Blog Archives

Don’t Bite the Messenger

Dogs and postal workers are constantly at odds with one another (Top X Lists)

The animosity between our four-legged canine friends and mailmen is nothing new. Postal workers are often attacked and sometimes bitten by dogs protecting their territory. Of course, it now seems they face a more dangerous and unpredictable threat as they deliver their letters, parcels and junk mail: the recipients themselves.

Consider what happened in Akron, Ohio recently.

Last Saturday, a 56-year-old mail carrier visited the home of Robert Kiefer, a 25-year-old man who was apparently waiting for a check to arrive. Unfortunately, it wasn’t delivered and he decided to take his frustration out on his mailman. After attacking him with pepper spray, Kiefer did the unthinkable: he dropped to the ground and bit his mailman on the leg three times!

Thank goodness Kiefer didn’t have a dog of his own or this could have turned into a homicide!

Don’t Mess with Jim!

And it's Cantore to the crotch! (The Weather Channel)

And it’s Cantore to the crotch! (The Weather Channel)

If you ever happen across Weather Channel personality Jim Cantore delivering the news on location, don’t even consider trying to heckle him or the price you pay could be quite painful.

Just ask the poor bastard in this brief viral video. He thought it might be a good idea to give Jim a hard time. And when he decides to enter the shot—bounding in like some kind of fool and stealing away Jim’s on-screen time—he is rewarded with a swift knee to the nuts.

And trust me… it may not look like the groin shot injured this young man, but I assure you he felt the pain within 30 seconds and probably collapsed somewhere off-screen a few moments later.

I tip my hat to you, Mr. Cantore, for standing up to hecklers and putting them in their place… by “kneeing” them in that place.

There’s a certain poetry to it, don’t you think?

Deadly New Year

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

How much is enough? (Washington Post)

On December 14, 2012, a disturbed 20-year-old named Adam Lanza shot and killed his mother in their Newtown, Connecticut home, traveled to nearby Sandy Hook Elementary School and proceeded to gun down 20 children and 6 staff members before taking his own life. This tragic event ushered in a new year that many hoped would be less violent than the last, but sadly, this was not the case.

By the time 2013 reached its halfway point—somewhere around May 31st—the number of people killed by guns in the United States had already surpassed the number of American troops killed during the entire Iraq War, according to ThinkProgress. In March, a college student in Florida pulled a dorm fire alarm and tried to slaughter his classmates as they poured into the hallways. In September, a defense contract employee marched into the Washington Navy Yard and gunned down 12 people. And these are only a few examples of what became an extremely violent year.

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

Reeves and his victim Chad Oulson (Reuters)

I was hoping things would improve in 2014, but that obviously isn’t going to happen given some of the shootings we’ve seen in only a few weeks’ time. And this week has been especially deadly thanks to guns and the people who use them for evil.

First it was Curtis Reeves, a 71-year-old retired police officer who shot and killed a 43-year-old man on Monday for sending text messages to his 3-year-old daughter in a Florida movie theater last Monday. That day also saw 48-year-old Jennifer Berman of Florida murder her children—16-year-old Alex and 15-year-old Jacqueline, both promising musicians—before turning the gun on herself.

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Mason Campbell used a shotgun in Roswell (KRQE)

Tuesday morning came and it was a 12-year-old who decided to inflict more gun violence, this time with a sawed-off shotgun. He walked into Berrendo Middle School in Roswell, New Mexico with three shells, fired them all and injured two students before being detained and arrested. Now a child too young to see a PG-13 movie faces three counts of aggravated battery.

On Wednesday evening, a man walked into a grocery store in Elkhart, Indiana with an automatic handgun and murdered two women before police shot him to death a short time later. Police still have no idea what prompted his attack.

No matter how bad things get in this country and how many people die as a result of gun-related violence, it still seems as if very little is being done to prevent future shootings. Universal background checks for all gun purchases got shot down—pun intended—yet we still face mass shootings every year. And from the look of it, 2014 will be just as deadly as the last few years.

When will it ever end?

When Black Friday Comes

Yes it is (Get Funny)

Yes it is (Get Funny)

Yesterday, people all over the nation celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday with family, friends, football, food and—most important of all—fellowship. They expressed gratitude for their many blessings, broke bread together and commemorated the meal shared between pilgrims and “Indians” centuries ago—if you buy into the elementary school version of the holiday’s origins, that is. And I certainly do.

Yes, there was love among men and even the most bitter of rivals put their differences aside to give thanks for all they had. Believe me, I know since we had both Steelers and Ravens fans coexisting at my own Thanksgiving table—a phenomenon rarely seen among die-hard NFL fans.

Unfortunately, all the love and grace of Thanksgiving ended and we now find ourselves in the midst of something dark and infused with evil and despair: Black Friday.

And I, for one, do not plan on leaving the house unless it is absolutely necessary and otherwise unavoidable.

The only lines longer than this were at the unemployment office (AP)

The only lines longer than this were at the unemployment office (AP)

In simplest terms, “Black Friday” is the name given to the Friday after Thanksgiving, arguably the biggest shopping day of the year. It signals the official start of the Christmas shopping season and retailers cash in by offering all sorts of sales and so-called doorbusters to entice consumers to spend obscene amounts of money on crap they can probably get any time of the year. Nevertheless, people turn out in droves and—if you’ve ever experienced a Black Friday sale or waited in a line for hours for a store to open—they aren’t always the nicest or most considerate people in the world.

Sometimes they can get downright vicious, as evidenced by some of the latest Black Friday news from around our great nation. Take a look at how some people are getting into the “Christmas spirit” this year.

ILLINOIS: Two suspects outside a Kohl’s department store were chased by police after allegedly shoplifting some clothing. During the ensuing struggle, an officer was dragged by a car driven by one of the suspects, who was subsequently shot in the shoulder by the other officer. Both the suspect and cop have been hospitalized and, thankfully, their injuries were not life-threatening.

Great selection, low prices and plenty of asskicking to boot! (Walmart/Wikipedia)

Great selection, low prices and plenty of asskicking to boot! (Walmart/Wikipedia)

NEW JERSEY: Police were called to Walmart after a shopper got into a heated argument with a store manager over a television set. When the cops arrived, the man became more belligerent and even attacked one of the officers. Needless to say, he was arrested for disorderly conduct and for aggravated assault against a police officer. Merry Christmas, dumbass.

CALIFORNIA: Apparently, Walmart is a dangerous place to be on Black Friday because violence erupted at their Rialto location, too. At least two people were arrested after a brawl took place outside the store. It seems that people kept cutting in line, which angered other shoppers and led to the brouhaha. An officer broke his wrist during the struggle, which unfortunately didn’t end there. Several additional fights occurred within the store later. I guess that’s the price you pay for offering so many bargains, huh?

VIRGINIA: Go figure, but two men outside a Walmart store got into an argument over a parking space and, once again, the encounter ended violently. In an effort to secure a better spot, 61-year-old Ronnie Sharp pulled a gun on his nemesis, 35-year-old Christopher Jackson. When this didn’t work, Sharp brandished a knife and sliced Jackson’s arm “to the bone,” according to an eyewitness. Both men were arrested, but are now free on $5000 bond. So please watch your ass if you plan on visiting the Tazewell County Walmart anytime soon… especially if you see Ronnie Sharp!

Beware the Grinch: Ronnie Sharp (WVVA)

Beware the Grinch: Ronnie Sharp (WVVA)

NEVADA: A Las Vegas shopper was walking through his apartment complex—his arms filled with the big screen television he just purchased—when an unknown (and armed) suspect fired several warning shots at him. The man dropped the television and fled, but returned to find the thief loading it into a vehicle. He approached the suspect and tried to get the television back. Instead, all he got was a bullet in the leg. Fortunately he wasn’t seriously injured, but his television is long gone.

These are just a few of the Black Friday “incidents” being reported today, but others continue to pour in from the most unlikely places: Jordan Creek, Iowa; Johnson City, Tennessee; Beaumont, Texas; Elkin, NC; Garfield, New Jersey. You name it. And there will undoubtedly be more since Black Friday often drifts through the weekend.

Hurray.

If you do venture out today, though—choosing to risk violent confrontations in exchange for bargain basement prices—I suggest taking at least one of two things: a working knowledge of hand-to-hand, close-quarters combat techniques or—if nothing else—pepper spray.

Odds are you’re going to need them!

Celebrating Pulp Fiction

Title screen from "Pulp Fiction" (A Band Apart/Miramax)

Title screen from “Pulp Fiction” (A Band Apart/Miramax)

As a glorified cinephile—basically a hardcore movie buff—I enjoy, appreciate and, in many ways, love more films than I care to count. My favorite movie of all time, though, is Quentin Tarantino’s 1994 masterpiece Pulp Fiction.

It’s not even close, actually. And given how many great movies are out there, that’s saying something.

Explaining what I love most about Pulp Fiction is tough because this film has it all: violence, dark humor, a great cast—including John Travolta, Uma Thurman, Bruce Willis, Samuel L. Jackson, Ving Rhames, Harvey Keitel and Christopher Walken, to name a few—snappy dialogue, a nonlinear storyline, sex, drugs, rock & roll and my personal favorite, pop culture references “out the yin yang.”

"Pulp" as pulp (A Band Apart/Miramax)

“Pulp” as pulp (A Band Apart/Miramax)

Tarantino won an Oscar for the film (Best Original Screenplay) and even took home the Palme d’Or award at the 1994 Cannes Film Festival—the highest honor bestowed upon the director of the competition’s best cinematic feature. And I will never forget the first—and second—time I saw the movie that would soon take its place atop my favorites list—a position it will undoubtedly hold forever.

Pulp Fiction was due to be released in October of 1994—I was between my undergraduate and graduate degrees at that time, and loving every minute of it—but I stumbled across what I thought was a pirated version of the film a few months earlier. I was at the state fairgrounds for some kind of show—most likely guns, comic books, sporting equipment… who the hell knows. It was a big crowded place with horrible traffic and smelly people, to be sure.

In one of the main buildings were all the vendors—rows of booths loaded with any product imaginable, several of which were devoted to movies. And I’m not talking about DVDs, which themselves are being phased out today. I’m talking about VHS videotapes—“old school” flicks, you might call them.

As I was sifting through a stack of tapes at one of the booths—whose owner seemed trustworthy enough (as if I could judge from such a chance encounter)—I discovered one with a plain, white cover and only two words written on it in black magic marker: PULP FICTION.

“What the hell is this?” I immediately asked the vendor, expecting to hear some kind of bullshit story about how a “friend of a friend” knew the producer and managed to sneak out an advanced cut of the soon-to-be hit. Instead, something unexpected happened.

“That isn’t supposed to be in there,” he mumbled to his son, a lanky and presumably mute character lurking in the shadows—I swear the kid never said a word. “I’m sorry, sir. That tape isn’t for sale,” he said as he reached for it.

Amanda and Tim - Miramax - A Band Apart

Amanda Plummer and Tim Roth (A Band Apart/Miramax)

I know, I know. This was all part of the scam, and I fell for it “hook, line and sinker.” That much is clear to me now, but back then I was blinded by the excitement of Pulp Fiction. And I had waited long enough.

“If this really is a copy of Pulp Fiction, then how much would you take for it if it were for sale?” I asked, all the while leaning back and staying just out of range of the vendor’s extended hand. He supposedly wanted it back, after all. And his act was very believable, trust me.

I won’t recount the whole conversation—mostly because I don’t remember it all—but the final result was that I purchased the film for roughly $50 and rushed home to check it out a short time later.

What the vendor told me was true—it was Pulp Fiction and seemed to be filmed in a small cinema or screening room. Unfortunately, it’s what he didn’t tell me that completed the scam… and made me a sucker.

John and Bruce on set - Miramax - A Band Apart

Travolta and Willis joke around on set (A Band Apart/Miramax)

The movie was apparently filmed by someone with a video camera seated in the back of the room. And since HD and high-quality digital images didn’t exist back then—at least not for commoners like me—the picture quality was horrible. At times I could make out facial features or set details, but most of the movie was grainy and dark. Amorphous blobs replaced the actors in most of the scenes. And although I could make out most of the dialogue and music, the truth is that I didn’t really see Pulp Fiction; I just got a sense of it.

To use a rather disgusting analogy, the experience was like smelling a fart and recognizing exactly what the gassy perpetrator had for dinner. Instead of enjoying a delicious meal, I only caught a whiff. And man, was I disappointed.

Fortunately, October finally arrived and Pulp Fiction hit theaters, so I immediately made plans to see it. My real first time seeing the film was in a small, artsy theater that still served beer in paper cups. I went with a few friends, entered a room filled almost exclusively with other movie buffs and actually got to hear every word of dialogue that was spoken on the screen.

One of the reasons I avoid the theater now is that people never shut their mouths—or shut off their cell phones—and I end up missing half the movie. I just wait for films to appear on iTunes or Netflix—or pick up the DVD if it’s something I want to keep. Sorry, movie theaters, but your days are definitely numbered.

Since its release, I have seen Pulp Fiction hundreds of times and could probably come close to reproducing the screenplay from memory. I even developed an interest in that for which the movie is named: pulp magazines.

For those of you unfamiliar with the genre, pulp magazines were popular during the early to mid-20th century and often involved sharp dialogue, graphic violence and adult situations. The name was derived from the cheap wood pulp paper on which they were printed. And since they were cheaper than magazines printed on high-quality paper—the so-called glossies and slicks—pulp magazines quickly grew in popularity.

Jack Rabbit Slims - Miramax - A Band Apart

Uma Thurman and John Travolta (A Band Apart/Miramax)

With titles like Weird Tales, Adventure and Amazing Stories, “pulp fiction” magazines stretched the imagination of their readers and introduced them to different—often darker—worlds. They also hired writers who would eventually become famous and respected in the literary world—and their names are very recognizable: Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Rudyard Kipling, Louis L’Amour, Elmore Leonard, H.P. Lovecraft, Jack London, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Agatha Christie, Arthur C. Clarke, Joseph Conrad, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Zane Grey, Upton Sinclair, H.G. Wells and even Mark Twain!

In other words, pulp magazines were cool, man. And their covers were pretty kick ass, too. Here’s a little visual tribute to the genre—the perfect end to today’s post. Enjoy!

The Return of Grand Theft Auto

GTA V is the latest in the controversial video game series (Rockstar Games)

GTA V is the latest in the controversial video game series (Rockstar Games)

Unless you have been living under a rock, on a desert island or in some underground bunker cut off from the rest of the world this week, you are likely aware that the latest installment in Rockstar GamesGrand Theft Auto video game seriesGrand Theft Auto V—has been released and is selling faster than any video game in history.

In its first day, the game often blamed for inciting real-life violence—especially in children or nearly any mentally disturbed individual who chooses to take innocent lives—made a whopping $800 million worldwide. This was twice as much as most analysts predicted, but GTA V still has momentum and in only three days topped the $1 billion mark—roughly one-fifth as long as it took Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 to reach the same milestone.

Think of it like this: One of the biggest Hollywood blockbusters of all time—The Dark Knight—made just over $1 billion worldwide, while the James Cameron epic Avatar cleared almost $2.8 billion. Both of these figures should be easy enough for GTA V to eclipse, and some expect this to happen as early as November.

By a video game!

Granted, GTA V cost as much as many motion pictures to produce—somewhere in the neighborhood of $140 million—and took longer to get done—the Rockstar people have been working on it since releasing the mediocre GTA IV in 2008—but it certainly seems to have paid off. Of course, it isn’t without its share of controversy.

Hell, it wouldn’t be Grand Theft Auto if it didn’t piss off somebody along the way.

At the moment—and despite carrying a rating “M” sticker indicating it is only for mature audiences (which could actually disqualify many adults, too)—GTA V is being criticized for the usual suspects: violence, language, misogyny, sex. But some key features, scenes and missions really have people fired up. Animal rights folks have asked for the game to be boycotted since it allows players to run over, kill and even behead animals. However, most of the negative attention has been focused on one mission in particular known as “By the Book.”

This torture scene has human rights groups up in arms (Rockstar Games)

This torture scene has human rights groups up in arms (Rockstar Games)

In “By the Book,” players—and their in-game doppelgängers Trevor and Michael—are commanded by the FBI to extract information from a suspect by means of torture. Beating, pulling teeth and electrocuting the prisoner are all options as players try to squeeze names, locations and other vital data out of him. The scene is supposedly very gruesome and, by the end, rather unnecessary since the captive likely would have “spilled his guts” without all the pain and suffering. Of course, the character of Trevor addresses this very issue in the game:

Torture’s for the torturer. Or the guy giving the order to the torturer. You torture for the good times! We should all admit that. It’s useless as a means of getting information.”

Now I’ll be the first to agree that glamorizing torture—or even violence in general—is a bad idea. However—and having played GTA since its inception in 1997 for the first PlayStation game console—I don’t think that’s what the people at Rockstar Games are doing. Yes, things like sex, violence and destruction help sell more video games—not to mention books, films and a host of other consumer products—but there is an obvious reason for that: it’s what people see in their daily lives!

Turn on the news and you are likely to encounter some of the same evil and violent acts seen in GTA V and most of its predecessors. One of the fundamental rules of any creative field is to focus on what you know, what you see and what you experience. For writers, it’s the “write what you know” advice you often receive from more seasoned veterans. So when you drop everything, take a look around and try to determine what it is you actually know—as well as what your intended audience or customers know—sex, violence and even torture inevitably appear.

In America, for instance, there have been countless news stories about our government’s use of torture methods like water boarding. But we also hear about the torture and abuse being perpetrated by governments all over the world, sometimes against their own citizens. Then we hear an account of some unlucky American journalist who is abducted by Islamic radicals, tortured endlessly and finally beheaded on camera for the whole world to see.

Los Santos or Los Angeles? You be the judge (Rockstar Games)

Los Santos or Los Angeles? You be the judge (Rockstar Games)

These things make an impression, wouldn’t you agree? And while it might be in poor taste to allow video gamers to participate in torture simply by pressing some buttons on a controller, it is much better than having them wield a machete to perform the same gruesome and criminal act in reality. And to me, that’s Rockstar Games’ angle. What they do is more social commentary than violence promotion, and it’s obvious their formula works. Otherwise we wouldn’t be buying it and talking about it so much, would we?

To me, Grand Theft Auto has always been more about catharsis—a purging of anti-civilization and misanthropic feelings through the artistic medium of the video game. Whether or not we care to admit it, we all experience moments when our positive, uplifting thoughts are replaced by dark, evil ones. Someone pulls out in front of us and we mutter how we wish they were dead. A guy flirts with your girlfriend, so you threaten to rip off his head and shit down his neck if he doesn’t back off. Does this mean you would actually do something so violent and—let’s face it—gross? Of course not, but the thoughts sometimes cross your mind.

Parents aren't too fond of the sex and nudity in GTA V, either (Rockstar Games)

Parents aren’t too fond of the sex and nudity in GTA V, either (Rockstar Games)

And that’s the big difference to me: GTA V is a game. It can be violent, there is some sex and every other word sounds like it comes from the mouth of a sailor, but I could say the same for some films and television shows I’ve seen, too. I should also mention that GTA V operates well within the system we as a society have created for it. The game is intended for mature audiences and has been labeled as such, which is no different from rating a film with an R or even an X. Does this mean some kids won’t sneak into a movie theater, search for porn online or even play GTA V? Of course not, but until we can control everything—which I certainly don’t think should be our goal anyway—we need to remember that art isn’t the problem; we as a society are the problem.

So how about we stop blaming video games like GTA V for everything? I think taking a long, hard look at ourselves would be much more productive.

A SEMI-QUICK (and PERSONAL) SIDE NOTE:

As I mentioned earlier, I have been playing Grand Theft Auto since its early days—when the graphics and game play were terrible, but still the best thing around at that time. And I remember when Grand Theft Auto III came out and changed the face of gaming forever. Hell, I still return to my old PlayStation 2 to enjoy it and my personal favorite—Vice Cityon the rare occasion.

San Andreas was also pretty good, but like many of you, I was disappointed by GTA IV. Some spin-off games like Liberty City Stories were okay, I suppose, but I was really looking forward to GTA V. The way I figured, all the annoying little things about the last few games would be worked out and from there only improvements could be made.

In other words, GTA V would be the game that finally got it right… that saw all the little pieces of the puzzle fall neatly into place.

The first Grand Theft Auto seems like eons ago (DMA Design/BMG)

The first Grand Theft Auto seems like eons ago (DMA Design/BMG)

Whether or not GTA V lived up to the hype I (and others) created for it, I can’t say. Unlike those hardcore gamers out there, I didn’t preorder it or stand in line Monday night to pick it up once it hit store shelves. The “old me” would have done that, to be sure, but he’s long gone. I still game, mind you—most frequently on my cell phone in the form of Words with Friends or The Sims Freeplay—but those Mountain Dew and cigarette-fueled marathon gaming sessions of my youth have been replaced by work obligations, weekend plans and a host of other activities.

I still enjoy the occasional destruction of GTA, though. And from what I can tell, GTA V is everything I imagined and more.

For whatever reason, I bought the game yesterday morning—along with some meds for an upset stomach that kept me out of work for the day—and fully intended to get some serious game time in. After opening it and setting it beside my PS3, though, a funny thing happened: I didn’t touch it for the next nine hours. It was 10 p.m. before I finally installed and launched the damn thing.

At the time, I wasn’t sure why I delayed my GTA V experience because I filled the time with other tasks that demanded my attention. There were some house chores, a few last-minute things for work, a couple of errands thrown in… nothing out of the ordinary, but all somewhat more important than gaming, at least to the middle-aged man in the mirror. And I even finished everything in time to start playing by late afternoon, but it still didn’t happen.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I know how I am… or at least how I used to be… when it comes to video games. I already have an obsessive personality—definitely a mild to average case of OCD—with ADD that I medicate and some other “eccentricities.” Who doesn’t, right? When I’ve played Grand Theft Auto in the past, then, I have always done so to the extreme. Hours turn into days. Days into weeks. Weeks into months. I ignore the people around me, lose interest in how I present myself to others and obsess over completing every nit-picky detail of whatever game sucked me into its nightmare at the time.

It is not a pretty sight, to say the least.

So before sticking that CD into the console, I thought twice about it. I also took some time to see what others were saying online about their first experience with GTA V. And what I learned kept me away from the game a little bit longer: everyone loved it! Not only that, but they were playing so much that cheats were already being discovered. For those of you who don’t know, most of the cheats in GTA games involve specific button sequences you can enter for free weapons, ammunition, armor, vehicles and other advantages. Figuring them all out can be tedious, but those who seek them often post their results online pretty quickly.

A great game that I’ve been waiting years to play—coupled with all the great things people were saying about it and all the time they were spending actually playing it—freaked me out a little. Once I started playing, and knowing my sorted past, would I be able to stop? Would I find the game as enjoyable as everyone else, or was this really setting me up for a huge let-down?

By 10:00, I realized that I was over-thinking this far too much. I pumped myself up and it was finally time to see what GTA V was all about. I opened the case, carefully extracted the game and loaded it into my PS3, ready to see what happened next.

Boom. Software update.

Since I broke my old habits of gaming all the time, it’s been a while since I played my PS3. A software update was required, so I went ahead and got that done. Moments later it was back to the game. I was still pumped, mind you, only slightly less than before. It did feel good to see that Rockstar logo flash across the screen again, so I was gearing up to start wreaking havoc.

Boom. Installing the game.

The original Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games)

The original Grand Theft Auto (Rockstar Games)

This process took a little longer and I found myself staring at GTA V scenes and listening to funky music for quite some time. I spent some of that time refreshing myself on the controls—which button you use to shoot, which one operates the hand brake and so on. You’d be surprised how quickly this comes back to you after you’ve logged thousands of hours of game time. It’s like riding a bike, only much, much easier.

Time passed and finally GTA V was ready to play. Since this was my first time experiencing it, I watched all of the introductory scenes that many gamers skip past, interested in knowing the story since fellow writers took the time to create one. It isn’t all about carjacking and strippers, after all.

The opening scene was pretty intense: several masked robbers breaking into a bank. I was enjoying the action until I suddenly realized something: I was supposed to be playing as one of the characters!

I was hooked immediately.

To be perfectly honest, I only played for a few hours last night and still haven’t played the game today. I plan to, of course, but had a few things to accomplish first. At the moment I am able to control my marathon gamer tendencies, but I’m not sure how long this is likely to last. GTA V is tremendous and there is a lot to do—from jet skiing and golfing to missions and chaos—so I have only scratched the surface. But I can say this: those two hours were tantalizing and the game has been calling to me ever since.

I’m off to answer that call now, but please do me a favor. If you don’t hear from me for a few days, let someone know. By then I’ll probably require medical attention or at least professional help—as will millions of other gamers around the world, I’m sure… but GTA V is worth it!

Active Shooter in D.C.

The news of the shooting came first through Twitter (US Navy/Twitter)

The news of the shooting came first through Twitter (US Navy/Twitter)

This morning around 8:20 a.m., shots were fired in the headquarters for Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.

According to the latest reports, at least one person has been injured and authorities are trying to evacuate as many people as possible—while asking others to follow shelter-in-place procedures—since the shooter is still “active” and has not yet been apprehended.

Emergency personnel, local police, U.S. Capitol Police and even the FBI are on the scene, but details about the incident are still rather sketchy. I’m sure more will be released in the coming hours.

The NAVSEA facility employs roughly 60,000 people—including both military personnel and civilians—so the potential for even more danger is certainly present.

If you work in the D.C. area or know someone working at the Washington Navy Yard, please be aware of this situation and be careful. With any luck, any friends or family working there will be safe very, very soon.

When in Doubt, Blame Video Games

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil... whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Grand Theft Auto IV: The Root of All Evil… whatever (Cate Gillon/Getty Images)

Near Baton Rouge, Louisiana is a small town with an unusual name, but perhaps a name more fitting given recent events there: Slaughter. Just twenty miles north of the state capital, Slaughter only became a town in 2002 and boasts a population just below 1,000 people.

Actually, there is one less person there now: 87-year-old Marie Smothers, who died this past Thursday.

Smothers was the grandmother and caregiver of her 8-year-old grandson and by all accounts, they had a loving and positive relationship. Rumor has it they even shared a bed from time to time, which isn’t something you do with a relative you don’t care for deeply… or so you would think.

On Thursday, Smothers was caring for her grandson in the mobile home where she lived, watching some television while he played video games in the other room. Out of nowhere, the young boy suddenly appeared with a loaded handgun, walked up behind his grandmother, put the nozzle to her head and pulled the trigger.

Smothers was obviously found dead at the scene by police a short time later. And though the young killer claimed it was an accident, authorities believe he intentionally shot Smothers because he was influenced by the violent video game he was playing at the time: Grand Theft Auto IV.

One of my personal favorites, incidentally, and by far one of my top three favorite game franchises. I guess that means I have the potential to snap and start murdering people too, huh? Go figure.

All the GTA IV hating began when a spokesperson from the East Feliciana Paris Sheriff’s Department issued the following statement:

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

Is it possible GTA could be therapeutic? (Rockstar Games)

“Although a motive for the shooting is unknown at this time, investigators have learned that the juvenile suspect was playing a video game on the Playstation III ‘Grand Theft Auto IV,’ a realistic game that has been associated with encouraging violence and [awarding] points to players for killing people, just minutes before the homicide occurred.”

Moses, smell the roses!

Countless studies have tried to connect video games, rock music, rap music and almost anything else you can imagine to violent behavior—usually in young people—but there has yet to be any definitive proof of a causal relationship between the two. That certainly doesn’t stop the haters from trying, though.

After all, it’s much easier to blame something like video games than to truly get to the root of a problem.

Sure, it is possible some 8-year-old who is too young to make sound, rational decisions while also considering the consequences of his actions might kill his grandmother. Hell, it happened in this very story. But I would ask some more relevant questions before trying to pin this terrible tragedy on GTA IV.

Why was such a young boy permitted to play a game marked for mature audiences and packaged with all the appropriate warning labels for violent content and adult situations?

Is it wise for a child’s caregiver and grandmother to not only keep a loaded gun in the house, but to also make it easily accessible to the very child she’s been tasked with protecting?

Does the child have any mental or emotional issues that may have contributed to his suddenly violent behavior?

Smothers home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

Smothers’ home (Catherine Threlkeld/The Advocate)

These are the answers I would like to know, especially before I start blaming a video game for what happened in Slaughter. If GTA IV was the spark that set this kid off, wouldn’t similar things be happening all over the world almost all the time? It makes absolutely no sense because if you think about it, stories you hear on the news can be just as violent and dark as video games, sometimes even worse. Do stories about all the death in Syria turn young people into violent soldiers or rebels? Of course not, so how can we say video games are apt to do the same by turning players into violent criminals?

Fortunately for this young man, the state of Louisiana exempts all children under the age of 10 from criminal responsibility, so he will face no charges for what he has done—if he truly understands what he’s done, that is.

“We have a child who does not know the impact and consequences of the act he committed,” a lawyer named Sclynski Legier told WAFB after the shooting. “He truly doesn’t understand that.”

So I implore you: If you are ever charged with watching, babysitting, caring for or even parenting a small child, by all means, put away the video games, unload and secure your weapons and try doing something together for a change. I promise you the odds of it becoming violent will drop significantly as a result.

And these days, why risk it? Just look what happened to Marie Smothers, for goodness sake!

Escaped Con Killed by Hostage

Police at the scene in Bedford (Des Moines Register)

Last Friday, convicted burglar Rodney Long escaped from the Clarinda Correctional Facility, a minimum security prison just southwest of Des Moines, Iowa.

Minimum security is right since this guy just walked away without so much as an alarm sounding.

On Sunday, the escaped convict was seen walking along a rural highway. A deputy stopped to confront him, at which time Long pulled a gun, shot the officer twice and then sped off in his patrol car.

I’m not quite sure where he found a weapon, but chalk that up as another benefit of minimum security. Hell, he could have had the gun in the prison, for all I know.

Following the shooting, a second deputy chased Long for roughly 40 minutes, but the pursuit ended abruptly when the fugitive crashed the car and escaped yet again. He eventually made his way to the home of Jerome and Carolyn Mauderly, a retired couple in rural Bedford whose house is very secluded—it’s surrounded by cornfields and the closest neighbor lives more than a mile away.

Long broke into the Mauderlys home around 10 p.m. while they were sleeping. Jerome Mauderly, a former prison guard and farmer, even had a loaded shotgun on the floor beside his bed—everyone in the area heard about the prison break and prepared accordingly, which means they loaded and readied their weapons. Unfortunately for Mauderly, though, he didn’t have a chance to use his… at least not at first.

The couple awoke to find Long standing there, loaded shotgun in hand. He immediately disabled the landline phone and left only the phone in their bedroom operational, most likely so he could speak with negotiators if his presence was discovered by the authorities.

For the next four hours, Long held the couple hostage while he rummaged through their home for supplies, all the time using their cell phones—who he may have been calling, I have no idea. Fortunately for the Mauderlys, though, the escaped convict soon made a fatal mistake.

Rodney Long picked the wrong home to invade! (Des Moines Register)

Close to 2 a.m., Long went upstairs to continue his search for supplies, only this time he left the shotgun in the downstairs kitchen. Jerome Mauderly saw his chance, snuck into the kitchen and recovered the weapon while his wife phoned the police—on the only phone Long left working no less!

By the time Long came downstairs, Jerome had the shotgun pointed at him.  And since he knew the convict also had a handgun, he wasn’t taking any chances. He fired one shot, which struck Long in the torso and immediately sent him to the floor bleeding. The police arrived a short time later—with the deputy who pursued Long searching for him less than 200 yards from the home—and found Long lying on the kitchen floor dead.

Since the Mauderlys acted in self-defense during a home invasion with a clear threat to their lives, no charges have been filed against them. And if Long were still alive to reflect on his decisions, I know one he would love to have back: the choice to invade the home of someone fully prepared to deal with his bullshit.

Nice work, Jerome! And I hope the other prisoners at Clarinda Correctional Facility take notice and go a different route if they ever escape!

When Soccer Turns Deadly

Soccer hooligans the world over (courtesy of Pattaya Daily News)

Soccer—or football, as it is known to nearly everyone but Americans—is not an easy sport. It takes speed, skill, endurance and a strong sense of teamwork. I know because for years during my youth, I participated in recreational soccer leagues in my hometown. And though I always worked well as part of a team, I must admit that some of those other skills just weren’t there. This never caused me any problems because ultimately, I was only there to have some fun. Losing didn’t even bother me that much because deep down, I knew that I would never be a professional soccer player.

This didn’t stop me from becoming a huge fan of the sport, though. My father and everyone on his side of the family came from Argentina, a country known for its world-class soccer. Players like Diego Maradona, Jorge Crespo, Lionel Messi, Gabriel Batistuta and Daniel Passarella helped Argentina win fourteen Copa America titles, several Olympic titles and two World Cup championships, including the 1986 final where Maradona scored the infamous “Hand of God” goal to push his team past West Germany by a score of 3-2.

Watch any World Cup soccer coverage and undoubtedly someone will mention this fortunate event… fortunate for Argentina, I mean. The Germans likely cringe every time they think of it.

Maradona and the infamous “Hand of God” (courtesy of Bongarts/Getty Images)

Needless to say, soccer is now one of my favorite sports. I play it with friends or family members from time to time—usually at a family reunion, especially during visits to South America—but my favorite is watching it on television, specifically during the World Cup. I actually attended a few games when the WC was held in the U.S. back in 1994. A buddy and I drove down to Orlando, Florida and were lucky enough to watch the Netherlands and Morocco face off at the Citrus Bowl. We sat amidst a colorful crowd of Moroccan fans, cheered them on as we drank paper cups of beer, and consoled our new friends when the Dutch defeated them 2-1 in their final game of the tournament.

It was awesome. And I have loved soccer—pardon me, football—ever since. Hell, I even pull for the U.S. national team despite the sport never really gaining popularity here. Once we take it more seriously, though, I’m hoping we’ll be much more competitive.

Unfortunately—and like most other sports (if not all of them)—soccer has a dark side. The most obvious example of this is football hooliganism—the tendency for some soccer fans to behave in unruly, destructive and even violent ways. Sometimes this springs from a loss by someone’s favorite team and sometimes it results from little more than a rivalry. Whatever the reason, hooliganism has resulted in countless injuries and, in some cases, death. And in the end, it’s the fans that pay the price.

Of course, it isn’t just the fans that fall victim to soccer-related violence. Things can be just as dangerous for players and even referees. Just look at the case of Ricardo Portillo from earlier this year.

On April 27th, Portillo was refereeing a game for Fut International, a soccer league for Hispanic children in Taylorsville, a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah. At one point, he issued a yellow card to a 17-year-old player—citing him for an on-field infraction—and told the young man he would be ejected from the game if he received a red card for a second penalty.

Under normal circumstances, the presenting of a yellow card draws ire from players and fans, but it is normally expressed by a lot of screaming, flailing about and gesturing. Sadly, that was not the case for Portillo.

Ricardo Portillo (courtesy of AP)

Rather than arguing with the referee for a bad call, the young soccer player suddenly turned around and punched Portillo in the face. Initially, his injuries were thought to be minor, but that changed drastically when he went to the hospital later. Doctors discovered that Portillo had serious internal head injuries. He was in critical condition for a week before finally passing away the following Saturday night.

Ricardo Portillo was 46 years old and is survived by three daughters, all of whom live in Mexico. And though the young man who struck him was originally charged with aggravated assault, Portillo’s death resulted in upgraded charges. He is now being held in a juvenile detention facility and should have his day in court soon enough.

A similar attack occurred in the Netherlands this past December when three young amateur players—a 16-year-old and two 15-year-olds—assaulted a 41-year-old volunteer linesman and basically beat him to death. All three were charged with manslaughter, assault and public violence—and they will surely spend some time in jail—but I’m sure this provides little or no comfort to the victim’s family, who must now live their lives without him.

Both of these examples of soccer violence are tragic—and I truly feel for the families of these men—but nothing shocked me more than the news that came out of northern Brazil last week. And if you have not yet heard this story, I’m sure you will find it equally disturbing.

The incident happened during a June 30th soccer match in the Brazilian village of Pius XII. Referee Jordan Silva got into an argument with Linda dos Santos Abreu, a player for whom he had issued a red card. Abreu was outraged to learn that he was being ejected from the game, so he engaged Silva in a fist fight that, moments later, turned deadly.

For some reason, Silva had a knife with him and when the fight intensified, he pulled it out and stabbed Abreu in the chest. The young player was immediately rushed to the hospital, but no one could predict what happened next.

With some help from fans, members of Abreu’s family grabbed the 20-year-old referee, tied him up and started torturing him in plain view of everyone in attendance. Rumor has it that someone caught the attack on their cell phone, but I decided not to search for it out of respect for the victims of this terrible tragedy. And in a moment, you’ll know why the word “victims” is plural in the previous sentence.

A short time after Silva’s torture began, word got back to Abreu’s family that the young man made it to the hospital, but had been pronounced dead just before arriving there. This made a bad situation even worse and, in retaliation, members of the slain player’s family stoned Silva to death. I wish I could say that this was where this terrible situation ended, but sadly that was not the case.

Jordan Silva (courtesy of Facebook)

Abreu’s family then beheaded Silva, placed his head on a pike and dismembered his body… all in the middle of a crowded soccer stadium and with hundreds—if not thousands—of witnesses, some of whom even participated in this heinous act.

Needless to say, it was not very difficult for authorities to identify the suspects, most of whom were clearly visible on recovered footage from the fateful game. To date, at least one person has been arrested in connection with Silva’s murder and a number of others are being sought. None of this changes the fact that on this particular day, two people died for nothing more than a bad call on the pitch.

Ideally, sports allow us to exercise, develop skills, compete, play, interact with others, entertain ourselves, learn about sportsmanship and, when we’re fortunate enough, win. And for those of us who prefer not to participate regularly, there are always games we can watch online, on television or in our local communities. Being a spectator can sometimes be as entertaining as being a player, believe me.

The problem is that some people obviously take sports far too seriously. I would be lying if I said that I never lost my temper because the Steelers fumbled on the goal line or the Yankees gave up the losing run in the bottom of the ninth inning. And yes, violence has erupted on occasion, which basically means that I smashed something of mine that I regretted an instant later.

What makes me different—what makes most of us different—is that I would never wait outside the stadium after a game in which an NFL referee made a bad call that cost the Steelers the game, assault the official as he left for home and murder him in cold blood. Even if he pulled a knife and stabbed one of my favorite players on the field—better yet, one of my family members—my first instinct would not be to kill him… much less to kill, behead and dismember him.

Honestly, it’s hard for me to understand what could motivate someone to commit a crime as gruesome as the one in Brazil last week. I understand that what Silva did was horrifying, and no one would expect a referee to be carrying a knife—doesn’t anyone search these people? And I definitely understand revenge. If someone killed one of my loved ones like that, I would undoubtedly fill with rage and want to strangle the life out of them with my bare hands. I just wouldn’t. If anything, I would be in the ambulance hoping that my loved one survived the deadly attack. But if they died—and even if I wanted to go back and murder the referee—I simply wouldn’t. Hell, the authorities would have the attacker in custody by then anyway.

Don’t forget what soccer is all about (courtesy of Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images AsiaPac)

I don’t know what it is about sports that seems to bring out the worst in people. And no one has ever been worse than the individuals who butchered Silva, even if he deserved to be punished for murdering Abreu. The combination of passion, anger, sorrow and loss must blend with the crowd mentality to provide the spark, but there is obviously much more to it. Otherwise, nearly every sporting event would end in tragedy. In this case, security was definitely a factor since proper screening would have prevented Silva from even having a knife in the first place. Granted, security would not have helped those referees in Utah and the Netherlands—both of whom died at the bare hands of others—but it could have saved these guys.

Sadly, none of this can explain what happened in Brazil, and I won’t even bother to try. It may always be a mystery to me since—to paraphrase The Shadow—no one knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. What I do know, however, is this: soccer, football or whatever you want to call it is A GAME. Life will not end just because your team lost in a tie-breaker, your star player suffered a crippling injury or some referee made a bad call. If you get carded unfairly, bitch and moan with your team and accept that fact that sometimes, things just don’t go your way. Those are the breaks, people. Don’t ruin sports with bad behavior, hooliganism and violence—dismemberment included—because you win some and you lose some. Without losers, there could never be winners.

Have I used enough sports clichés, because I have a nearly endless supply over here?

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