 162-game season. Why play that many games and get that large of a sample size to have the season literally come down to one game for certain teams? That's the whole point of having a 7-game series (or even a 5-game series). I like this approach to expanding the playoff better than letting four additional teams in, but it doesn't seem in line with the spirit of the game.

Finally, a personal and specific complaint. I don't know what I'll do if the Red Sox hire Bobby Valentine as their manager. He may have had two good seasons with the Mets, but his record doesn't inspire confidence. Plus, his ESPN work shows him to be an idiot and he's volatile presence and we don't need one of those in the clubhouse. Plus, I don't want to have to root for this guy:
Red Sox... please don't do this to me.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Mr. Ed

I've had the Mr. Ed theme running through my head all day. I'm certain you all remember it as it's probably one of the most famous themes of television history, but here it is as a refresher:

However, I've heard this song untold times. Maybe in the hundreds. But for the life of me, I don't know the lyrics. So, since it's been bugging me all day and I'm mildly amused by them, here are my lyrics (repeat ad nauseam):

A horse is a horse, of course, of course.
Unless, of course, it's a horse, of course.
But then, of course, it'a a horse, of course.
It's the famous Mr. Ed!


Remember when the above trailer first popped up in theaters? Audiences laughed at the appearance of M. Night Shyamalan's name. I distinctly remember titters in the audience when I caught the trailer. But laughter aside, I've always been a little bit intrigued by Devil. Generally, I'm a huge fan of entertainment that takes place in a confined space and the onset of paranoia when bad stuff starts to happen. At no point did I expect Devil to be good, but at the very least, I thought it would be fun. Even though I was intrigued by Devil, I never made an effort to see it until a coworker of mine and I agreed that we'd both watch it. He watched it months ago and has been giving me a hard time about not holding up my end of the bargain. Finally, I gave in.

Devil got mixed reviews at best and it's not surprising why. There's little redeeming about the characters, there's ridiculous narration thrown in to explain events in the story (given by a tertiary character), and the movie is entirely predictable. And for a movie about five people stuck in an elevator, there are way too many characters. The filmmakers try to fit so much into Devil that everything suffers, but worst of all, the ending makes no sense at all (embarking on spoilers).
I won't say exactly which character is the devil, though it's fairly obvious from the beginning, but after involvement in killing off at least five different people (most of whom we're told have a history of crime or being bad people), the remaining person in the elevator confesses to killing to people in a car crash and driving away (those two happen to be the police officer-in-charge's wife and child). At this confession, the devil says, "I really wanted you!" and disappears. Now, I'd have to imagine that this character must have done something else bad in his life if that's the only criteria for the devil killing people. Otherwise, why would the devil have no qualms about killing everyone else and not continue with this guy? It doesn't make any sense. And why would the devil "really want" this particular person? Everything about this ending is stupid. There's no sign that the devil would let someone go because that person confessed to one particular sin that is probably one of thousands.

Even if we keep that ending, as flawed as it is, Devil still could have been salvaged. I first learned of the term "bottle episode" from Community and I think Devil would be much better if it adopted that approach. First, get rid of everything that takes place outside of the elevator. Once the characters are in it, the camera should never leave them. You can still have the voice over the PA and people trying to help them, but the viewer experiences things like the trapped people do. This way, when the guy falls on top of the elevator, we're just as surprised as the characters. With this approach, we can also get to know the characters better because we're not splitting time between them and rescue efforts. Tension can build slower and the viewer gets more claustrophobic. Alliances can shift as everyone become more paranoid. Hell, one of the characters can even be an audience surrogate.

There honestly is a good movie to be found in this concept. It's a shame that the filmmakers couldn't see it. Oh, and even though M. Night Shyamalan gets the "Story by" credit, he basically stole the structure from an Agathie Christie story, "And Then There Were None," and freely admits she inspired him. So, if he didn't actually write Devil and just "came up" with the story, doesn't that really mean that Agatha Christie should get the story nod? Or at least a story nod?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Farewell Community?

Community is off NBC's midseason schedule, a bad sign by any measure. NBC has assured fans that all 22 episodes will air, but this could be the beginning of the end. The show is one of those that has terrible ratings and tremendous critical response and a devoted fan base, which, some may say, means it's for "smart" people. It's endlessly critiquing its form and constantly referencing other forms of entertainment. If it weren't so damned funny, I could see how some might feel alienated by it.
Look at that lovely cast. How could anyone not want to watch them?
Since it does have a devoted fan base, of course there are going to be petitions to save it. When Arrested Development was on the verge of cancellation nearly six years ago, I spent much of its final season signing as many of these petitions as I could. This time around, though, I find myself struggling to care if it gets cancelled or not. Maybe I've spent much of the last decade having my heart broken by the networks to allow myself to get too close. To illustrate this, here's a short list off the top of my head of shows that should have lasted longer: Arrested Development, Party Down, The Tick (live-action), Futurama (before Comedy Central saved it), Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Andy Barker P.I., and Undeclared (why must the American public hate Andy Richter and college so much?).
Oh... maybe this is why.

In reality, shows like Community, Arrested Development, and Futurama were given a decent chance. They got multiple seasons and failed to build an audience for whatever reasons (you could probably base a solid argument around the changing landscape of how people watch TV shows). But I'm happy they lasted as long as they did without much decline in quality (and Futurama is making solid episodes again after those shaky movies). And Community always felt like it shouldn't last for too long. It takes place a community college, for crying out loud. It barely makes sense that Annie hasn't gotten a scholarship to a big school somewhere or that Jeff seems to have forgotten why he's there altogether.

So sign the petition if you must. I won't be sad if it's renewed. It is one of my most anticipated shows of the week. However, if it's not, that just means I have 23 minutes more each week to catch up on one of the dozens of other shows I've neglected.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Costumer Service

For those of you who were looking for a follow-up as to what I did with my Milanoo purchase from the Customer Service post, here you go:

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Department of Tiny Complaints

There's a liquor store not far from my house (one might even call it my "local liquor store") that has a tiny marquee above its entrance. The marquee space is used for "clever" word play combining the nearest holiday with encouragement to buy alcohol for said holiday. For example: Halloween was something like, "Raise your spirits this Halloween." It carries the same vibe as those churches with their own plays on words on their marquees (I've never really understood the purpose of those. Is it to try to get us to attend that church? Like, "hey, they're clever! That's the church for me!" Or is it to preach a little on the street?). They're slightly obnoxious, but easily ignored.

However, the liquor store is displaying one of my biggest pet peeves right now and will be for the foreseeable future. You see, the sign says, "Winter is here, holiday cheer." My issue isn't with the quote being mundane and only kind of, sort of makes sense. It's that WINTER ISN'T HERE! This went up just after Halloween ended (which, kudos to them for changing it. Their Cinco de Mayo message was up for almost a month after the holiday) when there was almost two whole months of fall left.

I don't know why people insist on skipping seasons. Every year, June rolls around and people rejoice that it's summer. But just because it's June doesn't mean summer is here. Just as when August ends, there's still 20-odd days left until fall begins. And most people shouldn't be surprised that they it's not a White Christmas (though some had a White Halloween) because it's barely winter. That White Halloween should show people that weather has very little to do with determining seasons.

And to help those of you out there who routinely ignore this: here you go.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Because I Can't Keep Out of an Argument: Weighing in on JoePa

I don't really care one way or another that Joe Paterno got fired now instead of retiring at the end of the season. I feel bad for him that his legacy will be tainted by the Sandusky scandal, but that's the path he cut for himself. My dad and sister both graduated from PSU as well as many friends. And being from Pennsylvania and living out of state (as well as developing a pretty strong pride in much of what my state offers, mostly food related) I feel a little protective about this whole situation, but in the end, my interest is minimal. I hate the culture around college (and pro) football and try to avoid my Facebook feed on those days because it's like a drill to the brain. But I feel that the people making snap judgments about JoePa are missing a critical thread: Jerry Sandusky and JoePa were insanely close.

Seriously, you can't work with someone for 30 years ('69 to '99) and not be close with them. I'd hazard a guess that during the football season, JoePa and Sandusky spent more time together than with their families. I'm not going to say they were best friends, but I'd say they were very good friends. So my question is this: could you turn in one of your very close friends (perhaps best friend) if you found out they were having sex with underage children?

Most people would probably say yes because they're not in that situation. It's easy to be righteous when there are no stakes. But I've known enough people in my life who have had family or other connections bail them out of trouble with the law without any repercussions to know that there are gray areas in each of our moral compasses. If you found out your child or sister murdered someone, could you turn them in? Maybe, but it would be hard. There's a cognitive dissonance between the person you know and the person he or she turns out to be in these cases.

Paterno didn't see the rape, he was told about it. It's entirely possible he didn't go to the police because he couldn't rationalize his friend doing that to a child. So he goes to his superiors. That way, he didn't do nothing, but he didn't have to turn his back on his friend. I'm not saying it absolves him, I'm just trying to show that the Paterno situation isn't black and white.

My biggest issue with this whole story is that it's mainly getting attention because Paterno has long been lauded as an upstanding man in the community and the sport. He's got the record for most wins and has been and institution himself at PSU since '66 (OK, he wasn't always an institution, but he's been there a while). The real story is that Jerry Sandusky raped children, but that's not interesting because there's no drama. He's guilty. End of story. But Joe Paterno knew about it and did nothing! Holy shit! This guy was supposed to be a pillar of the community. School comes first, and all that. Now it seems he has moral and ethical problems! It's the interesting perspective on the story and will sell more papers/get more web traffic (fingers crossed!). I feel validated by this opinion because, as far as I know, no one has mentioned anything about why the graduate assistant didn't go to the police. He's the one who saw it. He told Paterno just like Paterno told his bosses. Sounds like an apt comparison. But he's a no name, so no one cares if he gets fired (and I don't want him to).

In the end, it's a horrible situation that makes you sick to the stomach. I feel worse for PSU alum and fans (though if they keep doing stuff like this, that feeling might wear off). I'm not going to cry about JoePa's firing and I understand why the fans support him. They aren't wrong to. Sure, there's a fair amount of cognitive dissonance involved, but JoePa's situation isn't nearly as simplistic as the commentators like to think it is.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Treehouse of Bore-er

It's not controversial to say that The Simpsons is nowhere near as good as it used to be. There are a variety of reasons for this: shorter run time, changes in popular types of humor (call it The Family Guy effect), different writers, no more hand-drawn animation (watch something from season 3 and from season 20 and tell me that the crisp image and sharp lines don't hurt the experience. Animation should be fluid), and of course, running out of ideas. Even with all of this, I still watch the show regularly and frequently find it enjoyable though rarely great. Even in the doldrums of the show, the Treehouse of Horror episodes were always highlights. Except for this year.

Like the show the ToH episodes have also been falling in quality. I'd even go so far as to say that they haven't been the same since they moved on from the humorous headstones or at least having any sort of opening credits. The writers also stopped creating any sort of connective tissue like everyone telling scary stories trying to one-up each other, or eating too much candy and having nightmares, or even Bart telling the stories of the paintings. Maybe it's just me, but I like when these stories feel at least a little bit related to the real Simpsons universe as opposed to being an excuse to do movie parodies.

And that's really the biggest problem. When The Simpsons writers used to do ToH episodes, they'd stick with horror or Sci-Fi stories, but now they basically riff on anything they want (which is what The Simpsons used to do very elegantly with their normal episodes). So this year there is a bizarre mashup of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and Spider-man and Avatar (there's also a Dexter parody, which kind of works, but it's not that dark and way to rushed). Avatar may be sci-fi, but there's certainly nothing scary about it and the Diving Bell parody shoehorns Halloween into the segment by having Homer putting up Halloween decorations, but it's an afterthought.

There are still so many horror stories to pay homage to. I don't know why they are avoiding them. Christ, as far as I remember, they haven't even done a Halloween parody yet! They've barely scratched the surface of Stephen King and Hitchcock (who, let's be honest, gets enough attention during the rest of the season). There's tons of Poe and Twilight Zone episodes to cull from. It makes me sad that they're wasting their time on Diving Bell and Avatar.

There's also a dip in quality from season 13 to season 14, which happens to coincide with every segment of the ToH episodes being written by different people to having the whole episode being credited to one. Having multiple voices makes it easier to forgive a lacking segment if the others are good. On the commentaries on The Simpsons DVDs, they always talk about how hard the ToH episodes are to make, so I don't know why they are giving it to one person. Especially this year, where not only did writer Carolyn Omine not come up with anything good, but she didn't even know how to end the segments. I almost thought that it was going to be one story instead of the triptych that it normally and we'd rejoin the action coming back from commercial.

The Treehouse of Horror episodes should be fun, scary, and more than a little gory times. At the risk of sounding like an old man talking about how things were better in my day, the writers need to go back to the start and take a good hard look at what makes those episodes so good. But don't take my word for it:

Monday, November 7, 2011

Customer Service

I had a grand idea for a Halloween costume. All I needed was a good base to build on (and some help with the sewing) and I'd be set. The likelihood of me finding said base at a thrift shop was minimal, so I took to the internet and found a reasonable price from Milanoo. I placed my order on October 19 and paid extra for shipping to ensure that it would get to me before the 31st. Their shipping estimate was the 28th at the latest. My order didn't get to me until October 31st at around noon. Clearly not enough time, especially since I was really hoping to have it for zombie trivia on the 30th. As I actively decided to pay extra for the shipping and I didn't get my order until after the date they advertised, I felt I was in my rights for at least a refund on my shipping costs. The following ensued.

First Contact:
I placed my order on October 19 and it shipped on October 22. Even with the 3 days it took to process my order and get it shipped, it still hasn't arrived in the time advertised. It's been nearly 10 days since I placed my order, three over the 5-7 in the order. I paid extra money to ensure that it would be here within that week and your company has failed on that contract. As it stands, the least you can do is refund my shipping costs as the shipment falls outside of the cheaper option, as well.

We have shipped out your package since 2011-10-22 17:07:10 via FedEx.
You may track your package with the number 503130307034  with the link

For we have turned over your package to the shipping company then the delivery is out of our control .
We beg for your understanding and please do not worry about it, they will delivery your package to you later.

Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.

Thank you again for your support

The link they gave me offered no information about where my package was or anything useful. Just that I ordered the item and that it shipped. And even though it shipped from the UK, you get the sense that perhaps their customer support isn't a native English speaker. I sent another complaint restating my case. Unfortunately, their response copies my original message and not the follow-up, so I can't repost it for you.

Second Response:
We are sorry about the delay.

But the fact is that we have shipped out your package on 2011-10-22 17:07:10 as we promised to you on the confirmation email after you placed the order and it just because for the FedEx promised to us that they could delivery your package to you in 3-5 days that means you could receive your package before the Halloween!
We are not to get rid of our responsibility.
We just want to explain the reason why you have not received your package on due time.

As for we have the direct relationship to you, so we would like to lessen your loss by offering you the discount code which is offered to VIP of our website to you for making up.

Is that OK to you?
Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.

Thank you again for your support

With best regards

I was getting tired of them trying to pass the buck to FedEx. They didn't mention that they'd be using FedEx and as far as I was concerned, my contract was with them. If FedEx screwed up, that was between Milanoo and FedEx. I paid an extra $12 to get my order and I wanted it back. I didn't want to continue doing business with Milanoo. I flat out refused the discount in my response (which is probably best that I can't reprint here because their final response makes me feel a little bad that I commented on the syntax of their responses). I also commented that I thought they were being dismissive of me, especially when I was told, "do not worry about it, they will delivery your package later." On the plus side, I love that they referred to it as "the Halloween" and may start doing that regularly.

Third Response:
OK, we apologize to you for the dismissive attitude and the syntax for we are not the native English speaker so we have no idea that the words has offended you .
We apologize to you and will refund you 11.74 USD for the shipping fee.
Please feel free to contact us if you have any further questions.

Thank you again for your support

With best regards

Maybe it's just me, but it really does feel like I insulted them. However, I was getting increasingly annoyed with them and since the customer service phone number was from the UK, I didn't want to have to call it to get my point across. I am greatly amused that from "Please feel free..." to "With best regards" is clearly a form closing and written by someone with command of the language. It's a little jarring reading their response and continuing through to the end. Like when people start speaking English in a foreign language film: "Hey, I understand that!" 

Finally, a propos of nothing because I didn't ever want to experience Milanoo again, I got the following:

Thank you for shopping with
I am following up regarding case number 00079349 of your inquiry.
It's been 48 hours since our last email and we have not heard back from you yet.
Please kindly reply to us if your problem has not been solved.
The case will be closed after 24 hours if with your kind confirmation for no further feedback or response taking on.
A survey may send to you for your precious suggestions and how we act in the service after the closing of case.

Sorry to bother you!

Many Thanks and Best Regards!

I don't know why they felt the need to send this as I got what I wanted. Why would I respond to them after that? I do like that they may send me a survey for my "precious suggestions," though.

Incidentally, this is what I got:
Black Lycra Spandex Unisex Zentai Suit