Saturday, April 28, 2007

I am, no kidding, going to war with Benny Hinn.

Benny Hinn doesn't know what he just got himself into. Actually, neither do I. But I'm ready and willing to bring this battle to his doorstep.

This morning I received this e-mail from Youtube. You can click the link if you want to see the original, or you can just keep reading.

The e-mail informed me that Benny Hinn Ministries had demanded that YouTube pull the first video in our "Office Outcast" series off the internet on grounds of it committing copyright infringement against Mr. Hinn and the World Healing Church. Subsequent infringements would force YouTube to take action against me.

For those of you unfamiliar with copyright law (fine, I'm one of those people too, but stick with me for a moment), you aren't allowed to upload copyrighted material of any kind onto the web without the express permission of the copyright owner. This is a good law - it protects the interests of the creative parties so that people can't just go around with your creation and sell it for profit.

Since YouTube arrived, it's been tougher to enforce that law, and it's been a tricky legal situation for them. A lot of companies turn a blind eye to it, figuring that free publicity beats copyright infringement any day, and there's nothing really to lose by letting people post old video clips. On the flip side, some companies rigorously enforce these laws, hunting across the internet for people abusing the law, writing cease-and-desist letters or having the website pull the videos. People get angry at this, but this is fine, too. The web is too large to be policed effectively by an outside party or the FCC, and so personal responsibility is necessary in order for the internet to run smoothly. But that's not what this is about.

You see, I didn't violate any copyright laws when I mentioned Benny Hinn's name in the video. I didn't violate any copyright laws when I mentioned that the video was about Andy and Luis trying to get Benny Hinn on the phone. I simply didn't violate any copyright law that Mr. Hinn or the World Healing Church own. I didn't.

So, I didn't violate his copyright laws, I didn't commit libel against him, and if Mr. Hinn feels that my language was scurrilous or abusive, he should also be aware that the Sedition Act was overturned in 1921, and wouldn't have applied to him anyway. But now he and YouTube have pulled the video and blocked me from importing the same file, or similar files that might also mention mention Mr. Hinn's name.

In fact, the only rights that seemed to have been violated were mine - my First Amendment rights. And I'm no constitutional warrior and I'm not a fan of people who beat people over the head with it, but I object to the gesture and I don't feel like taking this lying down.

So, get ready, Benny. I'm bringing the battle to you.


Greatest Car Chase

If you'd like to vote for the Greatest Car Chase Ever, click here. Each one has the corresponding YouTube video, so you can make up your own mind right there on the spot, and maybe see a couple you've never seen before. Currently Bullitt has a commanding lead, but Ronin and The Blues Brothers are still in the mix.

I, personally, voted for Ronin. Bullitt is too gimmicky, and half the time you don't have any real concept of who's where in the chase.

Poor Dirk

It takes a special sort of player to lead your team in scoring (20 points), rebounding (12 boards), steals (3), and blocks (1), and still have to deal with the arena chanting "overrated!" at you Even the ESPN news story about the game refer to your night as "another poor performance."

Here's a link to the article. I do feel bad for Nowitzki, but still - go Golden State, huh?

The Sports Guy wrote an article stating once and for all why Doc Rivers should be fired, and hopefully Danny Ainge along with him. I'm willing to negotiate on keeping Ainge as long as Rivers goes, rather than giving him a contract extension like the management is talking about. Please, guys, it's just time for a change. Paul Pierce is turning into the Kevin Garnett of the East, and I just can't take any more of this waiting. We could be a Golden State next year if we let ourselves be.

In more cheerful news, the Red Sox are still destroying the Yankees, who look like the saddest group of A-list players to ever have one of their own guarantee that they'll win the pennant this season. Which is kind of a shame for A-Rod, since it's pretty much the only thing that's not going his way this year. Here's what we're learning from this: when you're the second-most hated player in baseball, don't talk trash unless you're really sure you're coming out of the gate strong, because instead you might have to suffer the ignominy of Tampa Bay fans laughing at you.

Let this be a lesson to all of us.

Friday, April 27, 2007

The Bathroom Sessions

Kevin found this and showed it to me today, and I thought I'd share it with all of you. Ed Robertson of Barenaked Ladies set up a video camera in his bathroom (for the acoustics, of course) and videotaped himself doing acoustic versions of virtually every BNL song he ever sang lead vocals to. There are currently 67 songs available, and on a good half dozen of them, Stephen Page sits next to him - in the bathtub - and sings along. Pure music geek fun. For showing me this, Kevin gets the honor of being added to the sidebar.

Here's the link, and here's the two of them doing "If I Had A Million Dollars," my favorite of the ones I've seen so far.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Garfield Silenced

Someone once turned to me and said "Hey, have you ever seen 'Garfield' with Garfield's thought bubbles erased? It becomes just this dude talking to his cat, it's a hundred times funnier." I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed the phenomenon until Peracchio sent me a few more a coupla days ago, and gave me a jones to poke around online and find some more.

There are a lot of these sort of things online - click here for the Garfield Randomizer - but this is the best of the lot. And while whoever that guy was who opened me up to this new world, he was right, it's a hundred times funnier. Yet it's also a hundred times sadder and a thousand times creepier. Which somehow makes it funnier still. I hunted around all afternoon in my free time, and here are some of my favorites:

When you really think about it, this is how Jon's world really is. All that's being removed is Garfield's mental commentary, which supposedly Jon would never be able to hear. So this is really how sad a man Jon is.

Jon wasn't always like this. When the comic first started, Garfield was more playful with Jon than Jon was with Garfield, Jon went on occasional dates, he had a roommate and friend, Lyman. He wasn't the creepy schmuck he is today.

Of course, he's a lot funnier this way.

And, incredibly, this one is completely unedited:

If you find any good ones, or end up making your own, let me know. I love these.

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A good "Recommendations" post is long overdue.

I haven't done one of these in a long time, and I really enjoy doing them because it lets me hit a couple of different fields that interest me and then move along before I get to bored writing about it. I'll play to my strengths to start with and wander out from there:

What To See In Theatres: There's a good three dozen movies playing at the multiplexes right now, and this is a fairly unique month for movies - April's become the launching ground for those movies determined to be too smart or too unusual to cut it as a summer movie, which means that these are about as diverse a crop of movies as you can ever expect to get outside of a John Waters film festival. There've been distinct hightlights already this month: the hard-R B-movie double-feature mayhem of Grindhouse, the brilliantly-cast fluffball silliness of Blades of Glory, the acerbic give-and-take in Fracture, and a few other smaller films that might not have got their due: The Lookout, The TV Set, and The Hoax. April's almost over, which means the summer movie season's about to start: Spiderman 3 comes out on May 4th, so we don't have long to wait (I'll do my Summer Movie Preview in a coupla days - before Spiderman comes out, say - but let's focus on right now). There is one movie you simply can't miss this month.

There are good action comedies, and there are bad action comedies, and this movie makes no distinction; it imitates and caricaturizes them both with the kind of spot-on accuracy that can only come from years of loving study. And here's the crazy thing about the film - even while engaging in joking mimicry and wink-wink reference, Hot Fuzz manages to be one hell of an action comedy, in fact, it surpasses the films it came to pantomime.

The movie is British to a tee - chock full of actors of impossible pedigree: Bill Nighy, Steve Coogan, Martin Freeman, Edward Woodward (The Equalizer), Paul Freeman (Raiders of the Lost Ark), Billie Whitelaw (The Omen), and incredibly, Timothy Dalton (y'know - James Bond). It's full of that tasteful combination of wild slapstick and subtle understatement unique to that side of the Atlantic, yet glossed over with a decidedly American guns-and-headbutts-and-things-that-go-bang lacquer finish. In fact, it's so spot on that sometimes it's hard to remember that this is all just the Brits poking fun. We're so used to our own nonsense sometimes we forget how silly it all actually looks from the outside. After watching this, you won't forget again. And you'll never think about Keanu Reeves the same way.

What To Play In Your Car: I splurged a couple weeks ago and bought about a dozen albums from GoMusic - but hey, that's only twenty bucks! Nice! I'll come back with more news on some of the other albums as I explore them more closely, but the big winner so far has to be Aqualung's Memory Man.

Pop music gets this good so rarely - the sort of instantly accessible piano songs that stick with you like a sugar rush, that make you hit repeat on your CD player all the way to work, that make you pound away at an imaginary piano with your free hand as you go. This album's heavier and has more of that clean, anthemic modern rock edge to it that's become so popular recently, but sometimes Aqualung (née Matt Hales) never loses sight of his hook, and every few tracks he strips it back down to those simple, beautiful melodies he's got running through is head. Hales bridges the gap between Elton John and Chris Martin. Not a bad place to be.

Download "Cinderella" and see if you don't agree.

What You Shouldn't Buy At Your Christian Bookstore: I've been reading John Eldredge's Epic with a small group I belong to, and I can honestly say that it's just not worth it. Don't bother. At first I hated the book, but now that I've finished I can see the point of it. It's Christian Idealism for the uninitiated. If you've gone to church for more than a year, or have a passing understanding of Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell (I'm not just throwing those names out there - I mean, if you know literally anything at all about them), you've got this book down pat.

You might be distracted when you enter a Christian bookstore by the giant yellow display there by the door. What's this tiny Epic book? you ask yourself. Look, it's even got a supplementary study guide that's as long as the book! And there's a giant Bible Study packaged set right here with worksheets and a DVD! This must be an awful useful book - look it's a bestseller! It's easy to get confused. But don't bother.

Eldredge puts every bad Christian writing trick to his use: he name-drops Lewis and Tolkien and wildly over-quotes both, he references everything he says in terms of popular movies, except he seems to have only seem Gladiator, Star Wars, Titanic, and The Last of the Mohicans. He constantly reuses ideas, stories, and quotes from his older, more in-depth books, sometimes lifting paragraphs directly from those books and barely rephrasing them. The whole book reads like a long college English paper about his own books. It's an exercise in literary and spiritual laziness.

I could have read The Sacred Romance once, had a guys-movie marathon, and if you left The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings in a pile on the edge of my desk while I wrote, and I could have churned this book out myself. And I'm not a particular good writer.

Wow, that got vicious. Let's move on.

Quick Netflix Recommendations:

Classics: Ingmar Bergman's 60's classic, Wild Strawberries. It's all in Swedish, if that's a turnoff for you, but it's worth it. And there's, y'know, subtitles. You'll be able to follow it.

Cult Classics:
Heavenly Creatures. Peter Jackson's first major film, almost ten years before Lord of the Rings made him a minor deity, is the true story of how... well, I don't want to ruin it for you. It's what happens when imagination runs too wild. It's creepy as hell in a life-is-normal-on-the-outside sort of way. Plus, it's Kate Winslet's first film role, and it's fun to see that she was fantastic from the get-go. One reviewer suggested that she'd probably never be able to break free of the role, since she was so memorable. Twelve years later, she's gotten five Oscar noms. Good call, sport.

TV: News Radio. Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Phil Silvers, Maura Tierney, Joe Rogan, and Andy Dick. Did we realize at the time what kind of quality cast that was? Well, it stuck around for five years, so I guess we did. Still, it's aged beautifully - it looks as old as it is, but it's as funny as it ever was. Probably. I didn't see it the first time around. Maybe it was funnier then.

Controversial: Fine, I know that's not a real category. Still, I didn't know where else to put The Last Temptation of Christ. For a movie that caused so much trauma in the Christian community twenty years ago, it's surprisingly sedate; a study of the eternal struggle between the flesh and the divine. Some of the dialogue is so insightful that it makes you sit straight up in your chair and announce aloud "I bet that's exactly what that verse actually means." Plus, it's the first time any movie has ever given the overturning of the moneylender's tables scene any real passion. Usually it's one of those "what the hell is he doing?" scenes, where a tightlipped Jesus flips over two or three tables and then runs out like a scared puppy. Here, Willem Dafoe screams, wild-eyed , "God is not an Israelite!" as he's dragged roughshod out the door. It's not accurate, but it's thought-provoking, just as guaranteed. That Peter Gabriel drum machine soundtrack sounds more than a little dated, though.

Links You Should Click On:

I've been poking around - I linked over from The Onion, its sister site - and I've found a lot of good pop-culture writing. Those guys earn their money over there, as the kids are saying these days, "they know their shit." Verbose, kids these days. I particularly enjoyed this memoriam to Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip, which was as perfect a critique of the show as anything I've ever read. "Its core audience might well have been people who actively disliked it," the author, Troy Patterson, notes. He's absolutely right.

I got addicted to a web comic called "Real Life," which has been around for a good eight years now, three of which I've read in the past two days. If you're the sort of person who could potentially get addicted to a web comic about nerds who buy replica swords and fantasize about Ultima Online add-ons, click here. Otherwise, move along. You're not gonna find it funny.

I guess that covers it. Thanks for sticking around. I'll see you next time.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Important News

Congratulations are in order: Jonathan, my older brother and frequent commenter on this site, and his lovely wife have announced that they're expecting a child. Given our genetic pattern, odds are good that it'll be a boy, so sometime in mid-November we'll be welcoming another young Wyman lad into the world to carry on the name. Since none of us remaining Wyman males have shown any real promise in doing our part to continue the family name, this boy might be our last hope in that regard. Good luck, kid.

I, personally, arrived rather late, but I'm figuring that if Heidi does her part and sticks to the game plan, this kid should be hanging around by the time I swing home for Thanksgiving. Seriously, Heidi, I can only come home for so long and I don't want you to put this off until December so I won't get to see my nephew 'til Christmas. Set a schedule and stick with it.

I'm sure my brother is hoping I'll snipe at him and post about how even though there's a strong possibility this child will be named after me (the old "set the bar low and you'll feel great after he clears it" strategy), he left the responsibility for informing me about this bit of news in the hands of our youngest brother, who somehow managed to let more than a week go by without ever finding the energy to call my cell phone, until I happened by chance to call home on a night that he was home and he finally remembered to mention it to me in passing. But I shan't bring it up. I won't give him the satisfaction.

Congrats, bro. It's all very exciting.

Friday, April 20, 2007

I would probably have missed Lexington and Concord, given the chance.

Mom, don't read this one. It'll just make you nervous.

Yesterday morning, my alarm went off at 7:30 AM. This was followed by my normal morning routine of springing effortlessly out of bed, skipping over to the alarm, hitting snooze, and collapsing back into an exhausted sleep for nine minutes until the alarm went off again, at which point the pattern repeated. This usually goes on for about an hour.

On this particular day I'd hit snooze one or two times and was already mostly asleep again when a sharp, explosive noise startled me partially awake. Part of my brain - about a quarter, maybe as much as a third, started trying to alert the body to wake up and pay attention to the sound since it sounded an awful lot like gunshots. The majority of my brain, realizing the danger in actually waking up fully any earlier than nine minutes after hitting the snooze, insisted that the body remain asleep until such time as all faculties would clearly be required, such as a trig test or nuclear bomb threat. Unable to gain even a plurality of interested senses, the alert portion of my brain conceded defeat and I drifted away to sleep again.

45 minutes later, I exited the building, hopped in my car, and drove out of the apartment complex, noting curiously on my way out that I was now passing several police cruisers with blue and reds flashing. Didn't I have some sort of dream involving - gunshots?

When I arrived back at my apartment after work today, a sign was taped to my door explaining that a shooting had occurred yesterday between a resident and an "acquaintance" (how exciting! He shot someone he barely knows! This apartment complex is full of people I barely know!), and that in the interest of safety, it would probably be best if I locked myself in my apartment and never came out.

So let's review - my semi-conscious mind heard gunshots from about 200 yards away and decided that the best possible option was neither fight nor flight, but to remain asleep.

I would, in fact, be the worst Minuteman ever.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bravo, Netflix

I called Netflix today and told them that someone had broken into my mailbox and stolen all my DVDs. I was already launching into the whole explanation when the rep cut me off.

"Oh, I'm so sorry! That's terrible!"

I was so caught off guard that I simply couldn't say anything for about 15-20 seconds. My carefully rehearsed "look, I'll it really wasn't my fault but maybe I could pay for half of them and we'll call it even" spiel died on my lips.

"Oh, it's... it's cool."
"I'm so sorry. Did you lose anything?"
"Well, I had a couple of Netflix DVDs and some magazines, and I was worried that I would get charged and than maybe I could only get charged for some -"
"Oh, let me go ahead and just mark all of those as "lost in the mail." That way, you won't get charged for any of them."

Okay, not only did she mark them all off as lost, she also put a note on them as "stolen," so that if I actually ended up losing more DVDs in the mail, Netflix could just look at my account and go "oh, these here were stolen, so they don't count." She even marked off an extra one as "lost in the mail," so when that one comes in, it'll count as a positive credit on my record. Hell, she complimented my e-mail address. Twice.

It's possible that she was just on a lot of drugs, but I like to think that this is just the kind of crazy customer service that they're offering over there at Netflix. And for that, they get my recommendation to all of you. Seriously, guys, I love this service. I don't know how I survived without it. Give it a test run sometime, it's worth it.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Divide the number of hours worked by the number of people...

As I pulled out of my apartment complex this morning, I heard the morning DJ read the statistics from a recent government study that had compiled the national average of hours worked each day by men and women, combining both housework and career hours. I'll put a link to Slate's article about it here.

The study listed the average hours thusly: the average American man works 5.2 hours a day at his business and 2.7 hours a day on housework or chores, for a total of 7.9 hours a day. The average American woman works 3.4 hours a day at her business and 4.5 hours a day on housework or chores for a total of 7.9 hours a day. The deejay laughed triumphantly and announced that this study proved once and for all that all the whining women who complain about how much work they do simply don't have a leg to stand on.

Now, deejays spend a good deal of their time trying to stir up reaction, but I really don't think the damn fool knew quite what he was getting into it.

When I pulled into the parking lot at work, the deejay was still fielding calls from women explaining how hard they worked, how useless their husbands were, and expounding in quite a bit of detail what a slug the deejay was and how utterly unlikely it was that he would ever get married. Quixotically, the deejay was still trying to explain to each caller the concept of a national average, which would be rebutted with phrases like "I don't know anyone like that" or "what about all the single mothers?" These calls would occasionally be broken up by a call from an enthusiastic twenty-something male announcing that the deejay had just become his personal hero. It was, in short, a red-letter day for the sort of people who call in to these shows.

What was most interesting to me was the breakdown by country. In Sweden, Norway, and the Netherlands, men actually work a little more than women, whereas in Belgium, Denmark, Finland, and the United Kingdom, women work slightly more. The shocker of the day was that in Italy and, unbelievably France, women work substantially more than the men, who work a considerably lower number of hours per diem than the men in any other wealthy country. Also knock-you-down surprising is the fact that most of the extra leisure time that men have there is spent watching television. I don't know how Napoleon failed to conquer the world with these people. A real Spartan society they've got going on over there.

The most intriguing bit from the story is that the people polled who would know the most about this subject all felt that women worked more than men: 54 percent of economists, 62 percent of economics students, 70 percent of sociologists. Which either means a) this survey is way off (and since the data was gathered by having people fill out daily diaries, not necessarily the most accurate of systems, I don't think that's out of reach. For example, in my diary I would note that I spent, say, 20 minutes cleaning the toilet, when what I actually did was dump some bleach in the toilet and flush), or b) they're right, and we need to rethink how we view the average day of male and female Americans.

Or, c) we could just ignore the whole study, this whole post, and nobody would give anyone else nasty calls about the subject matter. Let's do that.

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Tuesday, April 17, 2007


I am the champion of the underrated.

Attack of the Clones. The Wallflowers. Ties and dress shirts paired with ripped jeans. Ben Affleck. The world has passed these things by, but I stand up and state the facts that no one wants to admit: Hey, these things have some life left in them! These things have some value! That they may not be seen as hip or likable as a Ryan Gosling or a Timbaland, but when you look at these things with fresh eyes, you start to really see that there's a lot of depth there you had no idea existed. And today I have a new dark horse to champion.

Ginger ale.

You might know I'm a bit of a soda junkie, but there's more to it than that. I'm a seasoned critic, a connoisseur, a man with a knowledgeable palette. I can tell you twenty different brands of root beer and rank them all according to taste, kick, sweetness, richness, and ice cream float potential. I spent a brief period of my life calibrating soda, and can tell you instantly if a soda fountain's syrup-to-carbonation is too high or too low. I know my stuff.

And I know that ginger ale is some of the good stuff - a clean, sophisticated soda, the sort of soda you can classily order in any restaurant, even a really ritzy one. Because ginger ale has that sort of clout. It feels like the drink of a man who's tried every drink known to man, but still falls back on his old workhorse. It's suitable for every occasion. It summons up images of summer evenings on the back porch, and dancing at fancy weddings, and digging in to big steak dinners, all at the same time. This is not a drink to be trifled with.

Yet ginger ale has disappeared from our lives. You can't order it in any restaurant anymore, classy or classless. Even giant soda dispensing displays at Burger King or Taco Bell don't offer it anymore, and those are machines that have been known to offer three different varieties of Mountain Dew, which isn't a drink that needs any expansion.

Even in supermarkets, ginger ale is lucky if it gets any play. Usually it's hidden between the sodas and the sparkling water, as if it was some sort of disgusting corporate invention that combined the two. The best it gets is that it's one of two dozen different varieties of generic brand soda, hidden behind Diet Cherry Vanilla Mr. Pibb, or that one that announces "Taste just like an Ice Cream Float!" Why yes, thank you, I've always wanted to.*

I bought a 12-pack of ginger ale the other day and cracked open a can on the couch as the day wound down. I savored that slightly bitter yet somehow sweet golden elixer - it's not a chugger, it's something you hang on to - and let the worries of my day slide away, enjoying the moment, and trying to figure out just what that beverage reminded me of. And then I remembered. I tell you the truth, it tasted like freedom.

* Personal note: do not ever try this soda. Even if you're incredibly curious. Even if you have in fact always wanted to taste like an ice cream float. Even if you lost a bet and will lose a testicle if you don't drink the soda. It's not worth it.

I once bought a case on a dare, and brought it back to the apartment. I opened one, tried to drink it and utterly failed in that spewing-soda-everywhere-trying-to-wash-out-the-taste-
by-sticking-one's-head-under-the-kitchen-sink-even-though-the-sink's-full-of-dishes sort of way. We passed the can around for everyone to try, and two of my apartment mates ended up puking in the bathroom an hour later after just a few sips. And it wasn't just that we got a bad can. It's just really that bad a soda.

We tried for weeks to get people to try a can when they came over to visit, but there isn't a person on this earth who sees a can that says "Taste just like an Ice Cream Float!" and says "yeah, I think I'll try that." Or at least, nobody who sees our expressions after they pick up a can.

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I don't like this sort of thing. I never will.

I wandered in to the apartment post office today to discover that my mailbox had been broken into and all my mail was gone. The door still hung open with a broken lock. Now, normally I'd be inclined to say "well, have fun sorting out my junk mail and returning the three or four credit card offers sent to Soha Abdulbaki or Fekrat Alkateb, the previous owners of my apartment," but I'd sent all my DVDs back to Netflix en masse, and today was the day I was getting a whole stack of them. Which means I'll have to contact Netflix about them, and they'll charge me replacement fees on all of them. Another hundred bucks down the drain.

When I wandered in to the apartment complex to ask if the could fix my mailbox, the lady pointed out that she had no real jurisdiction with my mailbox since it's government property and under federal control (who knew my mailbox was U.S. government property? What if they decide to take my mailbox back and use it for nuclear testing? Will I still get my mail?). She then launched into an explanation of why I couldn't hold her personally responsible for the loss of my mail, which was fine because until then, I'd assumed that it probably wasn't her who'd forced entry into my mailbox - though after she led up front with a forceful denial, I decided to add her to the list. I arched my eyebrow and prepared to launch into an inquisition, but she cut me off. I'll go word for word from here on out:

"You really should take better care of your things," she admonished me. "Why didn't you fill out a maintenance request form before this?"

"Well, I did. A couple times. But the lock was only partially broken before, I could still use it. But now the lock's been snapped off."

"Hey, are you sure that it's broken into? Maybe you just left it open last time. I bet that's it." She turns and starts typing on her computer.

"No. It's really broken. The lock is completely gone. And my mail's gone, too."

"Well, I'll try to get the guys to see if they can swing by later today and take a look and see if it's broken or not," she says, working on a spreadsheet. "What's your apartment?"

"It's nine-zero-four."

She makes no move to write this down. In fact, she's already dialing her phone. "Well, if I see the guys I'll tell them about it. Bye."

I hang around for a second to see if maybe the person she's calling turns out to be the maintenance crew to update them on my situation. She's not. I check my mailbox a couple hours later. I'll give you zero guesses on its status.

Moral of the story: don't send me any mail for a week or two.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

It turns out Italy kept all my money this year.

"The avoidance of taxes is the only intellectual pursuit that carries any reward." - John Maynard Keynes

Today, this quote means a lot to me.

I went to H&R Block to do my tax return yesterday. It took almost three hours of non-stop work by my representative, and sometimes multiple representatives, who had never seen a tax return quite like mine. Let's review:
  • In the 2006, I lived in New Hampshire, Kentucky, Texas, Italy, and briefly, Ohio. Of those, I held jobs in NH, KY, TX, and IT. Yes, IT stands for Italy, which inconveniently for me is not in the United States, and is not recognized as a country by some members of the United States Government. We'll get to that later.
  • I paid a state income tax in KY and TX but not NH.
  • I paid a national income tax in all four places.
  • I received over $1,000 from Asbury in January as the back-end payout of a grant to do mission work in Romania. Thoughtfully, they listed this money as self-employment wages so that I'd have to fill out an extra form, and pay extra taxes on it.
  • I graduated from college in May. It's this fact that ended up saving me.
By the time we finished all the paperwork, we'd crashed the computer twice, converted money using an online money converter we found via Google search, translated a tax form using the Google Language Tool (!) and reworked everything several dozen times. The bill ended up being $450, in order to get a refund of $500. H&R Block has to take an additional chunk of that so that they'll take the bill out of the refund, since I couldn't afford to pay $450 in person, so it went down to about $20. Yaay.

So we reworked everything again. We realized I was paying $67 to send a form so that Kentucky would send me a $4 check. We ditched that form. We realized that I was under-utilizing using my college tax credit, which would more than compensate for me not filing for foreign tax credit, so we ditched that form, too. In the end, my refund ended up being a little north of $100, which is less than thrilling, but at least I don't owe money.

But did you hear me back there? "Filing for Foreign Tax Credit?" "Under-utilizing my College Tax Credit?" I learned a lot about taxes yesterday, didn't I? I've never filled out my own tax forms, so it was all pretty new to me. All this fun new knowledge aside, though, I also learned something that was much less exciting:

I applied last January to for a form from the U.S. Government stating that I am, in fact, a U.S. citizen who pays taxes in the United States, and therefore am not liable to be taxed anywhere else - certainly not in Italy, while working at that haven of international unity, the Olympics. You'd think they'd jump all over this to make sure that the money I earned ended up where it belonged, in the hands of the U.S. Government. But they did not. They sat on the form for two and half months, then returned it with a note saying essentially - and I'm not making this up - "we don't really understand what you mean when you say 'Italy.' What country, exactly, are you going to? Please be more specific this time." So I send the form in again, once again writing "Italy" in the destination blank

By this time, I'd received my payment from the Olympic Committee, minus the $1100 they removed for taxes - over a third of what I'd made. They promised to wire me the rest just as soon as I turned in that letter from the government stating I'm a tax-paying citizen of the United States, but if I can't get that in by the deadline, I'll lose all the money.

A couple of weeks later, I call in to check on the form - I'm getting frustrated again, just thinking about it - and they pass me around for a bit before assuring me that my form will be sent out in a couple of weeks. I call a couple of weeks later, and they said I never sent in any form, and they have no record of anyone with my particular SSN ever calling them. So I send in another form. And then another. Nothing happens.

By the end of May, I'm desperate - the deadline for the form is the end of June and I still don't have this most basic of letters (apparently it's a pretty common letter and should only take a few weeks to receive). I call several times and sometimes I am assured that the form will be there in a week or so, and sometimes I'm told that I've never applied for such a form and they have no record of me. And so I hope that at least some of the time they're telling the truth, and wait for the form. But it never comes.

June passes and the form deadline slips past. Then, a week or so later, the letter comes. I hurriedly rush the form to Italy, e-mailing ahead to let them know it's coming. But it's too late. The money is gone.

A few days later, I get another letter. Not a copy of the original letter, but a response to one of the other applications I sent in. The next week, I get yet another letter. The IRS may not have been swift, but they were thorough - they returned letters for three out of the four applications I sent in within 7 days of each other.

I was pissed, but I got over it. But yesterday, I discovered while filling out my tax return that as a result of my being a poor student, I would've gotten to keep every cent of that money. I could've been $1100 richer last summer - I could've bought a car that actually worked, or bought a bunch of cool t-shirts, or put $1100 of food into my stomach and be $1100 fatter. That money was all mine to keep, but instead it's funding industrial expansion in Milan. Yesterday just made me mad all over again, only I also had to pay H&R Block $400, so I was doubly pissed.

I hate this time of year.

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Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday Service

Around here, Maundy Thursday is the serious service - rather than focusing on the Last Supper or the washing of feet, it jumps straight to the crucifixion. Why the jump? Isn't there a big Good Friday service? Well, of course there is, but we wouldn't want to waste our time on the crucifixion. Not when we can have a rock concert! Woo!

In all seriousness, it's a pretty good deal. There's a cross-raising ceremony on Friday, and the bands we have play are by-and-large worship bands. And right before the big act plays, someone gets up and speaks for about a half an hour and lays out the whole Christ-died-for-your-sins-story, which I don't know why, but somehow it seems a whole lot fresher when you hear it outside from a stage than behind a podium in a sanctuary. It always has to me, at any rate.

I shot a whole lot of video at the concert, probably none of which I'll be able to use, but I thought I'd take some screenshots of some of the better shots that I got and make them into pictures. Here's a couple of the better ones from a band called the 71's, which is composed almost entirely of people I work with. I only put up six photos so you'd be more likely to click on all of them.

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SNL Clips

NBC has finally caved and put a whole pack of old SNL clips up on for free, dating all the way back to 1976. There's a whole lot of bugs that they haven't worked out yet - a lot of the clips are buggy and they end halfway through the clip, but it's a joy to see old forgotten Bill Murray and Chevy Chase sketches available again.

One of my favorites from this season - "The Blizzard Man" - is available here.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter/Rob Thomas/Goldie Hawn/30 Rock

Apologies for not posting, but things have been awfully busy around here with Easter coming up. Between Maundy Thursday, videos for Easter morning, and this big concert we've got going on tonight, it's been a mess. Still, Leeland plays a free concert tonight on the lawn, and I get to film it, so I'm siked.

No one uses that word anymore besides me, but I just don't think there's that many good words that fit that meaning. I could use "jazzed" or "fired up," but both sound lamer than "siked," which is weird since "siked" kinda died for good in the early 90's. Though I guess "jazzed" probably died a lot earlier than that.

Most of your know that I'm a Matchbox Twenty fan from way back - sometimes it's the only thing people remember about me, since there are so few people these days who admit that they love Matchbox Twenty - and so it might seem strange to you that I finally heard the latest Rob Thomas single "Little Wonders" and got all depressed. But I knew that hearing that song meant that Matchbox Twenty is officially over. The band took a hiatus a year or two back in order that everyone could go and work on inferior side projects - you might remember I reviewed Thomas' first album - but I was dearly hoping that they'd get back together and make music again, because frankly Rob Thomas just isn't all that great by himself. There's a lasting power to all of Matchbox Twenty's records that Thomas just doesn't have by himself. "Little Wonders" was more of the same - a nice song, but nothing we'll be singing in ten years. I miss having a real, raw, guitar sound behind him. This song sounds like - and, in fact, is - something off the soundtrack to a kid's movie. And not one of the good ones. This one:


In other news, I've been watching old episodes of "Laugh-In" - the church bought the DVDs for a film project I did - and I discovered a beautiful, talented Goldie Hawn. It's weird for me since basically I've known nothing about Goldie Hawn all my life except that she used to be a famous starlet, and now she's old and has a famous starlet daughter. That's all I'd ever thought of her as. And now, watching "Laugh-In," it's impossible for someone to watch and not go "well, no wonder she became famous." She was fantastic on that show.

By the way, if you're not watching "30 Rock" by now, you really should be:

"Let me teach you, Lemon. I would like to be Michelle Pfeiffer to your angry black kid who learns that poetry... is just another way to rap."

Paired with "The Office," it's the best night on television, plus the fact that the three shows around it ("Andy Barker, P.I.," "Scrubs," and "My Name Is Earl") may be on and off, but when they're on, they're really, really good.

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