Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oh, Canada!

We drove up to Canada today as part of our vacation into Ontario. I've never crossed a land boarder before, so I was not prepared for the way some of the things worked while crossing into Canada. 

Here's a quick Traveling To Canada FAQ I whipped up:

Do I need a passport to get into Canada? If you're going to cross the land border into Canada, you need some sort of enhanced ID. Some state driver's licenses count as enhanced ID, but, sadly, most states are lagging behind in that aspect. So, if you don't have an enhanced ID, you'll at least need a passport card. If you're flying in, you need a passport book. 

Some Canadian Currency
How do I get money in Canada?
Right when you cross the border, there's a currency exchange where you can exchange your US dollars for Canadian dollars. Otherwise, you can use your debit card at an ATM in Canada and they'll take out Canadian money and charge your account the equivalent in US dollars.

Canadians are heavy users of dollar coins. The one dollar coin is called a Loonie because of the loon depicted on it. Thus, the two dollar coin is referred to as a Toonie. They've abandoned usage of the Canadian penny, so purchases are always rounded to the nearest nickel. Canadian paper money is actually made from polymer which feels weird and very plastic-like compared to U.S. currency which is made from cotton fabric. All told, the Canadian bills feel weird to me, but they're probably more durable than U.S. bills.

Will my cell phone work in Canada? I got my Verizon Wireless Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge to work in Canada. Eventually. Even if you have a Global device, you still have to update your plan so that the phone will actually work. Verizon Wireless offers a number of plans for using your cell phone in Canada. Pick the one that works best for your situation. Google Maps switched to metric measurements of distance automatically when we crossed the border. If you'd rather have Google Maps give your distances in miles rather than kilometers, you can change that setting via the Route Options. 

Does Canada use the Metric system? Yep. Distance signs are measured in kilometers . Gas is measured in liters (One gallon is equal to roughly four liters). Speed limit signs are in kilometers per hour. Thank God they drive on the right side of the road.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

A Video Of John Lennon Mocking The Disabled

There's an old video of John Lennon making the rounds on social media this week where he openly mocks people with disabilities by crudely mimicking them. The uproar over this 50 year-old footage erupted after a BBC program "It was Alright in the 60's", a show designed to highlight the ways that the entertainment industry and our standards for acceptable behavior have changed over the past several decades, aired it. It's not as if this footage was new to begin with, though. It has been included in a number of Beatles documentaries over the years and it was part of the "Anthology" program that the Beatles released back in 1995 and it never caused much, if any controversy.  Until now.

It's well documented that John Lennon had a pretty twisted, cruel sense of humor. He was especially uncomfortable around people with physical handicaps including his own step father whom John referred to as "Twitchy" due to a facial tick. He was known to get incredibly nervous when handicapped fans were brought backstage during Beatles appearances. He remarked in an interview with Rolling Stone ( issues # 74 & 75; 21 Jan & 4 Feb, 1971):

Wherever we went on tour, in Britain and everywhere we went, there were always a few seats laid aside for cripples and people in wheelchairs. Because we were famous, we were supposed to have epileptics and whatever they are in our dressing room all the time. We were supposed to be sort of “good,” and really you wanted to be alone. You don’t know what to say, because they’re usually saying “I’ve got your record” or they can’t speak and just want to touch you. It’s always the mother or the nurse pushing them on you, they themselves would just say hello and go away, but the mothers would push them at you like you were Christ or something, as if there were some aura about you which would rub off on them. It just got to be like that and we were very sort of callous about it. It was just dreadful: you would open up every night, and instead of seeing kids there, you would just see a row full of cripples along the front. It seemed that we were just surrounded by cripples and blind people all the time, and when we would go through corridors, they would be all touching us and things like that. It was horrifying.

It was the “in” joke that we were supposed to cure them; it was the kind of thing that we would say, because it was a cruel thing to say. We felt sorry for them, anybody would, but there is a kind of embarrassment when you’re surrounded by blind, deaf and crippled people. There is only so much we could say, you know, with the pressure on us, to do and to perform.

So, you view the clip as Lennon rebelling against how the Beatles were often viewed as saviors and faith healers by caretakers of the disabled. Or you can view it as Lennon being a callous asshole towards the disabled for the sake of cheap physical comedy. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Paul's mediocre call for the audience to clap their hands. Or you can see it as Lennon making fun of Beatles fans in general. You can view it as a relic of a bygone age or you can view it as yet another example of Lennon being an asshole. However you see it, if you're offended by it, before you get out your pitchforks and torches, you have to ask yourself why there wasn't a similar outcry back when the clip was first aired in 1964 and why subsequent airings over 50 years have failed to cause a stir. Why are people getting upset now as opposed to any time before?

Monday, September 21, 2015

Government Grant Scammer Calls Me

I got a call from a rep with a heavy Indian accent claiming to be from the government and offering $7,000 in government grant money. Grant scammers generally follow the same script: they congratulate you on your eligibility and then ask for your checking account or credit card information so they can deposit your government grant money directly into your account or to cover a one-time “processing fee.” I played along with this particular grant scammer for a bit and soon discovered that they were looking for someone named John Meem, which is not an alias I have ever used. Right off, I tried to push the call through by offering a completely made up credit card number. The grant scammer kept trying to verify my information, not being able to reconcile the fact that I gave him a different name from the one he was expecting. At one point, I just kept on screaming "Give me my money!!!!"

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

What If Die Hard Had Starred Frank Sinatra?

We were having a lazy Saturday evening last weekend. We had ordered Mexican in, had already rented one movie and were trying to decide on another. While going through my catalog, I happened upon Die Hard. It's a classic. It kickstarted the concept of the everyman action hero. Before Die Hard, action heroes were all buff muscleheads like Schwarzenegger or Stallone. That's not to say that Bruce Willis was the first choice to star in Die Hard. The aforementioned musclehead,  Stallone was actually offered the role of John McClane, as was Harrison Ford and Don Johnson. However, before any of the previously mentioned actors were offered the lead role in Die Hard, it had to be offered to one specific actor: Frank Sinatra.

Die Hard is based upon Roderick Thorpe's novel Nothing Lasts Forever which is a sequel to his previous novel The Detective. The Detective was adapted to film and starred Frank Sinatra as New York City police detective Joe Leland who is called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.  Leland tries to remain focused on the case while running afoul of powerful interests in the city who do not want him asking questions and while dealing with the breakdown of his marriage. The sequel novel, Nothing Lasts Forever was written thirteen years after The Detective and had Joe Leland in a very similar situation to the one that eventually involved John McClane. Sinatra was in his 70's at the time production began on Die Hard, and nobody involved seriously believed that he would take on the lead role. However, due to the nature of how Die Hard was brought to life, Fox was contractually obligated to offer it to Frank Sinatra first. Mr. Sinatra, of course, turned it down. But, could you imagine if he hadn't? The plot might have gone something like this:

On Christmas Eve, retired New York City Police Detective Joe Leland flies into Los Angeles to visit his daughter, Stephanie Leland Gennaro, and his grand children. While in flight, he flirts with the stewardess and laments the ending of his marriage years before. He lands at LAX and is driven to the Nakatomi Plaza building for a company Christmas party by Argyle. Leland makes some vaguely racist remarks that mark him as a relic. Before seeing his daughter and grandkids, Leland changes clothes in an empty office and calls the stewardess to arrange a meetup. The party and Joe's phonecall are disrupted by the arrival of Anton "Little Tony" Gruber (whom Leland met during World War II) and his heavily armed group of terrorists. The group seize the tower and secure those inside as hostages, except for Leland who slips away barefoot and manages to remain undetected in the gigantic office complex. Aided outside only by LAPD Sergeant Al Powell and armed with only his police-issue Browning Hi-Power pistol, Leland fights off the terrorists one by one in an attempt to save the hostages. Throughout the film, the themes of guilt, alcoholism and the complexities of the human mind are explored. In the end, Leland saves the day, but he eventually succumbs to his wounds. He dies hard and ultimately proves that nothing lasts forever.

Die Hard is a pretty faithful adaptation of Nothing Lasts Forever and many of the scenes and dialogue in Die Hard are taken directly from Nothing Lasts Forever. I, for one, would have loved to have heard an aging Frank Sinatra deliver Die Hard's signature line "Yippee ki-yay, ya mook!" Had Sinatra's version of the movie been successful, it may have ushered in an entire genre of Grandpa Action Heroes. Imagine Sidney Poitier starring in Under Siege, Walter Matthau in Speed, Jerry Lewis in The Rock and, the coup de grace, Abe Vigoda in Home Alone.

Looking to the future, one might think that, if they ever decide to do a Die Hard reboot, they might start with Die Hard 6: The Detective and do a re-imagining of the original Roderick Thorpe novel. Die Hard 6 may end up telling the story with John McClane circa 1979 as a no-nonsense New York detective called to investigate a strange and brutal murder.....

Monday, September 14, 2015

University Of Phoenix Calls Me

I don't have a lot of respect for The University of Phoenix. It's a for-profit career college owned by a company called the Apollo Group and it’s the biggest for-profit college operating in the United States. Only about 9% of first-time bachelor students’ graduate within 6 years, and only 5% of online students- compared with a 55% graduate rate at public institutions, and 65% at private nonprofit universities. University of Phoenix  has paid many government fines over the years, and has settled multiple whistle blower lawsuits regarding its admissions practices and educational programs.

This past weekend, a rep called looking for Clovis and upon hearing the telltale "This Call Is Now Being Recorded" notification from Google Voice, she got suspicious. As usual, Clovis takes offense at the suggestion that he would want to further his education and wonders why the rep is implying he's stupid. After the initial exchange, the rep goes back to wondering why the call is being recorded. Clovis asks why it matters and the rep dumps out of the call.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Selling To Brian's Toys - A Review

Back in the mid-90's, when the Star Wars Special Edition movies were being released, my college room-mate and I went out and bought up a number of Star Wars action figures released for that occasion. We intended to keep all of the action figures in their original packaging in the hopes that we could sell them a few decades later and turn a huge profit. Oh, how naive we were. We were like geeky versions of Beanie Baby collectors, wringing our greedy little hands together at the prospect of retiring early from the work-a-day grind.

Still, I faithfully stored those boxes of Star Wars actions figures in every home I occupied from then until this very year. In my latest (and, hopefully, last) move, I decided that it was time to rid myself of those Star Wars action figures from the Power Of The Force collection (including the manly-looking Princess Leia and the Darth Vader with the long lightsaber) to the Shadows of the Empire collection to the Phantom Menace Preview Figures. Inquiring at a few comic book shops in the area got me little more than pitiful laughs. Everyone I talked to said that they had a glut of those figures and that nobody wanted them aside from a few rare ones here and there. I didn't want to sell the collection piece meal on eBay or something. I wanted to get rid of everything at once. I was ready to just donate the four boxes of unopened Star Wars action figures I had, but, lucky, I happened upon Brian's Toys.

Brian's Toys operates out of Wisconsin and they buy and sell toys. They've even got a handy little mobile app where you can scan the barcode of your toy's package, upload a picture and then they'll get back to you in about 48 hours with an offer. You do have to pay for shipping, but you can ship at a discount if you do it via a pre-paid shipping label from Brian's Toys. All told, I had three transactions with Brian's Toys and they bought every single Star Wars action figure I had. I don't think I made my original investment back, but I was happy to get rid of the toys and get a little money back for them. The folks on staff at Brian's Toys were very nice, always notified me after they inspected my shipment and then told me when I could expect payment via PayPal. And they always paid me on time. It was a good experience over all, and, if I had more toys to sell, I'd sell again to Brian's Toys in a heartbeat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Debunking The New American Way Of Life Article

I've recently seen this "article" titled "New American way of life" all over my Facebook feed. It's credited to John Tabb and has been printed in the Miller County Liberal of to Colquitt, Georgia, on August 19, 2015. Supposedly, the article exists in an earlier form credited to John Rightmire. Whoever wrote it, it's a delicious piece of conservative-whacking welfare trolling that offers a very far fetched approach to gaming the system. There are so many blatant falsehoods in this New American Way Of Life that I had to counter the points.

First off, the waiting list for Section 8 housing, even to get a voucher to play the system like points 1-5 is suggesting, is incredibly long. You'd have to wait years for that to kick in.

6: The Affordable Care Act does provide subsidies for lower income families, but only provides "Free" healthcare to incredibly low incomes. Even then, those on the plan still have to pay out for co-pays, hospital visits, etc etc. The girlfriend in question could possibly get the kids on a state Medicaid program, but, once that's done, the state will look to the father to see if he is getting insurance through his employer and would then force him to cover the kids through his plan, thus screwing up the plan for the father is this hypothetical scenario.

7. If there were a way for a single parent to go to college for free, I'd have had my PhD by now. There simply aren't any state or federal programs that do that. The best one could do is qualify for a Pell Grant, but such grants are not dependent on one's parental status. And, if we're to assume that the girlfriend in question is a stay-at-home mom, then how is she going to have the time to go to class?

8. A family of three (girlfriend + 2 kids) would qualify for a MAXIMUM of $486 in SNAP benefits. This assumes zero income, as Mr Tabb states that the girlfriend in this hypothetical scenario is a stay at home mom. In most cases, if a single mother applies for SNAP benefits, the state will go after the father for child support payments to the mother in order to reduce/eliminate her monthly benefit. So, the father in this hypothetical piece would be screwed.

9. So-called "Obama Phones" existed before Obama was ever in office. It's called The Lifeline Program and it only offers discounts, not free phones. Some cellular providers do provide free cell phone programs, but they do so on their own dime.

10. Utility programs like that are offered at the State level, but they are usually via subsidies and are only free in emergency situations

11. That's actually illegal and would be considered fraud.

12. It doesn't work that way. If each parent is claiming one of the two children as a dependent, than the mother can’t be legally collecting benefits (such as SNAP) for both children.

13. Disability claims have to be well documented by medical professionals and securing benefits is not an easy task. Often, one has to go to court in order to claim disability. And if the girlfriend in question wasn't working to begin with (via the earlier points) she wouldn't get much out of the system because she hadn't earned enough work credits to begin with. I know a lady who has been trying to get disability for years. If she's not actually disabled, she's putting on a great act and has me and her family and friends fooled. She has been shut down in hearings at least twice and has resulted in absolute zero disability payout. It's not nearly as easy as walking into an office and saying "I'm crazy!" or "My back hurts and I can't work!".

The author of this New American Way of Life sums up his OP ED piece by placing the blame for the budget deficit on the shoulders of the social welfare system. One can debate the costs and benefits of social programs, but, instead of talking about people taking advantage of the system, perhaps we should be more concerned about the system taking advantage of the people. Wall Street gets trillions of dollars in tax incentives from the government while maximizing shareholder and minimizing employee compensation. The social benefits that are handed out are just scraps compared to this.