Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Scam

I was the target of an IRS impersonation scam. A female robot called me to inform me that I was the target of an IRS invesitigation, and that if I didn't call them right away, I might be subject to arrest. I heard a local phone number, repeated twice. So I called it.

An E. Indian/Pakistani gentleman answered the phone. He told me that I had been the subject of a fraud investigation, and that, after my taxes had been audited for the years 2008-2011, that I had underpaid taxes, and that there would be late fees and other penalties associated with the original underpayment. I asked why I had not received a letter from the IRS. He explained that, in cases of fraud, the IRS never sent out letters. He said if I didn't pay right now, an arrest warrant would be issued, and I could do jail time.

My response: "BULLSHIT"

I've made mistakes on my taxes, I've received letters within months of the screwups that I owed money, and I paid promptly. This is how I know - they don't wait seven years to audit you, they go after you the moment you slip up.


So I asked him who he was, and he responded, "My name is John Anderson, my badge number is 95105". Again, this is a guy who sounds like Apu from The Simpsons. John Anderson, really?

Of course, my memory not being perfect, the first thing that sprang to mind was Neo from The Matrix (his real name was actually Thomas A. Anderson, not John). Checking IMDB, I find out that I'm not far off, John Anderson is listed on Neo's "file" as his father. So I was close.

I reported this to the Federal Trade Commission, and I've tried to report it to the IRS, but their reporting form has a cgi-lib bug, or they don't know how to tell you to only use letters or numbers in a particular field. I suppose if I really want to report him, I'll have to call the IRS and wait through an endless voice jail.

Welcome to Wednesday!

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Top 25, or, How Dumb Have We Become

This is not meant as a pejorative, or if it is, it's meant in humor, but what the heck has happened to us as a community of filmmakers? What do we value, or what are we hoping to create?

Here's where I'm coming from: on Real Time with Bill Maher last week, he made an interesting point, and one that no one on the panel wanted to talk about (including director Kathryn Bigelow) - the all-time champions in top-grossing movies (adjusted for inflation, that is) are adult-themed films, with a few blockbusters thrown in for good measure. They include Gone With The Wind (still number one!), The Sound of Music, Doctor Zhivago, and so on. Yes, Star Wars is in there, as is Avatar, but when you consider that Gone With The Wind was released in only a few theaters at a time, and played for an entire year at most locations, that's pretty darned impressive. Of the top-25 films of all time, unadjusted for inflation, all but one or two have a wizard, an alien, a robot, or a superhero in them. Titanic is one without any of the above, and yet still manages to take a true event and add an a-historical, poorly-written romance novel over a plethora of potentially more interesting true stories. But I digress.

Yes, the potential audience plays a part in what we create. The times, also, play a large part of what we go and spend money on. Theater tickets are more heinously expensive than ever. And, in some ways, it's wonderful that Marvel is having such a great run for their money. Nerds have generally had to settle for what are often the cheesiest versions of their childhood heroes (anyone remember the direct-to-video classic, Dollman, featuring Tim Thomerson?). But at the same time, all these movies with blockbuster costs are causing many other movies to end up relegated to the streaming market, or direct-to--dvd. Great, so-called "small" movies have to fight for eyeballs, fight for box-office. Movies like "Selma" get relegated to the TL;DR pile, practically before they're released. "Too serious" is a major flaw...?

Personally, I'm really happy that Takashi Miike is remaking old classic samurai films, and may create new original samurai classics - he certainly knows that genre really, really well. And David Simon's efforts on HBO are always welcome, since he treats me as if I have an attention span, and the ability to remember things.

You know, like an adult.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Moving up that old corporate ladder

I have my own, numbered parking space at my temp job (which I started in 1994).

Tomorrow, THE WORLD!!!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

An Early Mentor's Passing Lamented

Watching me watch a movie is like watching someone in a trance. I can shut out almost anything that goes on around me. Believe it or not, someone else is kind of responsible for that.

I should have done this sooner, except that I didn't know he was dead, and when he died, the technology I'm using didn't quite exist yet. John Bigby, a media professor at Santa Rosa Junior College, died in 1994 at the age of 56, after falling down stairs in his own home. He lingered for nine months before passing. He was my film and media mentor in 1979/1980, and he nurtured within me the tools that I use today to watch films, to look at commercials, to really hear the message being given in a way that is, perhaps, at odds with the originators' intent.

One thing I learned from him is to respect the filmmaker, even though the story or the performances don't deserve respect. This is not to say "suspend critical thinking" or anything that stupid, but only to remember that if it's on screen, it was intended. Sure, there are gaffes, errors in continuity or perhaps a cameraman, briefly visible in a mirror, but what he meant was, the director, the editor, slave over these things to get to a final product, or they slapdash it together to get a final product, but with the number of eyes that allow a movie to make it to the big screen, everything you see on screen - they meant to do that. Which is why I can watch "bad" films as if they matter. But if something seems incongruous to you in a movie, ask yourself why the director did that? Why make that particular editing choice? Was it to cover a bad shot, or was it a specific aesthetic choice by either the editor or the director (or both)?

His classes were wonderfully opinionated. He was known to appear before us in a white linen suit with straw Panama hat, or in a cape and deerstalker. We attended four hours of classroom time twice a week, during which we usually watched two movies that were somehow related. One semester still sticks with me very much - American Road Movies and the German New Wave. This was a classroom where I saw Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Two-Lane Blacktop, Vanishing Point, The Lost Honor of Katherina Blum, Effie Briest, The American Friend, Stroszek and many others. I learned through him how these films related in so many ways, while many of them were crazily different from one another. Easy Rider is a pastoral of the country's temperature in the late sixties, Lost Honor is about the scourge of yellow journalism taken as truth, Effie Briest is a costume period melodrama, The American Friend is a Patricia Highsmith thriller (based on Ripley's Game - yes, THAT Ripley). They didn't fit, but they did.

Just showing up and watching the films got you a passing grade, but you had to show up, and you had to stay awake. The final consisted of him watching us watch a movie (that semester, the final was Five Easy Pieces). You could get a better grade by watching more films (six of his choosing would get you a C), and by writing about specific films (gets you a B) and by creating a project between you and him that would qualify you for an A. He treated us as students but also as adults, which we really weren't quite, yet.

I have no photos of him, and can find none on the web, a place he would have found both fascinating and appalling. However, you can hear him in the introduction to a lecture given in 1975 by Patrick Hazard. I hear it, and am transported again to his classroom, where I would weekly see movies that changed my views of the world, and gave me a deep appreciation of the art and craft of filmmaking. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Angel Bunny Rainbow Unicorn Horror

Last weekend, I visited Vashon Island, WA, for the very first time in my life, and I saw something. Something that must exist in our world, yet manages to be wholly separate, and also kind of awful.

I've lived near Vashon (a short ferry ride from Seattle) for about twenty years. There was some kind of "art tour" set up for the weekend, and there were many numbered signs around town indicating galleries or shops that were participating. There were a couple of places that had what I would call "modern" pottery, with a few pieces of genuine artistic merit. Lots of fancy woodwork. But the last place we visited...

A small, unassuming tea shop on the main drag. Families sitting around, drinking little cups of tea, teapots for sale, lots of fancy bulk teas, and then there were the paintings across from the cashier's counter. Lots of pastels and glitter. Cutesy little subjects: unicorns, fairies, angels, bunnies, bunnies that are also angels, RAINBOWS, you get the idea. Her name is Claire Schlosser, and she paints at about a fourth-grade level. Lots of glitter; she says in her mission statement that her spirit guide told her to pile on the glitter. Art is only one way she makes money, though. She is also a Certified Unicorn Therapy Practitioner. Really she is. I can't explain this. I've been told, "well, that's Vashon Island."

Unicorn Fairy Light - about 8 x 10", and the red sticker means "sold"

This woman has her beliefs, and okay, she's entitled to them, but the fact that she has them in this day and age makes me wonder where she got them from, and how they stuck. I won't complain about the fact that she claims to care mostly about healing animals, since I'm a huge animal lover, and they deserve the best possible treatment. You know, vaccinations, decent food, and a warm place to sleep. I'm not sure how beneficial "Distant Reiki Animal Sessions" are, and I know you can't prove that they work. She charges $44 for a half hour, $64 for an hour for any and all of her services. (any form of Reiki therapy labeled "distant" was invented in the west, and has nothing to do with the original intent of Japanese Reiki)

Please look her up, and check out her references. It's beyond anything I have time to list in here, but it's pure awesome.

Being an atheist, I have respect for people who were raised with God and still have their faith, but only when they act in a way that wouldn't piss off God. The Christians who tell the poor to essentially suck it if they're poor, "why they hell aren't they working harder?!?" are Christians in name only, and the worst kind of hypocrites.

But what of the New Age? So much of it is rooted in the ability to delude oneself (as it is with faith healers): "I have laid my hands on you and said the magic words." "I am HEALED!" (as they fall out of their wheelchair). I believe this will help, therefor when someone says it has helped, I feel better. That's great, if you're feeling a little down, but how well does this sort of thing work with broken legs? I've seen people who believed they were cured with the laying on of hands, neglecting to remember that they also took powerful narcotics for the same symptom at the same time. "Thank you for curing my migraine with your magical hands - what codeine?" And the New Age folks who tell us that each person needs to take responsibility for everything in their lives, so, for example, the Jews somehow wanted the Holocaust to occur. I mean - seriously?!?

I grew up during the sixties and seventies and this sort of thing was re-gaining ground, long after the whole concept of scientific testing had been decided as the best way to determine if any given treatment is efficacious. I've heard about the healing properties of crystals, while understanding that anyone can say anything about them, and the practitioners of said arts will smile and nod and say, "oh, yes, that's true" to almost any healing property they might contain, without any proof other than "a friend of mine said...".

The other levels of crazy involve the whole "buffet" of beliefs that people are willing to glom onto. "Mayan healers used this silver doohickey to cure infections". Mayan priests were also pretty well known for running a long-term human sacrifice machine - should we go back to that as well? "I believe this part of the magic because it sounds good and makes me feel good about myself, but this other part, well, that was because they were primitive." How condescending is that? You wanna be a Mayan, go whole hog Mayan - don't stint the human sacrifices, because maybe, without that, nothing else works.

I don't wish to conflate human sacrifices with glitter - though if you're going to split someone's chest open, and cut out their beating heart, it would certainly be more colorful and fun with glitter. I'm opposed to lazy thinking. To lazy or convenient faith. You wanna believe something, believe it, but don't believe only the "happy" parts of that faith while leaving the inconvenient or "icky" parts behind, because without one, does the other actually work, or mean anything?

Q'uq'umatz, eat your heart out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

A Trip and Fall Down Memory Lane

My friend Boegle, who just recently became a Mommie, and her then boyfriend Jiri, and my then girlfriend Lemur (who also happens to be Jiri's sis), all trekked down to Baja California to witness a full solar eclipse. We did this as a "we're young, let's take a road trip!!!" though I, being the old fart of the bunch, kept drowning out my own enjoyment by worrying about every little thing, while everyone else was doing the whole, "just go with it" mantra. I could never "just go with it". Thanks, Dad.

So, after getting the week off, and desperatly trying to rent a car that would get us all the down to the south tip of Baja (the eclipse was going to be visible there and Hawaii - Baja seemed a tad more of a driveable destination than Maui), we finally set off from San Francisco on a Sunday night, needing to arrive in Baja Sur (in a sprawling burg called La Paz) by early-ish Thursday morning.

Sea-Poop Andersen's
We stopped for a midnight snack at Sea-Poop Andersen's (Pea Soup Andersen's to those not in the know about driving I-5 in California), and eventually arrived at our rest stop in LA at around 3 in the morning, grabbing a couple hours to nap, and then on to the borderlands. San Diego is pretty, early in the morning, unless you're taking a Greyhound Bus across the border*, packing a couple of five-gallon jerry cans for gasoline, just in case the Pemex stations had run out of gas.

The cab ride from Greyhound to Avis was, to put it nicely, utterly terrifying. Everyone else packed into the back seat, and I got to sit next to the driver, who was making his own lanes pretty much everywhere he went. Driving at forty miles an hour between two semis with only inches to spare is an image I will never EVER get out of my head. They could re-package it as a ride at Marriott's Great America and Torture Emporium.

Zucaritas! Con el Tigre Tonio!
So we grabbed a lot of bottled water, and various chip things (can't really remember what we bought - I was still in an adrenaline low after the cab ride), and got the hell out of Tijuana, and off to the desert. However, Zucaritas stuck with me.

The desert in Baja in general has a sameness that shows up as different all the time. Every turned corner does actually reveal something. This is not me trying to be all mythopoetic or something, it just seemed as though we were being constantly surprised. Unfortunately, we didn't get much of a chance to stop and smell the sagebrush on our way down, as the clock was against us.

What we did get to smell was the gasoline, leaking out of one of the jerry cans into the back seat.

Santa Rosalia Thing
These things turned out to be a bit of an albatross for us. One, we never ended up needing them. If I remember correctly, we tossed out the leaker after we arrived in Santa Rosalia. Pemex stations were all open and full of gas, and we were only in line once, about halfway between Muleje and Loreto. While waiting in line, we got to have the treat of green corn tamales sold straight from the kettle, by a couple of enterprising young men (like ten and twelve years old, I think). We each bought a couple apiece, and I remember it being redonkerousry cheap.

But I digress. We stopped the first night in Baja in a town called San Quintin, at a place called the Hotel Romo or Romolo. Gotta find the picture I took of it. Couldn't find a restaurant, so we settled for hitting the grocery store across the street.

Out the back door of our motel
Took off early Tuesday morning. Made it all the way down to Loreto, where we spent the night in a lovely motel, two decent sized beds in one room for $23 a night, with our own personal lizard in the shower. We had dinner in the hotel. I remember having some kind of scallop soup which was pretty decent.

Again, early next morning, we left and drove and drove and drove. I think we must have stopped once or twice, because we didn't get into Ciudad ConstituciĆ³n until pretty late, and the only hotel we could find wanted $60 a night (which we thought was outrageous). We'd passed a campground outside of town that was $5 for a chunk of sand to sleep on, and it appeared that's where we'd be that night. We got there and found ourselves surrounded by a gazillion amateur astronomers (mostly Americans). Everyone was keyed up for the eclipse the next morning, but we wanted sleep. Lemur and I hadn't really prepared much beyond sleeping bags, so we slept in the car, which, being a cheap Avis rental in Mexico in '91 was not the most comfortable place to sleep.

Thursday morning, we got up, packed up fast and got on the road. It's about a two and a half hour drive from ConstituciĆ³n to La Paz, and the eclipse was due to start right around 11:30. We got down there with time to spare, had a coconut each, carved green and cold, so we had a nice refreshing drink in the heat of the morning in Baja California, waiting for the sun to go out.

The shadows began to change shape. Sunlight shining through gaps in the leaves went from round to crescent shaped. Everyone rushed to get bathing suits on (except me - I was going to photograph this event no matter who had to die). Soon enough, the moon crept across the face of the sun, and the sun was directly overhead. Within a couple minutes of the beginning of the process, we had what is known as totality: a flaming black ball in the middle of a dark sky, surrounded by stars, with sunset colors ringing the entire horizon, and thousands of people on the beach and out in the water, screaming and banging drums.

Boegle bein' silly at lunch
Of course, the sun came back. It took a while, but it came back. Then we had lunch. Pork tortas with sliced avocado, cilantro and onions.           O    M    G

Then we headed back, pretty much at a slower pace with a few chances to stop along the way to take pictures. I remember one place, where we found a mound of white shells piled up on the side of the road, at a high spot between the coasts. Hundreds of sea urchin shells, hollowed out and heaped as a trash pile.

Other memorable sights included the innumerable crosses by the sides of the road, at least one pretty decent shrine to the good old Virgin Mary, and a few rusted hulks of cars and trucks that had died and been pushed off the road to be slowly scavenged by the local entrepreneurs. One other business that I wish I had gotten a picture of was a tire stand on the side of the road, in the middle of BF nowhere. I'm pretty sure we were at least fifty miles from the nearest town, but then I assume that if it's not paved, it's not a road. I'm sure there must have been someone to pick him up every afternoon.

I don't remember where else we stayed on the way back. I do know that we went faster going home than we did going down. For some reason, the next place I remember us staying at is the beach in Ensenada. Waking up in the morning to have a nice man try to sell us a rug, or several, if we were so inclined.

We weren't.

After that it was a blur getting back across the border. The another blur getting back to the Bay Area. Then an even bigger blur - what the hell have I done since, that was as amazing as that trip?**

* That requires an explanation: cars rented in San Francisco are not insured to travel south of the center line in Baja. Baja Sur requires a whole different kind of insurance, so we decided to drive to SD, bus across the border, find a rental car place in Tijuana, and head south from there. The bus ride was uneventful, though it took us through some neighborhoods that would have to be seen to be believed - houses and fences made out of old car hoods, for example. Wish I'd taken pics of them.

** Maui was actually pretty nice...