Category Archives: Opinion

Leaving a Legacy


As we age, our thoughts often drift to hopes of leaving the Earth a better place than we have found it—wistful dreams of establishing a legacy that cements our place in the masonry of history. Most find ourselves flitting through life seeking that purpose, searching for a grand reason. Few of us stumble upon the roots of that glorious edifice awaiting our illustrious direction. Today I unearthed that seed, I experienced a brief glimpse of my lasting legacy. I coined the term “fecollate.”

Fecollate | fee-koh-leyt | verb [ no obj. ] expel large unsavory quantities of feces from the body. similar to defecate, but more disgusting. predominately used as a tasteful way of describing a most distasteful excretion of solids and fluids.

fecollation   | fee-koh-ley-shen | noun
fecollator     | fee-koh-ley-tor | noun
fecollatory   | fee-koh-ley-tory | adj.

early 21st century, a neologism created to pompously describe the excretions of an elephant upon a fornicating couple used as an example while discussing the merits of censorship. No other term carried the appropriate gravitas.

Sample sentence
Donald Trump spat out his thoughts and verbally fecollated upon the audience.

My destiny has been discovered. I must assure that this most useful and delicate of terms become an integral part of the lexicon. It must find its way into the dictionary alongside other mellifluous neologisms such as “bling-bling”, “cray”, “selfie”, and “YOLO.” This is to be my indelible mark on history. Thus, I turn to you all. Become a part of history. Weave your fecollations into conversations, become a purveyor of fecollate. The Earth will thank you.

ALS, Ice Buckets, and Grandmothers


    The above is me with my great-grandmother & grandmother in 1997.

The internet has been inundated over the last week with videos of people dumping buckets of ice water on their heads in support of ALS research. Like any trend, it has had its staunch supporters and vocal detractors. Criticisms range from cries of wasted water, slacker activism, and that this inane activity is distracting people from more pressing concerns. I even came across a comment where someone asked why we care about a disease that afflicts so few.

In the summer of 1998, ALS killed my grandmother. She essentially drowned in a recliner when her lungs ceased to function ending her healthy mind’s imprisonment in a functionless body. She was 55. The best case scenario for someone with ALS is to end up like Stephen Hawking—completely paralyzed (unable to move, unable to speak), but mentally alert and alive. The most likely scenario is to become increasingly paralyzed until the body can no longer support itself and the patient dies. Usually within 2-5 years. ALS is death in slow-motion.

My grandmother was a fiery Cuban immigrant who struggled to raise six children while adapting to life in a foreign country. She was tough, feisty, and loud. She was loud when she was happy and loud when she was angry and she adored all of her grandchildren even though I came along sooner than she would have liked (She was 36 when I was born). She’d ask you to buy “hamburger bones” and to put “the shits” on the bed. She had a nice couch in the dining room no one used covered in plastic we weren’t allowed to sit on and ceramic frogs with genitals. She always had a closet full of 3-Liter Pepsis. If the city would have converted the kitchen tap so it dispensed Pepsi, I’m sure she would have been ecstatic. She drove a huge Buick and refused to take crap from anyone. She was tough and she loved to laugh. Loudly.

We watched her body deteriorate and no one could do anything to stop it.  A woman who could bean you with a slipper from across a dark house with a sniper’s precision became unable to feed herself. My mother and aunts had to bathe her. On multiple occasions, as her teenage son lifted her onto a portable toilet I would duck out of the living room so she could have some semblance of privacy. This tough independent woman became dependent on other people for every tiny aspect of life the rest of us take for granted. She insisted on signing her own checks for as long as she could, but eventually that too became impossible. ALS stole away her body and her dignity. Eventually all she could do was sit on a recliner and watch Spanish TV. Many years later, I appeared briefly with Moodoo Puppets on a Telemundo station in Los Angeles. It saddened me that my grandmother was no longer around to see that because it would have made her so happy. When I started pursuing filmmaking, She constantly encouraged me to move to Mexico where I could make it big on Univision “like Erik Estrada.”  She also constantly pestered me to go to Spanish dances with her when I was a teenager. I regret that I never did. The last time I saw her, she was sleeping in the recliner. The next morning I was startled awake by the phone. I ran to it already knowing what I was going to hear. For years, I dreamed she could walk again. She would barely be in her 70s if she were still alive.

ALS doesn’t just affect a small number of people, it affects everyone that cares for those people. I hate that my grandmother had to spend the end of her life confined in a useless body confined to a chair. I hate that my great-grandmother had to watch her only daughter slowly wither away powerless to stop it. I hate that her youngest son, Steven, had to shoulder this experience during his high-school years. I hate that the world is a little less loud now.

Regardless of any qualms you may have with the Ice Bucket Challenge, it is working. A week ago, most people wouldn’t know the difference between ALS and anti-lock brakes. As of this writing, over $40 Million has been raised. If people get to have a little fun at the same time dousing each other, I’m okay with that.

Nerdist asked me to work on their Ice Bucket challenge video a couple of days ago. As I was compositing Chris Hardwick onto Tatooine I realized it would be ridiculous for me to accept payment for the job. I asked them to instead donate additional money to the charity. They gladly did so in my grandmother’s name. A few hours ago I received a video from Steven (my younger uncle) challenging me. It wouldn’t be right for me to walk away from that challenge, would it? Where’s my bucket?

My Life With a GoPro

Early in 2010 I  eagerly opened a box containing my brand new GoPro HD Hero. It was a small (practically tiny) $300 video camera that I would be able to take anywhere. And I did. Over the last year and a half, I have dragged that miniature camera across snow, through deserts, over rocks, down into the ocean, through canyons, over waterfalls, alongside canoes, and wherever else I remembered to take it. Some of that footage has appeared in various videos in my Vimeo GoPro Album. Because of those videos, people often ask me about the GoPro—if they should buy one, what model, what attachments, etc. Thus, I’ve decided to put together this post answering all of those questions (and maybe some people haven’t asked).

Which Model? Original or 960?
The GoPro HD Hero can shoot both flavors of HD: 720p or 1080p. It can also shoot at 960p which is essentially 720p with 240 extra lines of pixels. 960 is a squarish picture instead of 720s rectangular widescreen picture (4:3 ratio instead of 16:9). I almost always shoot in 960 mode. Yes, the image quality is much better at 1080 and yes, the fisheye distortion is more prominent in 960 and 720 modes. Why do I shoot mostly 960? The GoPro (as I use it) is rarely operated by a person. It is usually attached to some person or object, aimed in  a direction and turned on. The lens is very wide angle, but without an operator it can’t be expected to always compose the most interesting shot. I shoot at 960 and edit at 720. That gives me 240 extra lines of pixels along the top and bottom of my image that I can use to recompose my shot. It makes a huge difference. GoPro now offers a cheaper version of the HD Hero (the 960) that eschews the 1080 mode. When I buy my next GoPro, I would consider that model if it wasn’t missing one other feature: 720p at 60 frames-per-second. Why is that important? Most of us edit our videos at 30 or 24 frames-per-second. If we shoot at 60, we can get some decent looking slow-motion shots.  I used that feature several times in my Hesperia Swimstream video. If only 960 mode could shoot at 60 fps (I’m sure GoPro knows we all want this)! The other reason I will probably buy another original HD Hero and not the 960 is because of the recent release of the LCD Bacpac. It’s a screen that attaches to the back of your camera. It lets you see what you are shooting and review your footage in camera. No, the base GoPro does not have a LCD screen attached. Often times you wouldn’t be able to see the screen anyway since the camera is designed to go where you can’t. When I am in a situation where I can operate the camera and compose shots, I absolutely shoot in 1080 mode. My advice when choosing a model is to decide if you need the higher resolution and slow-motion capabilities. If not, get the 960 and save 80 bucks. Just keep in mind, that 80 bucks may not seem like such a big deal when you find yourself in a situation where you would love to get a slow-mo shot or a less distorted higher resolution 1080 shot of something.

What Accessories?
I bought  the Helmet Hero Pack. Within a year, I bought almost every other attachment. I’ve yet to use many of them. Here’s what I’ve learned. The GoPro on a headstrap showed me just how much we move our heads. POV (point-of-view) footage gets boring very quickly unless other people are in the shot. The headstrap and helmet attachments are very useful. They capture great footage for you to edit in with other footage. Don’t rely on them solely. I recommend buying whichever attachments most fit your sport. For most people, my strongest recommendations are the chest harness and tripod mount. I use the chest harness more often than every other attachment combined. It is not right for every circumstance, but it often gets the camera where you want it and keeps it stable and focused in a general direction. It also keeps the camera easily accessible. You can quickly see when you are and aren’t recording, quickly detach it and catch a shot from a different angle, or flip it upside down and aim it at your face. Keep in mind, you can also wear the camera on your back. That’s how we got a few of the cooler shots in Big Bear Slipstream. So, why the tripod mount? Isn’t the point of the camera that it can move around, go anywhere, and not be locked to a tripod? Yes. Buy the tripod mount, but don’t put it on a tripod (unless you need to for a shot). Attach it to a monopod—an extendable stick.  A GoPro on a six-foot-long stick can capture lots of great footage from almost any angle. I only recently bought the tripod mount and I wish I had bought it much sooner. A few weeks ago I was using it to hold the GoPro over the edge of a waterfall to get footage of my friend rappelling from above. I see videos online all the time of people using this approach to get amazing skydiving and surfing shots. I’m also pretty fond of the suction cup mount. It’s great for boating and for mounting to cars. It’s how I got the canoeing shots in Black Canyon (You can also see some 720 60fps slow-motion action in that video). Do keep a safety line attached to it just in case. There are lots of other attachments. I’ve liked each one I’ve used. Get the ones you need for the shots you want to get.

Should I get it as my still camera?
The GoPro isn’t just an HD video camera. It also shoots stills. It can even shoot time-lapse (a photo every second or so until you tell it to stop or the battery dies). I almost never use these features. I do intend to start experimenting with the time-lapse options, but I see little use for the single photo feature. You can’t see and compose the shot unless you have the newly released LCD Bacpac attached. If you are trying to capture an action, you are probably better off getting it as a video. The photo function is a nice additional feature and can be used in clever ways other cameras can’t, but I would not recommend buying the GoPro instead of a proper still camera.

I love my GoPro. For a $300 video camera, it is amazing. It is tough as hell. I saw a posting online where someone dropped it when skydiving and it still functioned when they retrieved it on the ground. I’ve taken it 60 feet under the ocean with no problems. There are a number of things you need to keep in mind, although. It is an inexpensive camera. It is fully automated. You will have no control over aperture, ISO, or other features you may expect from a prosumer level camcorder or DSLR. It shoots to SD cards in MP4 format. This keeps it fast and inexpensive, but does mean lower sampling rates for your data. Do expect some artifacting and pixelation. If you like to take it wet places, water will stick to the lens on your housing and affect your images. I recently read a piece of advice online that said Rain-X combats this effectively. I have not tried this out yet, but I intend to very soon. The inside of the housing will fog up because of temperature changes (especially dunking it in cold water on a hot day). Thankfully, GoPro sells anti-fog inserts that work spectacularly. I have been pleasantly surprised with the battery life of the GoPro. I’ve yet to run out of juice when I’ve needed it. If you are not like me and prefer to run your camera non-stop GoPro does offer a battery bacpac that prolongs your record time.

For a $300 (now even cheaper) camera, this thing is pretty fantastic. If you want to get video places you normally can’t, buy one. I’m looking forward to their next generation of cameras and I hope we will eventually start getting prosumer features at a modest price.

Note: I took both of the photos in this post with a Panasonic GH1 Micro 4/3 camera with their 20MM pancake lens. These photos were not taken with a GoPro.

The “Love It or Leave It” Mentality

It’s found on t-shirts, bumper stickers, and billboards across The U.S. You’ll see it alongside flags and images of shrieking bald eagles. Love It or Leave It. It is a rally cry for many who are fed up with a nation of complainers and critics whose words speak louder than their inert actions. It has become an embraced ideology for many who love what the United States of America means to them and their family. Unfortunately, it is a myopic steamroller that quashes any hope for equality, reform, and open debate.

I am going to do my best to avoid stereotyping the users of the phrase or falling prey to logical fallacies that attack the speaker instead of the message. My qualm is with the phrase itself, what it inherently means, and the damage it can cause. I don’t believe people who say "Love it or leave it" are any less intelligent or malevolent than any other random group adhering to an ideology. I do believe their intentions are good and they want America to be a great place. My argument is that most of them have not deconstructed the message they are sending and analyzed its potential repercussions. To many "Love it or leave it" may be synonymous with "Don’t shit where you eat" or "If it aint broke, don’t fix it" or "Blood is thicker than water" or simply "Stop your bitching." Yet, it is not synonymous with those phrases. When it is broken down, what "Love it or leave it" truly means is "Don’t question authority and don’t criticize that which is sacred." These are the same tenets many monotheistic religions espouse—do not question that which is sacrosanct. These are not the tenets of Democracy.

"Love it or leave it" implies that to love something, one must accept all of its faults without judgement. This, in itself, is not necessarily bad advice, although it often is. There are ample examples throughout history where a similar ideology to "Love it or leave it" has been used with disastrous results. The sexual abuse of young boys by Catholic priests continued for innumerable years because the Church was unwilling to look at itself critically. Love it or leave it. Children have been violently abused by parents because a spouse was unwilling to accept his/her family unit was flawed. Love it or leave it. 

Let’s imagine a world where everyone abided by the concept of "Love it or leave it." We would have no labor unions, no women voters, no attempts at equality among races, no minimum wage, and no United States of America. If the founding fathers had embraced "Love it or leave it," there would have been no American Revolution. We would still be under British Rule. In actuality, we would probably all be members of a Mesopotamian (or even older) society because no one would have taken a stand to create new and different societies. A world that lives by "Love it or leave it" is a world without dissent, it is a world of lemmings blindly following each other over a cliff to their untimely demises.

Democracy is the antithesis of "Love it or leave it." Its goal is to include the views and needs of all citizens in hopes of making life better for all of them. The first step in improving something is to look at it critically, to unearth its faults. The second step is to review those critiques and enact change. I think the prevalence of the "Love It or Leave It" mentality is because most of us are too eager to take part in step one, but too complacent to take the second step. We all get sick of listening to someone complain about something who never tries to improve his/her condition. I think what the "Love it or leave it" proponents really want to say is "Stop bitching and try to fix it already" and that’s what I wish they’d start saying instead.

I Be Done Seen About Everything…

I remember watching the animated Dumbo movie as a kid and being confused by the singing crows who couldn’t bring themselves to believe Dumbo could fly. They’d seen a peanut stand, heard a rubber band, and so on, but a flying elephant was beyond their comprehension. I was probably six or so and clearly I had seen an elephant fly throughout the movie. What was so hard to believe? Now, as an adult, I know numerous reasons an elephant can never fly. I, too, would be skeptical if someone told me an elephant could fly.

Yet, I can’t help but think that something more important was lost when I stopped believing an elephant can fly.

In the Words of Teddy

Said in reference to the Grand Canyon, but an apt blanket statement for wilderness in general:

In the Grand Canyon, Arizona has a natural wonder which is in kind absolutely unparalleled throughout the rest of the world. I want to ask you to keep this great wonder of nature as it now is. I hope you will not have a building of any kind, not a summer cottage, a hotel or anything else, to mar the wonderful grandeur, the sublimity, the great loneliness and beauty of the canyon. Leave it as it is. You cannot improve on it. The ages have been at work on it, and man can only mar it.

-Theodore Roosevelt

Define obscenity, then define god while you’re at… or love… or infinity

My friends’ page brought an interesting and infuriating case to my attention today:
Read about it here and numerous other places.

Essentially, a man in Iowa was arrested for importing manga from Japan deemed obscene. The collective opinion seems to be that, in this case, “obscene” means illustrated kiddie porn. As is to be expected, numerous people from both sides are up in arms. The difficulty in defending the right of someone to own illustrated child pornography lies in the fact that many will assume you are defending the right to molest children. Clearly, anyone who stops for a moment and applies logic to the argument will see this is not the case. Molesting real children and owning fictional representations of children engaged in sexual acts is not the same thing. Below is something I posted on another journal that should help elucidate my feelings:

The reason child pornography is a crime is because it endorses the victimization of a child. A child is molested and photographed. This is a crime. The ownership of this photograph makes the owner a criminal by proxy. The owner is aware a child was victimized and endorses this activity.

Illustrated child pornography is a victimless crime, its victim is fictional. To charge someone as a criminal for the ownership of pornography featuring fictional characters is to charge this person with thought-crime. The assumption is an owner of illustrated child pornography is a pedophile and therefore a baby raper. Yet, being a pedophile is not a crime. The act of molestation or molestation-by-proxy is the crime. Ownership of fictional material does not equate sexual action in reality.

Any time the court is brought in to decide our freedoms and define what is acceptable art, we open the gates for a multitude of freedoms and artistic expressions to be reviewed and potentially criminalized. Do we want to open up that debate because of a victimless “crime?”

Many others with much more credibility than me have discussed this much more eloquently elsewhere: (I highly encourage reading their rants especially if you disagree with my stance)
Neil Gaiman’s Thoughts
Carl Horn of Dark Horse

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund is always accepting donations and doing their best to make sure the comics community is treated fairly. Feel like donating?

Stand in Place (Step forward, then back)

The collective population surprised me last night. A black man can become president of the U.S. even when a large ill-informed portion of the populace paint him as a terrorist and spread unfounded fear and blatant lies. I hope that means people care more about leadership than race now. Last night made me proud of America. Last night made the world proud of America. Maybe we can stop being the playground bullies now.

Yet, the allegedly progressive part of the nation let me down. Proposition 8 passed, effectively rescinding the rights of gay people throughout California. Just over half of voting Californians decided not that gay marriage should continue to be illegal, but that it should once again become illegal. They voted to take away a group’s rights. Pore over that for a moment. A right wasn’t denied, it was taken away.

I was hoping last night would be two steps forward.
I guess I can settle for one.