Thursday, May 23, 2013

Interview with J. Michael Straczynski

Straczynski signs copies of "Ten Grand" at Yesteryear Comics / Photo - Furr
J. Michael Straczynski is a man of many firsts. Back when the Internet was unknown to everyone except a tiny number of techies, geeks, wealthy dilettantes and nerds, he was the first showrunner (Hollywood-speak for a television show’s executive producer who handles day-to-day operations) to go online and interact with fans.

He was the first – and will likely ever be the only — scriptwriter to write 92 out of 110 episodes of a show, his brilliant creation “Babylon 5.” B5 was the first television show meant to run a certain number of seasons, five, with a definite beginning, middle, and end, and included dynamic storylines the characters and multiple, overlapping story arcs. Long form television writing is now common thanks to Straczynski.  He did it first.

He is probably the first journalist to cross over into a successful television career, likely the first journalist and television writer to cross over into mainstream comic book writing, and absolutely the first television and comic-writing journalist ever to become a major Hollywood screenwriter.

Other “firsts” include developing his own comic book line (Joe’s Comics), his own multimedia studio (Studio JMS), directing his first movie and creating an original series for Netflix.

The word “first” applies to Straczynski in many ways, including as a fiery, intelligent defender of the First Amendment.

From 2009 to 2010, students, faculty members, Sun journalists, and concerned citizens fought with a corrupt Southwestern College administration and governing board to keep the First Amendment Freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and the Press alive on the campus. In 2010, when the administration attempted to strangle the newspaper by tying its purse strings around its throat, Straczynski responded by undermining the administration the best way possible – financially.

It was definitely the first time that had happened.

And now, for the first time, an unbridled, warp speed first person Q&A interview with the 2013 Southwestern College Honorary Degree recipient:

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Poster Vandalism Investigated as Hate Crime

Vandalism of a poster inviting students to a meeting of the Gay-Straight Alliance is being investigated as a hate crime. Club members found a handmade poster hanging near the campus pool vandalized with disparaging anti-gay words just before spring break.

Tammy Nguyen, vice president of the GSA, said the member drew purple hearts around the hateful words then brought it to Nguyen’s attention.
“When I got over there, I saw people staring at it,” Nguyen said. “They had nothing to say. They just looked at each other, then back at the poster.”

The poster was taken down and brought to the club membership’s attention after classes resumed following spring break. Nguyen said a lot of the members and the advisors had something to say about it. The Gay-Straight Alliance, an ASO-sponsored organization, exists to provide a safe place for LGBT students and their allies to meet and raise awareness of the issues surrounding them. One of those is the issue of anti-gay sentiment and harassment.

Diana Cortes is the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance.

“It’s frustrating,” she said. “We’re on a college campus where people should be grown up. They should be mature enough to know things aren’t high school. They should realize that this was a childish thing to do.”

Alan Wade, one of the club advisors, said it turned his stomach whenever he hears of things like this occurring.

“I think it’s sad and that is says more about those who wrote on our sign than it does us,” he said.

Nguyen said this kind of reaction was unusual in recent years.

“I’ve been in GSA for over three years and I’ve never seen anything like it,” she said. “I’ve seen our posters torn down, I’ve seen other things, but not this.”

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Former Southwestern College Superintendent Appears in Court

Chopra arrives at court / Photo by: Marshall Murphy
*By Nickolas Furr and Lina Chankar

Former Southwestern College superintendent Raj K. Chopra appeared in San Diego County Superior Court today, his first public appearance since the district attorney began serving search warrants and issuing indictments in December 2011. Chopra arrived with a small group that included his driver, his son and his attorney, Michael Attanasio.

Chopra joined 11 other defendants in court this morning for the final steps of the arraignment proceedings in the trial now known as the South Bay Corruption Case. Each defendant or their attorney pleaded “not guilty” and denied all allegations.

Chopra did not appear for court dates in January, February or March. His lawyers cited “depression” and “ill health” for his absences. Now a resident of Houston, Chopra said nothing to the media and spectators outside the courthouse.

Attanasio said that Chopra is ready to defend himself.

“Dr. Chopra looks forward to his day in court,” Attanasio said, “and looks forward to having the opportunity of presenting his side of the story.”

San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis has filed 232 criminal charges against 15 elected officials, school administrators and contractors in three school districts in what she has called the largest corruption case of its kind in San Diego County history. Charges include multiple counts of extortion, accepting bribes, perjury, conspiracy to defraud and conspiracy to commit a crime.

Defendants with SWC connections include Chopra, former trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez, former vice president of business and finance Nicholas Alioto, former facilities director John Wilson, former interim superintendent Greg Sandoval and current director of EOPS Arlie Ricasa. Sandoval is currently an administrator at Moreno Valley College.

Sandoval and Ricasa were indicted for alleged criminal activities at the Sweetwater Union High School District. Sandoval is a former trustee and Ricasa is a current member of the board.

Also on trial are SUHSD trustees Jim Cartmill, Bertha Lopez and Pearl Quinones, former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara, former San Ysidro School District superintendent Manuel Paul, San Ysidro trustee Bertha Hernandez, Seville Construction Services Jeff Flores and financier Gary Cabello, who helped to finance municipal school bonds for both districts.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Governing Board Rules Out Layoffs of College Faculty

*By Nickolas Furr and Enrique Raymundo

Following a tense four-and-a-half hour closed session, the Southwestern College Governing Board announced it would not send March 15 layoff notices to the college faculty. This elicited subdued reactions of relief from the faculty present at 11 p.m. and anger from Bruce MacNintch, the head of SWC’s classified employee union.

The decision to not send the notices came just 11 days before the district’s March 15 deadline required by the state to lay off faculty.

Corina Soto / Photo: Kristina Saunders

Board President Humberto Peraza read a statement into the record explaining why the board had chosen to remain in negotiations with the faculty union – the Southwestern College Educators’ Association (SCEA) – instead of initiating layoffs to help solve the campus budget crisis.

“The damage layoffs would cause the community would far outweigh any assistance it would provide to balancing the budget,” Peraza said.

MacNintch, president of the SWC chapter of the California State Employees’ Association (CSEA), reacted angrily to the decision.

“We negotiated, being told layoffs would occur if we didn’t agree to this deal, and now they won’t happen anyway,” MacNintch said.

CSEA had accepted a 5 percent pay cut under the threat of district layoffs.

SWC administration has been locked in budget negotiations with the three main constituency groups – SCEA, CSEA and the Southwestern Community College District Administrators’ Association (SCCDAA) – for several months. At the February board meeting Albert Roman, SWC’s vice president of human resources, outlined the process by which layoffs could take place.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Judge Change Delays Arraignment Hearing

*By Nickolas Furr and Lina Chankar

Following nearly six weeks of delays, Superior Court Judge Ana España pushed back the arraignment hearing of former Southwestern College administrators a third time, to April 12. España said she wanted to review the material and “understand what the issues are.” There are 60,000 different documents involved, according to San Diego County District Attorney estimates.

Arraignments were originally scheduled to begin Jan. 7 at the San Diego Central Courthouse. Judge Timothy Walsh pushed back the date of arraignments until Jan. 30 and moved the location of the court to the South County Courthouse in Chula Vista. Judge Stephanie Sontag was to preside. The District Attorney’s office filed a motion to move the case back to San Diego, but last week Walsh ordered it to remain in South County, citing the fact that since most defendants and the school districts were from this part of the county, the case should remain in Chula Vista. On Feb. 15, Sontag assigned the case to España.

District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis began issuing indictments in the South Bay Corruption Case in December 2010. Dumanis called it the largest corruption case of its kind in San Diego County history. So far the D.A.’s office has filed 232 criminal charges against 15 elected officials, school administrators and school contractors in three different school districts. There have been complaints about the size of the courtroom, which seats about 30 people. After defendants and members of the press are allowed inside, there are only seats for five or six members of the public. With the trial in Chula Vista, many members of the public who queue up outside the courtroom expressed concern that they might never be able to attend the trial.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Depressed Chopra Fails to Appear at Arraignment Hearing

*By Nickolas Furr and Lina Chankar

Residents of the Southwestern Community College District who expected to see former SWC president Raj K. Chopra and former vice president Nicholas Alioto arraigned in court on Wednesday were sorely disappointed.

Gary Cabello and his ex-lawyer outside court / Photo: Marshall Murphy
For the second time in a month, Chopra failed to appear in a San Diego Superior Courtroom for his arraignment hearing. Defense lawyers again cited Chopra’s health as the reason for his absence. Chopra is claiming “severe depression.”

Alioto, summoned from Wisconsin, did appear, along with the 13 other defendants of the “South Bay Corruption Scandal,” an investigation San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called the worst of its kind in county history.

Also present were former SWC trustees Yolanda Salcido and Jorge Dominguez, EOPS director Arlie Ricasa, former administrator John Wilson, and former interim president Greg Sandoval; Sweetwater trustees Pearl Quiñones, Bertha Lopez, and Jim Cartmill; former Sweetwater superintendent Jesus Gandara; San Ysidro School District Superintendent Manuel Paul; San Ysidro trustee Yolanda Hernandez; financier Gary Cabello; and Jeff Flores, the president of Seville Construction Services. Hernandez, who failed to appear on Jan. 9, has already been arraigned.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Chopra, Dominguez, Salcido Indicted as Corruption Case Widens

Arlie Ricasa / Photo by Marshall Murphy
*By Nickolas Furr and Lina Chankar

This was an online-only piece done for the SWC between Fall 12 and Spring 13 terms. Several students were involved and did this on their own time, without class involvement.

Former Southwestern College Superintendent Raj Kumar Chopra and former trustees Jorge Dominguez and Yolanda Salcido have joined four other current and former college leaders as defendants in a widening corruption case that now involves 15 people from three South Bay school districts.

A San Diego County grand jury handed down 232 criminal charges against elected officials and school contractors in what has become known as the “South Bay Corruption Scandal,” an investigation San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis called the largest of its kind in county history.

Fifteen defendants were summoned to Superior Court for arraignment Monday afternoon, six who had previously been charged and nine who were new to the indictments. The grand jury investigation resulted in indictments of administrators from Southwestern College, Sweetwater Union High School District and the San Ysidro School District.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Melbourn's Storm" -- Lore Magazine

LORE volume 2, number 2

My short story, "Melbourn's Storm," is now in print, in the periodical LORE, volume 2, number 2. If you are looking for a little dark reading, check out the book -- now on sale at the LORE website and on

...and in case you do pick up a copy of the book, or you already have, how about stopping by Amazon to do a real, honest review? Nothing will do a publisher better good than a good review or two.

(And need I point out to the morally sound readers of this blog not to write a bogus one? I thought not.)

Twelve great tales inhabit these pages:

"Enshrined" - Bridget Coila
"Finny Moon" - Keith P. Graham
"Congregate" - Steve Rasnic Tem
"One in a Billion" - Colin Heintze
"Asylum" - Stephen Mark Rainey
"The House of Dreams" - Nyki Blatchley
"Electric Souls on a Starless Planet" - J.P. Boyd
"Lost in Darkness" - Jeremy Harper
"Melbourn's Storm" - Nickolas Furr
"Can Spring Be Far Behind?" - Jeff Samson
"Tumor is the Night" - Corey Mariani
"Nzambe" - Denise Dumars
Plus an awesome cover by Christopher Allen!

So if you get a chance, pick it up. If you can, write a review. If you can't, let me know what you think. All y'all readers who have stuck with me know how much I treasure your feedback. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Campus Mourns Phil Lopez

Phil Lopez

On the evening of December 14, Southwestern College lost one of its most visible icons. Philip Lopez, English professor and longtime union crusader, died of a sudden, massive heart attack minutes after being admitted to Sharp Hospital in Chula Vista. It was the day before his 65th birthday.

By all accounts his death was unexpected. He had spent the afternoon in what were described as successful negotiations between the faculty union and the college administration.

Kathleen Canney Lopez, professor of computer information systems who describes herself as “Phil’s former wife and his comrade,” said Lopez sat down at his Chula Vista home with a stack of paperwork. Feeling chest pains, he took aspirin and called 911. It took only minutes for the paramedics to arrive. He was rushed into the hospital and died there less than two minutes later.

“It was quick,” Canney Lopez said. “It was painless.”

Gay-Straight Alliance Works to Create Tolerance, Respect

It is a truth that many young people use college to examine their sense of identity for the first time. In doing so, some students explore their sexual identity and discover they cannot identify with a heterosexual lifestyle. Instead, they come to the realization that they are part of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual) culture.

Realizing and accepting this proves difficult for many students. They often need a support web of friends and family that understand this situation. At Southwestern College, students will find the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) is there to help them.

That is, of course, if the students can actually find where they meet.

Alan Wade, adjunct professor of English and the club’s faculty adviser, said that GSA met in a different room every semester and it was rarely ever the same place. He called it “room limbo.”

“We have to get a new room every time,” he said. “Though we do get one at some point. There has been trouble this semester with scheduling conflicts. Right now we meet in front of Jason’s coffee cart. That’s our place when we don’t have a place.”

Cost-Saving Measure May Reduce Library Hours

*By Nickolas Furr, Stephen Uhl, and Paulina Briseño

 On January 14, when students return to the Southwestern College campus for classes, they will find the library open 14 fewer hours than it is today. Due to brutal budget cuts and rampant state fiscal problems, the administration has been forced to cut the available hours for staff, and library personnel have been forced to close their doors earlier and keep them closed all weekend. As a result, frustration has begun to bloom in every campus group – students, classified employees, faculty members, administrators and the governing board. And now, frustration is beginning to blossom into full-blown anger.

But the anger is unfocused, with no one particular group for the others to be angry at.

In 2011, California community colleges suffered a $502 million cut to help staunch the loss of blood flowing from the state’s bank accounts. This past November, with another round of cuts looming – an additional $300 million statewide – voters passed Proposition 30, Governor Jerry Brown’s proposal to channel taxpayer money into funding schools and community colleges. This is expected to minimize the damage schools will take, but the fiscal ship can’t turn on a dime. It needs time to turn around. Until then, SWC will suffer another round of cuts, and the library remains a casualty of these cuts.

Humberto Peraza, SWC governing board vice president, said the damage could have been far worse, but it was still going to force changes.

“We went from a $12 million cut to a $6 million cut because of Prop 30, which has helped a lot,” he said. “But this is still significant. Almost everything we do, no matter what we do, a $6 million cut is going to directly impact students.”

Students Feel the Heat Waiting on Maintenance

It is not unusual for a Southwestern College maintenance request to sit for a few weeks or a month. An air conditioning issue in room 429, however, went for more than five years without resolution, causing faculty and students to get overheated.

Room 429, a reading classroom located in the Academic Success Center, has some folks hot under the collar.

John Brown, SWC’s facilities director, insists everything is taken care of. Faculty who use the sweltering room have taken a wait-and-see attitude.

“It appears there have been multiple and varied problems over the years with HVAC [Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning] in building 420, impacting room 429,” he said. “It appears maintenance had addressed those as they have come up, which is not unusual, and Dr. Levine is now personally satisfied with the current conditions.”

Dr. Joel Levine, dean of the School and Language and Literature, said he was not personally satisfied.

“I saw Gus [Frederick “Gus” Latham, maintenance supervisor] this morning and he’s not 100 percent satisfied,” Levine said. “He felt pretty good about it and thought they had taken care of it. But the test remains to see what it’s like after a lot of students had been in there for a while on a reasonably warm day.”
Levin, Latham and many others insist there is reason to be cynical after five-plus years of room 429 as a hot topic.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Our Entire Campus, Our Entire Nation is Free Speech Area (Unsigned Editorial)

Art by Adrian Martinez

“If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”
– George Orwell

After a pitched, four-year battle on the Southwestern College campus to throw off a previous administration’s strangulating “Free Speech Area,” some folks on campus have inexplicably resumed referring to the little patch of concrete west of the cafeteria by the same name.


When warriors fight and bleed to win freedoms, nothing infuriates them more than having someone else casually give them back. Warriors feel insulted. And why not? They are being insulted. The message is, nothing you did then matters to us now.

During the turbulent years of the Chopra regime, “Free Speech Area” was used to describe the covered patio just west of the cafeteria. It was also the way administration segregated students from society and took away their rights. To protest, speak out or register students to vote, we were sent to the “Free Speech Area.” If we wandered away, they would come down on us hard.

Student Workers Take Salary Reduction

Faculty and staff voted to take a 5 percent pay cut last spring to prevent more class cuts. Student workers on campus also took a pay cut, but never got a chance to vote. Some insist they were never told.

There is also confusion about what college records say students are making and what they are actually paid. Students, like employees, are making 5 percent less, but official college payroll records do not reflect the pay reductions.

One student, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he had worked at the Academic Success Center (ASC) for years. According to payroll records he is making $11 per hour. In reality, after the cut, he is paid $10.45 an hour. He said the monthly contract he must sign to keep his job stipulates he will be paid at his original rate of $11 even though he is actually making $10.45.

“Every month we sign our HRTs (Human Resource Transactions), the form which shows how many hours we worked and what our rate of pay is,” he said. “Every month I signed that timesheet at the beginning of the month, and again it said I would be paid $11 per hour.”

Monday, October 22, 2012

Campus Mourns Professor

*Article by Albert Fulcher and Nickolas Furr; Photos by Nickolas Furr and Pablo Gandara Giza

Axa Negron-Schnorr / Photo: Furr
Michael Schnorr’s world-famous murals in Chicano Park tower over the small but revered piece of tierra santa that was once the epicenter of the Chicano Rights Movement and is the globe’s greatest outdoor Latino art gallery. His ambitious Dia de Los Muertos pieces span hundreds of yards of the Tijuana side of the border fence, warning would-be crossers that el norte can be peligroso for migrants.

Not bad for an Anglo man and Muslim convert.

America’s burgeoning border art community lost a visionary pioneer in July when Schnorr jumped from the same Coronado Bridge that features his stunning murals. His suicide shocked and saddened legions of admirers, including hundreds at Chicano Park who gathered for an emotional memorial. Schnorr had recently retired as a Southwestern art professor after 39 years.
Bob Filner / Photo: Furr

Art major David Bonafede said he was devastated by the news of Schnorr’s death and that Schnorr remains a teacher, mentor and friend in his heart.

“No matter how hard or how easy you think something is, he always made you look at things from a different perspective,” he said. “He never let you quit and he always made you finish.”

Bonafede said he did a biography on Schnorr for his art history class and came to know his mentor well. He said he loved not only his art, but also his sense of humor.