Thursday, September 29, 2016

Gun Rights and Black Lives Matter

I do not claim to be an expert on either of the topics I'm about to discuss. I don't have any sort of personal experience with guns, though I definitely don't like them. I don't intend on ever owning a gun, which as I understand it is a right afforded to me by the Constitution, just as it would be my right to own one if I chose.

I also don't really have any expertise when it comes to race relations. I'm a white guy from the suburbs. I haven't had many non-white friends, and even my non-white friends have basically been "White" guys. I worked in a liquor store in Prince George's County for a while, that's about the extent of my immersion in black culture. See, I don't even know enough about black culture to know whether or not I'm supposed to capitalize "black." If I'm supposed to, let me know and I'll try to update my thinking.

Anywho, this blog post isn't truly about gun rights or Black Lives Matter, at least not separately. From reading a lot of posts on the topics over the past few weeks and months, I found myself constantly pondering the whole American environment, and I had what for me qualifies as an epiphany.

There's a way of looking at the two subjects that intertwines them heavily, and when it does, it makes me believe that gun rights advocates should support Black Lives Matter, and vice versa.

Let me walk you through my thought process.

The first factor here is the argument innate to any gun rights advocate, that the possession of firearms is vital to the preservation of a democratic society. When civilians don't have guns (or more basically, the ability to deny oppression), the state can oppress them. Civilians need guns in order to keep politicians in check.

Not really my personal opinion, but that's the stance.

Now, from the dozens of articles I've read about firsthand experiences by black people with police officers, the over-arching sentiment seems to be that police officers are to be obeyed without question, particularly by people of color. I've always felt the same way, having grown up with a police officer in the family, but the tone is very different from my growing-up experience.

Basically, if you're a black person, you listen to the cops or you die. Strong words, but the sentiment across the country is that it's true.

Now, police officers are the most direct (and sometimes only) contact we'll ever have with the state. Most of us don't interact with senators or governors or the FBI. So what we're talking about here is the representative of the state demanding compliance or death. Or at least, that's the perception. Again, I'm not talking about my personal experience, I'm just talking about the articles I've read.

So, wouldn't it make sense for gun activists to rally around Black Lives Matter? You would think that they would say, "You see? This is a group of disenfranchised people who are being heavily oppressed by our government. They are the evidence that our civil liberties have been taken away with gun control, and we need to make sure everyone who wants a weapon to protect him- or herself from the government can acquire and carry one without harassment."

And similarly, people who support the Black Lives Matter movement should be able to look at gun advocates and say, "Yes, exactly, we need to be suspicious of government representatives who demand obedience. We need to make sure that we the people retain the full breadth of our power to dictate terms with our government."

I haven't seen either group reach out to the other, and I haven't seen anyone make this same connection between the two camps. Is this the solution to the problems that face our world today? No. There isn't a solution. If there's a way to reliably avoid the tragedies we've encountered recently, it's not one single tactic or answer. It's a bunch of different stuff, things that will take a long time and a lot of effort.

And it's just as likely that there's no way to avoid it at all. With as many people as are in the United States, there are inevitably going to be some bad people, and some mistakes, and some unlucky circumstances. Smartphones and the Internet have made all of this content available to the world in an instant. My sense is that we're stuck with social judgment for the foreseeable future. So behave.

Literally everybody is watching.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Western Conference

Yesterday I went through the Eastern Conference matchups, declaring my apparent love for Florida-based teams. Today's topic: California love.

CENTRAL DIVISION

(1) Dallas Stars vs. (WC) Minnesota Wild

Who would've guessed that this year would give us the battle for the legacy of the Minnesota North Stars? Well, it's not really that big a deal, nor is it that odd an occurrence, so I probably won't mention it again, but I'm sure other people will.

The Stars are an offensive juggernaut that's been playing a more effective defensive game recently. The Wild are also a playoff team. While Minnesota has had a nice run to get into the playoffs, they're still a whole tier below Dallas and the other Central Division teams. I'll still give the Wild a shot because of the way they've played in high-leverage games this year, but I would say this is the series I'm least hopeful of going 6 or 7 games.

Pick: Dallas

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (3) Chicago Blackhawks

If you've been paying attention to the Blues recently, you know that this group has come up short in a big way in recent years. And if you've been paying attention to the Blackhawks recently, you know that they've been accumulating championship hardware on the regular. So who in their right mind would pick the Blues to come out on top this series?

Well, I don't know if I'm necessarily "in my right mind," but I'm picking the Blues. The way Tarasenko has exploded this season has been incredible, and the Blues (when healthy) might have the best top 10 (top two forward lines, top two defensive pairings) in hockey. When their best players are on the ice, not many teams can match up.

Chicago is obviously strong as well, and they paid a tall price in future draft picks to shore up their forward depth. But future draft picks don't play in the playoffs, so the 'Hawks are in decent shape. This series should probably go seven games, and I'd venture to say this will be one of the best series in recent memory.

Pick: St. Louis

PACIFIC DIVISION

(1) Anaheim Ducks vs. (WC) Nashville Predators

I think this is a tough matchup for the Ducks. They're a big, bruising team that makes you work for every inch, but Nashville is one of the few teams that can match that physicality and intensity. I think it's going to be a closely competed series, but I think it might be a little frustrating to watch. The rink is going to seem awfully small.

This entire series is going to come down to Pekka Rinne's performance. Yes, I just provided the most obvious analysis possible: goaltending will be important. But Rinne has had such an up-and-down season, the Predators' fate will be closely tied to his ability to steady the ship.

In the end, I'll take the hotter team, and the team with Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf, guys who have been dominating the ice for the better part of a decade.

Pick: Anaheim

(2) Los Angeles Kings vs. (3) San Jose Sharks

While some other series have history, there's something about Kings/Sharks that has another level of mystique. And by "mystique," I mean straight up loathing.

Kings fans hate the Sharks, but that's nothing when compared to the vitriol that Sharks fans feel for the Kings. If there's a team out there that has the same consistent feelings of disappointment as my Capitals (at least in recent years), it's the Sharks. And the Kings have been the focus of their frustration.

But all that buildup only matters to commentators. Once these two teams get onto the ice, it's going to be a hockey series just like any other. When looking at the rosters, the Kings have a slight edge at the top with all-world players like Doughty and Kopitar. I'd give the Sharks an edge in depth, particularly among the forward group. Overall, they're evenly matched.

Ninety-nine percent of the time, when things are even, you go with the team that has the better intangibles. Coaching, playoff experience, home ice, etc. All of that stuff favors the Kings...

...so, naturally, I'm going with the Sharks. While there's no historical proof in favor of this thought (and in fact, there may be proof against it), I think the Sharks are due for a turnaround. It's purely an emotional choice, but I'm pulling for Jumbo Joe Thornton.

Pick: San Jose

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 NHL Playoff Preview - Eastern Conference

I'm hopeful that I'll be able to coordinate a playoff preview podcast before the games start, but in case I'm not, I wanted to make sure that my loudmouthed opinions get out into the world before I have a chance to pretend I didn't think them.

So, here are my takes on each of the Eastern Conference matchups. My Western Conference matchup evaluations will be coming tomorrow. I used to include the number of games as part of my predictions, but nobody cares about that. Right or wrong, that's all that matters.

METROPOLITAN DIVISION

(1) Washington Capitals vs. (WC) Philadelphia Flyers

At the beginning of 2016, I would not have guessed that the Flyers would be the Caps' first round opponent. They've heated up over the last couple months, and managed to oust the Boston Bruins from the playoffs. I had said nice things about Boston, so of course they collapsed and will watch the playoffs from home.

Luckily, I haven't said anything nice about the Capitals, so we should be in good shape.

But seriously folks, this should be an entertaining series. The Caps have been on coast mode for about six weeks, and only on Saturday did they seem to turn the energy back up at all. I think the schedulers helped them out a little bit though, as they finished with games against Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Anaheim. All three of those teams have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations, so it was a good opportunity for Washington to test themselves against the very best.

This series is going to come down to how well the Caps are able to negate Philadelphia's incredible top line of Giroux, Simmonds, and Voracek (assuming Philly keeps them together). That line gave everyone in the NHL problems this year, but with how lean the rest of their forwards are, it'll be interesting to see if Dave Hakstol elects to split up his best guys to try to match the Capitals' depth. If he did, I think the Caps would win in five, but I think he'll make the right call. Philly will likely give Washington all they can handle, but a Presidents' Cup winning Caps team won't get upended in the first round twice in the same decade...right?

Pick: Washington

(2) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (3) New York Rangers

This is absolutely going to be the series to watch. The Penguins are the hottest team in the NHL, cruising into the playoffs on a forty-six-game winning streak. Okay not exactly, but they're rolling. The offense is running on all cylinders, and it looks like they'll get Malkin back before too long. The one thing that could be a problem for Pittsburgh is that both of their goalies have endured injuries over the past couple weeks. One or both might be available for game one, but one or both might also not be available for game one. Having to turn to a third-string goaltender in the playoffs isn't an ideal scenario.

That said, this might be a circumstance where that doesn't even matter. Sidney Crosby is once again playing like he's the best player in the world, the paper-thin defensive corps is somehow keeping up with the best forwards in the league, and the new coach seems to have everyone on the same page.

The Rangers, meanwhile, have Henrik Lundqvist.

Seriously, that's it. Could be enough. But I'll take the team over the goalie, this time.

Pick: Pittsburgh

ATLANTIC DIVISION

(1) Florida Panthers vs. (WC) New York Islanders

In a surprise to literally no one, the Islanders managed to lose their game on the last day of the season and will avoid Pittsburgh in the first round, instead facing the upstart Panthers. I can't say that I blame them; the Panthers look more beatable than the Penguins, though they do present their own set of challenges.

Florida's strength is in their energy, their youth, and a style of play that minimizes quality opportunities against Roberto Luongo. The Islanders' strength is...I actually have no idea what the Islanders' strength is. John Tavares would be one, I suppose; he's probably the best player that nobody talks about. But as far as what makes this team dangerous, I'm not really sure.

Florida, despite a minimal amount of playoff experience on the roster, should be able to squeak by the Islanders. I give New York a shot, because I give every hockey team a shot. But if Florida is able to stay healthy, I think they move on to the second round.

Pick: Florida

(2) Tampa Bay Lightning vs. (3) Detroit Red Wings

So Detroit managed to hang on to a playoff spot by the skin of their teeth, extending their string of playoff appearances to 25 consecutive seasons. The Lightning, while not boasting quite so long a streak, made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last season, and were a preseason favorite in the east.

This is actually a rematch of last year's first round series, but without any of the bluster of the Rangers/Penguins series. I don't think many people are giving Detroit much of a chance this time around, and that's probably appropriate. The Red Wings have some good players, but in the end, the Lightning are too strong all the way around, in spite of all these "injuries" people keep talking about.

Pick: Tampa Bay

Sunday, April 10, 2016

What Should I Write About?

It's been almost two weeks since my last blog post, and while that's not exactly a new phenomenon, it does signify a lull after I had been pretty prolific for several weeks. I've started a couple of posts, but they just didn't come together.

So, I thought maybe I'd open things up to you guys. What do you want me to write about? What subject do you feel has been getting the short end of the stick recently? What topic do you see pop up and find yourself immediately excited about what's in the article? Or, what have I never written about that you think I should?

Also, this is a tricky way for me to sneakily "make a blog post" without actually making a blog post. Muwahaha.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Final Fantasy + Magic The Gathering: A Coalescence of Nerditude

I subscribe to a subreddit called "/r/custommagic," a group that focuses on amateurs generating their own Magic cards, mechanics, ideas, and even entire sets. I have a lot of fun doing some of their regular activities, such as trying to create a card just from artwork, or creating a mechanic to reflect some aspect of a movie, TV show, or video game.

Anyways, I made a passing comment in one thread about Final Fantasy X, and suggested that one of my fellow Redditors could make a whole set using that game world as a basis. He said something along the lines of, "If you think it's such a good idea, why don't you make it?"

And so, here we are.

I'm embarking on an effort to capture the essence of Final Fantasy X in a Magic set. This means developing 3-6 mechanics, a few tribal features, and one or more over-arching themes, all through the creation of about 240 Magic cards. It's a pretty substantial undertaking, but it's not altogether new for me. You may remember that I assembled a Magic set based on the worlds and characters in the first two Mega Man games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It was a massive effort, but it was incredibly fun and rewarding, so I'm excited to try my hand at it again.

Assuming that anyone who's gotten this deep into the post has some level of interest and/or understanding of Final Fantasy X and/or Magic, let's get into the specifics. Here are the aspects of Final Fantasy X that I want to try to capture in some manner, and, if I have any, some of my initial thoughts on how to convey them.

IF YOU HAVE FEEDBACK OR IDEAS, TELL ME.

Summoners & Aeons

At the heart of the story in Final Fantasy X is the battle between Spira's summoners and Sin. In a general sense, I want to make sure that summoners and aeons are broadly represented in the set; I plan on including Yuna and Yunalesca, of course, but also Belgemine, Dona, and Isaru, though probably in non-specific forms, so that I don't have to represent them with Legendary status.

As far as aeons go, there are a couple of aspects that I wonder about. First, aeons don't ever exist in the game without being summoned. So should aeons only be available if you control a summoner? Additionally, if your opponent has summoned an aeon, you cannot summon the same aeon. I'm not sure how to handle that; Magic's updated Legendary rules allow for two instances of the same singular character, so I don't think I'll try to re-complicate things by bringing that confusion back.

Sending Fiends

That's fiends, not friends. The creation of enemies throughout Spira relies on regular folks being "unsent"; that is, not being provided with a postmortem ceremony to control the magical essence that is release when a person dies. Within the realm of Magic, I'm thinking that this could be captured by having creatures with death triggers.

The two possibilities I can think of are:
  1. grant a Fiend token or tokens to an opponent when your creature dies, or
  2. do the same thing, but allow the prevention of it if you pay some amount of mana when your creature dies, to "send" it.
Flexibility

The main character progression feature of Final Fantasy X was the sphere grid. Using the grid, you could give any character any set of spells or abilities, with enough time and energy. Kimahri was the main beneficiary of this, in that you chose very early in his progression which of four directions he would progress.

The initial way I've been thinking that I might capture this facet of the game is by using hybrid mana in this set. For those unfamiliar, when a card has a hybrid mana symbol, you can use one of two different kinds of mana in order to cast spells or summon creatures. There's also three-color hybrid mana and colored/double colorless hybrid mana, but I have very little personal experience with those features. I'm not necessarily married to this idea, but it does incorporate the concept of flexibility, which is one of my goals for this set.

There are other things I want to figure out. The Al Bhed's contraptions (or "machina") should have a presence, as should the four main magic elements from the game (fire, blizzard, water, thunder). The standard races will be replaced by Ronso, Guado, Al Bhed, etc. I'd like to find a way to mention blitzball if I can. And of course, capturing the essence of Sin is going to be a considerable challenge.

Your feedback is great, and any comments will go straight into the brain bank for processing. In the meantime, I'll be watching some cutscenes and working on getting all the screenshots I'll need to get it done.

Monday, March 21, 2016

A Donald Trump Rally "Speech"

On my way to work this weekend, I was listening to the radio and I managed to catch most of one of Donald Trump's speeches to voters in Arizona. It was an interesting experience. Without delving into my personal politics too much, and while trying to avoid using biased terminology or tone, here are some of my takeaways.

Anything Worth Saying Once...

Donald Trump repeats himself constantly. And I don't mean that he circles around and hammers home a point he had made earlier in his remarks. I mean that literally he says something (like "the media lies"), and then immediately says it again (verbatim, "the media lies" again).

At first I thought it was just a nuance about the way he talks, but I think it's at least somewhat intentional. Trump is an accomplished salesman; in fact, I've heard him described as someone who's "always trying to sell you on something." Right now, he's trying to sell himself. Part of that is hammering home his strongest points, and another part is making sure that he sets himself up to be as quotable as possible. Two different instances of the same message gives two chances to find the best quote. You can disagree with his politics or dislike him as a person, but Trump is an extremely skilled seller.

Fear...But Also Safety

Trump has appropriately been lambasted for his repeated exploitation of the fears of many people about terrorism, about illegal immigrants, and about crime. But it's not just that he's reminding people about tragedies that have occurred; he's telling us that he can prevent them from ever happening again.

Obviously he doesn't have this capability, and again, I think he's probably aware that his "solutions" aren't going to be able to guarantee Americans' safety, regardless of his claims. But he's literally the only candidate in either party who's even proposed to have a way to address Americans' fears. He may be over-selling it, but everyone else has missed the opportunity to sell themselves as a protector in this time of uncertainty. As I said, I don't believe him, but he's smart to sell himself that way.

A Kind Word

Other candidates do this as well, but Trump goes out of his way to offer incredible compliments to his supporters. He also finds ways to phrase his brags as a form of complimenting his supporters. For example, he mentioned almost every state he's won through this primary season, totaling about a dozen times during the speech. But he fully implements the underdog mentality, the "us vs. them" line of thought, giving his supporters credit for "showing those stupid pundits how wrong they are."

When he says that the media is lying, he doesn't say "The media is lying about me." He says, "The media is lying about us." But "we're gonna show them, just like we've been showing them for months."

There's validity here again. Donald Trump is representing a group of people who have thus far been under-represented in government. They respond to his rhetoric, to the strength he conveys, and to his singularity in the history of American politics. We've never had a candidate like him (I assume; it's possible that James Buchanan was a real firecracker). He's funny, he's interesting, and he's got a powerful and recognizable personality.

Like I said, I hopefully left out any personal feelings I have towards Trump or any other candidate when writing this. There's no question that he's brought far more attention to the process than there's been in years past. I'm even considering paying for SiriusXM Radio, just to stay tuned in on my drives to and from work.

Trump has got me literally investing in the process. That's something.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Best Baltimore Orioles Team of My Time

The Baltimore Orioles are my favorite baseball team. For a long time, they were my favorite team in all of sports, as baseball was my favorite sport. Over the past ten years or so, hockey and the Washington Capitals have supplanted baseball and the Orioles, respectively, but both sit right there at number two. As a result, I have a pretty long memory of Orioles players, and opinions on most of them.

Historically, when I've debated the "best XYZ ever," the standard has been to span all of history in order to find potential selections. Best home run hitter? Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron were always in the mix. Best basketball center? Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain find their ways into most lists. And deservedly so; all of those players had remarkable careers.

The thing is, I never saw them play. So I can reflect on their statistics and read articles about them and hear anecdotes about how dominant they were, but those aren't my stories. I have no firsthand experience with their play. And the reality is, sports are all about our personal connections to the games. I can talk all day and night about how good Walter Payton and Bobby Hull were, but there won't be any mustard behind it. Just as, if my nephew ever tries to talk about Frank Thomas or Larry Bird, there won't be any personal nature to it.

Therefore, what I like doing is proposing not to talk about the greatest XYZ of all-time, but to talk about the greatest XYZ of MY time. So, in a sort of tandem effort to go along with my recent podcast about the Orioles in 2016, I'm going to present for you the greatest Orioles team of my time, position-by-position. Well, most positions. I'm not going to try to rack my brain for the best long reliever of the past 30 years...even though it's obviously Rodrigo Lopez.

Here we go.

Catcher - Chris Hoiles
Hoiles was a middle-of-the-lineup masher for some good teams and some bad teams, all of them Orioles teams. He spent his entire ten-year career in Baltimore, and his 162-game average was 27 homers and 81 RBI. While he wasn't exceptional, he was a steady force for the Orioles for years and years.

First Base - Chris Davis
This choice was between Davis and Rafael Palmeiro. I went with Davis because, while Palmeiro was solid and productive, he was never the most important part of the team. Since 2012, Davis' bat has been crucial to the team's vault back into competitiveness. And while the metrics don't seem to bear it out, Davis' defense at first base has been surprisingly solid.

Second Base - Brian Roberts
I started coming up with this list of players while I was without Internet access for a week (yes, it was utterly miserable). After coming up with a starter list, I spoke with some friends and checked online to see who I was forgetting, and Roberts was the first of those guys. He's the Orioles' all-time leader in games played at second base, and he was a fixture at the top of Baltimore's lineup for the better part a decade. He might be an all-time Oriole; he's definitely the best 2B of my time.

Third Base - Melvin Mora
There's a case to be made for Manny Machado, even this early in his career, but as of today, Melvin Mora is my pick. He came over from the Mets in the Mike Bordick trade, and started out a super-utility player. After a couple years of filling in as needed, Mora developed into Mr. Reliable for the O's at third. He was a steady bat, contributing heavily to some of those competitive-but-still-not-very-good teams in the mid-2000s.

Shortstop - Cal Ripken, Jr.
I will not explain this. If you don't know why, I can't help you.

Left Field - Brady Anderson
Brady Anderson was a big part of the Orioles before I ever started paying attention to statistics, so it was kind of interesting to go back and look at his actual performance. One conspicuous aspect of Anderson's play is that he had a career on-base-percentage of .362. That's really, really good.

We'll always remember him as one of the more obvious beneficiaries of performance-enhancers (his 50 HR in 1996 were symptomatic of a culture of abuse), but the truth is that he was just a really great player for the Orioles. The only nuance was whether to pick him in left field or center field; I chose left field because center field had a better alternative.

Center Field - Adam Jones
The O's pulled off a pretty big theft in acquiring Jones, Chris Tillman, and George Sherrill for Erik Bedard in 2008. Bedard was a very good pitcher at the time (see below), but Jones and Tillman were both highly-touted prospects, and Sherrill was a serviceable bullpen arm. While Tillman's progress has been slow, Jones almost immediately became central to the Orioles' lineup. Jones's free-swinging ways are still a bit frustrating to watch, but his performance over the years more than makes up for the depressed on-base numbers.

Right Field - Nick Markakis
Markakis is a perfect example of a guy who shines on this type of list, but would never get consideration on an all-time list. He's a very good fielder and a high on-base guy, which slotted him in the leadoff spot for a good chunk of his time in Baltimore. He never produced at a high enough level to merit serious consideration for end-of-season awards, or even really as an All-Star, but he's one of the locals' favorites, and probably will be for years to come.

Starting Pitcher 1 - Mike Mussina
Starting Pitcher 2 - Erik Bedard
Starting Pitcher 3 - Wei-Yin Chen
Starting Pitcher 4 - Sidney Ponson
Starting Pitcher 5 - Scott Erickson
I sort of knew this before I started this exercise, but the Orioles' pitching has been pretty bad for a long time. Looking at that list up there, you're not finding many happy tales. Mussina is obviously the exception, a borderline Hall-of-Famer who won a ton of games for the Orioles and Yankees. After him, though, it gets pretty slim.

Bedard was solid for three years and spectacular for one. Chen was the most reliable pitcher on two playoff teams, so he gets that #3 nod. And Ponson and Erickson were both unexciting workhorses, the kind of pitcher the Orioles seem to target (welcome to the team, Yovani Gallardo!). If you want to talk about the Orioles, there's no need to mention much about the starting pitching.

Right-handed Reliever - Darren O'Day
Left-handed Reliever - B.J. Ryan
Closer - Gregg Olson
Despite their troubles in the starting rotation, the Orioles have actually had a fair share of dominant relievers. O'Day has had an ERA under 2.00 with the O's, with over a strikeout per inning. B.J. Ryan boasted incredible strikeout rates during his time with the O's. And Gregg Olson is the team's all-time leader in saves with 160. Perhaps that's why the O's have mostly invested in innings-eaters for their rotation; just get to the seventh and we're in good shape.

The Orioles of my lifetime don't boast many great players. Ripken was obviously huge, and Mussina could get some HOF votes (though I doubt enough to get in). But it's no surprise that they've had to scrap and claw for their few playoff opportunities in recent years. Hopefully Machado is ushering in a new era of competition for the O's...and let's keep snagging those ace relievers.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Top Five Wrestling Finishers

I got into a disagreement with my good friend James about the quality of a few different wrestling finishing moves, which prompted me to write this article. James, feel free to comment with your various counter-arguments, but I don't expect to be changing my opinion.

5. Figure Four Leg-Lock



I'm a guy who likes submission holds more than a lot of people do. I was a big fan of Dean Malenko's Texas Cloverleaf finisher, and I liked when Sting or Owen Hart hooked the Scorpion Deathlock/Sharpshooter. Not Bret Hart, that guy was a bum.

The Figure Four, though, was the best one. Part of it was that it was executed by Ric Flair, one of my favorite all-time wrestlers and one of the best villains in the game. Another part was that the two wrestlers involved could see each other's faces, talk trash, rake each other's eyes, etc. You've also got the ability to grab the ropes and "cheat" to get more pressure. It creates a ton of potential results, including, of course, a submission.

4. DDT



It says a lot that Jake the Snake Roberts managed to take a fairly common move and make it his own finisher. His execution of it was flawless. It's also one of those out-of-nowhere moves that I love (as you'll read); any time a match could be decided in the blink of an eye, your attention is heightened. I've watched probably a hundred matches of Jake's over the years, and plenty of them ended suddenly when Jake pulled off a DDT.

The same move has been twisted around a couple dozen times into various other finishers: Mick Foley's double-arm DDT, the Scorpion Death Drop, etc. But nobody does it quite like the Snake.

3. Clothesline from Hell


Ask any passive wrestling fan to name a few wrestling moves, and the first few they name will probably be (in no particular order): body slam, suplex, clothesline. There are plenty of suplexes that get used as finishers, but none that really sing as being noticeably better than other suplexes.

But when Bradshaw/JBL did his Clothesline from Hell...well, holy shit, it was good.

Something about Bradshaw's height, his body shape, and his execution just made the Clothesline from Hell a thing of beauty. It also worked great as a tag-team finisher, because his tag partners could always do something to set up a clothesline. It's great in that it's fast, it's super-violent, and it's easy to appreciate. I'm delighted that JBL had a run as a title-holder, so that everyone got to appreciate his finisher as much as I already did.

FYI, Luke Harper does a similar move in today's WWE, if you're interested.

2. Stone Cold Stunner


This move basically drove the entire Attitude Era of the WWF. The pop off of a Stunner was always great, but when someone like Vince McMahon or Bret Hart was on the receiving end, the crowd was electric. As with the DDT, the quickness of the move made it an amazing story-driver, not to mention a great finisher for long, back-and-forth matches. But when you add Stone Cold's character to the move, it's an incredible combo.

I do think, though, what made people enjoy it as much as anything was the fact that Stone Cold was always using the Stunner on Vince McMahon, his "boss." The WWF/E loved selling this point, and people ate it up.

1. Diamond Cutter/RKO








When I first really got into wrestling, Diamond Dallas Page was one of the biggest stars in WCW. The nWo had just really hit its stride, and DDP was a foil to all of their plans. This absolutely would not have worked without the Diamond Cutter. It's insanely fast, and takes zero time to set up. That instant explosion was the perfect counter to the nWo's swarming nature. Then, when Randy Orton came around and started using the RKO, I recognized it as what was already my favorite move. Surprise surprise, the rest of the world also appreciated it. Search YouTube for "RKO" and you'll see what I mean.

That's my list. I imagine I'll be fighting a lot of you on the figure-four, and I can appreciate that it's not for everybody. But it's unquestionably one of my favorites.

As for the other four? Well, I wouldn't understand anyone who doesn't like those moves.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The Podcast I've Always Wanted to Make

As (hopefully) all of you know by now, I've done a few episodes of what I'm calling The GoodPointJoe Podcast, a variety show where I talk about whatever I want to talk about. So far, that's been exclusively sports topics. That's not to say that sports are the only thing I care about; far from it, in fact. I would say that my attention to sports is, overall, at an all-time low (discounting those first few years when my sole concern with sports was that I was being dressed in Washington Redskins apparel).

But sports are incredibly easy to talk about at a moment's notice, because so much of it is based on opinion. Just this week I mentioned in a blog post how I had an opinion on someone else's opinion on some sports topics.

It's also much easier to find people who are willing to talk about sports for a few minutes for a podcast, and much easier to frame a conversation about sports. It's no surprise that sports and politics have countless podcasts available to listen to on iTunes.

But the reality is, that's not why I got into the podcast game. Before I even decided to make it an actual podcast, I set out to create a series of audio recordings offering advice on various Dungeons-and-Dragons-related topics. I've been DMing on and off for several years, and I love it. I love doing it, I love prepping for it, I love talking about it, I love it all. And I think there's still plenty of space available for DM advice and discussion on iTunes.

(I also think Dungeons and Dragons is in the midst of a great period of growth, but that's a topic for another article.)

For the past few months, I've been putting together outlines for podcasts on a variety of DM-related topics: adapting pre-made adventures, dealing with problem players, useful DM books and accessories, etc. They're all built to be solo shows, each running between 15 and 25 minutes. I've test-run a couple of them, and they're improving, but they're not ready yet.

Anyways, I wanted to give you an idea of what to look forward to with the podcast. While sports topics will always be part of the equation, there's more variety on the horizon. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Easy, Lambert

So two days after the NHL Trade Deadline, Ryan Lambert wrote this. He apparently disagreed heartily with the moves (or lack of moves) that many teams made last week. That's totally fair and totally his right; he's a sportswriter for Yahoo, which indicates that he's generally going to be more knowledgeable and more tuned-in than I am.

However, I disagree whole-heartedly with his execution.

Take a gander through most of Lambert's comments (at least up to #8 on his list) and I think you'll agree, they're pretty incendiary. Many of them are downright insulting. And while his tone obviously is intended to express the ferocity of his disagreement, there are ways to do that without burning the house down.

If you've got a short attention span, that's okay. Lambert led off with his most brutal salvo for Kris Russell. In the first paragraph of the story, he said "Russell is terrible," and "He was the worst defenseman on the Calgary Flames." Then in his section on Jim Benning, he calls the Canucks' GM "clueless" and "not a good GM."

Then he offers this priceless statement regarding the Colorado Avalanche GM, Joe Sakic:
This was a dumb deadline day for Sakic. Bye.
It was around this point that I realized that I was reading something special. I don't know if someone ran over Lambert's cat, or if his girlfriend dumped him, or he was just really hungover and angry about the lack of movement on deadline day, but this article was the sports equivalent of a takedown piece. He lined up whoever he felt like sniping and took a shot, all the way down the line.

Then he predictably lauded the Blackhawks, because the whole goddamn hockey world does that.

Well, so be it, that's what he wanted to do, and he did it. But doesn't it just tell you exactly why people hate the analytics community?

The whole idea of analytics vs. old school reporting is that traditional journalists have to foster relationships with players/coaches/team officials in order to do their jobs. Analytics proponents will argue that reporters will withhold information that teams might not want to get out in order to preserve/build a relationship with that team. That's a perfectly valid concern. However, there's another side to the coin: civility.

It's possible that all of Lambert's claims are valid, all of his concerns are legitimate, and all of his condemnations are justified. But it should come as no surprise to Lambert that the people he's annihilating in this article are, you know, people.

When he says, "good lord the lack of effort here is astonishing" about Jim Benning's failure to complete a deadline deal involving Dan Hamhuis or Radim Vrbata, that's not a difference of team-managing opinions. He's declaring nothing less than his opinion that Benning is being negligent in his duties as general manager. He's not just saying that Benning is bad at his job; he's saying that Benning isn't doing his job.

That's beyond rude. I don't know what's three steps up from rude, but that's what it is.

What's perhaps most frustrating is that he even takes the time to acknowledge the potential reasons for a lack of a deal. He mentions the no-movement clauses in play, and that the word is that Vrbata wouldn't approve a deal to any team that approached Vancouver about a deal. Lambert shows that he understands that there are nuances, and then says, "I don't care."

I don't know Ryan Lambert's life. I don't know what he does outside of writing for Puck Daddy. But I can say this with confidence: If he finds himself in a situation where he's looking for another job in the hockey world, or even just any job where you have to deal with people in other organizations, this article isn't going to do him any favors.

I agree with Jeff Marek's assessment that there's an opening for a new star in the hockey journalism world, for an analytics expert who can speak plainly and intelligently about advanced metrics. But whoever that person is, they're going to have to interact with players and hockey professionals on a regular basis. Being rude and dismissive of half the league won't fly.

I doubt Lambert was seeking that kind of position, but he sure as shit isn't going to be getting it now.

PS: I strongly disagree with his comments about the Bruins' moves, but I think a big part of that is based on my opinion that their moves pushed them into a position where they can compete to make the conference finals. So I really just disagree on a purely predictive level, which isn't what this post is about. But seriously, watch out for the Bruins.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Podcast Progress Report

Because I assume you expect and enjoy regular updates from me regarding my podcasting adventures (or because I myself find these little debriefings useful), here's another update of what's been going on recently with The GoodPointJoe Podcast.

I lost power for a night, and internet for almost a week.

Having the occasional storm knock out power and/or internet access isn't outrageous. I can usually keep myself entertained for a few hours, maybe even a day. On the first night without power, I played some Pokemon Pinball (Ruby and Sapphire version) played a couple of phone games, and went to bed early. When I woke up and we still didn't have internet, that was a concern. When I found out our neighbors' internet access had been restored...it was time to contact Verizon.

Several days later (I have nothing kind to say about Verizon's speed of assistance), I finally got my internet back up. In the meantime, with limited internet access at work and at a couple friends' houses, I managed to work on a couple of blog posts, and get one fully posted.

Solo Podcasting

Additionally, while meeting up online and recording podcasts with other people was off the table, solo podcasts don't require me to be online at all. So, I recorded two of them. One was the one you (hopefully) heard regarding the NHL trade deadline. The other was a rough draft of what would've been my first gaming-related podcast.

Solo podcasting is a serious challenge. The first time I tried to put one together, it was almost unbearable. I had a bit of a cold at the time, but even without a cold, it takes a ton of discipline to keep your breath steady and make sure that if you're going to do something problematic like cough or sneeze or something, you leave some lag time on each side of it to make the post-production editing possible.

Overall, the solo NHL trade deadline podcast came out alright, although the content really doesn't lend itself to a solo endeavor. Spoiler alert though: the gaming one came out much better as far as my speaking tone. I still have to re-record it to get the content perfect, but I'm optimistic that when it's completed and posted, you're going to enjoy it.

I mean, assuming you like Dungeons and Dragons.

Gaming Podcasts

I've had a whale of a time trying to frame a gaming podcast topic to be doable solo. I listen to The Geek's Guide to the Galaxy, and they manage to cover gaming (and other nerdy topics) by using a panel discussion, with 3-4 people in on it. That kind of setup is preferable, because it lets you ask questions to other people, talk about your differing experiences, and relate information you might not have known. But for a solo podcast, the challenge is to try to make a discussion into a presentation, and that's a lot more difficult.

The reality is, I don't think it's worth it to try to force it to happen. My one planned series of Dungeon Master advice podcasts will function properly as a solo endeavor, and for any other gaming-related topics, I'll just wait until I can get at least one other zealot to join me. It's not like games are going anywhere.

Other Media

I've also been of the mind that I'd like to partner my efforts in podcasting with a more robust online presence overall. As you've probably noticed, I've returned to my semi-regular blogging schedule, trying to post a couple times per week. I've nudged my Twitter activity up a little bit, though I want to make sure that's organic and not forced. Furthermore, I'm also hoping (against all odds) to find a way to get back to streaming on my Twitch channel somewhat regularly.

My hope is to start to establish connections with you guys to where we can communicate on a regular basis. And if I'm living the dream a little bit, I'd like to be able to draw on you guys for questions, answers, and discussion, specifically with regards to potential future podcasts. I'd love to be able to do mailbag episodes at some point. But that's down the line.

Well, that's more than a little information in a stream-of-consciousness kind of format. I'll keep doing these things because I like doing a little personal inventory about what I'm up to. Hopefully you enjoy them, too.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Bottom Five WWF/WWE Entrance Themes

After doing my whole article on the best entrance themes, I decided that all that time spent researching should go towards at least one other blog post. And, because there have been some really unexceptional entrance themes in the history of wrestling, this was the most logical second effort.

As I mentioned in the top five post, WCW had a plethora of bad entrance themes. But that organization's general weakness helped to prevent any of their themes to be noticeably worse than the others. So while I don't think much of Ric Flair's or Glacier's or Dean Malenko's theme, they weren't conspicuously worse than the other themes you'd hear while watching Monday Nitro.

The WWF/WWE, however, has had some great themes, and by contrast, some really, really bad ones. Here are the five that in my experience have stood out as just terrible.

Honorable Mention: Right to Censor

I'm not going to put up a link to this "song" because A) it's miserable, and B) it's not really a song. It's just a bunch of alarms. It made sense thematically, but it was just brutal to listen to. I don't know who signed off on playing that 1-2 times a night, but they should've been fired.


5. The Shield/Roman Reigns



The Shield's version is slightly less appealing, but they're essentially the same song. The song has no rhythm, no excitement, and no flavor at all. Reigns also still has the gimmick of coming to the ring through the crowd, which is equally stupid. It wasn't cool when it was The Sandman, it wasn't cool when it was Raven and the Flock, it's just not an interesting move. In today's wrestling world, we should be able to demand a higher standard of quality when it comes to entrance music. It's not offensive, but it's bad.

4. Earthquake



I wouldn't have even thought that this was truly a "song," but when I check out the WWE soundtracks on Spotify, right there is Earthquake. It's basically just a slow march with rumbles around it. Unexciting and just not good.

3. Edge



I don't know what was wrong with Edge's initial theme song where they felt they had to change it. It wasn't amazing, but it was solid, and most importantly, it didn't sound like noise garbage. I'm sure some other people enjoy this theme, just as I'm sure some people enjoy this kind of thrash metal, but I am not one of them.

2. Billy Gunn "Ass Man"



This was during the WWE's period of trying to push the envelope sexually, with the premiere of the Divas as a regular part of the show, Val Venis who apparently came to professional wrestling by way of hardcore pornography, and as the counter, the above-mentioned Right to Censor. Billy Gunn's gimmick was an odd twist on "Bad Ass" Billy Gunn where...well no actually, Gunn was basically the same, it was just a weird, ill-fitting song. The tune itself is boring, with a particularly irrelevant beginning. No pop at all.

1. Rey Mysterio



Mysterio's theme song sounds like a nine-year-old kid put it together. The opening, which in wrestling is perhaps the most important aspect, is just completely dorky and dumb. I don't even know if the rest of the song is that bad; the beginning just kills me. That Mysterio was as popular as he was for as long as he was is a testament to the excitement of his wrestling style; he accomplished it in spite of having a terrible, terrible song.

Monday, February 29, 2016

Top 10 WWF/WWE Entrance Themes: #5-#1

Last time, we covered #6-#10 on my list of all-time best wrestling entrances. Technically I didn't put WCW in the title, but that's because WCW never had any good music. That's not my fault; that's on them. I also didn't put TNA or ECW in the title, but I've never seen any of either of them, so I have no excitement at any of that music.

Anyways, less about what's not on the list, and more about what is on it. Here are my five favorite entrance themes of all time.

5. The British Bulldog


So I made a small concession from the "rules" I laid out at the beginning. Obviously Rule, Brittania! is not a song created especially for the WWE. However, I've been unable to find a version of the song that has as much pace and drum as the wrestling entrance song does. So, I'm denoting this song as unique, and allowing it on my list.

Which is good, because some of my strongest positive memories are from my younger days when the Bulldog was at his height. Maybe the best pop in WWE history was for the British Bulldog when he made his way down the aisle at Summerslam 1992 at Wembley Stadium. The song has a victorious, "good guy" tone, and when you're a kid watching wrestling, that's what you like.

4. The Million Dollar Man Ted Dibiase and Money, Inc.


The laugh at the beginning is absolutely priceless, and the fact that Dibiase "sings" his creedo over the music is brilliant. "Everybody's got a price!" The tune is good, and it's got that old wrestling feel to it, reminiscent a simpler time, when good guys were good guys and bad guys were bad guys.

My favorite tag team back in the day was the Natural Disasters, and they feuded heavily with Money Inc, so I learned to hate this song. Now that I'm grown and I can appreciate how great those villains were, I find the song delightful.

3. Triple H (The Game)


It's taken a long time for me to get into any of Triple H's music. First he had that prissy tea-drinking music, and that was obviously not much fun. He then moved to DX, and while that was a bit better, it still wasn't quite my style. He later used the "Cerebral Assassin" theme, which sounded odd and grating; obviously I wasn't a fan.

He finally landed on The Game, and a mere fifteen years into his professional wrestling career, I think he's finally found the right theme song. It's got a big pop (as you may remember, that's huge in my book), it's heavy, and it fits great as a soundtrack for a march to the ring. I watched this year's Royal Rumble, and seeing Triple H stomp towards the ring to this song had an epic feel to it.

2. John Cena



I actually missed most of the John Cena era in professional wrestling. The majority of my exposure to Cena and his music has been through YouTube, video games, and my occasional run through all previous Royal Rumbles on DailyMotion (this has happened more than once). But every time I've seen him make his entrance to this song, the pop in the crowd has been unbelievable. The opening builds great, and the song itself is great. The song actually kind of needs the crowd sounds surrounding it for full effect (which is why I chose the clip above), but it's awesome either way.

1. Hulk Hogan



It's pretty unfair that Hogan is at the top of this list, but the truth is the truth. There's never been a guy who consistently gets the level of pop at his music that Hogan does. He was the dominant figure in wrestling for 15 years, and every time his (WWF) music played, the crowd went crazy. It turns out he's a little bit crazy in real life, and maybe not the hero that he was in the ring, but he'll always be The Real American in our hearts and minds.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Top 10 WWF/WWE Entrance Themes: #10-#6

There are a few things in sports/entertainment that just seem like the coolest home-team experiences ever. Baseball has hitting a walk-off home run or striking out a guy to end the game. In football, returning a punt or kickoff for a touchdown is electric. An overtime goal in hockey makes the home crowd explode.

Professional wrestling has always tried to capture this feeling a couple times every week through two main methods. The first is through surprise wins like the small package or quick roll-ups. These are especially effective in title matches, and can be a launching pad for a great rivalry (see the entire career of the 1-2-3 Kid).

The other way is through judicious use of entrance themes. Some high-heat heels are outnumbering and pummeling a weaker opponent, and then a big-time face's entrance theme pops and he runs down the ramp and intervenes, to the delight of the fans.

The first type of moment relies on an interesting scenario and maybe a fun rivalry. But the second type only needs great music and a good wrestler. I've always loved a great entrance theme, and since I'm back blogging again, it's a great topic.

A couple of rules I set for myself:
  1. I eliminated songs that I recognized before they were entrance themes. This eliminates, for example, CM Punk's use of Cult of Personality (even though it was such a ridiculously awesome fit). This also bumps the Macho Man's Pomp and Circumstance from the list.
  2. I tried my best to set aside the quality of the wrestler. This wasn't totally possible, since some of that electricity comes from the crowd's reaction. But for example, The Rock's theme song is bland, so while the crowd loves him and cheers loudly upon hearing his music, his song won't be on this list either.
  3. It's a subjective list. Some people will tell you the DX theme is a must-have on the list. I just didn't like it much, so it's not here. This is truly "my" list, not an attempt at a universal "correct" list.

And now, the list.

10. Matt Hardy


I actually really like Matt Hardy's theme music, probably higher than my 10th favorite entrance theme. But my WWF-watching experience only included the very beginning of Matt Hardy's career. So my personal experience of watching matches and being excited about the sound of Hardy's music is pretty limited. But the song is boss, starts fast, and stays loud.

9. Undertaker (original)


There's something to be said about the classics. There have been some twists on the Undertaker's music over the year. I enjoyed the Ministry of Darkness style (though the random Latin or whatever was a little over-the-top). His biker music was less my thing. But the original is always great, a memory of a younger WWF. The bell tolling is still a wonderful interruption that serves as the pop you need out of an entrance theme.

8. Jeff Jarrett


Jeff Jarrett's music has that perfect balance of attitude, fun, and volume. As is the case with most of my favorite entrance songs, it starts hard and fast. Long buildups are dangerous, because you lose the pop when the guy comes running out to save a tag-team partner or interrupt an interview. Jarrett did just fine in both regards.

7. Chris Jericho (Y2J)


I'll be honest, I wasn't the biggest Chris Jericho fan at the beginning. He feuded with Dean Malenko back in his WCW days, one of my favorite grapplers, and you weren't supposed to like him, so I didn't. He moved to the WWF and continued his cocky attitude, so I continued to dislike him. But with some time, and a couple of face/heel turns, I've come to appreciate Jericho's charisma immensely.

And now that I've got some distance from his younger days, I can really appreciate his entrance music. It's got such a head-bouncing beat that you can't help but appreciate it. And when they use the countdown, get outta here. That's half of the fun of the Royal Rumble, and you get it over and over when Jericho wrestles. Good stuff.

6. JBL


I've always been a fan of the theme songs that aren't just some rock song. JBL moved from a terrible song as a member of The Acolytes to an awesome deep country celebration that smacks of the old TV show Dallas. And if you've got any questions about JBL's validity as a heavyweight champion and not just a goofy placeholder, listen to that heat. Anybody the fans hate that much deserves the gold.

Initially I was going to include all ten on this post, but I've noticed that when a webpage loads a lot of embedded YouTube clips, it tends to suffer, sometimes substantially. So I'll do another post finishing out the rest of the top ten. Look for it soon!