Saturday, February 28, 2009

Where does the money go?

I don't know what it's like in your state, but here in New Jersey we have to register our motor vehicles and renew that registration every year. I for one, don't understand the process, and the fact that I pay $56.50 for the privilege makes me understand it less, if such a thing is possible.
I bought my car in 2005 and paid to register it to drive in the state. Since I haven't sold it, why do I have to continue to pay $56.50? I don't know what the registration fee pays for other than the people who the state pays to process my registration fees. It's like bridge tolls that pay for the people to take the tolls. My head is spinning.
Now, our federal government is going to spend $13 billion dollars (that's a lot of dollars) to take the census in 2010. Why? To count people that we already know are here? Isn't that what birth and death records are for?
In New Jersey, we have to present several forms of identification to prove that we're official citizens of the country. It has something to do with the terrorism threat, they say. So, I had to go down there with five forms of ID to prove that I've lived here legally for the past 50 years. Don't you think they'd have noticed by now? Politics.
So, we're going to pay $13 billion to count people next year. If you're smarter than me, you'll go to the government's web site and apply for a job. They're paying between $12 and $18 an hour to count people. That's better than you can get at the local aquarium to count fish.
Where does the money go?


So there. I deleted my Twitter account. I realized that I couldn't keep up with constantly updating my life on the Internet. Once a day on here is really too much sometimes. The Twitter thing had gotten to be too much to think about. I feel much better now.
Anyone I care enough about to Twitter I've already e-mailed or actually (egad) spoken to. Such is life in the 21st Century.
Twitter is a service for friends, family and co–workers to communicate and stay connected through the exchange of quick, frequent answers to one simple question: What are you doing?
I'm not doing much. Besides, don't you think family, friends and co-workers already communicate? It's a sad state of affairs if we have to rely on the Internet to talk to each other. I guess we do.
Speaking of which, I'm this close (holding my fingers a half inch apart) to deleting the Facebook account as well. What it amounts to is that I just don't get it.
It's supposed to be this "social networking site" but what it's actually an Internet page that I set up and have allowed people to find me. Mostly, I've been "found" by people I already knew, which is odd since I'm already on their e-mail lists or some other such thing, so Facebook amounts to yet another site that I have to keep track of. I'm exhausted - cyberexhausted.
[One of your friends] thinks that you might know [one of his friends] and thinks that you should add him [her] to your friends list. Maybe. Mostly, I don't know the people that are recommended for me, and I'm not up to adding 500 friends. I can barely keep up with the 5 that I have in real life.
Then, there are the ads and invitations. The latest one is kind of a dare:

Oh, some people in Burlington County think I'm stupid, do they? I'll show them and take an online IQ test which might prove that I'm smart enough to take an online IQ test. It says that it's an "Official IQ Test [exclamation point]" so I guess it counts. Maybe it'll show up in the 2010 Census that we're paying $13 million for. (next subject)

So, here I am - Twitterless and soon to be Faceless-book. I feel so out of touch. Or, as in touch as I felt before I was so in touch.

It's the Internet.

Friday, February 27, 2009

I'll take "The Bloody Obvious" for two hundred, Alex.

Often, I think I'm in the wrong line of work. Pretty much anything other than what I'm doing now, but specifically, the business of telling people things that are discovered by big government or private funding agencies. Like this:
WASHINGTON (AFP) - Eating heart-healthy, low-calorie foods and exercising is the key to losing weight regardless of levels of protein, fat or carbohydrates, a new study has found. The research, funded by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI) of the National Institutes of Health, seems to argue against blanket use of diets that do not necessarily limit calories but call for eating certain foods such as vegetables or proteins, at the expense of others.
To recap: Eating fewer calories than you use will make you lose weight. It's a new study. That's my favorite phrase, "a new study." In a new study funded by the National Institute for New Studies, researchers found that exposing your skin to the sun causes sunburn. A new study funded by the National Institute for Research has discovered that ice is cold and fire is hot.
Give me the money.
The story later goes on to tell us that sixty-six percent of US adults are overweight and of those, 32 percent are obese, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data show. That's pretty easy to see.
Sixty-six percent. Research shows that's almost 7 out of 10 people. The next time you're out wandering around, take a look at people. We're a fat bunch of bipeds, you know. So much so that people who are a normal weight are stand-out's. It's a shame. We spend so much time sitting around so that almost everything we eat is helping us get fatter.
I think it's partly due to advancements in medicine. People feel like they'll just take a pill or have an operation rather than exert themselves. In addition to some other things, I do a killer exercise class on Thursday night. After the last one, I muttered to myself that if my doctor told me I had to do this four days a week or risk dying of coronary artery disease, I'd have to think about it.
I think most people are thinking about it.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Moral bankruptcy

Occasionally, the Philadelphia Inquirer has the good sense to publish a letter I've written to them. Lately, an article appeared detailing the staff cuts that are coming to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. It prompted this missive, soon to find the Editorial section:
The Philadelphia Art Museum is cutting staff, the Philadelphia Orchestra is having financial troubles and libraries are closing. Meanwhile, the Eagles and Phillies both raised ticket prices and continue to enjoy sold-out crowds.
I think that says a lot about society's values, and it's a shame that there isn't a better balance.
Keeping things short is a key to having a letter published. I leave the wordiness and verbal festivals to this place. Newspapers are in trouble everywhere, and the two here in Philadelphia have recently declared bankruptcy.

I suppose it's because more and more people are getting their news and information from the Internet, but it might also be because newspapers are 75 cents and people don't see it as being worth the money. If my office is any example, my Inquirer is routinely taken from the recycle bin in the afternoon and read for free by several of my co-workers. They owe me 12 cents each.

I've been reading a daily newspaper since I was in grammar school, and the prospect of not having one is a bit frightening. I spend the entire day in front of a computer screen (including now) and I relish the opportunity to get my fingers dirty turning pages and trying to finish the crossword puzzle.

Great chunks of society are going down the drain as we find new and (supposedly) better ways to gather information and entertain ourselves. Mostly, they cost more than the old ways and they are driven by the youth and their new habits. When art museums, libraries and Symphony Orchestras start closing we lose a lot of what makes us civilized. Of course, large numbers of people don't know how to behave in those places, so perhaps it says something about why they are failing.

We've become a society of people who walk around with our heads in our cell phones, plugged into ear buds and yammering about in shorthand text-talk. [For the record, I punctuate and capitalize my text messages] Meanwhile, garbage entertainment and mindless junk thrives.

Those who do not respect their history are doomed.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Lentil soup.

The older I get (every day) the less I understand the fascination with religion. I suppose that translates to an eternity in Hell, which I can't imagine is any worse than what I have on Earth.
As I was leaving work tonight, a co-worker blurted out, "You didn't have meat today, did you?" Perplexed, I responded, "Well, I had a salad but it had chicken in it - but it probably wasn't real chicken."
At that point, I realized what the point of the question was. Today apparently, was Ash Wednesday - whatever that is. I don't subscribe to the Catholic religion (largely based on guilt) so my conditioning is to do what I want when I want and if necessary, ask forgiveness. That's the point of religion, as I see it.
It's a guilt-based following that prides itself on sacrificing something because they feel that if they don't, an eternity of damnation awaits. That's the same kind of thinking that permeates gamblers and other superstitious types who believe that what they think affects what happens later. If they talk about something and it doesn't happen they are made to feel responsible.
Religion feeds on human nature and superstition. We don't know what the future holds, so we feel as though we should do "the right thing" in order to guarantee a future of happiness. Or at the very least, we should do what we're told because the people telling us must be right.
What if they're not?

Next on the list...

When is a free DVD not free? When you're a member of the Columbia House DVD club.
GO PAPERLESS! No more order cards and catalogs! they proclaim, (exclamation points) and "we'll reward you with a FREE DVD from a selection of hot titles." uh-huh.
The fine print.
A shipping and processing fee will be added to your FREE selection.
I suppose by putting the word free in capital letters, then charging you a shipping and processing fee (not free, fee) it somehow makes it right. Imagine a world where retailers actually sent you something for free and didn't charge you for shipping. The horror! Is there another meaning for free that I've missed?
Those "hot titles" include "Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium", "Shrek 2", "Garfield 3" (a close game), "Evan Almighty" and "X-Men 3." Hot.
I don't know how much the shipping and processing fee is, but I'd bet it's just about the price of the DVD if you bought it at an actual retail store.
I also don't know how I got roped into this Columbia House DVD club. I was probably drunk and thought it sounded like a good idea to pay retail price plus shipping and processing for a DVD that I could rent from Netflix for about one-eighth of the price. The evils of alcohol.
So, I said goodbye to Columbia House and their paperless billing. But not so fast, Goober. It isn't as easy as clicking on the "Buy Now" link or the "Go to Cart" or even going paperless. No, you have to scroll through a bunch of junk in the Membership guide at the bottom of the screen. Keep scrolling ... there it is.
They tell you:
... you are free to cancel your membership any time after you've fulfilled your purchase commitment by writing to us at: Customer Service Department, Columbia House DVD Club, PO Box 91602, Indianapolis, IN 46291-0602.
Free to cancel? Can we really be sure, or will they charge a processing fee?
I will find out. My free cancellation has so far cost me 42 cents.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

A taxing situation.

Fuck Turbo Tax.
And while we're at it fuck the entire tax system and the people who profit from it.
I hope they have some lackey at whatever Hellhole they inhabit doing Google searches for their company so that they can see Fuck Turbo Tax come up in big fucking bold letters on their fucking wide screen monitors.
I hope they see it around lunch time when their fucking corporate attorneys are choking on a stale turkey wrap.
Where did this wrath start? When I bought their fucking software and it told me that I owed $4,200 in federal taxes, and I went to H & R Block and entered the same info and I was told I owed $710. That's a start.
Now, I find myself doing my Sainted mother's income taxes on their fucking "free" web site. The woman earns $4,000 a year working for a local school in addition to the Social Security she gets. They take state income taxes out of her wages because they say, "We have to" and every year, she gets the same $63 refund (sorry, "overpayment") because my fucked-up state can't revise its bookkeeping to allow an 84-year old woman to keep an extra 63 fucking dollars.
But I digress.
Every year, I do her taxes. This year I did the same thing I did last year. I went to Turbo Tax's "FREE" (in quotes) tax prep page. At the end of the process, I was told that I owed $25.95 to file on their "Free Edition" (their words, not mine - check the image) for a $63 refund.
So, to you at Turbo Tax, choking down your turkey wraps I say a hail and hearty, "Fuck You!" I'll fill out the Goddamned paperwork myself before I'll give you 26 dollars for a 63 dollar tax refund (sorry, "overpayment").
I hope you get Salmonella poisoning, you fucking bastards. You're part of the whole fucked up tax system that (a) kills people who earn a living and (b) makes them sweat bullets over "tax season" which, much like duck season and rabbit season, is best spent in hibernation until the people with the bullets run out of ammo.
Did I forget to say, "Fuck you, Turbo Tax?"
No, I didn't.

Monday, February 23, 2009

He has no genitalia and he's holding a sword.

So they gave out those Academy Awards on Sunday night. I'd be all twisted up, but the only two movies I saw were "The Dark Knight" and "The Visitor" (best actor nominee). From what I hear, I'm one of twelve people who saw "The Visitor." I recommend it, by the way. I can't speak for the other eleven.
There's kind of a homophobic thing going on with that "Milk" movie. It's hard to explain, but if you mention it to some people and tell them you liked it, they look at you funnily (queerly, so to speak) and tell you how horrible it was that it was even nominated, so imagine my glee to see Spicoli win the Oscar. I'd be happier if it actually had anything to do with my life.
I don't get worked up over awards shows like I used to. Age and maturity have given me a more healthy perspective and generally, their winning or losing doesn't affect my life, so why should I care?
I do get a kick out of the self-importance of the affair. Actors take themselves so seriously, and their "craft" is the stuff of biblical legend, or so you'd think, to hear them say it. It's strange to me to see a group of people gathered to congratulate themselves. It wouldn't be so bad, but then they put it on national television for 5 hours and make a grand spectacle of it. There should be a rule that an Oscar broadcast should not be as long as any nominated movie.
The red carpet thing is a festival, too. "What are you wearing?" they ask, as if we know who Diane von Furstenberg is. I'd love to go and say, "I'm wearing American Eagle Outfitters." That should be good for a lifetime of free shopping. Something tells me that would be a more popular choice.
I guess the Academy Awards will never be as irrelevant as Miss America has become, and that's kind of hard to explain. We still love the movies, in spite of the fact that it costs ten bucks to see one. They can't seem to price us out of the theater, no matter how hard they try.
All I can say is, thank God for Netflix and wide screen television. I'll see "Milk" in April.

More expensive than a weekend at the Ritz Carlton.

I just returned from the dentist. I'm having a crown put on one of my back teeth - number 16 I think. They're so weak and full of fillings that they spontaneously snap in half like a busted Pinata. It's always a surprise to be munching on lunch and wonder why my yogurt has nuts in it. Those aren't nuts. They're parts of my former teeth.
I think this is my fourth crown. The hard part is keeping the temporary in place while they build the steel one. This one has to remain stuck until March 11. Meanwhile, my crappy dental insurance is picking up $1,000 of the cost but still leaving me with nearly $700 to pay. Next time, I might just deal with the broken teeth. It isn't like anyone can see them.
On another medical-related note, I received a copy of the invoice for my hospital stay last month. Just so you can guess, here are the details...
  • Emergency room visit at 10:00pm Friday night.
  • IV bag, 3 X-rays and IV pain medication.
  • Check-in to the room at 4:00am Saturday morning, another IV bag.
  • 4 meals.
  • 1 sleeping pill.
  • Three more IV bags, for a total of 5.
  • Check-out at 11:00am Sunday.
  • A prescription for pain medication and antibiotic.

Guess the cost. Kudos to the commenter who can get closest to the actual retail price.

Are these things available at Sharper Image?

Occasionally I find the answer to one of my minor personal biases. I have a set of things that I'd rather not do, and I sometimes feel as though my feelings are irrational because I may have forgotten the reason I felt like that to begin.
My fitness center doubles as a "community center," which is to say that the community invades the place now and then. There is an Olympic-sized swimming pool that I refuse to use because one of my personal biases tells me to stay out of any body of stagnant, filtered water that is used by great numbers of strangers.
There was a father and 2-year old daughter in the locker room (why, I have no idea) and the father was dressing his daughter for a trip to the pool. His friend asked him a question, and when I heard the question, I immediately realized why I don't use community pools.
"Does she have her pool diaper on?"
I couldn't help but glance back to see what a pool diaper looked like. It's an elastic banded plastic device that supposedly adheres to the child's legs so that her effluence does not infiltrate the pool water. That's the design, and it was at that moment that I was reminded of my bias against community pools.
And I remembered that there isn't an elastic band strong enough to fasten against a child's leg that would encourage me to use a pool used by incontinent children.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

A show about nothing.

All weekend, the NFL Network has been running the NFL Scouting Combine, which is a skills contest between all of the top college players who plan on coming to the pros. February is kind of a dead zone for TV, and it's made even more dead by broadcasting guys bench pressing and jumping up and down.
The strange thing about the Combine is that it judges players on skills that they will never use on a football field, like bench pressing and jumping up and down. There is a mile of game film on every one of these guys, yet they insist on bringing them to Indianapolis and putting them through this stuff. There's something wrong with a system where guys play football for 3 or 4 years and you still have to put them through this nonsense. It'd be different if it led to better decisions, but mostly it leads to second-guessing and poor decisions. Can he break a tackle? I don't know, but he can bench 550.
The other strange thing is that it's on TV. We live in an era where the NFL draft is a TV show, and now it's gotten to the point where the Combine is a TV show too. I guess people are watching it. When George Costanza pitched the idea for Jerry's "show about nothing," he was asked, "Why would people watch it?" He replied, "Because it's on TV." True enough, I suppose, but I can't think of too many more boring activities than watching a guy lift weights.
The overriding feeling I got in the twelve seconds I watched it was that it seemed a little like the way slaves were chosen. The biggest and strongest were trotted out in front of the owners and the best ones were chosen first. The concept made me feel a little creepy. I realize that the NFL is a far cry from slavery, but the idea of putting on a demonstration of "feats of strength" for the NFL scouts and owners seems demeaning to me, but I suppose it's justified given the reward at the end of the line.
However, it isn't so far-fetched to see people demean themselves where large sums of money are concerned.