Abortion Debate? Let’s cut it out…

The terribly insensitive title was a bit attention seeking I’ll admit, but it speaks to this notion that abortion is still a divisive issue for so many people and it’s frustrating amid a spectrum of social problems that require much of the activism and discourse that is wasted on what I feel to be a open and closed issue. Let’s simply and quickly breakdown the debate from the three most popular perspectives and I’ll add one caveat at the end.

Not a solution to unsafe sex-This idea that men and women actually consider the relative “ease” of “taking care of” the potential result of their subsequent sexual encounter before they engage in intercourse is quite hilarious. No one reaches the critical moment of decision and is comforted by the possibility that an abortion will solve the dilemma that having sex might bring about. So, why do we punish young women by arguing, “Hey you should have thought of this before. You don’t get an easy way out.” Well, we are past that point if she is already pregnant and we know that outlawing abortion would not act as a deterrent so therefore, that argument of “It shouldn’t be an option to erase a mistake” is unfounded because it’s not viewed as an option before the mistake is made, it’s viewed as a choice (a very difficult one) for someone who is already pregnant. Abortion is not an easy way out, it’s not a time machine that transports someone back to before their moment of conception, nor is it murder.

Religious Argument (God’s plan)-If it is murder, so is masturbation, sodomy, oral sex, homosexuality, wet dreams, protected sex, birth control…All of the potential sperm involved in those instances are being preemptively restricted from “babymaking” it’s just cutting out the middle man.  The idea that God treats conception differently because it’s “meant to be” and therefore that fetus is immediately a person means that every person who uses in vitro fertilization, a surrogate, or adopts a child is defying God’s plan because if he wanted them to have kids then he wouldn’t have forced them to be in their childless predicaments in the first place. I mean Jesus Christ, Mary and Joseph didn’t have sex (or so they told the town) and they had the son of God so he can make that stuff happen if he wants it to right? That fetus is a result of sperm fertilizing an egg, not some divine intervention.

Roe v Wade reversal-This is a popular harping point for a lot of right wingers. It’s funny, if you actually study politics you’d realize that the reversal of Roe v Wade would be incredibly detrimental to the conservative base. As it stands now, it is a rallying cry that segues into family values, religious traditionalism, and us v them galvanization that resulted from the Culture Wars of the 1970’s and 1980’s which catapulted Reagan into the Presidency. The idea being, find what people perceive to be integral to their lifestyle among a certain homogeneous base (the South in this case) and latch on to an event or decision (Roe v Wade) that exemplifies the heavy hand of the government telling that base that their way of life was inferior or that the government knew better. The republicans rode the coattails of the Culture Wars to win three consecutive elections from 1980-1992 and their next two term representative in the Oval Office was George W. Bush who ran a campaign based on? You guessed it, family values and liberty with an emphasis on religious freedom. Any republican who wishes to reverse Roe v. Wade is suggesting opposition to the true party line which benefits greatly from using that decision and this issue to further their propagandized mission to convince “the real America” that their religious and family values are antithetical to the aims of a left winged Federal government. Sorry, but it’s all bullshit.

Furthermore, the idea that Roe v Wade is recycled as a point of contention to rally the conservative troops around the “core” issues explains why people have such a visceral reaction. It’s programmed. Pro life is just a response born out of fear and fear-mongering in this case. It is a convenient argumentative position that directly opposes the pro-choice (which actually speaks more towards liberty and freedom despite the party connotations) movement while giving religious backing in order to degrade and judge women who choose to do what’s best for their bodies and their lives. I contend that we shouldn’t care as much as we do and I’ve outlined the reasons why so many think they should but few actually sit down and think about it. If you would, you’d be like me and you’d just want everyone to cut it out. Simply put, I do not feel I deserve the power to tell someone what they can and cannot do with their body. I have no right nor do I have a place. God has nothing to do with this and legally there could be few more restrictive laws than one that would outlaw abortion (which will never happen). So, can we just give up and focus on things that matter? People protest, they drive vans with obscene images of dead fetuses, they hound young women who enter abortion clinics and tell them that they are scum. For what? Where is your right? And don’t say, what about the baby’s right to life? Well, again, life is a result of a sperm and an egg so unless you advocate that every sperm is sacred you have no basis there. Let’s cut it out, protect our rights, and fix real social problems.

Michael Sam: The First Gay Gladiator

Welcome to a seminar on sexual orientation and the workplace…Let’s begin. I’ll spare you the agonizing b.s., but what if your workplace is a football field? Better yet, what if much of your workplace activity revolves around following and debating things that happen on a football field? Well then, chances are you know the name Michael Sam by today.

The Missouri graduate is eligible for the NFL draft this May and he is gay. Players are and have been gay while earning NFL paychecks but they never have entered or at any point in their career been open about their sexuality until now prospectively. The media seized the opportunity, and rightly so, to publicize this heroic announcement for Sam. The question quickly arose: How will this affect his draft stock? Unfortunately, that’s a valid question due to the culture of the sport in question but also the fanaticism attached to that culture.

The NFL is a physical game, a sport that glorifies toughness, strength, even anger. It is a sport of intimidation. Some might accurately call those primal characteristics, while others are fans of the sport because of this gladiator worship. But, this news story framed against the backdrop of the NFL’s image of brutality brings about a meaningful discussion of abhorrent stereotypes associated with homosexuality. Let’s examine a few

Gay men are weak: Michael Sam lead this SEC in sacks this past season at a position that demands physical strength.

Gay men are a locker room distraction: Why? Because once everyone hits the showers they are just going to rape the enitre locker room? This idea is homophobic, born out of fear by heterosexuals. Being homosexual is not equivalent to being a sexual predator. Get over yourselves straight men. What makes you think you’d even attract gay men?

Why does a gay athlete have to be open about his or her sexuality? This comes from a starting point of bigotry. The only reason this is news is because we are such an intolerant people and worship traditionalism even in the realm of sports which is such an asinine ideal that sports deserve some sort of sanctity. Michael Sam didn’t have to come out before he becomes an NFL player, but he felt it was important that he did so that there could be a shift in the NFL status quo which I find admirable.

Now, more importantly, consider the reverse of some of these stereotypes. Why is it assumed that masculine male athletes in the NFL are heterosexual? I think this is important because there is an association that develops. Masculinity=glorifying the gladiator mentality which is celebrated therefore gay men are excluded yet that assumes that we are to take gender cues and subsequently sexuality clues from this primitive idea of the male athlete (hero). This is a huge issue because we want our boys to play sports and compete and emulate their pro athlete role models but why must that encouragement be reinforced with the idea that this is the only way to be a man? Michael Sam is a gay football player. There are straight ballet dancers too but yet our associations tell us that those caricatures are to be gawked at. This comes from an unexplored place in our culture that has everything to do with gender when it doesn’t have to. Our love affair with the NFL has adverse affects when it comes to ideas about how the next generation of men should behave. This is extremely problematic and ignorant. You are not more or less of a man if you tackle other men, or if you have a “mean streak”, or if you play the piano, or tap dance. This big news about Michael Sam is big news because of our tendency to compartmentalize and stereotype but we often do not consider that this mistake permeates to subsequent generations who will do the same unless we teach them tolerance and openness when it pertains to gender and sexuality. The NFL is so mindless, the gladiator mentality so pointless and impractical, so why should we allow it to be so prominent in what we think a masculine man should be? Why do we strive to emulate that archetype? There were Michael Sams before and there will be more gay athletes and the way Michael Sam is accepted or rejected will have a lot to do with how comfortable those athletes are in sharing their true identities with the unforgiving sports world. We all should reflect on why it has taken this long and prioritize what is truly valuable if anything about the NFL while realizing that it’s reach extends further than we acknowledge it does.

The Martin Luther King Legacy: More Than a Monday in January?

I am not a holiday person. Christmas is religious only in its lustful devotion of consumer materialism. July 4th is weighed down by ignorant patriotism and distracted by fireworks displays. Valentine’s Day is usually disappointing no  matter what your relationship status is. Columbus Day is an atrocity (We still call Native Americans Indians. See Louis C.K. stand-up). Anyway, holidays are hollow. As I talked to people yesterday and today concerning this holiday, Martin Luther King Day, I got some pretty surprising reactions. “Why is this a holiday?” “He accomplished what someone else would have.” “This doesn’t deserve to be a Federal holiday.” Cue the about face for me, the holiday hater. Jesus Christ, of all of the stupid things we celebrate, this day has some potential. How can we appreciate what MLK went through? How can we honor his legacy?

I like the general skepticism when it comes to anointing Dr. King as the second coming, but he was this country’s most successful social activist in the past half-century. But, we all know his accomplishments and his trials and tribulations along the way. After today, I’ve become more interested in his legacy and how we have seemingly taken his persona and made it into a universal truth. I think this is dangerous. Before the Civil Rights movement, realities that we can’t imagine were the norm. It is hard to fathom what it truly took to break down those pillars of injustice and restore a foundation of liberty and tolerance. It seems as though many people are sick of MLK posthumously getting so much credit, but his experience was far from ordinary. He was a revolutionary and died for his cause. Viewing his legacy in a vacuum with a defined start and end point undermines the fight he waged. Civil Rights and the broader cause of battling social injustice is an eternal struggle. We cannot rest on our laurels and assume that his fight ended in victory.

King said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” That is his legacy. “America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check that has come back marked ‘insufficient funds. But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation.” Since that monumental speech echoed off of the Washington monument, more oppressed people have arrived in Washington to cash checks of equality and justice and the funds are still very much insufficient. We have come a long way in terms of civil rights for African Americans and others, but each instance of hate and persecuted group should not require the effort and struggle given by Dr. King. We should not live as Americans waiting on the next hero to accomplish King’s goal of a world where people are judged solely on the content of their character.. We are the silent, but good people who should be appalled by our own inaction.

Gay rights, poverty, declining education systems, hostility toward immigrants, residual racism, and other issues plague our brothers and sisters and we tend to seek comfort in our ignorance and insulation. I am heterosexual and can get married, not because I made a choice but because I was born into a majority, so I don’t care that, because others fall in a minority by also not making a choice, I should allow bigots to make a choice to restrict their liberty? I accept that fewer people in this country get richer while the overwhelming majority gets poorer? I accept that because I can afford to live in an area with high property values, my kids will get an adequate education and the children in the neighboring city will go without textbooks? I pretend that my immigrant heritage is any different from someone who cannot speak English? I accept that Civil Rights laws were passed so racism must also have ended? Our world is full of social injustice and we discuss it constantly, but we do so in whispers. We don’t make enough noise to drown out the disharmonious tones of prejudice and hate. We are so busy feeling sorry for ourselves that we forget that others aren’t asking us to feel sorry for them, but merely to stand in unity and fight for their just cause.

I think it’s all very simple. Live your life with the desire to make the world a better place than you found it. Nothing else really matters. As Dr. King so aptly stated, “And so we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice. We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.” There are many checks to be cashed and there is plenty of money in the bank of social justice in order to make the world a better place. But, we cannot be afraid to cash in on what is right and true. We cannot wait for a leader to inspire us to fight, because that leader already did so and that is what we should take from today. Martin Luther King’s legacy is not about not getting mail one Monday in January or even necessarily about just civil rights for people of different races, but it is about recognizing and defeating injustice. Right now is the time and plenty is the cause. Whether it’s marching, voting, speaking, or listening, we cannot be docile in this battle anymore because our brothers, sisters, and forefathers can’t afford to suffer the tranquilizing effects of gradualism.

Who Dat 12th Man? Danny California’s 2014 NFL Divisional Round Playoff Predictions and Analysis

Last week’s Wild Card Playoff round was just as crazy and interesting to watch as promised. The first game between Indy and KC was a wild one, with (as I predicted, at least, the comeback part) the Colts coming roaring back from a 28 point deficit to humiliate a Chiefs team that put a hurting on Indianapolis (even without Jamaal Charles) in the first half. Andrew Luck is starting to cement himself as the most elite quarterback of his draft class, and perhaps is destined to be the NFL’s best someday soon. Following that game, New Orleans went into frigid Philadelphia and behind journeyman kicker Shayne Graham’s leg, the Saints found a few rounds of birdshot left and shot down the Eagles and their playoff hopes in the final seconds. On Sunday. we saw Andy Dalton post his best postseason QB rating yet out of three total games (at a 67.0 rating, yikes) and the Bengals get destroyed by San Diego despite the flurries and the fact that Philip Rivers is still under center. And finally, in what seems to be proof that cold weather isn’t as much as a factor as I thought, San Francisco went into the negative wind chill temps of Lambeau Field and pulled out a close win over Green Bay.

This weekend promises more balmy temperatures (even in Foxboro, Massachusetts) compared to last week, and also throws the teams with first round byes into play, making things a little bit more interesting.

Saturday, January 11th Games

New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks, 4:35 PM EST

According to popular consensus, most people though that the Saints would win last week. With Drew Brees at the helm and a better tested coaching staff and roster, New Orleans held the slight advantage over Philadelphia. Typically, Saints football is thought to be Brees throwing for four scores and the defense doing just enough to ensure that the don’t get outscored. Last Saturday though, perhaps everyone not nicknamed “The Wolfman” was surprised as Brees threw two pretty bad picks, and the defense and running game stepped up and came through to produce a win for the Saints. New Orleans also exorcised the demons of playing on the road in the playoffs, going into frigid Philly and shutting down rushing champion Lesean McCoy. It seemed though, that the Eagles lost the game more than the Saints won it, as some key mistakes and overt conservativity of Nick Foles doomed the Philly offense. If the Saints are going to advance to the NFC Championship game, they will have to keep their turnovers down (3 against the Eagles was almost too many), and have an aerial attack that was missing when these two teams met earlier this season in a Seattle blowout.

The Seahawks have been one of, if not the favorite to win the NFC since the start of the season. With a healthy Percy Harvin alongside weapons Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch leading the way on offense, Seattle plays punishing defense on the other side of the ball which paves the way to victory. By giving up the second fewest PPG on the season built on giving up the fewest offensive yards, Seattle’s defense is the reason this team wins, and is even capable of scoring by themselves by leading the league in INTs with 28, and forcing the fourth most fumbles with 15. Add in an offense that scores the second most points in the NFL per game and has the third most rushing yards on average, the ‘Hawks control the clock, make minimal mistakes on offense, and force mistakes on defense. There really isn’t a better all-around team in the league. Combine that with CenturyLink field and the “12th Man” that the crowd dubs themselves as, and it’s hard not to pick them to go all the way. And yet, in this divisional round, I am doing the unheard of and picking New Orleans. The Saints have already been embarrassed in Seattle, they know what it’s like and will deal better a second time around. They’ve gotten the road victory monkey off their back and their defense is coming together well as a unit. Last week they shut down McCoy to the point where he was completely irrelevant, which I believe they can replicate against Lynch. And, I think Drew Brees is due. To have him go on the road and throw three touchdowns is exactly what is needed for the team from the Big Easy, with Shayne Graham delivering again to send the Saints to the championship game. 27-24 New Orleans

Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots, 8:15 PM EST

Anybody who watched last week’s Wild Card game involving the Colts had to be astonished. I haven’t talked to anyone yet who turned it off at halftime thinking it was over, but I’m sure those piteous people exist somewhere. Andrew Luck led a seriously insane comeback against the playoff greenhorn Chiefs, and helped solidify his name as the best up and coming quarterback in the league. Unfortunately for Indy, their defense was exposed and they lost a few players to injuries which never helps in a playoff run. But, they still have the explosive TY Hilton and talented Luck to put up points on the scoreboard in a hurry. The Colts are riding momentum right now having now won four straight, and for a streaky team like theirs this is nothing but good news. The only serious problem shown on Saturday was the running game. Trent Richardson is turning out to be totally useless with Donald Brown completely taking over the ground attack. Although when a team is down by 28 they shouldn’t really be running the ball, it’s still a little concerning that Richardson is such a bust. Indianapolis also signed ex-Patriots receiver Deion Branch to plug the gap filled by Darrius “Todd Pinkston” Hayward-Bey. Whether this helps or not is yet to be seen, but it would be nice to see Branch burn his former team once or twice at the ripe age of 34.

Of course, the Patriots are used to these January battles with the Colts, this time without Peyton Manning at the helm of the opposition. That means that Tom Brady and Emperor Belicheat will have an evil game plan that is tried and true, and this time around should result in Brady receiving high fives from his teammates. The thing I don’t like about New England is that they’re rather untested during the regular season. Sure, they beat Denver and New Orleans, but most of the other games they played were really soft. The AFC East is a partial joke, as the Bills are a bad team, the Jets are a bad unpredictable team, and the Dolphins are an above-average mediocre team. Still, the Patriots managed going only 4-2 in their own division, losing their other two games to playoff teams Cincinnati and Carolina. The Patriots are also banged up on offense, missing all of their good pass catchers (Gronk), as Kenbrell Thompkins and Julian Edelman will need to come up big for Tom Brady. Stevan Ridley has also shown some promise on the ground, basically splitting carries with LeGarrette Blount, who between the two of them average 4.75 YPC. New England’s defense is underrated too , as their run defense is the only thing that is a problem, which against the Colts isn’t a real problem at all. If Andy Reid’s Alex Smith can throw for four TD’s against Indy, just imagine what Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can do. I don’t want the Patriots to win, but the combination of a good ground attack, solid pass defense, the home crowd in Foxboro,. and the intangibles that are the Brady and Belichick combo should pull it out against the young Luck(y) upstarts. 38-27 New England

Sunday, January 12th Games

San Francisco 49ers @ Carolina Panthers, 1:05 PM EST

The Niners managed to pull it out last week against Green Bay, I’ll give them that much. The only problem is, they played such a close game against the weakest division champion outside of Philadelphia. Colin Kaepernick overcame his mistakes by using his legs to torch the Packers defense, who you would have thought would have learned by now to keep a man spy on the QB. Michael Crabtree also came up huge for San Fran, grabbing 125 yards worth of passes, completely overshadowing Number One receiver Anquan Boldin in the Green Bay game. They also played good downfield coverage, not allowing receivers to run loose in the secondary and letting Aaron Rodgers beat them. This should be a low-scoring, grind-it-out defensive game, just like the 10-9 Carolina victory that these two teams played back in Week 10.

Of course, I don’t think anybody could have predicted that the Panthers would be here after starting the season 0-2. Looking back on their season though, it is almost amazing how nobody could have seen how good this Panthers team was. Their only bad loss was to a Buffalo Bills team on the road by one point. Their other losses were in New Orleans where everybody loses, and against the Seahawks and the Cardinals. They weren’t really gifted with an easy schedule either, as they had to play the West (Seattle, San Fran, and Arizona all had 11 or more wins), the Saints twice, and the Patriots and Dolphins. Going 4-3 in those games is a testament to the talent of Carolina, especially on the defensive side of the ball. They’ve given up the least points per game of any team, along with only an average of surrendering 80 yards a game on the ground. Although not a high-caliber offense, being able to grind out yards on the ground and having a multi-talented quarterback in Cam Newton give this Panthers squad enough to work with in terms of reaching pay dirt. All the Panthers have to do is shut down Kaepernick’s running game, and they’ll win this game. 17-12 Carolina

San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos, 4:40 PM EST

Well, the Chargers sure proved me wrong last week. I don’t know if it was more of the Bengals channeling the Bungles of old, or San Diego actually putting a charge into something, but that was one game that I got sorely wrong. They’re playing good football, Philip Rivers isn’t making mistakes, and the running game dominated last week. Except, again, you were playing the Bengals who turned the ball over in embarrassing fashion. Don’t expect that from Peyton Manning and the best offense in NFL history this week. Although the Chargers have played Denver pretty well this year, I don’t see this game being very close. It’s Manning time, and he’s going to reign. The good news is, since San Diego beat the Broncos once this year already, all those bothersome people who say “it’s so hard to beat the same team three times in the same year” can keep their traps shut. But come on, this is the Denver Broncos, and this is Peyton Manning, who will have Wes Welker back in addition to every single other offensive weapon this team has. Denver cruises. 38-24 Denver

The Best Teases of 2013 – My favorite Movie Trailers for Films Released this past Year

As a movie lover/obsessor/collector, if there’s one thing that I love it’s those ten minutes before watching a movie in theaters where you’re tantalizingly teased about films that you’re highly anticipating to see. When I was a teenager, I remember that throughout 2008 I had most of the previews memorized and in what order they came in, with Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Terminator Salvation, Star Trek, and Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen being the highlights. Studios spend millions of dollars on trailers to give viewers sneak peeks, and to entice those that aren’t ready to throw our money and firstborn to the producers. A well put together trailer can do wonders for a film, as you can either sit there and laugh/troll the trailer, or look to your friends and say “that looks good, let’s go see that”. For obvious reasons, the latter is the desired effect. So, I’ve decided to compile some of what I thought were the best trailers of the year with short descriptions based on my thoughts about the movie and trailer.

#5. Iron Man 3

If there’s one thing I despise, it’s deceiving trailers. I understand that Marvel and idiot director Shane Black didn’t want to spoil the plot twists in the movie, but boy did this trailer make the movie look awesome. The great line “I offer you a choice. Do you want an empty life, or a meaningful death?” wasn’t even uttered in the film because the “Mandarin” wasn’t even the “Mandarin”. I really just want to live in this trailer.

#4 The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

This is another deceiving trailer. Jackson teased everybody beautifully with this, the fans of the Lord of the Rings trilogy, fans of An Unexpected Journey, and fans of the novel series. Then, he created his own egotistical tale and ran away laughing with everybody’s money. Jerk.

#3 The Wolf of Wall Street

I confess, I have not yet seen this movie. But, from what people have told me and from what I’ve read, this trailer is spot on. All the excess, partying, and ridiculousness that comes along with the Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, and Matthew McConaughey led movie is portrayed in a great fashion in this trailer. Also, as Thurston pointed out in his top 10 tracks of 2013, who doesn’t love Kanye West’s epic romp, Black Skinhead?

#2 Man of Steel Teaser Trailer

This trailer really divided people, because they felt like it was too short and didn’t really offer much insight into the film. But, Zack Snyder and his production team knew exactly what they were doing when they borrowed the music in the trailer. There are very few soundtrack pieces that are better than the latter part of The Fellowship of the Ring‘s track “The Bridge of Khazad-Dum”. The Gandalf the Grey death music is simply perfect.

#1 The Great Gatsby

I was a bit disappointed with this movie, as I thought it couldn’t make up its mind as to what it wanted to be. I still enjoyed it enough in theaters and later added it to my collection, but it wasn’t all that this trailer summed it up to be. Featuring Beyonce, Florence + The Machine, and revealing Lana Del Rey’s “Young and Beautiful”, this tease is a work of art, and beyond a doubt the best trailer for any movie that was released in the year past.

The Wild, Wild Wests : Your Guide to the Correct Predictions and Analysis of the 2014 NFL WildCard Playoff Weekend

It really is amazing what a difference a year can make. A year ago, my Washington Redskins had just come off the NFC East division title and were set to host their first playoff game against the upstart Seattle Seahawks. Everything was going well, RG3 was firing on all cylinders as the ‘Skins put up a 14 point lead that quickly started to fade as Griffin III got injured and was kept in the game by Shanny, which basically took away RG3’s playmaking ability. A healthy Robert Griffin would’ve had Pete Carroll selling used cars out of his back yard, but we all know the ending to this story. Washington proceeded to go 3-13 this year, forfeiting their Number 2 overall draft pick to St. Louis from the trade up to grab Griffin, and Mike Shanahan got canned because of disagreements with Darth Daniel Snyder.

Just as one year can make a difference to my favorite team, so can it affect the overall playoff scheme in the NFL. So if you need to make some quick cash, read the factual predictions and analysis that I have below, and prepare to become a rich man.

Saturday, January 4th Games

Kansas City Chiefs @ Indianapolis Colts 4:35 PM EST

Remember when people were talking about KC running the table and being undefeated? Obviously that hasn’t been realistic since Priest Holmes was their star player, but Andy Reid has certainly turned this team around. In a division where three out of the four teams made the playoffs, Kansas City’s 11-5 record can be rather deceiving. They haven’t really beaten anybody very good, and other than blowing out horrible teams like Jacksonville, NYG, and the Redskins, they’ve lost to every playoff team except for a game against Philadelphia. There are some great things about this team, with Reid doing an amazing job turning the keys of the offense over to an electric player in Jamaal Charles, and creating a terrific defense that can take advantage of the offense controlling the clock. But, Alex Smith is still their quarterback, and he fails to make plays when he needs to, lacking good receivers to help him out. I like what this KC team has built so far, however they’re not battle tested enough to survive in the world of the playoffs.

Indianapolis on the other hand is perhaps the most battle tested team in the league. They’re very streaky, and despite the loss of veteran offensive leader Reggie Wayne, have come together to see the emergence of TY Hilton and a team with a defense that is built to bend but not break.  They’ve beaten both number one teams in each league, and wrecked the Chiefs during the regular season at Arrowhead. They also beat the 49ers, but got shellacked by the underrated Arizona Cardinals and the terrible St Louis Rams. The Colts have built a reputation on starting slow but coming back, led by Andrew Luck who has cut his interceptions in half from last year. I don’t think they’re going to come out guns blazing, even though they are on a three game win streak. Two of those wins came against the awful teams in Houston and Jacksonville, and the other was against KC who turned the ball over four times to gift wrap the victory to Indy. I expect them to be down 14-3 or so at the half, but to come back and force Alex Smith into a bad play or two and coast to victory. 27-17 Indianapolis

New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles 8:10 PM EST

I love the Saints and cannot stand the Eagles and their obnoxious fans. As I’ve said before, living in the great state of Pennsylvania is torture if you’re not a fan of either of their football teams. Steelers fans are like the village idiot, whereas Eagles fans are like the village drunk. You simply can’t win either way. Although the Saints are playing away from the friendly confines of the Louisiana Superdome, I really think this team is vastly underrated. People say “oh, well the Saints are playing on the road so they’re definitely going to lose this game.” Yes, all their losses have come on the road this season. But look who they were playing. They barely lost in a game that they should have won to New England, they lost to the best team in the NFC in the most hostile atmosphere (whose crowd noise registers on the Richter Scale) in Seattle, and they lost to division champion Carolina. Granted, they also lost to the most inconsistent and unpredictable team in the NFL in the New York Jets, as well as the St Louis Rams (who, it may be noted, embarrassed the Colts as well), but they also beat a healthy Chicago Bears team on the road. Don’t forget that this team has the best statistical quarterback of our current generation in Drew Brees, and a much improved defense under Rob “the Wolfman” Ryan.

Philadelphia isn’t exactly a pushover this year though. They’re probably the most volatile team in the playoffs, capable of losing hysterically or creating an utter blowout. Nick Foles it seems is the answer to the Eagles’ quarterback search, and with one of the most talented running backs (and rushing champion) Lesean McCoy, their offense is very potent even without mentioning playmaker Desean Jackson. However, like Kansas City, their record is a bit deceiving. They played in the worst divison in the NFL, and yet failed to have any convincing victories against any of those horrible teams, even losing to the Giants and the Cowboys once each. For being gifted three turnovers by Kyle Orton and the Dallas Cowboys last week, they still almost found a way to lose the game. The defense is a leaky siv, and it seems like their team almost quits in the second half letting teams back into games with ease. They also have only beat one team that is currently in the playoffs (the Green Bay Packers), and that was when Green Bay didn’t have Aaron Rodgers. The Eagles have several things going for them, such as the weather and the Saints on the road, but barring a massive offensive output, I don’t seem them winning this game. 24-20 New Orleans

Sunday, January 5th Games

San Diego Chargers @ Cincinnati Bengals, 1:05 PM EST

The Chargers in my mind simply don’t belong here. Yes, they’ve played in the second best division in football, but if Philip Rivers wasn’t having a career year this team would be under .500. San Diego has quietly been able to beat playoff teams in Philadelphia, Indianapolis, and the Chiefs backups, but they have also lost games to the dreadful ‘Skins, Texans, Raiders, and Titans. Keenan Allen has had a breakout season, and it seems that Ryan Mathews might finally be restoring decency to the running game of the Chargers. Danny Woodhead has also been a key acquisition, fitting nicely into the utility playmaker role by catching the second most passes on the team and rushing for over 400 yards in a backup role. This team is all about offense, with a defense focused on bending as much as possible and trying to desperately not get outscored by the opponent. Even though their D is middle of the pack where PPG (points per game)  is concerned, they rank fourth to last when it comes to YAPG (yards allowed per game). It’s all about the offense in Sea World, where if the Rivers doesn’t dry up, the team has a chance to win.

Cincinnati is a bit of a question mark in these playoffs. They have beaten Indy, San Diego, Miami, New England, and Green Bay, but they’re playoff untested. Remember how they got blown out by TJ Yates and the Texans last year? This team is virtually unchanged, sporting a better defense but benefitting majorly from a division that has gotten considerably weaker. Andy Dalton is progressing and maturing, but still is missing a soul. AJ Green has turned into a monster of a wide receiver, capable of torching any cornerback for a huge gain. Giovani Bernard still has the run of the year, but the split carries role he gets with “The Law Firm”, BenJarvus Green-Ellis is hindering his talent. The trouble with this team is that if Dalton does nothing, this team will lose. Without a threatening running game, Dalton has to put points on the board by himself, and have a good game for the Bengals to win. Which, with the Chargers defense and undefeated Bengals record at home, shouldn’t really be much of an issue. 34-20 Cincy

San Francisco 49ers @ Green Bay Packers, 4:40 PM EST

The Niners are 12-4. And they’re a five seed. The Packers have won eight games, and they’re a number four seed. It really sucks to be San Francisco, because they’re going to lose this game even though they’re such a good team, and only because they play in the same division as the Seattle Seahawks. Why? There’s only one thing you need to look at. The weather. In Green Bay on Sunday, the high is going to be 1. One degree Fahrenheit. With a low of -19 at night. The record low in San Francisco for January 5th is 39 degrees, a whole 38 degrees warmer than the highest predicted temperature on Sunday. The furthest North San Fran has had to play this year was against Seattle, in September. There’s no way this tropical team is going to be ready to play in the utterly bitter cold that is at Lambeau Field, where Aaron Rodgers and the Packer faithful will thrive and create a hostile environment for Colin Kaepernick and the rest of the 49er team. 35-10 Green Bay

Top 10 Tracks of 2013

2013 was a crazy year for music, as many musical artists defied typical convention within their music and the marketing of their music. Jay-Z released an album onto a cell phone, Beyonce released an album without any promotion, and countless artists leaked their own album as an attack at the label they were signed to.  There was a lot of quality music to choose from in 2013, but I managed to find 10 of my favorites, listed here in no particular order.

1)  Phoenix – “Bourgeois”

This is my favorite “arena-rock” style song of the year. The kind of song that sounds best while being blasted loudly in front of a large crowd on a summer night.

2) Local Natives -“Colombia

I had heard a lot of Local Natives songs I liked before, but none of them quite clicked like this one did. It’s haunting, but also distinctly powerful and beautiful.

3) Ellery James Roberts – “Kerou’s Lament

This song immediately sucked me in from the first time I heard it. Its the kind of song that’s either loved or hated, but the songs ambition and passion cannot be argued.

4) Lana Del Rey – “Young and Beautiful

Pretty sure this song will go down as a classic.

5) Vampire Weekend – “Diane Young”

Vampire Weekend’s album, Modern Vampires of the City, was my favorite album of the year. Picking a favorite song was difficult, but “Diane Young”  never fails to get me to sing along to it.

6) Pusha-T – Numbers on the Boards”  (Explicit)

This song was my favorite hip-hop song of the year. Its dark and aggressive, but also funky and smooth. The main character is simultaneously arrogant, paranoid, insecure, and confident, if that’s even possible.

7) Disclosure – “When a Fire Starts to Burn

One of my favorite sample-based songs of the year. Fans of the Avalanches will feel quite at home here.

8) Daft Punk – “Touch

It bobs and weaves, ebbs and flows, gets loud, then gets quiet, and simply goes where no Daft Punk song has ever gone before.

9) FKA Twigs – “Water Me

This song gets pretty full-on weird, but also full-on awesome.

10) Kanye West – “Black Skinhead” (Explicit)

Sits somewhere between rock and hip-hop, and was on the of the most bombastic, loud, and crazy songs of 2013.

 

American Hustle needed more, well, hustle

The talented and established foursome of Jennifer Lawrence, Amy Adams, Christian Bale, and Bradley Cooper were poised for a smash hit when they released American Hustle, a tale of con artists, the Mob, and the FBI. I left the theater feeling like this film was full of unfulfilled potential however.

Christian Bale is a ’70’s mystery man who dabbles in laundromats and ponzi schemes. He meets Amy Adams, an attractive loner herself, and the two begin an affair that incorporates Adams as the frontwoman in the couple’s simple con to entice desperate investors and collect on a non-refundable down payment. Bradley Cooper enters their office one day playing the part of one of those desperate investors, but is setting the two up for Federal charges. As a part of a deal to secure their freedom, and partly to appease Cooper’s consuming ego, Bale and Adams agree to aid Cooper’s FBI career in entrapping politicians in bribery and extortion charges. Cooper wants the best con artists to help in his con on the part of the government agency in order to bust corrupt public servants. The movie proceeds in a twisted web of “who’s conning who” which thankfully avoids the ever popular “got-ya” ending but the pace is far too slow.

Many of the background stories that were necessary to explain characters’ ambition, motivation, and propensity for trust vs. conning were very much underdeveloped. Many times the audience was asked to accept that a certain character would trust another just because an aspect of their backstory had been enumerated one sentence before such as when Christian Bale uses his Bronx roots to gain the trust of Camden native, Mayor Carmine Belito, to convince him to take a bribe that he had moments earlier vehemently turned down and was appalled by the notion altogether. Because of three lines of dialogue, his tune changes completely and the plot continues. It just lacked authenticity by its own standards at times.

I’ll spare details but I would not recommend paying to see this movie in theaters. The acting is very good however. Jennifer Lawrence was infuriating which “made” her character. Amy Adams was seductive and convincing. Bradley Cooper was pathetic, enraged, and erratic which differed greatly from Christian Bale’s calculated, small scoped approach to conning, providing for an interplay between these two lead characters which should’ve been expounded upon. Overall, wait until this movie hits cable networks and see what you think but save your Christmas money this month and pass on American Hustle. It is a movie that couldn’t find its identity. It lacked hustle if you will…

The Anchorman 2 Review – Does the Legend Really Continue?

The second Anchorman movie starring Will Ferrell as legendary newsman Ron Burgundy does what few comedy sequels do nowadays. 1) its run at my local movie theater, along with the gutter trash that is 47 Ronin pushed films American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street out to make room to show, and 2) it is a sequel that is not a carbon copy of the first movie as it took nine years to finally be made and released.

Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues picks up right where the last movie left off, with Ron Burgundy and wife Veronica Corningstone (Christina Applegate) being famous evening news actors, this time for a prestigious news firm in New York City. Things come to a head when nightly news anchor Mack Tannen (surprisingly played by Harrison Ford), announces his retirement and declares that one of them, specifically Veronica, will be his replacement. Ron, in turn is fired because of his numerous on-air screw ups, being deemed by Tannen to be the worst news anchor he has ever seen. Ron is completely dismayed, as his ego can’t handle such insult, so he issues an ultimatum to Veronica that it’s either him or the news job. Only an idiot would make such a statement, Veronica concludes, and Ron is kicked out and unemployed.

Being the “legend” that he is though, Ron isn’t out of work for too much of an extended period. He returns to San Diego and is barely able to hold a job, and in one of the funnier scenes from the movie, is ultimately being fired from an emcee gig at Sea World for being drunk on the job and making crude depressing comments. After a failed and rather lame suicide attempt, he is approached by a hiring agent (played by Dylan Baker, Dr. Curt Connors in Spiderman 2 and 3) for the GNN (Global News Network) a new 24 hour news network that is just starting in New York City. Enticed by the opportunity to return to doing what he was born to do (reading the news), Ron goes on to recruit his old team to take back the news with him (David Koechner, Paul Rudd, and Steve Carell). Throughout the rest of the film, Burgundy takes his team back to the number one spot in the nation, raises a shark, goes blind, and lives in a lighthouse besides doing what he was born to do. And of course, there’s the obligatory news team battle that features an overkill of cameos including Liam Neeson, Jim Carrey, Kirsten Dunst, Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Kanye West, Vince Vaughn and Will Smith.

Anchorman 2 really is a different kind of comedy, a little different than expectations would normally be. Ron Burgundy’s team is at first placed on the graveyard shift, because they were deemed to be the least talented group of news anchors. Ron lets his ego get in the way from the get-go, as he foolishly places a bet with the daytime news anchor on who can get the highest ratings. Burgundy then develops a plan that instead of telling the world the news that is normally reported (weather predictions, politics, crime), they will broadcast what the world wants to hear. So they start showing only sports highlights, car chases, cute animal stories, live dangerous weather broadcasts, and other feel good and entertaining stories that shoot the GNN’s ratings through the roof. Other news networks rush to emulate them, at the cost of journalistic integrity everywhere. This is where The Legend Continues deviates from other comedies, in that the central meaning of the movie is woven throughout the plot. It lampoons MTV News, E! News, Yahoo! Front Page News, and everything that we’re supposed to believe is “news” nowadays. Instead of paying attention to what matters most and has the most influence on our lives, we’re bombarded with images from the red carpet, what celebrity is dating who, and what the newest adorable kitten can do when wearing a sweater. Anchorman 2 successfully satirizes this aspect to the highest degree, which is mostly where the film succeeds.

Of course as expected with a Will Ferrell movie, comedy is going to be the core, most of it rather crass. The jokes in this movie aren’t nearly as successful as The Legend of Ron Burgundy, as some of the fall quite flat resulting in a few forced laughs of the idiot genre that Anchorman dwells in. I found myself laughing a little bit more than I would like to admit, with lines such as “Who the hell is Julius Caesar, you know I don’t watch the NBA!” becoming stuck in my head along with the image of Steve Carell gnawing on a head of lettuce and barking “Gin!”. The jokes don’t come as natural as in the first, and it doesn’t measure up to the other major obscene comedy of the year, This Is the End.

For a comedy sequel, Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues does very well. Most comedy sequels either fail to reinvent themselves (The Hangover Part II) or are simply straight up garbage (Austin Powers in Goldmember)Anchorman 2 treads lightly on the line that is “not funny”, and could well hit that mark if it proceeds to a third installment, much like The Hangover “franchise”. For the time being though, this movie succeeds for some different but interesting reasons. 6.5/10

My 2013 at the Movies (ranks in order of best to worst of movies I have seen that have been released during 2013)

1. Rush

2. Star Trek Into Darkness

3. Man of Steel

4. Catching Fire

5. Pacific Rim

6. This Is  The End

7. Despicable Me 2

8. Monsters University

9. The Great Gatsby

10. Oblivion

11. The Wolverine

12. Elysium

13. World War Z

14. Anchorman 2 : The Legend Continues

15. The Hobbit : The Desolation of Smaug

16. Oz the Great and Powerful

17. Fast and Furious 6

18. Iron Man 3

19. Hangover Part 3

20. Thor : The Dark World

21. A Good Day To Die Hard

Deja Vu All Over Again

It’s seriously like I am back in elementary school.

In elementary school, I was a smart kid. A “gifted” one. One that was always ahead of the class and learning things that other kids couldn’t understand, and learning them better and faster than those that did comprehend them could. I wasn’t a super-genius, not some kind of Ender Wiggin wunderkind that was destined to save the galaxy;  I simply had an above average intelligence.

We had what were called “reading buddies” in kindergarten. You had a “buddy” who was in 3rd grade who would help you learn to read through partnership while learning to take books out of the library. Except, I was a better reader than he was. I had read my first “chapter book” (The Boxcar Children) by the age of 5, and was on to more chapter books by the next year. My reading buddy was still stuck in The Berenstain Bears (which I did like), but only casually flipped through at that point in time. So as it turned out, I started teaching him how to read. It even got to the point where I started getting books that were below my reading level out of the library simply for the reason that I could teach him to read better that way.

It was like that all throughout elementary school. There were not really any accelerated classes, and besides the “gifted program” they had for kids with an elevated IQ, I was mostly stuck with my classmates learning subject material. I never tried or applied myself, and coasted through elementary school with straight A’s across the board, not yet having learned what “real work” was like. School was easy, play was fun, life was good. Aside from my slave driving parents that is, who liked to burden me down and teach me character building and discipline with chores. I mean, why couldn’t I just play RollerCoaster Tycoon all the time? (Side note, I suppose I am thankful now for the way they raised me then. I eventually beat every RCT map anyway.)

I bring this up now, because I see my current job as elementary school. Without going terribly in-depth, I’m exceedingly good at what I do. It isn’t anything terribly special, but I am just good at it. In less than 8 months of employment, my bosses have put me in three completely different areas of the warehouse that I work in and I have excelled. In all three areas, I have been offered promotions but have turned them down because the hours of work were not what I wanted, and the pay raise wasn’t enough. After the ninth such offer, I finally found one that suited me and started the application process, which I am currently still going through (which is why I still have time to write this while at work). The sad thing is,  in my opinion I haven’t even done anything special while I’ve worked here. I have done my job. I have even read about twelve books and done my fantasy research every Sunday morning. And still with only eight months of employment under my belt, one of the supervisors who isn’t even my boss said that I’ll be “the next clerk turned supervisor”, referencing a coworker who recently went from being an hourly associate to a salaried supervisor (which is about a 1.5x pay jump). One of the stockers even went as far as to talk about me (and subsequently tell me about the discussion) to the Union President about how the ‘new young guy’ is one of the few people who actually “gets it”. Yet, I don’t think I have gone above and beyond my duties, I’ve just showed up when I was told to and done what I thought consisted of my job. Apparently, just doing that is deemed going above and beyond the call of duty. It’s like elementary school all over again. I am not even trying, yet I’m blowing away the competition.

Which leads me to a couple of points. One, that if you’re a fan of or have read my past blog (a link is posted on the “Meet the Writers” page if you’re ignorant to this fact), how absurdly pathetic my past employer was. In eight months here without working nearly as hard as I used to, I have attracted the attention of multiple “higher-ups” who have set about in a way to best utilize my skills and reward me for doing good work, something that was glaringly missing from my previous occupation. To synopsize, I was only ever given one opportunity for advancement at my old employer (which I took) and at the same time, one small pay raise from above the abysmal depths of minimum wage, in more than five years of work. That goes without mentioning the fact that I never called off, always came in on time, and always stayed as late as needed, whenever I was needed (which was always Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).

Of course, said ex-employers have also have the audacity to plan opening a new store soon, at an expense of millions of dollars and the mistreatment of their staff, regardless of personal talent.

It also made me realize several things about myself. Right off the bat I realized the fact that without my past blog, and without writing about what a terrible company I was employed for, chances are I would still be there. I would be stuck in the doldrums of underacheiving mediocrity and a life that ill befit my talents. My life would be entirely different now if for some reason I had succeeded in reconciling with the grocery store. I’d like to think I did myself a favor in displaying such truths on the interwebs and thus getting myself canned, but in my vaunted opinion the old Company still owes me recompense for unemployment.

In turn, I started to question not just my motivation but how my motivation is contrasted with that of others. What drives me? Do I have any long-term goals that are more than just fantasies, or am I simply being a temporal hedonist? Am I just trying to get by with the least amount of work for the greatest personal profit?

Some of those questions I can’t answer because I have not yet matured to the point where I know most everything about myself. Every year I look back and see that I’ve grown in leaps and bounds in the year prior, but usually just through temporary personal experiences instead of time invested journeys. I have learned that I am not terribly hard to please, in that I am satisfied with just getting by and flying under the radar. I dropped out of college because I didn’t feel the need to attend or even try to go back, because I could easily get by without it. I stayed at my old job because it paid the bills that I needed to survive. It wasn’t until I needed a new job that I applied myself to upgrade my life and take it somewhere that it hadn’t previously been. I found out that when driven by need, that I was capable of taking myself to a better personal state.

But as my state improves, need starts to disappear and I return to the vicious cycle of lethargy. In order to best use my talents and elevate my personal being, I have acknowledged the fact that I must learn how to be driven by my wants. And not just my desires, but how I can best use the talent and motivation behind those ambitions to better others in the world around me.

What I needed, was a goal and a plan of attack. I am a list-writing person, who sits at his desk at work with all sorts of scraps of paper in his pockets littered with things that need to get done. So, I came up with an idea for a long-term goal and started a list.

I have decided to write a book. I have faintly sketched out the details, creating a plot that is loosely based on a modern day retelling of the Greek Mythological story of Jason and the Golden Fleece, with the story being told through the eyes of Jason’s Guardain Angel.

Of course it is a long way from the inception of an idea to it becoming fully realized. As a perfectionist when it comes to things that I’m good at, each chapter will more than likely receive multiple re-writes and revisions before a rough draft of the final project will be a reality.

Which is where you as the reader comes in. As I have stated above, I’m not terribly competent with long-term goals, so keep me honest and ask me how progress is going. Just don’t ask to read any of it, because the answer will always be the same. Secondly, in more direct relation to this post, find out what motivates you and what you’re good at. Make a plan to achieve a long-term goal that won’t just affect you, but will have a positive affect on others around you as well. Accordingly, as friends hold you accountable for your hopes and dreams, hold them accountable right back to ensure that they are making an effort to better themselves in a way that truly reflects their unique talents. And if you are having trouble finding that motivation, remember that that horrible cliché about there being no better time tha now is actually true. Especially, during the Christmas Season, which I have found is always a good time for miracles.