Friday, August 28, 2009

Ode to Spot

(image from DeviantArt)
Felis catus is your taxonomic nomenclature,
An endothermic quadruped, carnivorous by nature;
Your visual, olfactory, and auditory senses
Contribute to your hunting skills and natural defenses.

I find myself intrigued by your subvocal oscillations,
A singular development of cat communications
That obviates your basic hedonistic predilection
For a rhythmic stroking of your fur to demonstrate affection.

A tail is quite essential for your acrobatic talents;
You would not be so agile if you lacked its counterbalance.
And when not being utilized to aid in locomotion,
It often serves to illustrate the state of your emotion.

O Spot, the complex levels of behavior you display
Connote a fairly well-developed cognitive array.
And though you are not sentient, Spot, and do not comprehend,
I nonetheless consider you a true and valued friend.
-- Lt. Cmdr. Data

Thursday, August 20, 2009

And Now, Parking Tickets!

(Hey, why not?)

The following excerpt is from Time Out Chicago (week of 8/20/09). I've given tips (or rather, venting sessions) about rules of the highway and proper driving procedure. As a change of pace, this article provides some insider tips about parking tickets. This should be especially useful since the city's much aligned (and, let's face it, horribly run) privatized parking deal with LAZ. Also of note, parking by the lake won't be free anymore by the end of the summer, which makes the article even more helpful.


Former City Parking-Enforcement Officer

About 2.6 million parking tickets are written annually in Chicago, and only 10 percent are contested. That’s a shame, says Sheldon Zeiger, the former city hearing officer who wrote and published Stick it to your ticket (12.95), a guide to demystifying the battle against tyrannical parking fines. “All the citizen needs to do in his defense is reduce the case to 50/50, and the hearing officer should dismiss it, “Zeiger says.

As soon as you spot the orange slip on your car, don’t toss it into your glove compartment. Zeiger suggests a little crime-scene investigating. “Was the ticket written properly? Did the officer write down the right location? The right plate number? The right make? Did he put the right time? Let’s say there’s a real problem with the location – the officer wrote down the 200 block of Halsted but you were parked on the 300 block of Halsted. Right there you can contest the ticket and say, ‘Look, the ticket wasn’t written correctly on its face.’ A lot of tickets are dismissed for that reason.”

If all the basic ID information is correct, look at the explanation for the ticket. You might realize you’re being ticketed for a sign violation but there aren’t any signs there or they’re obscured, “ Zeiger says. Now, you can begin forming your defense—gathering evidence and witnesses. “Take photos with your cell phone and ask members of your party to sign a notarized statement.”

Your defense should not be based on excuses. In deciding more than 100,000 parking-ticket cases over 15 years, Zeiger says he’s heard of everying from variations on the Good Samaritan (“I was reading to the blind. How could you ticket me?”) to claims of sexual blackmail (“The officer tried to pick me up and when I said no, he gave me a ticket”). “Excuses never work,” Zeiger says, “but proof does.”


Bad Luck Trends Help Us All

Just looking over the 8/20 edition of the Sun-Times, we have:

-a 20 year old suspect randomly attacking Tom Barrett, who just happens to be mayor of Milwaukee

-two men attacking firefighter Matt Jones in a spot right on a CPD patrol route

-a man scarfing down a sandwich and sloppily licking his fingers after each bite, perhaps unknowingly conversing with nationally-syndicated columnist and critic Richard Roeper

Three stories and three chance encounters. In each instance, the anonymous perpetrator had no idea that he was basically committing these acts while around public (actual or eventual) figures. While it's true that one should pretty much be on good behavior everytime they're out and about, it's doubly more important when you realize that you never know who you'll meet some day. Beating up a mayor and a firefighter could bring about extra charges that wouldn't normally come from attacking a regular joe, but then again, you don't really know who's a regular joe and who's not. The solution to this problem is simple: treat everyone as if they're not.

As for the finger-licking man by Roeper? That's just gross, man. It may not be a crime, but it's annoying and sick, and getting publicized like that is punishment that fits the crime. *blech!*

Friday, August 14, 2009

Downe and Very Out

Above: Bruno, clearly happy that I'm reviewing his film

Three out of four stars

I didn’t know quite what to expect when I walked into the theater to watch Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest endeavor Bruno. The film starts out innocently enough: the audience gets a quick setup of trendy Austrian fashion reporter Bruno (he repeatedly claims he is 19 years old, but is played by 37 year old Cohen) as well as a sodomy-filled montage with his boyfriend Diesel (Clifford Bañagale), which wisely yet disturbingly sets the tone for the film’s wildly preposterous characters and equally ridiculous segments. As one of the elite names of the Austrian fashion scene, we get to see just a taste of his fame until scandal erupts and he loses everything he values – money, Diesel, and most importantly, fame.

With this temporary setback, Bruno embarks on a quest to become big in Hollywood with his faithful and somewhat smitten assistant’s assistant Lutz (Gustaf Hammarsten). We see many attempts of Bruno being earnestly resourceful and creative but committing one faux pas after another. From acting to talk show hosting to adopting a modern accessory, his lack of scale and comprehension constantly get him into trouble when he interviews real people, and his leaps of logic repeatedly get him into situations that would be dangerous only for a person like Bruno.

Remarkably, for all of Bruno’s personal failings, there is no shortage of Hollywood cameos. With the amount of pain and effort Bruno puts into his ill-conceived plans, it would be heartbreaking to see him not encounter these names. Though things never go according to plan, the cameos bring about an air of legitimacy to his quest and help endear Bruno to the audience.

The film is 82 minutes long, but there are definitely no boring spots. There are a few segments that are downright painful to watch, but much of the film’s humor derives from Bruno’s fake antics and his victims’ very-real reactions, in classic Borat-style, for a dynamic one-two punch. Sacha Baron Cohen does an admirable job of adlibbing in order to elicit certain responses from those on screen, and something must be said of just how gutsy a performer he is. Cohen as Bruno is met with hostility and Cohen gives you something of a dual surprise: how at times he manages to stand his ground for the sake of the joke and, in other times, just how quickly he can run for dear life. Apparently, Cohen employs a relentless philosophy in which it is better for the film to keep the audience’s attention at all times, no matter the cost. No one watching this film will catch their breath.

Cohen’s previous film Borat was about exposing America’s latent xenophobia and anti-immigration attitudes, and Bruno seeks to question America’s homophobia in the same style. Had the story in Bruno been stronger, I would have considered it a detriment as it follows roughly the same formula as Borat, right down to the conflict with the loyal sidekick. However, since there is not much of a story and the true charm of the film comes from the segments themselves, I am willing to let the similarities slide. Rather, while Bruno admirably seeks to push the envelope in order to further explore the homophobic attitudes and/or self-absorbed naiveté of America’s citizens, some segments accomplish this goal while others seem to do nothing else but to provoke whatever victim had the misfortune of running into Cohen. Bruno’s agent, for example, doesn’t come across as malicious or anti-Gay, but just as an object for Cohen to antagonize. Compare that interaction with the gay conversion preachers, who would be the ideal target for the subject matter, and the film comes across as uneven in that regard.

Despite the lack of consistency, the jokes and gags flow from within the context of the segments because the punch lines come from the victims themselves, with Cohen only providing the push. The old adage of “You can’t make this stuff up” certainly rings true, and these displays of honesty cut through plenty of false sincerity that only actors could give. While seeking the truth is always a hazard in some way, Bruno just barely gets away by the skin of his teeth. If there’s one thing everybody loves in a film, it’s a harrowing escape.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

One Cent Per Fired Synapse

(or rather, a penny for your thoughts)

From the Archive of Knowledge:

-A penny costs 1.4 cents to mint
-The Bible is the most shoplifted book in the world
-Glenn Beck and Bill Maher both identify as Libertarians

How much thought is given these days?

“This is a wonderful capital to cover things in because there’s an awful lot of information available despite the growth of secrecy and so on. For example, when I had the Weekly and there would be an explosion in a country I didn’t know a damn thing about, and I had to go to press in two days. I had to write an article for a weekly – that’s a little more reflective than a daily story. You can have room to move and a little extra time to give it depth. So what do you do? If it’s a country that depends on, say, copper, you go to the Bureau of Mines in the Interior Department and you get the latest report on copper. And the report on the copper industry will give you a sense of the basic social-economic factors that are working in that country, and you’ll understand it better. If it’s soybeans, you go to the agriculture department and get the latest few crop reports. I got a good hell of a news story before the Korean War when I discovered that the Kuomintang in China were buying soybean futures as if they knew something was coming, and then there was a Senate investigation, and they did know something.”

--I.F. Stone, discussing the merits of true investigative journalism

And I post it because I came across that paragraph right before Laura Ling and Euna Lee were released from North Korea, after they were captured doing what any good journalist is supposed to do.

More driving tips:

-When driving on the left lane, don’t dive through the middle lane to the right lane in order to get to your exit. Not only is that extraordinarily dangerous, but it considerably slows down traffic as well. If you must go across an entire highway, move one lane at a time, keeping careful watch of your speed.

-Seat belts, Seat belts, Seat belts.

-Look in the rear view mirror once in a while. It won’t kill you, and it might actually save you and people around you some aggravation.

Awful Terrible & Troublesome (AT&T)

After a prolonged absence, I'm back, baby.

AT&T kept yanking our chains about our internet connection and pulled off one unprofessional move after another. Blogging without it was impossible (I refuse to blog at work, and going online at the library or other wifi spot makes me feel as if I need to do more important things, which I did), but fear not, I still wrote despite the downtime. I'll post up what I have over the next few days.

In the meantime, however, I'm going to post a letter that I'm sending to the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Communications Commission, the Fixer at the Sun-Times, and perhaps some people at AT&T (Ahem, Mister Stephenson? Yes, I found your email address). Yes, this is venting session, but after a week of bad service, it's very much warranted.


Hello, I had fine service with other companies (Comcast, RCN) before we changed to AT&T two years ago for cost and service availability issues. We requested to modify our AT&T services, but instead we were been without promised internet services for seven days straight. Having no service is fine, but customer service had repeatedly issued false promises and shady practices.

This is my experience with Comcast and RCN compared to AT&T's customer service:
-Unlike AT&T, most connection problems were solved remotely
-Unlike AT&T, service would be restored within customer service's promised time (which usually took 5 minutes)
-Unlike AT&T, should a technician come by, he/she would always stay until service resumed
-Unlike AT&T, no problem lasted beyond a day (we are now on day 4, going into day 5)
-Unlike AT&T, customer service email addresses were readily available online
-Unlike AT&T, customer service extended beyond the regular business day, for at least six days a week.
-Unlike AT&T, both Comcast and RCN only had to send one technician to handle problems both inside and outside the house

Additionally, AT&T's screen announcing that there is a problem with our connection says that there are technical service agents available to speak on the phone 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The technician, at around 3pm on August 6, said service would be restored by 8pm. Obviously that didn't happen, and when we called the number given to us, the recorded voice said the tech assistance offices were closed for the night. This was the very same number the screen told us to call, the screen that said agents would be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even the text designed to reassure customers is a blatant lie. One customer service rep assured my sister that the problem was with their central office, not our local service. Another customer service rep told my sister the opposite. Which is it?

Lastly, even looking for contact email for AT&T customer service reps is much more complicated than it needs to be. Posting it only seems to escape company grasp. AT&T is supposedly a communications company, but there are no agents available by phone (again, the supposed 24 hours, 7 days promise) and email addresses are hidden.

On Monday, August 10, the second technician came by (if you'll recall, after the first technician on Friday assured us that we would have service again). This second technician this time spent a half hour to talk to us and look over the problem. He deduced that representative over the phone had issued us a fake phone number that did not exist anywhere, which is why we were having a problem for so long. Nowhere was this noted in any system, no one was notified, and worse yet, even the technician seemed baffled as to this representative's actions. Sadly, we have little way in tracking down who this representative was and why he/she messed our account so badly.

AT&T is sorely inefficient and frankly, this kind of "customer service" is unacceptable. I will also ask for a refund or discount to compensate for the time without service, since clearly we are not using them. Additionally, being without service would be fine had AT&T's customer service dept. and technicians not falsely raising our hopes and repeatedly give us empty promises and deadlines. At the very least, honesty is needed. At the very worst, a complete overhaul in service protocol from top to bottom will be required.

Sincerely Irate,