31 October 2011

Happy Halloween 2011!

I didn't get a chance to do all the fun Halloween stuff I wanted thanks to being sick for the past few weeks (yes, weeks.... it sucks). But I wanted to wish everyone out there who reads this a very happy Halloween! I hope you all have fun tonight and stay extra safe!

18 October 2011

Why I'm NOT Part of the 99%

You've all heard it, you've all seen it. For the past month at the time of this post, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been staged in New York, and it has spread not only to cities around the United States, but also to cities around the world. I've been reading up a lot on the protests lately to find out where I stand on not only the issues, but in relation to the political philosophy which binds these people together.

To put it bluntly, I'm frustrated and I'm angry with politics and with politicians, but not in the same way as the Occupy protesters. They call themselves a part of the "99%" - that caste of people who don't make millions of dollars a year, who don't own stock options, who don't get big bonuses, who don't have titles like "CEO" and "President" and "Chairman." They feel like all their grievances are the fault of corporations and big businesses, that the government is letting them down by not redistributing wealth to give the poor an equal share of this country's money. They're named after the statistic which says that the top 1% of wage-earners gets all the breaks in this life, while the rest of the population gets stuck in the mud.

I know how they feel, and it's part of why I'm torn. I have essentially been unemployed for the past three-plus years. I have had jobs during that time, but they're nothing to hang my hat on and call a career: summer jobs, part-time minimum wage employment, seasonal stuff, and two-and-a-half years substitute teaching. I was part of the group of people who had reached a threshold where they stopped looking for work because the economy prevented it; where businesses turned their noses up at our resumes because they screamed "unemployed;" and where I barely had enough money to do anything, let alone pay back my student loans from my college degree or pay my fair share of rent at my parents' house.

On the one hand, I should be just as fed up and frustrated with the lack of the government to fix the economy. I should feel like risky investment with my (albeit few) tax dollars is an improper use of funds, and I should be extremely mad about government spending money it doesn't have on grandiose projects like universal healthcare when people like me can't afford basic necessities without putting ourselves in extreme debt. I get that, I really do. But I'm not part of the 99%; nor am I a one-percenter. To call myself a part of their group would be to admit that what they're doing is right. That the Occupy [Name of City] protests actually are akin to the sit-ins of the 1960s and the American Revolutionary War and the desire to get America out of Vietnam. It's not.

I went to these protests, like I blogged about a few days ago. I saw who these protesters are and watched them mill around with their signs, chant about how the economy sucks, and try to get petitions signed for this agenda or that. These protesters are the same stereotype that people always associate with a liberal agenda: people flashing peace signs, wearing tie-dye, waving rainbow flags, displaying Che Guevara and pot leaves on their t-shirts, studded with piercings and inked with tattoos. They are the old hippies from the 60s and 70s, living out the reincarnation of the Vietnam-era protests, the middle-aged who remember how cool it was when the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, and the young, who believe that emulating the stereotype from years gone by will somehow give their grievances meaning.

The Occupy group is disparate and they are hateful. The amount of vitriol spewed even at the "peaceful" Phoenix protest against the government, the president (and former President Bush), conservatives, liberals, police, militia, banks, the Fed, Jan Brewer, Congress, Sen. Pearce, etc. is just wrong for getting a message across. They seem to think that they operate in a vacuum - that by shouting at the moon, they'll affect changes in policy. It's not true. The Occupy group, if you ask them, will tell you that they are the epitome of "democracy in action." Democracy is more than just being the loudest in the room. It's a complex system with laws, rules, judges, elections, political parties, and lots and lots of boring activities which test the foundations of the patience and civility required by those processes.

I am not part of the so-called 99% because I believe that to effect changes - real, meaningful changes - in the way our system works, you have to work within the system. It takes dedication, principles and morals, an ability to see beyond the black-and-white of decision-making, and patience. A whole metric ton of patience. Change doesn't happen overnight, and it doesn't happen because a few aimless people decide to yell at the world for their problems in life down the barrel of a loudspeaker. This era requires, even demands, that discourse to get anything done be civil and that it be crafted carefully. Citizens need to stand up, not to scream and shout and bash whatever they disagree with, but to play a real part in the process of democracy. To bring new ideas to the table, not chant away that we want to banish the old ones. Only then will this democracy upheld in word but not in spirit that the Occupy protesters hold so dear be truly fulfilled.

16 October 2011

2011 MLB Playoff Updates 3

Congratulations to the 2011 National League Champion St. Louis Cardinals!

Instead of making one hyper-long post about the ALCS and the NLCS, my Update #2 post was exclusively about the ALCS and this one is about the NLCS between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Milwaukee Brewers. Much like the Texas-Detroit series, which the Texas Rangers won on Saturday night, this series was also an epic battle between two very evenly-matched teams.

Game one in Milwaukee's Miller Park was a back-and-forth affair until the Brew Crew put things away with a six-run fifth inning thanks to a two-run double from Ryan Braun, who also homered in the game, and homers from Prince Fielder and Yuniesky Betancourt. Jamie Garcia went just four innings for the Cardinals, giving up six of their nine runs, as the Brewers won the game 9-6.

In game two, the Cardinals got mad, then solved the mysteries of Miller Park. Albert Pujols led the team with three doubles and a line-drive home run to left, and the 6-7-8 hitters in the lineup went 6-for-14 with three runs scored and five RBI. Rickie Weeks and Prince Fielder homered in all of the Brewers three runs, but the 12-3 victory by the Cardinals could not be overcome.

Taking the series to St. Louis and the beautiful Busch Stadium, where game three saw the Redbirds put up four runs in the first inning thanks to a trifecta of doubles by Jon Jay, Albert Pujols, and David Freese. An RBI single in the second by Yuniesky Betancourt followed by a sac fly to right by Yovani Gallardo, and then a Mark Kotsay homer in the third put three runs on the board for Milwaukee, but both bullpens performed spotless work in the 6th through 9th innings. The Cardinals held on to beat the Brewers 4-3. 

Five doubles by the Brewers in the middle innings of game four gave them a four-to-two advantage as Randy Wolf went seven innings and struck out six, giving up two runs. Francisco Rodriguez and John Axford closed out the game as the Cardinals were limited to eight hits. David Freese picked up another two hits for the Cards, but it wasn't enough as they lost 4-2.

With the Series tied, the ALCS became just a best-of-three situation, and the Cardinals made the most of it in game five. Taking advantage of the worst defensive play in at least a decade (errors by Jerry Hairston, Rickie Weeks, Yuniesky Betancourt, and Johnny Estrada) including Weeks' third error this series, the Cardinals picked up five runs - just two earned - off of Brewers started Zack Greinke in 5 2/3 innings. Pitching for the second time in the championship series, Jaime Garcia went into the fifth inning and gave up just a single run. The Cardinals bullpen held the lead, giving up only two hits and one walk over the final 4 1/3 innings of the game as the Cardinals took the hammer in the 7-1 victory.

Game six was a must-win situation for the Brewers, but they failed to capitalize. The Cardinals were off to a rocket-fast start in inning number one as David Freese hit a three-run home run to put them up 4-0. A Rafael Furcal solo homer in the second, an Albert Pujols homer in the third, and a two-run single by Allen Craig gave the Cardinals added insurance. Another error by Jerry Hairston didn't help matters, and the Cardinals won the game - and the National League Championship - by a final score of 12-6.

15 October 2011

The Occupy Phoenix Protests

So by now, most people with an inkling of what's going on in the country will have at least heard of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement in New York. Some of them may even know that the protests have spread into several other major cities, including Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, Portland, Seattle, and now Phoenix. Yesterday, Occupy Phoenix protesters marched through the heart of downtown Phoenix, stopping at the different bank buildings there (Wells Fargo, Chase, Bank of America) and the 12 News/Arizona Republic building. There were, according to local news reports, about 200 people at the march.

Today, a larger protest is currently being held at the Cesar Chavez Plaza in Phoenix. I stopped by there for about two hours this afternoon to see for myself what all the talk is about. First off, the protests attracted a good couple thousand people, and the demographics were mildly surprising. I noticed moms bringing their children (even babies, despite the heat of the day), old former hippies wearing tie-dye shirts (and before you question my use of the term hippies, he had written it himself on his sign), plenty of twenty-something college students with ASU hats, militia members dressed in camouflage fatigues, new agers with "legalize hemp" signs, men in business suits, guys in Guy Fawkes masks (the "V for Vendetta" mask) with anarchist symbols all over, a couple Uncle Sams, a handful of Tea Party protesters wearing three-pointed hats and beating drums, a group of people dressed as cows ("Join our moooovement"), a man playing the bagpipes, and then of course a few regular normal people. Plenty of the people out there were white, but a sizable chunk were also Hispanic, many of whom wore buttons or clothing or carried signs against Joe Arpaio and in favor of legalizing illegal immigration.

As for signage itself, the sky was basically the limit. I saw signs against "corporate welfare," against banks, against Bush, for marijuana, against the Federal Reserve, for legalizing illegal immigrants, against Obama, for peace, against war, for giving money back to the people, and against bailouts. Plenty of them used the "I am the 99%" phraseology. Plenty more had dollar signs ("Stop Worshipping $" comes to mind). Most of the signs were handheld, but there were two (just two) larger banners. One was for the legalization of marijuana (and it was poorly done... black on dark green doesn't show up well) and the other said "Bush and Obama are War Criminals." I never thought I'd see both of them on one sign like that, that's for sure.

The one thing I didn't see was a significant use of the "Occupy" or "Occupy Phoenix" term. In fact, only one sign that I noticed had the word "Occupy" actually on it. That kind of an important distinction because unlike the Tea Party, who all come together under the name, this movement does not seem to be either as organized or as capable of long-term stability as a political force. When I looked at the crowd, I got the sense that I was seeing the ASU Mall during Rush Week. Lots of different groups all in the same place, united for the moment by virtue of being part of the Rush Week festivities, but ultimately with different goals and leadership.

For the hour and a half I immersed myself in trying to figure out the crowd and make mental notes to share here, the crowd was relatively peaceful. There were a large number of Phoenix Police officers there to make sure the crowd didn't get out of control or spill out into the streets (like a few, um, misguided people tried to do). There were cop vehicles everywhere I must have counted at least twenty within a one-block radius, and several more driving around. I also saw at least two plainclothes officers inside the crowd itself, looking for trouble. In one section of the plaza, a large crowd was gathered in a semi-circle, and people kept taking turns chanting and railing against this or that, and the crowd kept repeating catchphrases back to them. In other parts of the plaza, people tried getting cars to honk at their signs, or just basically treated this like a party. There was music (drums and guitars and bagpipes), dancing (the cows were having a blast), and plenty of people brought food and drink. I envisioned a bit of a mini, politically-charged Woodstock, though that might just be my imagination running rampant.

All told, it will be interesting to see how far this goes in Phoenix over the next few days. Someone mentioned and I overheard that some of the protesters had slept in the plaza Friday night, and due to the number of bedrolls I saw people carrying, I would assume that at least some will try to do it again tonight. The movement should be an interesting one to watch. They've put together a "General Assembly" in New York to come up with a platform for their movement, though I anticipate their ability to put together a coherent list of goals for the group to appease all those competing demographics to be slow if not impossible to manage. Ultimately, I see this group being a hot topic for a little while, then blowing over.

13 October 2011

2011 MLB Playoff Updates 2

Congratulations to the 2011 American League Champion Texas Rangers!

This post is my little recap of the 2011 American League and National League Championship Serieses. Yes, serieses. I was going to go with "serii" but that sounded slightly less stupid than using serieses. And using "series" to describe a plural number of serieses just feels weird to me. And because no one ever comments on this blog, I know I won't get grammar haters berating me about it. So ha.

Anyway, over the past several days I've been watching all the MLB ALCS and NLCS games. The American League features the powerhouse Texas Rangers against the powerhouse Detroit Tigers. People expected a firecracker series between the two, and they haven't been disappointed, even though none of the games has been particularly high-scoring. The featured player of the series? Mother Nature.

Game one featured Justin Verlander giving up three early runs to Texas, then being forced to leave after a pair of rain delays in the fifth inning. The Rangers bullpen shut down the Tigers' offense after the delays (a combined two hours, thirty minutes), limiting them to just one hit. It was a 3-2 Texas win.

If you ask the Rangers, they "Cruz-ed" to victory in game two 7 to 3 after Nelson Cruz crushed a two-run home run in the 11th inning after Cruz had tied up the game in the 7th inning with another homer. Game two was originally to happen the night after game one, but was postponed due to the threat of rain. Ironically, no rain actually fall at the stadium the whole time the game was supposed to be played. But hey, a little delay never hurt anything... that walk-off shot? It was a grand slam - the first postseason walk-off grand slammer ever! The Rangers jumped on a plane for Detroit when this one ended at 12:03am local time.

Game three showcased pitching more than hitting, although there was plenty of that, too, in the 5-2 Tigers victory. Doug Fister totally shut down the Texas offense over 7 1/3 innings, allowing just two runs on seven hits (six singles and a double). After a quick first-inning Texas run, Fister worked his magic while the Tigers clubbed three solo homers and put up runs in the 4th-7th innings for a total of five.

By a score of 7 to 3 (again), the Rangers got the hammer in the ALCS by tagging the untouchable Jose Valverde for four runs in the top of the 11th inning of game four, giving him a loss on a Mike Napoli go-ahead single, but blown open by a Nelson Cruz three-run bomb. The Rangers showcased not just the big hits, but also their fielding and defensive skills, as Nelson Cruz threw out Miguel Cabrera at home trying to score the go-ahead run on a short right-field hit in the 8th, and Napoli threw out Austin Jackson trying to steal a base in the 10th.

With a 3-1 deficit in the Series going into Game 5, the Tigers knew they had a lot of ground to cover to win a World Series berth, but they rose to the task. In the 6th and 7th innings, with the score tied 2-2, the Tigers put up five runs on something I've never seen nor scored before. In the sixth, with no one out, the leadoff hitter in Ryan Raburn singled to left. Then Miguel Cabrera doubled him in immediately after. Victor Martinez followed that up with a triple, and Delmon Young homered to deep left-center field. The Tigers basically hit for a natural cycle (a 1B, 2B, 3B, and HR in that order) as a team. Kind of cool. Justin Verlander also set a new career high pitch count (133 pitches over 7 1/3 innings), giving up four runs. The Tigers send the Series back to Texas with a 7-5 win.

On Saturday night, the Texas Rangers defeated the Detroit Tigers 15-5 to advance to the 2011 World Series! It was an exciting, high-scoring game that saw the Tigers jump out to an early 2-0 lead. But in the 3rd inning, the Rangers pounced and never looked back, scoring NINE runs on four walks, four singles, two doubles, and a couple of fielder's choices off of four Detroit pitchers. After that, while three solo home runs put the Tigers at a total of five runs for the game, the Rangers tacked on six more runs, including Nelson Cruz's record-breaking sixth home run (the record was most home runs in a single postseason series), topping Ken Griffey Jr., Reggie Jackson, and Chase Utley. Cruz also broke the record for most RBI in a single series with 13, and he was named ALCS MVP. The Texas Rangers take on either the St. Louis Cardinals or the Milwaukee Brewers pending the final game (or two if needed) of the NLCS. Congratulations, Texas!

06 October 2011

2011 MLB Playoff Update 1

Well, my playoff predictions are already looking bad....

I predicted the Rays to beat the Rangers, and the Diamondbacks to beat the Brewers. I also predicted the Phillies to whoop the Cardinals, and the Tigers to cream the Yankees.

UPDATE 1: So far, in four games, the Texas Rangers have defeated the Tampa Bay Rays. It was a pretty exciting series which saw the Rangers win games two, three, and four, taking both Rays home games and one of two at the Ballpark at Arlington. In game one, the phenom rookie Matt Moore stymied the Texas offense, and actually shut them out over seven innings, 9-0. In game two, the Rangers answered back in a back-and-forth contest, capitalizing on a five-run fourth inning and a big late homer by Mitch Moreland. Game three was the least exciting contest of the series, as Texas outlasted the Rays 4-3, and in game four, Adrian Beltre smacked a record-tying three home runs (tying Reggie Jackson and others) as the Rangers clinched the series 4-3.

UPDATE 2: The Detroit Tigers beat the New York Yankees in a wacky five-game series to clinch their half of the American League Division Series. A Robinson Cano grand slam in game one allowed the Yankees to trounce Detroit 9-3, but the Tigers answered back with victories in games two and three. Game two saw former Diamondbacks pitcher Max Scherzer hold a no-hitter for six innings to beat the Bronx Bombers 5-3, and a Verlander-Sabathia rematch saw the potential AL MVP win 5-4 over the pinstripes in game three. The Yankees victory in the must-win game four 10-1 gave them a record victory - their largest margin of victory in an ALDS in franchise history - to force game five. Game five, which just ended tonight, saw Ivan Nova go just two innings before being removed due to forearm tightness. The Tigers got out to an early lead on back-to-back home runs in the first, and held off a late comeback to win 3-2!

UPDATE 3: The Phillies and Cardinals also got forced into a game five situation on Wednesday, as the Cards' David Freese smacked a huge 2-run home run to center field. Game one of that series saw the Phillies rout the Cardinals 11-6. Game two was a Redbirds come-from-behind victory to win 5-4 against Cliff Lee, and game three was a low scoring affair which saw pinch hitter Ben Francisco launch a three-run bomb to lead the Phillies to victory 3-2. Game five was yet another incredible matchup between former Cy Young winners Roy Halladay and Chris Carpenter. In a 1-0 shutout, the St. Louis Cardinals defeated the Phillies. Chris Carpenter pitched a complete game shutout, and Roy Halladay went 8 innings and gave up just the one run. An epic defeat of the Phillies team won, ironically, by pitching.

UPDATE 4: In the Arizona Diamondbacks and Milwaukee Brewers series, the Brewers took a two-games-to-none lead as they swept the DBacks at Miller Park 4-1 and 9-4 in the first two games. But a magical game three featuring a huge, game-opening grand slam by Paul Goldschmidt - just the fourth rookie to hit a slam in the postseason, and the first Diamondbacks player to ever do it - gave the DBacks life 8-1. A game four in which Chris Young hit two homers and Ryan "Tatman" Roberts launched the Snakes' fourth grand slam in as many consecutive home games (another record) led the Diamondbacks to force a game five 10-6. Game five was a tight, nerve-wracking, extra-inning game where the Brewers finally beat the Diamondbacks 3-2 in the tenth, capped off by a postgame interview which featured Nyjer "Tony Plush" Morgan screaming at the top of his lungs into a live television camera "F*** YEAH! F*** YEAH!" Classy, Brew Crew, classy.

Thus, the Championship Series will feature:
The Detroit Tigers vs. the Texas Rangers (Go Tigers)
The St. Louis Cardinals vs. the Milwaukee Brewers (Go Cardinals)

01 October 2011

Terra Nova

A few months back, I saw a promo for a new show coming out this September called "Terra Nova." If you remember the premise, a group of people travels 85 million years into the past to escape the polluted, dying Earth and start a new life. I just finished watching the pilot episode, and wanted to critique the show.

I'll try not to post anything too spoiler-ish, so this post can be read by everyone who's not seen the show yet.

First up, the plot basically starts out with Earth completely polluted to the point that people have to wear re-breathers to walk outside, families are limited to no more than two children to conserve oxygen, and simple things like the sun and the moon cannot be seen through thick smog clouds. Plant life is all but gone. A group of scientists has, however, discovered a rift in the space-time continuum which can enable people to travel back to the time of the dinosaurs - though it is a one-way trip exclusively - and slowly, small groups are making "pilgrimages" to the settlement established in this new timeframe, called "Terra Nova."

The show follows a family as they are selected to join the tenth pilgrimage: Jim Shannon, a cop and the father; Elizabeth Shannon, Jim's wife and a trauma surgeon who was selected for the pilgrimage based on her qualifications; Josh Shannon, their angsty teen son; Maddy Shannon, their brilliant-but-in-a-nerdy-way daughter; and Zoe Shannon, their third child. Third child? But they were only allowed to have two children! Yup. It's a plot twist. Get over it.

The Terra Nova compound is a giant ring surrounding a large tract of farmland. Though the show hasn't gotten into specifics much, it has a medical area, a command center, solar and wind power stations, and a while bunch of very tall gates designed to keep out the dinosaurs. But Terra Nova is not without its flaws. The kids there like to sneak outside the gates, there is a sect of people called Sixers who came through on the sixth pilgrimage who separated and created their own compound somewhere (and who act very much like raiders), and of course there are security problems.

I won't delve much more into things than I already have about the storyline itself. I think you should go watch the pilot for yourself. What I will say is that the show has its good points and its things it should improve upon. The plot itself is compelling. There are some twists and turns, and there are mysteries to be solved throughout the course of the season (mysterious rock carvings, anyone?) in much the same way that "LOST" had. So if you were a fan of that show, as I was, you should give "Terra Nova" a chance. The show also has a semi-Jurassic Park feel. Yes, I know it's horrifyingly cliche to compare every film product with dinosaurs with "Jurassic Park," but seriously, that movie set the standard for dino films. There are big gentle dinos like the Allosaurs with their long necks, dinos like velociraptors called "Slashers," and big T-rex looking things that they call "Carnosaurs."

On the weaker end of the show, for one thing, I had a hard time getting past some of the CG. A good show nowadays is one in which you don't go "oh, man, that's totally a fake whatever-it-is." That is to say that even if something is CG, the viewer doesn't notice it. In "Terra Nova," I noticed it. Another flaw has to do with the characters. Now, this is a new show, with good characters. Jason O'Mara, who plays Jim Shannon, has had appearances on "Band of Brothers," "Grey's Anatomy," "CSI:Miami," and "Life on Mars," to name a few. But Shelley Conn, Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott, and Alana Mansour (the other four family members) haven't been in a lot of mainstream stuff before, and their acting skills were weak. Liboiron, who plays Josh Shannon, is a VERY stereotypical "you-can't-tell-me-what-to-do" angsty teenager, very cliche. The Maddy character could be interesting if they develop her right, and the characters of Elizabeth and Zoe are really tabula rasa for this show... they could end up being enjoyable or very, very flat. Among the other major characters are Allison Miller, playing Syke (an odd pun, perhaps?), and Stephen Lang (of Avatar fame, among many, many other things) playing the Terra Nova Commander Nathaniel Taylor. Both of these characters are intriguing, and I will be interested to see how they develop. Major potential.

Overall, I liked the pilot. I think the show has some good potential, though I could definitely see it turning into something a lot like "LOST." That might be good, since "LOST" was very popular, but it might turn away a lot of viewers who didn't like that shows multitude of twists and turns and non-explanations.

Do yourself a favor. Take an 90 minutes and watch the pilot, then let me know what you think in the comments box.