Wednesday, October 31, 2012

My Place Is Becoming Hazardous to My Health

They say you don't want to die without any scars.

I've already gotten a couple good scars on me from accidents over the years, but last night's story is a good one.

Most of Baltimore is still dealing with fallout from Hurricane Sandy.  Thousands of homes are still without power and schools are closed throughout the region.  I spent most of the storm at my girlfriend's house helping her take care of her kids, but my roommate text me Monday night, asking if I'd be home the next day.  Apparently there was minor flooding in the basement of our house and he needed help cleaning it up.  I told him depending on how the weather was on Tuesday, I'd be home to help him.

Sandy ended up not being as destructive around Baltimore as was expected, so I headed back to my place yesterday.  My roommate had rented a high power fan to dry up the water in the basement, but he wanted to dispose of the old sectional couch that was down there.  We took the pieces out back one at a time, and then eventually took them out to the trash.

I should mention that the basement in this house is barely 6 feet high, and since I'm 6'1 I have to duck a little to walk around down there.  I've banged my head on pipes and beams down there on many occasions, some leaving a good welt on me.

While we were putting the finishing touches on putting everything back together down there, I banged my head on a metal pipe that ran from one end of the basement to the other.  I was already ducking to avoid hitting it, but somehow I managed to really hit it hard.

On a metal corner.

I let out a few four-letter words, grabbing my head where I hit it.  This time felt a little different, and when I had pulled my hand away from my head I saw it covered in blood.  I went upstairs to put some pressure on it with paper towels, and fortunately the bleeding slowed down pretty quickly.  My roommate looked at the wound on my head and immediately wondered if I needed stitches at all.  I washed my hands off and looked at it in the mirror.  I immediately expected to need stitches, not just to close the wound, but to put the chunk of skin dangling from my head back in place.  Yummy.

We got to the ER and I checked myself in.  There were several other people there waiting for medical attention, so I had to sit around for a while before a nurse was able to see me.  Finally they called me back, and the nurse practitioner checked me out.  I think she was genuinely impressed with my wound since she wasn't quite sure how to sew it back together.

She eventually put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but the best part came last.  She said she recommended that I not go into work today because the wound needed 24 hours to heal before I washed the area with any kind of soap.  I was supposed to have a training class this week at work, which was canceled due to the storm, so I knew I wouldn't be missing anything.  So I ended up with an extra day off to watch bad daytime TV and do stuff around my place.

Maybe giving myself a million dollar wound occasionally while I'm still living here is worth an extra day off.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

That Sound You Just Heard Was Every Star Wars Fan Having a Nerdgasm

The big news of the day is still Hurricane/Superstorm Sandy, but this post has nothing to do with that craziness.

No, I'm going to talk about the news that just broke in the last half hour: Disney is buying LucasFilm.

Connected to this news is that Disney is fast-tracking Star Wars: Episode VII for a 2015 release.

But wait - there's more.  George Lucas will not be writing or directing any of these new films.

Ho. Lee. Smokes.

I've been a Star Wars fan for about as long as I've been a Star Trek fan, so I am definitely what you could call a nerd.  I make no bones about it, either.  The original trilogy is timeless, movies that are as cherished as The Wizard of Oz, Gone With the Wind, and The Sound of Music.  The prequels, not so much.

When this news broke, my first thought was, "Well who's gonna write and direct this new trilogy?"  Since Lucas will only produce these new films, the films won't be cut at the knees by blank stares, emotionless line-reading, and focusing on CGI.  They can tell an entirely new story, one that fans have dreamed about ever since Return of the Jedi had ended.

I'm so freaking giddy at this prospect.

Obviously, I have no say or stake in who will be involved in these movies, but if I were a betting man, I'd put money down on either Andrew Stanton or Brad Bird directing Episode VII.  Both men had directed Pixar movies distributed by Disney in the past, and they have both made the transition into live action since.  I wouldn't be surprised if Disney considered Gore Verbinski as a candidate too, since he had directed the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films for the studio as well.

What's most important here is the actual story of this new trilogy.  One of the major flaws in the prequels was its lack of a story being told, unlike the original trilogy.  The prequels were all exposition; this happened, then that happened, and this guy met that guy, and then they fought, and so on.  I didn't care about any characters at all, not even familiar faces like Yoda or Obi-Wan.  If Disney hires the right team of writers to scope out this new trilogy, they could make these films just as good if not better than the original trilogy.

I'm sure it's possible the new films could be similar in theme and style to the Timothy Zahn Trilogy from the early 90s.  Those books were excellent, and they told a fairly natural continuation from where Return of the Jedi had left off.  The prequels failed at being half as memorable as the original trilogy, but doing something similar to what Timothy Zahn had written could bring Star Wars back to winning over a whole new generation of fans.

The one part of Disney's action here that is being somewhat overlooked is that they had bought Marvel Comics last year, which means all the Marvel superhero movies are distributed by Disney as well (Yes, that means The Avengers and all the Avengers one-shot movies are part of this deal).  Now Disney owns the rights to Star Wars as well.  I'm blown away at how big Disney is becoming from all these business acquisitions, and I'm now wondering how other studios will compete with them going forward.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Good Intentions, Bad Results

For an NFL player who barely ever takes the field compared to most of his teammates, Chris Kluwe loves to be a lightning rod of controversy with his outspoken social and political views.  Gay marriage is at the heart of his favorite things to talk about, and his latest comments on the subject have spawned more debate.  Kluwe has already called out other players in the league - former teammates and otherwise - who have disagreed with his support for gay marriage.  Now he's taking things in a new direction, comparing the first openly gay athlete to that of Jackie Robinson.

Kluwe seems genuinely excited about the prospect for whenever it happens.  I believe he's sincere in his views, and he's not talking about it just to get his own name in print.  I have no doubt that he'd welcome a gay athlete with open arms and be proud to call him his teammate.

But there's something I find deeply troubling about his comments.  He said that major corporations such as Nike and Gatorade would jump at the chance to bring a gay athlete into endorsing their products.  It'd be the greatest marketing opportunity in 50 years, according to Kluwe.

Here's my problem: How is that not exploiting the athlete for major brands to make money?  How could a company tastefully and respectfully endorse an athlete for coming out of the closet without offending the athlete and the gay community as a whole?  Companies like Nike and Gatorade use athletes for their own needs in order to make money, and that's the way the system has been for generations.  The system is only going to be more and more money-driven as companies devise new ways to market themselves and their endorsements.

Isn't this potentially offensive to the gay community?  Sure, a gay athlete could be seen as inspirational to younger homosexuals across the country.  Such an athlete could travel around the nation to speak to young people about his experiences in life and what motivated him to come out of the closet.  But to allow companies the opportunity to make money off such a person seems pretty exploitative and demeaning towards the athlete in question to me.

Moreover, why should a big deal be made about such an athlete anyway?  If our society is as progressive as Kluwe thinks it should be, then if or when an athlete declares he is gay, then everyone would say, "Okay, so what?"  It shouldn't matter if someone was gay or straight anymore than whether he was black or white.  And it certainly isn't something designed for a major corporation to make money off.

Like I said before, I realize that Kluwe's comments weren't meant to imply that an athlete should be exploited or taken advantage of by a major corporation.  But the consequences from having a company like Nike bring on a gay athlete to endorse its products can't be avoided.  When the day finally does come where an athlete does come out of the closet, nobody should try making money off him.  We all should just go back to business as usual.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

A House Divided

A couple weeks ago, I was on the phone with my mom catching up on things.  We hadn't talked in a couple weeks prior to that day, so we were due for a conversation.  While we were talking, she mentioned she was going away on vacation to Arizona for a week to visit her uncle out there.  I've followed the pictures she's posted on Facebook from places like the Grand Canyon and other sites out there.  She looked like she had a really good time during her trip.

My point is that her vacation that week was specifically timed; as of Friday, October 12, 2012, my parents' divorce was made final.  Their tenuous divorce process was over, and they will now live their lives completely separate from one another.  Granted, they've been living apart for nearly a year and a half now, so nothing much will change in that regards.  Going forward, however, our family will no longer be a single unit anymore.

I've been somewhat numb to this whole process since it started in the spring of 2011.  I was dragged into the mess a couple times by my father, which put me in an awkward position.  I had no choice but to back off for my own sake, at the expense of alienating myself somewhat from my dad.  He and I rarely speak, but he speaks to my sisters even less often than he does to me.  The last I heard from him, he was expecting to travel quite a bit this fall for work to places like San Francisco and San Diego.  He also expects to be overseas in Vienna before Christmas, and will likely be there until February of next year.

If concentrating on work is how he chooses to deal with the divorce, I can understand that.  I've dealt with breakups in the past by concentrating on things like work and school too, but I'm not crazy enough to think that any 6-month relationship carries the kind of emotional weight that a 35-year marriage with three kids does.  I'm just really disappointed that he has also chosen to sever ties with all three of his kids and his granddaughter.  I get that he's hurt and probably doesn't know how to deal with his emotions, but isn't that where family comes in to help out?  God knows I went through a dark time last year, and my family and friends were there every step of the way.

Over the last year, I've made several attempts to see my dad for various occasions.  When Thanksgiving was coming up, I called him a week before to find out his plans for the day.  I was going to the Ravens game that night with both my sisters, so he and I had breakfast together.  He seemed genuinely happy that I made the effort to see him, and we had a good time chatting and talking about our Christmas wish lists.

Things quickly changed though.  He never seemed terribly interested in getting together over Christmas, saying that since no one formally invited him to any family Christmas party, he wasn't certain that anyone wanted to see him.  I talked to my sister and her father-in-law about it, and they agreed that he was being completely unreasonable about not being invited.  Once my sister did extend him an invitation, he chose to use work as an excuse over why he couldn't come.  We all knew he wanted to avoid being around my mom, so none of us were surprised when he said he wouldn't be coming.

Then there was the Father's Day debacle.  After that day, I came to the conclusion that he simply didn't want to be around anyone in the family.  Maybe being around any of his children was a reminder to him of life with my mom.  Maybe he's sulked into a depression and wants to be alone.  Whatever the reason, I didn't feel any immediate need to try seeing him for his birthday in August.  I figured if he and I did make plans, he'd find yet another excuse as to why he couldn't get together again.

Truth be told, I'm really worried about my dad.  I really think he has sunk into a depression, and it will only grow worse over time.  I'm equally worried about my sisters since they are both angry with our dad, and neither of them have any desire to patch things up with him.  Granted, they are both justified in being angry with him, but I feel like sometimes stubbornness has to give way when it comes to repairing a relationship with one's father.  If nobody swallows their pride, my niece won't ever get to know her grandfather, and my other sister won't ever be escorted down the aisle by our dad whenever she finally does get married.  How is any of this healthy?

People like to say that time heals all wounds, so even though these scars are fresh in everyone's minds I'd like to think we'll all get past them eventually.  I think that would be true if my sisters and I were all kids and had our teen years to adjust to being a divided family.  Since we're all now adults and fairly set in our ways, I don't see anyone changing their minds very easily.  I love both my sisters, and I know the three of us will always be close with one another.  However I feel like I'm somewhat torn between them and my parents.  I want to continue having a relationship with everyone, but it's hard being the only one who speaks to my parents at all.  My sisters haven't said anything directly or indirectly that I have to choose one side versus the other, but it's hard talking about my parents around my sisters now and vice versa, knowing the resentment that lies under the surface.

I can't help but look at a photo of my family that sits on my bookshelf that was taken on Christmas morning in 2008.  That was one of the last truly happy days my family had together as a whole, and that day feels a whole lot further in my memory than four years ago.  I can't bring myself to part with it either though, so maybe that makes me normal.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012


There's a very common misconception that I read on football-related websites which annoys me to no end.  Bloggers and commenters alike tend to frequently mention how old the Ravens are as a team, especially when the subjects of Ray Lewis and/or Ed Reed come up.  They both tend to talk about how both players have lost a step or two in how they play on the field compared to how they were in their respective primes.  To that I say, "Yes, and in a related story, the sun is expected to rise in the east tomorrow."

How is saying such a thing about either player insightful?  Lewis is 37 and Reed is 34.  Of course they're not going to be as fast as they were in the past!  Why does this subject keep coming up?  Is it meant to be a compliment of sorts to these guys, given how long they've been playing in the game and how successful they each have been? 

Lewis in particular has been a popular subject since he suffered a season-ending injury during the game against the Cowboys on Sunday.  There's debate over whether that was going to end up being his last game ever to be played in the NFL.  If so, the question became how does that affect the Ravens' chances at winning the Super Bowl this season, and what will happen to the team long term.

As usual with the subject of the age of Lewis and Reed, people like to say how old the Ravens are as a team, and their chances of winning another championship are coming to a close.  This is where I stand up and remind commentors this idea is a complete MYTH.  The Ravens are not old as a team at all. 

First, let's examine the defensive side of the ball, since Lewis and Reed are both on the defense.  Would you care to know how many players on the defense are over 30 years old as of right now?  Four.  Lewis, Reed, Brendan Ayanbadejo, and Maake Kemoeatu are all well into their thirties.  Terrell Suggs is 29 and Haloti Ngata is 28, so they are still very much in their primes.  Suggs is in his 10th season and Ngata is in his 7th, so they feel a whole lot older than they actually are since they both have been with the team their entire careers.

Over on the offensive side of the ball, the Ravens have a grand total of five players who are at least 30 years old.  Vonta Leach, Anquan Boldin, Matt Birk, Bobbie Williams, and Bryant McKinnie are all at least 30.  That's it.  The Ravens have a grand total of nine players on their roster who are at least 30 years old, despite what other people on the internet tend to say.  When you consider that Joe Flacco and Ray Rice have emerged as leaders on offense, the team has a solid foundation on both sides on the ball for years to come.

Now for a point of reference, let's take a look at the Ravens' major rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The Steelers have eight players who are at least 30 years old on the defensive side of the ball: Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, James Harrison, Ike Taylor, Ryan Clark, Will Allen, and Troy Polamalu.  The offense has another five players who are at least 30 years old, though only two of them are starters (Ben Roethlisberger and Max Starks). 

Do you catch my drift?  I'm sure that this myth started because Lewis has been the face of the Ravens for over 15 years now, and their other stars for a long time have all been on the defense.  Their defensive nucleus has been together for at least 7 years now since Ngata was drafted.  The rest of the defense has to sit in the shadow of the four leaders, so the likes of Paul Kruger, Terrence Cody, Bernard Pollard, and Jameel McClain don't get much press collectively. 

Whenever Ray Lewis finally does hang up his cleats for good, the team dynamic will certainly take a major shift.  However, Suggs and Ngata have been playing together under Lewis for long enough that they can carry the torch on well after he retires.  And the team as a whole is anything but old.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Taken 2

I don't really expect that much from action thrillers.  I know they require some significant suspension of disbelief - some more than others - and the plots are typically simple and straightforward.  Taken was a perfect example of this concept, using the idea of a man rescuing his daughter and running with it.  The final result was a really exciting thriller built around an interesting character for its hero.  Boom - instant hit.

So what happens with a sequel?  Why not do a fairly logical thing and take the family members of the bad guys from the first film out for revenge?  Then put Liam Neeson's Brian Mills on the run and trying to save his family from these other guys?  Makes sense, right?

I mean, there's no way this could suck.  It's a completely logical place to take a sequel for Taken.  There's no way to screw this up.

Or so I thought.

The film opens with a few bad guys who we don't know yet running around.  There's a funeral scene led by Murad Krasniqi (Rade Serbedzija), vowing to find out who was responsible for the deaths of his family members, including his own son.  Then we jump over to Los Angeles, where Brian Mills (Liam Neeson) is working on giving his daughter Kim (Maggie Grace) driving lessons.  Mills has to leave for Istanbul for work for several days, and eventually invites his daughter and ex-wife Lenore (Famke Janssen) to join him.

The first real flaw with the film is that all the opening exposition leading up to the climactic kidnapping takes over half an hour.  That's a huge chunk of a film that's just over 90 minutes long, so why all the needless time filler?  None of the stuff involving Kim's driving lessons or Lenore's issues with her current husband amount to anything, so these extra subplots could have been condensed to maybe 10 minutes instead of 30.

By the time we get to Istanbul, the bad guys close in on Mills and his family, and then the film shifts over to one massive action sequence after another.  Here lies the real major problem with the movie, aside from its various plot holes: every action sequence is shot and edited in such a way so that the audience has no idea what is in fact going on in the movie.  Mills gets into a fist fight when the bad guys first make their move on him, and I simply could not figure out how many guys he was fighting or who hit whom.  I think somebody broke out a cane of some kind to use as a weapon, and maybe Mills grabbed a hold of it to fight back.  Eventually things come to a stand still and Lenore is brought out as a hostage.  I defy anyone to adequately explain to me what exactly happened in this fight step by step, leading up to the standoff.

Later, Kim finds herself on the run from the bad guys too, and eventually runs across a series of rooftops to evade them.  I could not figure out just how far apart she was from her pursuers, which is pretty important to add tension in the film.  I had no idea which direction she was traveling either, or how far she was to her destination point.  

The same problems plague a car chase through downtown Istanbul.  I couldn't figure out who was chasing whom, how many bad guys in cars there were, or who got hit.  The most absurd example of this style of editing and directing involved a guy getting his head shoved into a wall, and then I assume he died.  I have no idea exactly what killed him based upon what was seen on screen, so I guess either it was a concussion or cracked skull maybe.  Your guess is as good as mine.

Taken 2 was directed by Olivier Megaton, who despite an awesome last name, cannot direct to save his life.  Michael Bay has a longer attention span than this guy, and that's saying something.  There were plenty of plot holes and faulty logic within the film that I won't even bother getting into since the film is quite literally unwatchable.  It's really disappointing that the sequel wasn't as equally surprising or entertaining as the original.