As I’d mentioned previously, J and I have been spending more of our time basking in the flourescent glow of the Xbox 360 – thanks mostly to a recent partnership between Microsoft and Netflix that allows XboxLive Gold members to stream available videos through their television sets.

David BrentAlong with the myriad of films available through this service, there are several television series also available. Making the mistake of mentioning that I’d like to give NBCs ‘the Office’ a second chance, I am now finding that entire evenings are disappearing as J and I huddle together on the couch watching Steve Carell play the part of Michael Scott, manager extraordinaire.

I’d been a big fan of the original British ‘Office’ series for a couple of years when I first heard that the American networks were pushing to release a new incarnation of the show. At the time, I had a sneaking suspicion that the dried humor of the original series would have trouble translating successfully on American television.
And, after seeing the pilot episode of the American version, I knew I was right.

Michael ScottThe first episode of the American show attempted to mirror, word for word, the first episode from the original. After developing a real personal take on each of the characters from the British series, it appeared that NBC was about to butcher everything that I’d come to love about the show.

Now, years later, I’ve given it a second chance and I’m quite glad that I did.

Michael Scott will never be David Brent, just like Steve Carell will never be Ricky Gervais. However, excluding the original pilot episodes, both of the shows appear to have grown entirely independent of each other. Sure, the truly awkward posturing that made the British version such a strong hit didn’t translate all that well on our side of the pond, but that’s not to suggest that the atmosphere of the American series isn’t entertaining. The ongoing relationship between Jim and Pam definitely doesn’t have the same punch to it that the relationship between Tim and Dawn might’ve had, but it’s interesting to see what it could have become.

All that to simply say that if there are any other stubborn elitists out there that might’ve missed the boat with this series like I did, I’d definitely suggest you give it a shot. It’s got all the usual handicaps that come with any American broadcast show, but to come up with something as genuinely funny as this under those constraints is a marvel – and NBC has pulled it off.

After sacrificing my savings account and showering its innards all over the folks at TigerDirect.com, I spent Tuesday morning of last week deeply torn between two of my guiltiest pleasures: computer hardware and politics.

Sitting there in my sweatpants on the couch, my palms were damp with sweat.  In one hand I held the television remote, diligently flipping through the inauguration coverage.  In the other I held a small box containing the computer processor that will define my digital landscape for the next three or four years.
You can imagine the kind of strain this might put on a man.

As I recall, while I attempted to secure the motherboard to the inside of the computer case I became a little nautious.  Looking back, I’m not sure if this was because of my concern that I’d screwed the thing in too tight or if it was because of the girlish squeals coming from the MSNBC moderators as they abandoned any hope I ever had of them providing objective coverage of the administration in the next four years.

By the time that Barack Obama was officially sworn in, I had my brand new black computer tower pieced back together – standing triumphant and proud atop the living room coffee table.  Talk about ‘change you can believe in.’

In the meantime, I have yet to take down my Christmas tree, classes have started again, my dog needs a walk, and I’ve been too busy enjoying Fallout 3 on my computer to make any updates recently. I’m suddently realizing that I need to readjust my priorities. Now.

For what it’s worth, that means I’m hoping to spend more time posting here again. Yes, I’m aware that I say that every time. And, yes, I never follow-up on it. But with all the optimism floating around out there these days, I figured I might as well say SOMETHING, right?

Well, my desktop computer has finally lost her will to live. After five years of loyal service since I first pieced her together on the floor of my dorm room in Southern Virginia, she’s now drifted off into the technological ether.

Unfortunately, this means that the sudden upswing in writing action this blog has seen may be slightly diminished in the near future. But fear not, I’m already plotting the build for my next technological monstrosity.

For now, this office laptop is going to be the only means through which any of my drivel can see the light of day. Count yourselves lucky, for now.

In light of the Christmas holiday, my brother got me an annual Xbox Live Gold Membership. For those of you unfamiliar with the soul-sucking power of console gaming, the main selling point of an Xbox Live Gold Membership is that you are granted the freedom to play video games with friends and family over the internet from the comfort of your living room.

And, thanks to a recent partnership between Microsoft and Netflix, it also allows users to stream available movies from their Netflix queue.

Sadly, I’ve yet to really engage in any first-person battles with any of my friends on the Xbox network – but my girlfriend, J, and I have been burning through our Netflix queue faster than our network can handle the bandwidth required to maintain the connection. Granted, not all Netflix films are available for streaming (due, I imagine, to copyright restrictions and whatnot), so we’ve been doing some extra digging through the Netflix library to find media that can be streamed.
And, for whatever reason, there seems to be an abundance of documentaries available for streaming.

Personally, I’d never really considered the possibility of voluntarily devoting my time to the viewing of documentaries on a regular basis. A couple of selections from the Netflix streaming library have recently changed that, though.

Terry Jones - Musician, Narrator, GeniusFirst and foremost, J and I have been thoroughly enjoying Terry Jones’ ‘Medieval Lives.’ Each episode focuses on a different class of people who lived during the middle ages and how the historical reality differs from modern stereotypes of these social groups. Jones’ presentation of the subject matter is typically hilarious.

Really, not bad for a guy who used to sit nude at an organ on public television, eh?

A Fistful of QuartersAlso, I don’t think I could possibly do justice to the work of art that is ‘the King of Kong: Fistful of Quarters.’ This documentary is the perfect underdog story, though with quite a few twists. Regardless of what you’ve heard, if you haven’t seen this film yet, you need to. IMMEDIATELY.

Hell HouseLast but not least, J and I watched something of particular interest last night: ‘Hell House.’ Most of the time, I tend to be a little leery of films that focus in on Christians as a whole because they are never objective in their portrayals – often leaning heavily in one direction or the other (see: ‘Expelled‘ and ‘Jesus Camp‘). ‘Hell House,’ however, was different. Throughout the entire process of watching this piece, there was no narration and I never got the feeling that I was being shown a manipulated version of the events being documented.

For what it’s worth, I think that this entire experience has been pretty enriching for me. I’ll never make the mistake of marginalizing the empowerment that women saw following the black plague in fourteenth century Europe, nor will I ever go toe-to-toe with a man like Billy Mitchell. However, I don’t think I’ll ever be able to keep from laughing at people who start speaking in tongues.

And that, folks, is the best you’re going to get out of me tonight.

I arrived safely back on the West Coast only to discover that I’d brought with me some horrible third-world parasite that caused me to vomit half-digested food at velocities normally only appropriate for an industrial-strength sand blaster.  Most of my time since then has been spent between lounging on the couch watching History Channel specials featuring the Russian Empire and trying to catch up on all the ‘life’ that happened in my absence.
Sounds like fun, no?

So, I’ve resolved that 2009 is going to be a little more exciting for me than 2008 was. Granted, I watched the housing market tumble (taking the stock market with it), kicked off a new blog that I seem to have allowed to meander well beyond my original intended subject matter, saw an African American elected President, and was involved in the creation of the greatest music video ever produced – but where’s the real excitement?

In 2009, I plan on pushing my boundaries a little more. As cliche as that sounds when I read it back to myself, I’m going to post it anyway.
Now that’s what I’d call ‘pushing boundaries.’

Santa ClausBeing that it’s Christmas Eve, it seems entirely appropriate for me to wish you a Merry Christmas – the few of you readers who might still be floating around out there in the internet shadows.

So, Merry Christmas to you and yours. May the booze flow freely enough to dilute your eggnog tonight and into tomorrow.I’m currently visiting family on the east coast and, therefore, can’t be bothered to come up with anything significantly entertaining for you to read. As such, I leave you with a link to an entry on the mental_floss Blog featuring 8 Truly Strange Christmas Customs.
My favorite?

Another Catalonian tradition is the Caganer, a Christmas statue found in nativity scenes in Andorra and parts of Spain, Italy, and Portugal. The scenes depict the entire town of Bethlehem, and the Caganer is usually tucked away in a corner, far from Mary and Joseph. The Caganer needs privacy, because he is defecating. There are quite a few explanations for this custom, but none have been confirmed as the original source. Caganers have been used for at least a couple hundred years.

American Elf - Freedumb Rock

(image credit: James Kochalka / AmericanElf.com)

James Kochalka is a genius.

I don’t remember what vortex of good luck and happy endings I must’ve walked into last week, but the discovery of his diary comic over at AmericanElf.com makes me feel better about the future of the entire human race.

Yes, where I once saw the world as hopelessly flawed by the evolution of so wretched a creature as humankind, I now realize that there could be nothing more beautiful than the work of a flawed madman with comic flare.

If this doesn’t make sense to you, I’d suggest that you take a gander at his work. It gives you the same warm-fuzzies that past generations experienced with comics like Family Circus and Ziggy.
Only instead of cliches about love and life, it’s filled with punk rock.

Got it?  Good.  You’ll forgive me for the short post, but I’ve got to get back to his website and catch up with the last ten years of diary comics that I’ve so carelessly missed.

If you’re anything like me, you probably spend most of your spare time contemplating various measures you could take to deal with a trained assassin hired to hunt you down and kill you.

arooaroo / Flickr)

(photo credit: arooaroo / Flickr)

While there was a lot of talk lately about the average blue collar guy readily associating with the ‘Joe the Plumber’ image, folks like me identify much more closely with ‘Joe Could-I-Kill-A-Hitman-With-Items-Off-The-Shelf-At-Target-If-I-Had-To.’
You know…just in case.

Often I had wondered if I was alone in my musings, if my family life was just skewed when I was growing up. Evidence of this possibility worried me greatly. As a child, my little brother had once written down his rules for becoming an assassin – he hid the list in his room and, when my parents found it, they thought little of it:

  1. Kill people.
  2. Get paid to kill people.
  3. Don’t get caught.

Could it be that his three simple rules for a life of cloak-and-dagger business somehow affected my development? Was our upbringing the source of our apparently shared obsession with a world so foreign to everyone else around us?

For years I wondered if that could be it – I was simply developmentally inclined to prepare myself for the likely possibility of a hired killer on my trail moreso than everyone else. Little did I know that the prospect of just such an unfortunate situation wasn’t isolated to me and my kin.

I stumbled across an article about something called ‘StreetWars‘ back in September and that’s when everything changed.

He had been sneaking around like a noir hero for two and a half weeks, finding new and shadowy exits to his regular places. He was tired from lack of sleep, and while it was early yet, he was looking forward to a stiff cocktail when he got upstairs.

But first he had to get there alive.

StreetWars, as far as I can tell, is an alternative-reality game that starts off with a gathering of would-be assassins armed with squirtguns. All parties involved provide various personal details about themselves that will then be used to track them down during the game. A different target is assigned to each player who then, upon squirting or getting squirted, is passed on to the successful ‘killer.’

This goes on until there’s only one successful assassin left.

To me, this appears to be a brilliant opportunity for me to test my ninja-proofing that I’ve been so diligently attending to over the years. Unfortunately, it appears to only take place in large cities – not sprawling suburban nightmares like Orange County California.

Sadly, until the shadow government that runs this StreetWars affair sees the full potential in suburbanite hatchetmen like myself, I suppose I’ll just have to keep practicing my defensive moves in the kitchen aisle of my local Target.

I haven’t got much to write about today because I don’t want to overstate myself on all things political, yet it seems that all of my thoughts are focused on the election and the circumstances surrounding it.

Throughout all the campaigning being done, I always knew that I’d be avoiding submitting a vote for McCain, just based on my personal convictions about the man.  What I didn’t count on was being so unimpressed with his opponent.

When it came time for me to pull the lever for Obama, I couldn’t really bring myself to do it.  Call it cowardice, but in those last few seconds I knew I didn’t want to have a vote for Obama on my conscience any more than I did a McCain vote.  Instead, I went third party.

That being said, I’m going to leave you with a link to an excellent piece by Orson Scott Card.  Do yourself a favor and read the entire column – it’s relatively short, but to the point.  As for me, I find the last two paragraphs to be of particular import:

I don’t know how the election will come out, as I write this. But I do know that whoever wins, I’m prouder of my country than ever before, because a man with a black African-born father and a white American-born mother could seek and obtain a major party’s nomination, and run a campaign that was either victorious or very, very close to being so.

And no matter how it comes out, I’m not moving to Canada. I’ll be sticking around to keep on putting in my two cents’ worth — because that’s what you do in a democracy. When the votes — or the rules — go against you, you swallow hard and vow to work harder next time.

Last night I was up late writing several different drafts for what was supposed to be my commentary on the election taking place today. In the end, I couldn’t come up with anything that I felt did justice to the staggering failure that both candidates represent in the way of political selection.

squawkboxnoise.wordpress.com)

(credit: squawkboxnoise.wordpress.com)

Instead, I’ve decided to post this quick and dirty write up on why I think the Republican party deserves to lose this election. And, coming from a conservative-leaning independent voter like myself, I feel that I’m not alone in my criticisms.

After being forced to spend the last four years (!) of our lives watching a bunch of politicians vying for the title of ‘Not George Bush’ on the national stage, it’s important that some of us get the opportunity to vent our frustrations. Whether that venting involve flag burning, rioting in the streets, or writing blog posts that nobody is likely to read is up to you.
Personally, I’m considering all three options – starting with the last one first.

The first and foremost reason that Republicans deserve to see this election slip through their fingers is the evangelical vote that, lets face it, really just boils down to the single issue pro-life voter block. When evangelicals are the only ones bolstering a candidate as underwhelming as Mike Huckabee in the primaries, it speaks volumes to the level of commitment that this group has for the anti-abortion lobby.
It also illustrates exactly why a loser like John McCain was able to piece together the nomination for himself – despite other, much stronger, candidates.

Speaking of which, John McCain himself is another perfect example of how the Republican party is attempting to sabotage itself. This is a man who was vilified, and deservedly so, by the Republican base as being someone who pandered to the media and the left-wing. Yet, somehow, he still managed to pull in the full support of a Republican base that seems to have forgotten about ‘comprehensive immigration reform’ (read: amnesty), the McCain-Feingold Act, and his stance against supposed tax cuts ‘for the rich.’
How any conservatives anywhere could be excited about his nomination is a complete mystery to me.

And no listing of Republican failures in the 2008 election would be complete without mentioning McCain’s selection of Sarah Palin as a VP candidate.
Yes, she’s gorgeous. Yes, she is even better looking in those photos of her toting a machine gun, and what woman wouldn’t be? She’s proven, however, to be nothing short of disastrously inexperienced and unprepared – two main arguments against an Obama administration. Why McCain would prop up Palin as a running mate only to cripple his own criticism of the largest weaknesses in Obama’s campaign, I will never know.

Lastly, and one of the most disconcerting reasons that Republicans deserve to lose this race, is the mainstream media. Anyone who is unaware that most of the mainstream media is a left-leaning, well-oiled machine has been ignoring reality over the last twenty years. Despite that fact, Republicans have won election after election – an obvious counterpoint to the belief that the ‘liberal media elite’ are controlling the minds of the public. If, like me, you got tired of hearing all the conspiracy theories of voter intimidation, fraud, and poll hacking from people who were unhappy with Bush’s victory in 2004, just wait until we’re inundated with theories about how the media is to blame for McCain’s failures.

These four points are by no means the only reasons that Republicans, all things being equal, should see some massive karmic payback in this election. However, they are the big ones. Personally I’m of the opinion that, should Obama win, he’ll pull a Jimmy Carter and end up being voted out of the White House by 2012.
That is, unless the Republican party doesn’t learn its lesson and tries to run Palin. God help us all.

So, please, kick back and enjoy the coming economic downturn, terrorist threats, and low expectations on Capitol Hill. Regardless of who wins, we’re all in this together and will be happily blaming whatever party is voted into office for all of our future ills. I, for one, will be here with years worth of non-constructive criticism and enjoying every minute of it.