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!