Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Identity Theft Made Simple

No, this isn't a tutorial on how to copy the magnetic stripes off of credit cards or how to harvest social security numbers. You don't have to be nearly that crafty to commit identity theft on a small scale. All you really have to do is wander around internet-enabled computers that are publicly accessible, because if my observations are any indication, sooner or later (probably sooner) you'll find a computer on which someone has forgotten to log out of whatever they had been logged into before they left. There are a handful of self-service computers near where I work, and at least once a week I see an abandoned monitor with a personal account of some sort in plain view.

It's usually something as relatively low-security as an email account, and sometimes as medium-sensitivity as a college student's registration account, but when you can email their boyfriend/girlfriend a hostile breakup note or a fictitious confession of infidelity (which could be fun and fast if you had a nice elaborate one already written up as a text file and stored on a thumb drive you carry around with you ... not that I'd ever do that), or you can decline the financial aid package that a student really needs, the damage that can be done even on that level becomes clear ... to say nothing of the high-impact identity theft that can occur when someone passively allows a stranger to stroll right on into their own bank account, which -- express verbal consent or not -- is just what you'd be doing if you neglected to take the oh-so-simple step of clicking the "log out" button.

And with Facebook it can be somewhat trickier, since even if you close the browser completely and re-launch it later (unless the preferences setting that purges the browser's cookies when it's closed is active), Facebook keeps you logged in ... so it'd be easy to trash-talk a stranger's friends, change their status to being in a relationship with their friend's underaged sister (relax, folks ... just an out-of-the-blue example), or anything else that an armchair cyber-sociopath could dream up. Hijacking a stranger's passwords is getting more difficult, though, since nearly all reputable sites require users to verify their old password immediately before entering a new one.

News reports everywhere have been saying that identity thieves are getting more and more clever, but that's only half the story. Identity theft victims are getting more and more careless and/or stupid. Fortunately for you all, folks, I'm an honest guy, and whenever I see an abandoned machine that's still logged into something touchy, I'll usually just log it out rather than confess a random user's neo-Naziism to their entire address book, or finance my own vacation to Europe ... not that the whim might not strike me someday, somewhere....

Sunday, November 28, 2010

'Tain't The Season

This is probably going to sound like a silly cliché that old-timers say, but I'm being totally honest when I say it: it feels like the Christmas hype starts earlier and earlier every year. This year, I could swear that I started seeing holiday-themed commercials on TV before Halloween even happened. I know for a fact that I saw them well before Turkey Day, and if you ask me that's way, way, WAY too early as it is. I can only stand a week and a half (two weeks at the very most) of Christmas music before I start retching, so you can imagine how I feel about enduring almost two months of advertisements peppered with holly twigs, snowflakes, wreaths, flashes of red and green, and the annoying sound of sleigh bells. I think there ought to be a law that forbids Christmastime advertising of any kind until after Thanksgiving.

People would probably argue that doing so would be counter-productive in terms of having a successful "Black Friday", but then we all know that every store opens ridiculously early and has ridiculous sales on the day after Thanksgiving, so all that people who are interested enough would have to do is to ask their favorite stores when they'll open that day. One thing's for sure: the only place you'd find me on that day is at home. It's not that I don't like a good sale as much as the next guy ... hey, I've been known to use coupons just because I have them. Instead, it's the spirit behind it -- and that's the one kind of Christmas "spirit" I can definitely do without. We've all seen the images of those stampedes of people who flood into the stores the instant the doors open the morning after the feast, and we hear almost every year about someone actually getting killed in one of those hordes. No amount of savings is worth enduring that chaos, and anybody who voluntarily goes out to take part in it has got to be clinically insane.

I have to wonder what happens come December to all the religious conservatives out there. The other eleven months of the year they're all in the faces of us secular folk about embracing Jesus as their savior and living "a Christian life" (whatever arbitrary criteria that phrase is supposed to fit), but where are they when the blatant commercialization of their holiest of holy days rears its ugly head? Far be it from me to trash-talk a group of people based on their faith, but I rather suspect they're some of the first ones out there, waiting in line at 2 A.M. the morning after Thanksgiving to buy that $199 flat-screen TV for their kids. Personally, I'm at neither extreme. I'm not religious, so Christmas isn't any kind of "sacred cow" to me (we don't even feel compelled to put up decorations at home, except for maybe a wreath or two). Nor do I tend to put any importance on either the monetary value or the quantity of the gifts that I give -- I usually stick with making little home-made gifts for family and friends in the interest of keeping it simple, relatively inexpensive, and more personalized -- and I hold no expectations for the gifts that I may receive from others (or may not -- not everyone's in the position to give gifts, after all).

America needs to make up its mind how it feels about Christmas, but the way the media and culture perpetuate our lemming-like consumerist attitudes, I don't see a change coming anytime soon. Most people think Christmas is all about Santa Claus, and they don't take it seriously enough; most of the rest take Christmas way too seriously and make it all about the Baby Jesus; but I'm comfortable standing on the middle ground, believing that the most important people at Christmastime are my family and close friends. I have to wonder what the world would be like if we all gave that approach a try.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

You Never Know...

Do you want free money from the government? Now, before you think this is some infomercial or Ponzi scheme or something, it actually did happen to me ... honest and for real. Of course, your name does have to be on a special list in order to get the money, plus you may very well have earned the money in some way which would mean that it's techincally not "free" ... but my point is that there just might be money out there for you right now and you just don't know it.

It's really simple to find out, too. All you have to do is go to -- that's the website run by the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators. They're an organization that can link you to your state (just click on the map on the homepage), where you can search with your name to find out if there's any money floating around out there that's yours. I did it just on a hunch, and landed myself a paycheck from my previous employer that, somehow, never made it to me after I moved out of state!

Now, a couple months later, I've all-of-a-sudden got enough money that I could get myself a new iPod! At least, that's what I was going to get, but my stereo has finally gone kaput and I need to get myself a new one. But hey, ain't that cool?! It's like getting a birthday or Christmas present from a total stranger! I only wish it hadn't taken me 15 years to get my hands on it. And I'm sure that, even though the government has been pulling down interest on it for all that time, they'll still want to take some more out come tax time ... those greedy so-and-so's.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Election Day ... Why Bother?

I hope my good friend in San Diego isn't too disappointed in me after he reads this post, but my frustration-mixed-with-apathy (weird combination, yes) has reached a sort of critical mass. Mind you, since it's half apathy, don't be disappointed if you don't read a lot of seething vitriol. You see, this San Diego friend of mine is big into politics and rallies as many people as he can to the polls every election day. I really do have to admire him for that, because I just couldn't work up the enthusiasm for it, even if my life depended on it ... well, okay, maybe if my life depended on it. In fact, before we became friends, I voted in maybe half the Presidential elections and that was about it. It sounds terrible, I know, because it's our "civic duty" and all ... but I'm becoming less enthusiastic about it every year, and can barely see the point anymore.

It's not that I think the act of voting is pointless -- although with however the Electoral College process managed to get jury-rigged enough to get George W. Bush shoehorned into the White House in 2000, I have my doubts there -- but instead, I really seriously have to wonder what good it does anymore to have a certain person in a certain elected office? When you think about it, there are enough people in Washington with opposing viewpoints and agendas, that if one governmental body gets their way, another one is there to knock it down if they have the gumption. It's called "checks and balances", and though it was originally meant to keep any one person or group from wielding too much power, it has lately done little more than to stymie any true progress by the government -- at least toward anything constructive. If the legislative branch wants something, the executive can still veto it, but then the judicial branch might have the final say. I have to wonder if there's too much government, or not enough.

And then there are the damn-blasted political ads that saturate the TV. What's the point of them, or even of campaigning in general? All the candidates say the same things: "I'll create more jobs. I'll shape up our schools. I'll fix health care." Sounds familiar, doesn't it? Each candidate will promise anything the public wants to hear because they want to get elected, whether or not he or she has a plan on how to accomplish what they promise. (And besides, their opponent will tear apart what they say, or just recklessly criticize their plan anyway, no matter how half-baked their plan or their opponent's plan is.) Every election campaign boils down to nothing more than a popularity contest, and I've never been big on popularity contests. The truth of the matter is, we'll never be able to tell what a candidate will or won't accomplish until they're in office, so I try not to rack my brain on who I vote for or why. Besides, most voters out there, I'd bet you money, just vote blindly partisan -- whoever's representing the party in which they're registered, without even reading up on what that candidate has to say.

But I'm getting off topic (and trying my darnedest to narrow my focus so this blog entry isn't half a mile long). One of my big problems here is how rowdy the American voters have gotten lately, and how uncivilized their vicious partisanship has become. The Democrats and the Republicans are each screaming just as loudly about how the other party is going to destroy this country. And each side is getting louder and louder all the time, so in order to be heard, they have to exaggerate and sensationalize their arguments more and more profoundly. President Obama has actually been called a "socialist" and a "communist", largely by people who don't know what those labels really mean ... and all because he wants every American to have affordable health care. Isn't name-calling something that fourth-graders do on school playgrounds? You know, the kids who are afraid of "cooties"?

The liberals and conservatives in this country are so verbally at each other's throats that I find myself wishing we'd just go all-out, have ourselves another big civil war ('cause we've only had one so far), and get it over with already. Then the conservatives can go live in their own part of our torn-in-half country, and the liberals can have their own half. In some ways, we might as well, 'cause this country is far too screwed up for any one President or any one Presidential administration to be able to fix in one four-year term, or even two. It'll take decades, and it'll take some major, earth-shattering (hopefully not in the literal sense) change. And what makes it worse is that the short attention spans of the American people, and their need for instant gratification, are so pronounced now that if the guy in office doesn't effect change RIGHT NOW, they vote in the guy from the other party, so that no one has the time to get anything accomplished. Do we honestly expect Obama to turn this country around in two years, after letting Bush play around with it for eight friggin' years?!?

We all want what's best for our country, I get that. But what's best for our country isn't the pervasive distrust that has led us to treat election day like a battle. ("Oh crap, the Republicans have taken over the House of Representatives. Now we're screwed." Are we so sure we wouldn't be screwed if they hadn't?) How do we know that there isn't one candidate somewhere out there who actually has that plan -- the one that will actually work at starting us out on fixing everything that's wrong with our society -- and that he or she has gotten lost in the flotsam, because their opponent didn't shut the hell up long enough to hear them out? I'd bet you anything that, 150 years from now, our descendants (in whatever country this ends up being, unless the United States of America actually manages to survive that long) will look back at these years and laugh at how childish we all have been acting.

Aren't we all Americans? That's the thing that most people seem to be forgetting around November 2nd. To paraphrase Jon Stewart in a rally he recently hosted: the more we all shout, the harder it is for us to hear one another. And if I may employ another old saying: if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem. Therefore, I'm going to do my best to stop complaining about the government, because I (like 99.9% of the rest of the country) don't have a damn clue how to make it better, though we can guess all we please. If we all really want what's best for our country, we need to start acting that way. We need to stop bitching about what's wrong with the other guys, and start working with them to turn this country into something we can all be proud of.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Tomorrow is ... International Burn the Dove World Outreach Center Day!

September 11 -- which is supposed to be a somber commemoration of the lives lost in the World Trade Center attack -- is being targeted for a garish upstaging this Saturday by some crackpot preacher-man in Kentucky (well, Florida actually, but that's close enough), who somehow seems to think it's a good idea to throw an egregious spectacle of reckless hate-speech in the form of an organized burning of numerous copies of The Qur'an, the Muslims' holy scripture.

I have a better idea. How about, on September 10, we engage in a little incendiary ecclesiastical celebration of our own -- a bit of "pious pyromania", if you will? It's time, my brothers and sisters, to join hands in a congregational conflagration of eyebrow-singeing, kerosene-soaked worship that I believe -- I say, I believe! -- will be beneficial to the world community of faith and true to the religious beliefs of all humankind like none have been before! Bring your marshmallows and your weenies (I'm talking about hot dogs, you dirty-minded people) as we raise our matches in praise and ... burn that sorry-ass coop of self-righteous mothercussers to the ground. I'd like to declare September 10, 2010, as "International Burn the Dove World Outreach Center Day"! Here are five reasons why we should burn the Dove World Outreach Center.

1) Because, let's face it, anyone who takes The Bible so literally as to believe the planet Earth and all its plant and animal life sprang into existence fully-formed in less than a week, and that the entire human race descended from two people, clearly needs a reality check. All unbiased genetic science points to the conclusion that, if Adam and Eve's kids, grandkids, and great-grandkids were the incestuous, cousin-lovin' inbreeders the evangelicals suggest they were, about 95% of the Earth's population would have Down Syndrome. Then again, the way we humans have been behaving lately, maybe there's some credence to their argument....

2) Because DWOC's founder, the "reverend" Terry Jones, got kicked out of a church he also formed in Germany, thanks to alleged megalomaniacal proclivities and embezzlement of church funds. But then, the Catholic church has no problem ignoring far worse crimes like child molestation, so ... potāto, potăto. Oh, but did we mention that he was fined by the German court for calling himself a "doctor" because he had an honorary (read: fake) degree from an unaccredited (read: not worth a crap) theology school in California? That guy's just heaping with credibility now, ain't he?

3) Because the vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving and benevolent, with only a tiny sliver of its radical fringe being responsible for causing 9/11. Not only is this "Burn The Koran Day" a recklessly inaccurate generalization of an entire religious faith, but it's further legitimizing the anti-American sentiment that already permeates the Middle East ... DWOC is effectively painting an even bigger target on the backs of the thousands of brave U.S. troops still stationed there. Besides, this sensationalistic behavior by DWOC is only emphasizing the dangers of misunderstanding an entire faith based on the extreme behavior of a microscopic fraction of its "followers". If DWOC is trying to make a point with irony (and I rather doubt they can even grasp the concept), it's a grossly negligent way of doing so.

4) Because DWOC claims that "all of the Islamic writings ... are confused, contradictory and inconsistent". Well, ain't that The Bible calling The Qur'an "black"? How can any one of the multiple versions and translations of The Bible be the accurate interpretation, especially when each religion's leaders claim theirs is the definitive word of God? And while we're on the subject of inconsistency, let's not forget how many so-called "devoutly" religious people seem to cherry-pick which verses in Leviticus are and are not abominations. Hey, if you prattle on about how gay sex is a no-no, then you'd best not have a tattoo, be trimming your beard, wearing polyester-cotton blend clothing, or eating pork, otherwise I'm gonna have a big problem with you.

5) Because the "reverend" Fred Phelps and his hatemongering Westboro Baptist Church are fully supportive of DWOC and this cockamamie stunt. Hey, far as I'm concerned, that's reason enough right there ... scum by association. Talk about being "damned with praise". Oh, don't get me started on Phelps and his minions, I'll tell you right now. Any religious organization who feels the need to preach their message primarily through hate speech is fully ignorant of the true nature of Christianity and IS NOT RELIGIOUS ... not in the slightest, I don't care what anyone says. No entity calling itself a "church" would have "" as its URL. It shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that the majority of Phelps' flock are relatives, and that's probably the case with Mr. Jones, too.

Oh, and let's not forget reason number 6) Because no one with a handlebar mustache can possibly be taken seriously as a clergyman, just like no one wearing a cowboy hat can possibly be taken seriously as a lawyer.

Seriously, though, how dare those assholes call their church the "Dove World Outreach Center"? That name is about as full of shit as "The Family Research Council", and they're being allowed to pervert the symbol of the dove -- the animal of peace -- for their own malignant philosophy. And as long as we're burning down the Dove World Outreach Center, let's go ahead and torch the Westboro Baptist Church too, while we're at it. Hey, it's in Kentucky, too (well, actually it's in Kansas, but that's close enough).

Okay, I consider it a crying shame that the art of satire is lost on about 85% of the American population and that I actually have to spell this out here, but here goes: The preceding piece was written primarily in the context of satire, although its sentiment is genuine. The author does not condone or intend for any bodily harm or property damage to be inflicted on the Dove World Outreach Center or the Westboro Baptist Church, or any of its members, and is not responsible for inciting such action ... even though those assholes really do have it coming to them.

Hey ... the DWOC's website is down ... I'm diggin' it.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Happy "90210 Day"!

Yes, today is 9/02/10 ... so what better day to celebrate that most '90s of all '90s TV shows, "Beverly Hills, 90210"! Not the mediocre remake that's running now, mind you (hey, even Jennie Garth had the sense to bail on that one), I'm talking the original, the vintage, the classic! If you're too young to remember that show, you really missed out. Anyway, to celebrate, I thought I'd show you the main title you probably don't remember: the very first main title the show ever had, before the one that we all know and love and was even remixed for the new series. Enjoy...!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Snowclones and Grammar Snobs

Betcha thought I'd never be back, huh? Well, it took me awhile, but sure as the sun keeps rising every morning, I'll sooner or later find something else to complain about. Well, this time I'm revisiting the topic of American English, and our questionable modern usage of it. Are you ready for some more made-up words and improperly used expressions? Here comes part 2 of my pet peeves of modern English!

"Irregardless" isn't a word. I'll prove it to you: the prefix "ir-" and the suffix "-less" mean the same thing, so they cancel each other out. People compulsively tack extra syllables onto words in order to make themselves sound more intelligent than they (evidently) are. Either drop the "ir-" and just use regardless, or use the word irrespective if you feel the need to utter one extra syllable.

Nobody needs a "hot water heater". Okay, most of us are guilty of this little redundancy, including myself, and most of us don't even realize it until we stop to think about it. It's a "water heater", not a "hot water heater". Hot water doesn't need to be heated, 'cause it's already hot! Not very energy-efficient if you ask me ... and unless your house is powered by superheated steam, it's totally unnecessary.

Stupidest. Idea. Ever. Obviously this one has only polluted our language in written form ... you know, the way people dramatically pause to emphasize their superlative declaration, such as "That was the Best. Concert. Ever." Not only would this gross offense against the laws of punctuation propel most high school English teachers into conniptions, but to me it's Really. Really. Annoying. And. Pretentious.

A light-year isn't a year. Maybe it's not fair to have this one on the list, because you'd have to be some amount of a geek (like me) to know that a light-year isn't a measure of time, but is instead a measure of distance. "My mind was light-years away" makes much more sense than "It's light-years ahead of its time." I guess you'll have to just trust me on that one.

I've already vented a little of my frustration about some of our dorky-sounding modern-day portmanteaus, but what's pissing me off is how they're starting to get legitimized by being added to the prestigious Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary. (No wonder college students are starting to sound stupid.) Two that really rub me the wrong way: "staycation" (as in a vacation spent at home) -- Are we so pressed for time that we can't just call it an "at-home vacation"? -- and "frenemy" (someone who pretends to be a friend but is really an enemy). What I don't understand is why anyone would use a dweeby-sounding word like "frenemy" when the phrase "two-faced bitch" is so much more colorful.

Now let's talk about snowclones ... while trying to ingore how dumb the word itself sounds. We've all heard them used, though not a lot of people know them by that term (I was one of those people who'd never been exposed to that word until just a few weeks ago). They're those catch-phrase templates that are usually adapted from ones heard in movies, TV shows, or advertising, and used to fit any number of everyday situations or ideas. "Got [x]?" is a good example, originating with the "Got milk?" ad campaign ... oftentimes you'll see a "Got Jesus?" bumper sticker on some religious nut's car.

While some are used cleverly and I can tolerate them, the one I absolutely hate is "[x] is the new [y]". It gets on my nerves mostly because it's used to herald the arrival of new trends in fashion, pop culture, design, and what have you ... and I've never given in to trends. I wear what I want to wear and listen to what I want to listen to, because it's my life and nobody else's. "Red is the new pink." No it's not. Red is red, it's always been red, and it'll always be red. That's why there's a whole separate color already called pink. "Thirty is the new forty." Again, no. Thirty is thirty, and forty is forty. Ask anyone with a basic grasp of mathematics and they'll tell you the same damn thing. Sheesh.

Now, just to show you I'm not completely obsessive about proper English usage, let me say a word about the kind of people I call "grammar snobs". These are the people who make their every sentence grammatically correct to such an extent that they defy the laws of verbal physics (as I like to describe it). You know how the normal everyday way that people talk doesn't necessarily hold hard and fast to every rule of grammar, syntax, and sentence structure? I'm perfectly okay with that ... just 'cause you're not, don't get all up in my face about it. Let me give you a couple of examples.

When someone asks me, "How are you?", I always say, "I'm okay. How are you?". If they say, "I'm well", that's when I know they're a grammar snob. When I hear that, it sounds as though they're saying, "I'm GRAMMATICALLY CORRECT. How are you?". People who are that linguistically pompous oughta be required to show a bachelor's degree in English, or else just talk like a normal, everyday person.

People aren't getting married anymore. Did you know that? Now they're "being married". Where the hell did this come from? I've seen it in "Dear Abby" (okay, so I read it in the paper ... shut up) several times in the last few weeks, and now I've gotta say something about it. Is it all-of-a-sudden no longer proper to use the phrase "getting married" for some reason? That old song would sound just plain stupid with the lyrics "I'm being married in the morning; ding-dong, the bells are gonna chime." Long as I'm around, people are going to get married when they have a wedding, and once it's over they'll be married. Again, sheesh.