Monday, January 30, 2012

Score One For the Little Guy

I've shared a few fun articles on previous blog posts, mostly of the weird news variety.  This morning, however, I came across a story from last June that, while it sorta fits the mold of weird news, it's much more of a payback story.  And a really awesome payback story at that.

First of all, here's the link:

The news doesn't cover stories like this one nearly as much as they should.  In an age where news only involves urban violence, politics, the economy, or the war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's such a refresher to read about two people who beat a bank who was trying to screw them over.  On one hand, it's great that a judge declared the couple legally entitled to seizing any property, cash, and/or valuables at the local branch since Bank of America did not pay their court-ordered fees.  At the same time though, isn't it sad that such a measure was necessary for the bank to finally stand up and close the case? 

It's probably fair to say that Bank of America's actions, even when ordered by the court to pay the couple's legal fees, stuck to the standard business mantra: When it's their money, they want it now.  When it's your money, they'll take as much time as they possibly can to resolve the issue.  Still, I would have loved to see the look on the bank manager's face when the lawyer showed up with the proper legal document authorizing seizure of all bank property and money since Bank of America had defaulted on their payment (I'd also be willing to bet that he had no idea the case was ongoing, too).

What's a little disturbing about the story is something I had come across while reading more details about the case.  Apparently this wasn't the first time Bank of America had done this to a customer who had paid off a house foreclosure from them.  From what I could find, the circumstances around those other cases weren't taken to the extremes that this story went through, but the idea that such a case has happened multiple times to their customers is very unsettling.  Kinda makes me think twice about ever using them to finance a mortgage when I'm ready to buy a property.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Build Me a Bridge, Cry Me a River, and Get Over Yourself

I read a story earlier this week about a 16-year-old girl in Rhode Island who had spearheaded a lawsuit designed to remove a prayer posted in her high school's auditorium.  The prayer had been up there nearly 50 years, but now it's been covered by a tarp due to the student having won the lawsuit.  Here's the link to the story if you want the details and background:

There's a lot that really angers me about this story.  First of all, I get the girl's point of view.  She's an atheist in a town that is predominantly Catholic, so she's in the minority.  She's public enemy number one now in her town as a result of the decision, pending its appeal in the courts, so she's being ostracized and persecuted even more now.  She's also not the first person I've read about or met who had a crisis of faith in life that shifted her perspective.  The problem is, she's a self-righteous idiot.

First of all, the link I posted above has a picture of the entire prayer that was posted in the auditorium.  Aside from the intro, "Our Heavenly Father," there is not a single religious reference in the entire prayer.  It might as well be a mantra for the students to follow every day.  Being offended by a prayer like that is the opposite end of the spectrum from people who are offended by pornography.  She has a right to feel the way she feels, but she also has the same option that people have who are offended by porn: she can simply avoid being around the prayer.  She doesn't have to stare at it every day, and she didn't even know about the prayer until someone else pointed it out to her when she was a freshman (which also implies that it isn't recited in school every day, either).  One has to wonder if anything would have been done had she never known it was there in the first place.

Now it's fair to point out there are extremists on the other side of this story.  The article mentioned a State Representative who openly had called the student an “an evil little thing" on a local radio show.  That kind of comment isn't going to win over people who might have been on the fence on the subject.  While I feel she's being pompous and overreacting to a not-so-religious prayer, she's not evil. 

A graduate of the school said it best: If the student is truly offended by any mention of God, then she better not carry any cash on her, since all dollar bills read "In God We Trust."  I'd even carry that idea a step further.  I hope she never attends any baseball games, since it's now customary to hear "God Bless America" during the 7th inning stretch at many home games.  And - gad zooks! - what if she sneezes and has to hear the words, "God bless you" from someone?  Do you see how idiotic this line of thinking is when carried to its natural conclusion?

I'm not saying she should have kept her mouth shut the entire time, but in the big picture of things, what greater good was really served here?  She obviously doesn't go home and say, "Well thank God that's over!"  (I mean that both literally and sarcastically)  Really though, nobody really won in this case.  The other students and faculty at the school lost since they liked having the prayer up, and the student herself lost since she's now being ostracized for her actions.  So how was any of this worth the time and energy spent?

I went to private school from kindergarten up to 8th grade, and then switched to public school for high school.  I admit, it was a little weird for me at first to not have a time every morning set aside specifically for prayer, but we did have a "moment of silence" so anyone who was religious could pray if he or she wanted to.  I never felt my religious beliefs were impeded at any time, nor was I offended by anyone who didn't share my personal beliefs.  That's the great thing about beliefs and opinions: they are, by definition, personal.  They're integral to who we are as individuals, and the great thing is we don't have to agree on everything.  Like I said before, she's entitled to feel however she wants to feel about God or religion, but the irony to her actions is that she's now imposing her personal beliefs on the other students and faculty at her school.  She didn't like that the school prayer imposed upon her beliefs, so she turned right around and imposed her feelings on everyone else.

If someone can tell me exactly what greater good was served in all this, I'd love to hear it.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Review: Touch

Last night was the preview/premiere of the new series Touch on Fox.  It stars Kiefer Sutherland as a single father Martin Bohm, raising his 11-year-old autistic son alone ever since his wife was killed in the 9/11 attacks.  His son has not ever spoken a word, and only scribbles numbers and other notes on paper.  Bohm is a blue-collar guy, struggling to make ends meet for him and his son, all the while dealing with the frustration of not being able to communicate with his boy.

Bohm eventually figues out the numbers that his son Jake are writing down aren't just random sequences; he notices the number 318 popping up all over the place - on clocks, school buses, and house addresses.  Bohm doesn't start piecing things together until later on when he realizes the numbers are connected somehow, and Jake is trying to communicate in the only way he knows how. 

Numbers factor in pretty heavily in the episode beyond just the 318.  In Bohm's first adventure, he comes across a former firefighter in the NYFD, who early on buys a lottery ticket.  We see the firefighter's apartment, and he has hundreds of lottery tickets covering all his walls, all showing the same sequence of numbers.  We don't yet understand the significance of the numbers, but they do play into the story by the end of the episode.

Meanwhile, a cell phone in the lost and found area at JFK where Bohm works at manages to find its way to Dublin, Tokyo, and eventually Baghdad.  It's much too convoluted to go into the how and why, but the connections are able to be followed in the episode.  The phone is indirectly connected to the rest of the episode, but it makes for a decent B-plot while Bohm figures out what Jake is trying to tell him.

Touch is the latest project from Tim Kring, who also had created Heroes a few years back.  Heroes was one of those shows that started off with a lot of promise, but fell further and further downhill as the series progressed.  One of the over-arching themes of Heroes was the interconnectivity between all the characters as they bounced around from one place to another, and that same theme comes up here in Touch.  The kind of contrivances needed to make the global storyline of the episode worked, leading to a conclusion that was designed to tug at the viewer's heart strings.

One thing I'm not quite sure about is how far the series can go.  Martin Bohm isn't Jack Bauer, so I highly doubt Bohm will be working on saving the free world from tragedy after tragedy.  However, I don't see the series working on such personal levels every week either.  There's probably a healthy balance somewhere in between the two extremes, and it's also possible that some storylines could carry over week to week. 

In a television scape that's ridiculously oversaturated with lawyer, cop, and doctor procedurals, Touch is a welcome change in tone and style.  If there is a larger mythology to uncover beneath the surface of the show, I'd be curious to see where it goes. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Time to Start Working on My Marlon Brando Impersonation

In the latest development in unclehood for me, my sister recently came to me with news of my niece's christening.  My brother-in-law was raised Catholic, and wanted my niece to be christened in the Catholic church.  I thought it's a good idea, and I'm glad they're going ahead to doing it.

I was originally raised Catholic, and my family left the Catholic church when I was 12 to convert to Baptist.  I won't go into great detail over the differences between the two denominations, but I will say I didn't set foot in a Catholic church from the time we left until my cousin's wedding in 2005.  It was a weird feeling for me being back in a place that I hadn't seen in a long time, but there was also a sense of familiarity.

Anyways, since my niece will be christened in the Catholic church, they need godparents.  What I didn't realize was that the Catholic church requires the godparents to have been confirmed Catholic at some point in the past, which shrank the pool of candidates down significantly for my sister and brother-in-law.  Fortunately, I was confirmed Catholic shortly before we left the church, so now I will be my niece's godfather.

Cue The Godfather theme.

This is another honor that I never had expected coming at all.  I'm wondering what kind of leeway I'll have during the reception in order to have fun with the title of godfather.  I'm debating speaking only in quotes and accent that Marlon Brando had used in The Godfather for the entire day, but my accent needs a lot of work.  I guess this would be the perfect opportunity to watch the entire trilogy, since that was one of my tasks on my list too.

Funny how things work out like that, isn't it?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

I Hope the Baseball Writers of America Read This

I've never been to the Baseball Hall of Fame.  I've always wanted to go, and nearly went when Cal Ripken was inducted a few years ago.  One of my best friends went with his dad and brother to Cal's induction ceremony and told me how awesome the sight was of seeing 100,000 people there for Cal and Tony Gwynn's speeches as they were added to the Hall.

Visiting the Hall is on my list of things to accomplish, so hopefully I'll get an opportunity to get there this summer.  I have no definite plans to do that yet, mainly because I'm trying to save the cash for my trip to the Grand Cayman Islands in May.  Still, it's always been a place I've wanted to see and experience.

My point is concerned with the voting process to get into the Hall.  Barry Larkin was just voted in after having to wait several years to get a high enough percentage of the vote (players need at least 75% of the Baseball Writers of America to vote for them to gain admittance).  Last year, Larkin had around 68%, so he was expected to get enough votes this year to get in.  He ended up getting 86%, which is a ridiculous jump in votes. 

Every year, talk strikes up on which retired players are eligible to be voted upon entering the Hall for the first time.  Every now and then, a truly great player whose career is so memorable for what he had achieved is expected to be voted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility.  Some recent examples of first year candidates are the aforementioned Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn, along with Rickey Henderson, Ozzie Smith, and Kirby Puckett.  More often than not, players have to wait a year or more before they're voted in.

Question: What exactly is the point of making most players wait a couple years before they are voted in?  In Barry Larkin's case, he was eligible for the Hall in 2009, so what point are the writers trying to make in having him wait three years before he could enter?  I know that some of them are biased and say that the likes of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams didn't get 100% of the vote during their first year of eligibility, so no player should ever get 100% on the first go-round, but that's not really my point (though that is really stupid logic). 

The Hall of Fame is for the absolute creme de la creme, right?  Is there a layout to the players that I'm not aware of, where there's a special section for the guys who got in during their first year, versus those who had to wait a few years?  When it's all said and done, who really remembers or cares about who got in when?  Do we scoff at people like Bert Blyleven who had to wait 14 years before he finally got enough votes to get in?  If the Hall's purpose is to celebrate the best players of all time, who exactly wins by having many players wait years before they get in?

And in the case of Barry Larkin, how did the voters magically decide, "Okay, after looking at Barry's body of work during his career for three years now, he deserves to get in the Hall"?    His stats were his stats; they didn't change for the better since last year or the year before.  Actually, the answer to my question about Larkin is pretty easy; the writers chose to vote him in because no other first-year candidate really blew them away, which goes back to my previous argument. 

Maybe I'm being too simplistic with my view about the Hall of Fame.  The way I see it, if a player's career was special enough to qualify him for the Hall of Fame, he should be voted in.  He shouldn't have to wait 14 years to get enough votes to get him in.  I'm not saying Bert Blyleven was as great a pitcher as Nolan Ryan was, but the fact of the matter is they're both in the Hall now.  Their careers can certainly be evaluated differently - especially considering Ryan was a starter and Blyleven was a reliever - but fans touring the Hall won't think any less of Blyleven or his career because he had to wait 14 years before the writers voted him in.  I could sort of understand players whose careers were somewhat borderline (the likes of Curt Schilling and Andy Pettite come to mind), but cases like Blyleven are extreme.  Still, there are plenty of players who people make comments like, "Well, he may not be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but he should get in eventually."  What on earth does that mean?  He's either great enough to be in the Hall or he's not!

Baseball is certainly not the only sport that does this, either.  Every other major sport's Hall of Fame voting process is just as silly for all the same reasons as baseball, particularly football.  I realize that there is a gray area in a lot of players' cases, namely who won championships during their career versus who didn't win any rings, but a player who was considered dominant at his respective position for a significant enough period of time should be eligible for being voted in the Hall without having to wait an extended number of years to get in.  I know I probably opened a whole new can of worms by mentioning the phrase "for a significant period of time," but that's a separate debate all together.  Either way, I don't understand the so-called logic of making a player wait several years before they're finally considered acceptable into the Hall.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

You Know What Happens When You Make Assumptions...

First of all, I hope everyone had a safe and happy holiday season. 

Now, I have to share an odd and funny story from over the weekend.  I really don't know what to make of it at all, but it's definitely a good laugh.

I took my mom to see the musical Jersey Boys Friday night in DC as her Christmas present.  She's a big theater fan, and I knew she'd enjoy it.  When she opened her gift card Christmas morning with the proof of purchase of the tickets for the show, she went berzerk like a 6 year old kid who got the big toy he or she wanted all along.  Her reaction alone was worth buying the tickets.

We met up Friday night for dinner before the show, and the show itself was fantastic.  I really didn't know what to expect from it, but it was excellent.  I actually knew a few songs performed, much to my surprise, which made the show all the more enjoyable.

Here's the point of the story: After the show had ended, my mom and I walked back to our car.  She's much more of a DC expert than I am, so I followed her lead.  We got to a crosswalk about a block away from our garage, talking about where our car was the entire time.  A guy probably in his late 40s overhead us chatting and made a joke by saying, "Well hey, whatever the wife says it's what goes."

You read that right.  He actually thought my mom was my wife. 

I had to break the reality to him and said she was my mom, and he said, "Wow, that's one young-looking mom you've got!" 

I honestly didn't know how to react to his comment.  Really, what do you say to that?    "Hey, she is actually kinda single now"?  How awkward would that conversation be?

I actually felt badly for the guy briefly because he had to feel awkward and embarassed for making such an assumption.  That kind of comment is right up there with making a joke about a pregnant woman directly to her, only to find out she isn't pregnant to begin with.  There is absolutely no recovery for that. 

Here's to 2012.  Hopefully it'll provide as many awkwardly funny moments as 2011 had ended with.