Sunday, February 23, 2014


The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Remember back in 2012, when people were calling for a boycott of Chick-fil-A because of the company's financial support of openly anti-gay organizations? Many conservative pundits, and some representatives of the fast food restaurant itself, decried the effort as unfair and even unconstitutional, seeing as the chain was only practicing its rights of freedom of religion and expression. Never mind that the boycott itself would simply represent those offended by the company's actions practicing their own constitutional rights, as apparently said document can only really apply to those whose opinions are aligned with those of said pundits.

Now however, those seem like better days. Sure, Chick-fil-A was trying to have its cake and eat it too; on the one hand being allowed to funnel some of its profits to groups that were strongly invested in trying to make life less livable for gay people, while also earning some of those profits off of the very same homosexuals. Flash forward to 2014, and as most of you most likely already know, several states have been trying to pass laws allowing businesses and employees to refuse to serve gay people in any capacity on the basis of religious beliefs. This has many people understandably upset, and upon first hearing about it I was certainly amongst them. Of course realizing that these sorts of laws would almost certainly never actually come to pass, and even if they did would have even slimmer odds of surviving the inevitable judicial challenges they would incur, means there is not too much point in getting overly worked up over them. Even more comforting, is the fact that even if by some twist of fate these laws did manage to pass, and held up in court, there would likely be very few businesses willing to turn away an entire segment of the population for any reason. And as for those businesses who would, I say let 'em.

I can't say I agree at all with the idea that individual employees would be allowed to refuse someone service because of their sexual orientation. Firstly, because how would the employee even know who is or isn't gay barring seeing a same-sex couple make out in front of them, but secondly, and perhaps most importantly, because if your employer tells you that you have to serve everybody, then you do, regardless of what your religious beliefs dictate. If someone got fired from the supermarket because they refused to wear pants on religious grounds, no sane person would come to their defense. So, in the event that a gay couple walked into the same supermarket to order a wedding cake (which as Jon Stewart pointed out is not very likely) and an employee refused to bake it, the store should be allowed to take whatever disciplinary action it sees fit in response, including firing the employee.

But if there is a shop out there that really wants to post a sign in the window barring gay customers from entering, fine. Put it up. If somewhere there is a restaurant owner who wants to kick people out because they perceive them to be homosexual, fine. Do it. I have no interest in giving my money to people who hate me so much that they don't want me in their business, and at least this way I would know for certain which businesses those are. There are plenty of other shops and restaurants out there, and the odds are that one being run by such bigoted people wouldn't be great enough to be missed anyway. And when many of their straight customers turn away at the sight of a "No Gays" sign on the door, or when people stop coming in because they read about their LGBTQ friends being kicked out on Facebook or Yelp, and their business dries up, they'll have only their prejudice to blame. Let's let these businesses do what they want, and we'll see how it affects their bottom line when there isn't a line of bottoms at their door.

Sunday, February 9, 2014


Amazon's first attempt at "Pilot Season" last summer was somewhat of a mixed bag. It did wind up producing the pretty decent series "Betas" and "Alpha House" (and unfortunately wound up passing on the promising "Onion News Network"), but the other shows were really pretty awful, and even the best of the bunch didn't really have anything about it that would make them catch on in a meaningful way. This year, they seem to have pulled out all the stops and released a very promising batch of shows for us to view and vote on. Yesterday I sat down and watched all 5 of the pilots that are targeted towards adults (the other 5 are children's or family shows) and I have to say I was largely pretty impressed. My thoughts on each from least to most favorite below.


While not really a bad show, this is easily the weakest of the bunch. Basically the somewhat depressing story of a Los Angeles family coping with their myriad issues and secrets, it suggests that the writers have as tenuous a grip on the word "comedy" as the Hollywood Foreign Press. That being said, the cast does some pretty consistently good work and when the big reveals start coming at the end of the half hour, it's hard not to find one's interest level in the whole thing going up. Still, I think this would probably work out better as a Sundance movie and I don't know that I could really see myself wanting to sit through an entire season of it.


From this point on I can honestly say I really liked the remainder of what Amazon had to show me, which made ranking spots 4, 3, and 2 somewhat of a challenge (picking #1 was easy, but we'll get to that later). The worst thing about this whole process is that I have to assume that most of these shows will not get ordered to series, and aside from "Transparent", I would really be kind of upset not to find out what happens next. And in all fairness, I'm more than a little curious to follow up with that show too. As for "The After", it takes place during the beginning of what appears to be the apocalypse, although the exact nature of what is transpiring is kept a mystery. I won't spoil what little bits of information the show doles out during the pilot, but I will say that it is pretty consistently exciting and it definitely has me anxious to find out more. That being said, these kinds of shows often run into problems sustaining the level of suspense and engagement that they open with and it's impossible to know if it will be worth it in the long run. Creator Chris Carter has shown how well he can manage a web of supernatural conspiracies over several seasons with his previous hit "The X-Files", but on the other hand, that show didn't really wind up finishing all that strongly, so it could go either way. 


Of the 3 "comedies" presented in the group, this is easily the funniest. The story of a woman who is forced to take control of her recently-deceased husband's struggling football team, it manages to introduce an ensemble of characters that are pretty instantly likable, a decent amount of clever NFL satire (note that there is no actual reference to the NFL by name or any of its associated properties), and some entertainingly silly slapstick. Think of it as the football "30 Rock", although closer to that show in its first season, before it really found its footing. Given that the only really funny show last time didn't get picked up ("Onion News Network") I can't say I have high hopes for this one, although it would be nice if there was more than one genuinely funny web comedy out there (the other one is Netflix's "Arrested Development" in case anyone was wondering).


There is certainly no shortage of crime dramas on TV at the moment, and they all do pretty well ratings-wise, so it should come as no surprise that the internet should want one of its own. Luckily for all of us, this first go at it is considerably more interesting than any of its ilk currently on American television. Co-written by best-selling author Michael Connelly, based on his books, this is closer in tone to some of the darker British police dramas or the original Swedish version of "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo". Season 1 looks to be setting up to follow detective Hieronymus "Harry" Bosch as he investigates the possible murder of a young boy while simultaneously standing trial for shooting a serial killer, who may or may not have been unarmed. With it's dark, noirish tone and engaging plotlines, this could wind up being a big hit for Amazon.


I don't know if this necessarily has the hit potential of "Bosch", but it is nonetheless my favorite of this year's batch of favorites. Following the members of a fictionalized New York Symphony as they deal with a litany of behind the scenes drama along with the ups and downs of life in the Big Apple, it once again stretches the definition of "comedy", although it contains at least enough witty dialogue to make a degree of sense being labelled as such. The backstage romances and power struggles are perhaps somewhat to be expected from this sort of show, but the smart script, incredible cast, and gorgeous music all elevate it to new heights. I said before that it was easy for me to pick this as my absolute favorite of the bunch and it was, if for no other reason than I felt absolutely exhilarated watching it, actually sitting up with that rare feeling one gets upon discovering a new piece of pop culture that has instantly pushed itself into your all time favorites list. If this actually makes it to series, it is the one I can most easily see myself talking up to other people, and is also the one most likely to get Amazon the Emmy attention it seems to be so eagerly hunting this time around.

Monday, February 3, 2014


As you may or may not know, real-money online gambling has been legal in New Jersey for a few months now. While I would not say that I am a heavy gambler, I do periodically enjoy a trip to the casino, so I was certainly intrigued by the idea of playing at home. And I can honestly say that I have always thought that not being allowed to do so seemed more than a little silly. As such I decided to give it a go. The Borgata is one of my favorite casinos in Atlantic City, so I headed to their site first []. As luck would have it, they give out $20 in slot play just for signing up, which gave me even more incentive to give it a spin. After finishing up the registration process, which asks for quite a lot of information, I looked through the other available promotions, and instantly wound up winning another $10 in free slot play because it was Chinese New Year. That all being wrapped up, I took the $30 of house money and headed off to the slots.

There is a fairly decent selection of slot "machines" to pick from, although many of them don't sound particularly inspiring. Unfortunately, on January 31, I was unable to get a single one of them to actually work. Initially I was attempting to use the site through my browser, but since that was getting me nowhere I went ahead and downloaded their app onto my computer. That part went fine and so I again tried to play a slot machine. The first time I received a message saying that the particular game I was attempting to play was not installed on my PC and asking if I would like to install it. Upon allowing it to install, I would then receive no action at all in response to my attempting to open it. After around 10 minutes of messing around with all that I gave up and played Skyrim instead.

Today, I thought I would give it another try before my free slot play credits expired. This time when I attempted to launch a game it would open another window, indicating that something was happening, but that window would remain black and empty. Repeated attempts at relaunching a slot machine resulted in the same result until finally I decided to just click a random spot in the dark void and see what happened. Sure enough that made the window load and I was off to a game, finally. Alas, those next attempts were also not to be, as I was promptly greeted by error messages several times, until finally, I got one to actually work. Unfortunately, I found the graphic design of it to be exceptionally displeasing and promptly left to find another machine.

I next settled on a Monopoly themed slot machine, which was much more professional looking. The machines all seem to be penny slots for now, so there weren't any large payouts, but it did keep giving enough small ones to slow the stream of money from my account, and it was entertaining enough. When I was down to only a few remaining dollars I decided to mix things up and try another machine. This time I went with one that featured a weird mix of Leonardo DaVinci's works and jewels. While not designed with quite as much sheen as the Monopoly one, it proved to be exponentially more entertaining, and much kinder with doling out small rewards. After playing for awhile I actually found myself back up over $10, and since that was now my money and no longer the free credits I decided to call it a day. All in all it was a fun experience, although they are going to need to do some work on the vast technical issues. Anyone in New Jersey who wants to give it a go and doesn't mind the potential frustration should definitely check it out. Just remember not to gamble away your rent money. Sure I wound up ever so slightly wealthier than I started, but that is certainly not the norm. The house always wins, even when it's your house.

Sunday, February 2, 2014


I've never attempted to play any of the variety of collectible card games that have come out before. Back when Magic: The Gathering was first becoming popular I was still in school and the aura of nerdiness that surrounded that game made it seem like something I would be best not to become associated with. Since then I have come to accept that I pretty much am at least nerdy enough to be involved with such things, and when Blizzard's new game Hearthstone was released into public beta mode, I decided to give it a try.

Due to my lack of experience with the genre I really had very little idea of what to expect of it, but I have to say I have been very pleasantly surprised. The gameplay is simple enough that the basic gist of it can be figured out pretty quickly, but it is also deep enough that developing a strategy can present a much greater challenge, especially to those unfamiliar with similar games.

The main concept is that each player begins with 30 health points and a customizable deck of cards. Each of those cards have a variety of attack points, health points, and/or special powers which can be used to weaken your opponent and defend against his/her attacks. Like I said, simple enough right? Well, each of the possible characters have their own unique abilities and certain cards that are exclusive to them. And then there is the strategy of how to arrange your deck. Do you want to fill it with higher energy cards that can only be used later in the game, but that offer stronger attack bonuses? Or do you want to try and wear your opponent down early with weaker, cheaper cards? Or do you want to try to find the perfect balance of both? Any of these strategies is made more challenging by the random dealing of the cards in your deck, adding a hint of luck to the equation.

This can all add up to a situation in which, especially at the beginning, you find yourself losing. A lot. But when you do finally get a decent deck put together and find yourself beginning to win at least sometimes, it is a very satisfying feeling. Especially when you wind up with matches as closely fought as the one above (which I lost, incidentally). The game is still in beta, so some things about it are likely to change, and perhaps rightfully so as it is sometimes more than a little frustrating. But it is still insanely addictive, and a game that I highly recommend everyone check out, whether they've ever played this type before or not.