Tuesday, March 30, 2010

A Word About Debt and Collections

I'm going to put on my lawyer hat for a minute: it's very simple-if you legitimately owe a debt, that is, if you CONTRACTED for goods or services, received same and subsequently did not pay for those goods and services, you owe the debt. Whether the vendor can collect is another matter. First, all states have a statute of limitations on how long a debt can be held out before an action (a lawsuit) can be brought to recover the monies allegedly owed. Most states also allow the recovery of reasonable costs, such as filing and service fees, legal fees and similar costs incurred on behalf of the plaintiff.

A collection company that's external to the vendor, that is, one that's not a subsidiary of the vendor, will typically buy "bad debt" or "charged-off" debt that the vendor's internal collections area can't process to payment. The older the debt, the less the collection company will pay. When an initial collection fails, the debt may be resold to another collection agency. Please understand that each collection agency owns the debt at that point and that the original vendor no longer has rights to the debt, typically speaking. The collection agency can and will use all resources at its disposal to collect the debt, as this is their business. They are unlikely to take the alleged debtor to court for small amounts as the mere act of filing will cost hundreds of dollars in attorney's time and filing fees. If a suit is launched, the defendant that can defend his or her position will win if the debt is not provable, which is the plaintiff's responsibility to show. Should the plaintiff prevail and be awarded a default judgment, the plaintiff will still have to collect the default amount, although at that point, the options are expanded to include asking the Court for judgment tools, like a court order to attach wages, bank accounts and other found assets. I have *never* heard of this done for amounts under five grand. And, one shouldn't discount the defendant's right to appeal and to otherwise tie up a case with factual discovery in the initial action and other elements of due process which is every American's right.

Having said all that, the question remains as to what to do for amounts that are alleged to be owed but that are either inaccurate or false in toto. The FCRA and FDCPA are Federal laws that provide various modes of protection for consumers from debt collection gone awry. The very first thing I would suggest is mailing, certified mail, return receipt requested, a letter that demands substantiation of the debt, including copies of signed contracts, billing dates, dates of default and proof from the collector that a) they have the right to collect debts in your state and b) they have the right to collect YOUR debt, that is, that they own the debt and most importantly, that the debt can be substantiated through documentation that shows you agreed to be bound by contract where for value received, you agreed to pay the original vendor money. In the same letter, you should demand that during the period allowed for them to respond that they cease all collection activity and should they not be able to validate the debt, they must initiate the removal of the invalid information from your credit report and that failure to do so will result in a suit by you against them (in Federal court) to compel them to perform as they are required by law. When you win such a suit, virtually inevitable when the elements of the rules are not satisfied by the collector, an award to you of $1000 is statutory. Further, if the agency doesn't properly validate the debt and pursues a judgment, it would be possible to reflect this to the presiding judge and ask for a dismissal of those grounds alone.

In short, if you owe the debt and it's provable that you owe the debt, and all other elements of law are in place, then you should endeavor to satisfy your obligation. On the other hand, if you don't owe it, you'd be crazy to pay it EXCEPT if you chose to because it's a small amount and not worth your time to fight it. And that's a decision you would have to make.

Remember, at all times, stick to the facts and apply your rights. I know that many attorneys counseling poorer clients recommend settling even when the debt in question isn't entirely legitimate because reporting to the CCAs can mean other, larger problems for their clients. So, each case is different but the rights are always the same.

Here's a link to a sample letter that will be helpful for an initial dispute:

http://www.fair-debt-collection.com/Disputing_Collections/initial-dispute-letter.html

Good luck and remember: it's your rights you're fighting for!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Moo

Sacred cows make the best hamburgers.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Don't Look In The Sock Drawer

Don't look in the sock drawer because, odds are, there's more than lint under those fuzzy acrylic cashmere toe socks you never could bring yourself to throwing out. Like this:

You are the sun, the moon, the stars.
You're my favourite song by the Cars.
You're anything a boy or girl could want and more.
You're all my soul is pining for.

I broke your heart when mine was split in two.
I wish now I hadn't done this thing to you.
Still, I travel that lonely road alone
Toward an unknown beacon 'cause I know you're not home.

I'm you're biggest fan, but now it doesn't matter
Without you I've lost all my powers
I'm your biggest fan, stuck up in my tower
Watching you, walking, walking away

Oh, I know what I was thinking when I wrote that: you bet I do. Yes, it was one of my more sanguine moments of clarity in which I braved the reality of my own cornholio-ness and was beaten by a feather. Deserved was a 2 x 6, pressure-treated.

So here I am, trying to get my affairs in order, put all my writing in one place and generally figure stuff out before it's too damn late and it occurs to me that:

- I have been forgiven more times than should otherwise be humanly possible
- I've asked more than I had a right to except that I had to push the envelope on a hope, not a dare
- I'm smarter than most yet stupider than most and that's the stupidest thing yet

This is no mea culpa. I've done that before, in this blog, in fact, and there's no getting off the hook anymore. I simply accept the good, bad and mediocre acts I've created or allowed to have happened. I apologise for the bad and regret the mediocre and not because I'm feeling sorry for myself, because, for once, I'm not.

There's a young feller named Julian Casablancas who is solo now after some time with The Strokes and he has written me a new anthem, Out of the Blue:
Somewhere along the way, my hopefulness turned to sadness
Somewhere along the way , my sadness turned to bitterness
Somewhere along the way, my bitterness turned to anger 
Somewhere along the way, my anger turned to vengeance

And the ones that I made pay were never the ones who deserved it
And the ones who deserved it, they'll never understand it.
Yes, I know I'm going to Hell in a purple basket

'Least I'll be in another world while you're pissing on my casket...

How could you be, oh
So perfect for me?
Why can't you ignore, oh
The things I did before?

Somewhere along the way, exacting vengeance gave excitement
Somewhere along the way, that excitement turned to pleasure
Somewhere along the way, that pleasure turned to madness
But sooner or later that kind of madness turns into pain

And the ones that I made pay were never the ones who deserved it
Those who helped me along the way, I smacked 'em as I thanked 'em
Yes, I know I'm going to Hell in a leather jacket
'Least I'll be in another world while you're pissing on my casket

And all that I can do is sing a song of faded glory
And all you got to do is sit there, look great, and make 'em horny
Together we'll sing songs and tell exaggerated stories
About the way we feel today and tonight and in the morning...

How could you be, oh
So perfect for me?
Why can't you ignore, oh
The things I did before?

Take all your fears, pretend they're all true
Take all your plans, pretend they fell through
But that's what it's like...
That's what it's like for most people in this world
The rich or the poor Oh,
Muslims or Jews Oh,
When roles are reversed Oh,
Opinions are too..No oh oh

That's all I'm gonna say now
Before they come knocking on my door
now

Yup. That about says it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Listen To Your Mother

Listen to you mother. Unless she's a drunk or psychotic. Listen to her because she's been doing the stuff you're trying to figure out for years and years and years. Love her for being a font of invaluable experience. Yeah, sure, she's old skool, but sometimes, no often, old school is best. May the Flying Spaghetti Monster bless all mothers, for without them, the world would be a cold and barren place, defined by Sonic drive-ins and bow-hunting tournaments.

Mom, I miss you. I wish I could sit with you again as you sipped your Port, watching me eat your perogies and no, you ate already, you don't want any, so that I could take some home to freeze and eat in a month or so. Sh*t, yeah, I miss that plenty.

Yo Soy Destino

I'm tired. The chemicals running through my body wipe me out sometimes, I guess. So, nothing new today except that I discovered this fragment on my laptop while cleaning off my laptop as I "get my affairs in order." I laughed, I cried. To explain, this was a section from a travel piece, that I might not now ever get to complete, on my first trip to Puerto Rico. Let me just say that if you waste your travel dollars headin' off to Sandals, you're a moron, since you can't get any sense whatsoever what life is like outside of friggin' Manalapan. And, as a human, you owe it to the rest of us to at least be aware. So, here's the word snack for ya:

As we descend beneath the clouds and into the turbulence of La Tormenta, I reflect on how it didn't seem to matter that Nature and Fate conspired to detour me and my leggy traveling companion from the Enchanted Isle. And now, as the turbulent, star speckled night pushes down on the wings of our Airbus, it occurs to me that we haven't yet landed, that we aren't in our car, that we aren't yet safe, cold and sound in our bed beneath termite-digested eaves. So, anything might yet happen. Frankly, I'm tired of the creative forces of disaster whether of man or Mother Gaia. It's time to wind this puppy down.

The whole thing seemed to start round about Columbus' rather amazing second voyage and it's been slipping downhill, or rather, down the outside sloped wall of El Morro, for five hundred and seventeen years. A long and gentle slide into potential oblivion, just like the descent being taken by this aircraft. Not enough to be terrifying but just edging on vague nausea.

This trip seemed destined not to be. First, arrangements were pushed forward three weeks at the last second, literally. Then, there was the issue of finding the right flights. My traveling companion insisted on matching seats, meaning the flights had to be trashed and re-booked. Then, the car got a flat. The flight made it halfway to San Juan when it was turned back on account of volcanic ash. Volcanic ash. Volcanic ash that I thought had been a misprint the night before when checking the weather. As it turned out the active volcano on the nearby island of Montserrat had belched forth fire and brimstone and clouds of this were floating over the island. The pilot explained that the floating pumice would, much like a giant bar of Lava Soap, scrub the insides of the delicate but brawny jet engine into oblivion. There's that word again.

We arrived back at Kennedy. There were some Puerto Ricans on the flight who were none too happy with this gaff from the Underworld. They expressed their displeasure by getting off the plane. Unfortunately for them, this voided their tickets.

That's all, folks. This was a very auspicious trip, ringed by a volcanic explosion at the outset and capped with a massive explosion of the stuff that makes petro-dollars, namely, petroleum at the largest petroleum refinery there. Must mean something, no?

Monday, March 8, 2010

Told Ya So - 2010 OSCAR Winners - Hurt Locker Arrives!

Best Picture – Hurt Locker
Best Director – Kathryn Bigelow (Hurt Locker)
Best Actress in a Lead Role – Sandra Bullock (The Blind Side)
Best Actor in a Lead Role – Jeff Bridges (Crazy Heart)
Best Actor in a Supporting Role – Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds)
Best Actress in a Supporting Role – Mo’Nique (Precious)
Best Animated Feature Film – Up
Best Art Direction – Avatar
Best Cinematography – Avatar
Best Costume Design – The Young Victoria
Best Documentary Feature – The Cove
Best Documentary Short – Music By Prudence
Best Film Editing – Hurt Locker
Best Foreign Language Film – The Secret in their Eyes (Argentina)
Best Makeup – Star Trek
Best Original Score – Up
Best Original Song – Crazy Heart
Best Sound Editing – Hurt Locker
Best Sound Mixing – Hurt Locker
Best Visual Effects – Avatar
Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay) – Precious
Best Writing (Original Screenplay) – Hurt Locker

And here I thought the Academy would split the difference on Avatar versus Hurt Locker. Further, the award for Best Score didn't indicate the Best Picture winner. In all, the Academy seems to have made a fair distribution of honors this year.It's great to see that Precious was not ignored - it's a tough movie to take emotionally.

I have to admit that I only saw a small portion of UP when it was in theaters, but I have a BD disc ready to view, courtesy of Netflix, on my entertainment console, that is, my $19.95 rolling stand from WalMart.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Get It Out Of My HEAD!

iPod Broken
Have you ever gotten a tune stuck in your head? Perhaps something totally inane like Hot Cross Buns? For some or another reason, this phenomenon occurs between my ears nearly constantly. My brain apparently has its favorites, like Take The A Train and the love theme from the 1972 movie, "Ben." You know, with Micheal Jackson singing, "Ben, the two of us need look no more . . ." Yes, a love song for a rat, as sung by the world's most popular pop star, before he was autopsied three times, that is, meaning MJJ, not the rat, though I assume the rat is also long gone, though a search for an obit on the creature turned up nothing since, it's likely, this item would have been archived long before the advent of The Internet. But, I digress.

Chekov and a Ceti eel, frame 4 of 5.Once the cycle starts, it does not stop. The loop is unending, one stanza long, over and over and over and over and over. AND over. Again and again. It's not pleasant. Lately, though, that sometimes empty space in my skull has been filled with a new tune - Bad Romance by none other than Lady Gaga. Only, not with the written lyrics. It seems my mind has seen fit to come up with variations like:

Ba ba bla-ack sheep, have you an-y wo-ol?
Ba ba bla-ack sheep, Yes sir, three bags full.

and:

Ba ba Barack Obama, you ain't the Demo's mama.
Barack, Barack Obama, ain't got no health care karma . . .

Yeah. And:

Ga ga gaggin' on your, on on on your d*ck,
gaggin' so hard now, oh, sh*t, it makes me si-ick.

And it WON'T FREAKIN' STOP.

Apparently, researchers at Dartmouth and at the University of Cincinatti's School of Business (can you guess the application of the science?) have said that this is due to the excitation of the part of the brain called the auditory cortex and, once stimulated, tends to want to be stimulated again and again (I know a girl that's like that and that's no less annoying) like an itch that needs to be scratched. The "scratching" through repetition of the tune stimulates the "itch" again and the cycle repeats until some other change occurs to end the cycle. Although the ditties that Start It Up (a Stones fave that makes the rounds in my grey matter) are termed "earworms," I'm guessing I must have earcrabs or something because, like, yeah.

Thanks, Lady G, I really don't WANT TO  HEAR IT AGAIN MAKE IT STOP OH GOD NOOOOOOO . . .

Good thing I have an iPod Touch handy. Time for some showtunes, everybody! (Thanks, Roger!)

Avatar Rings In - Oscar UP!

I can hardly believe these numbers, but it's reported than James Cameron's Avatar has grossed $555 billion in the U.S. alone and a little more than $2 billion worldwide. In case you were wondering, James Cameron's other epic, Titanic, grossed $1,842,879,955, according to boxofficemojo.com. Avatar took only 32 days to hit a half-billion dollars. All this and the Hollywood press is wondering whether Hurt Locker will best Avatar at the Oscars. Hurt Locker has grossed about 18 million bucks - in the year it has been in release.

Avatar is an earner. No doubt about it. That's a lot of money. A lot. A really, really lot. It's a mind-blower. I'm thinking that Mr.Cameron doesn't really have to worry about making that next car payment.

I'm going to make a prediction. Hurt Locker will get Best Picture, Avatar Best F/X and Sound, Directing, either Precious or Up In The Air (I favour Precious.)

I guess we'll find out this weekend. Hoo hah!

El Cantante - Poor Skeletor

I have issues with bio-pics in general, but it's often the most reasonable way to absorb the trajectory of the lives of somewhat interesting all the way to immensely "important" and "significant" people.

El Cantante is just such a confection, but it's a sour candy that's hard to bite. The arc of the story starts with a pseudo documentary shot of the over-pretty wife of the picture's star, Jennifer Lopez, complaining unprovoked and byotchin' in solid Bronxonian fashion, channeling a bad Rosie Perez, that she best not be dissed or she was out of here, apparently in response to "please have a seatt" coming off-camera from one of the pseudo-documentarians. It's not entirely clear at the outset that the character Ms. Lopez plays, that of Puchi LaVoe, will be our one and sole guide to Hector LaVoe's life. As the film progresses, this quote of a film form that's never entirely executed becomes progressively misleading and violates a basic necessary element of any movie experience - the suspension of disbelief.

And so, Puchi's narrative begins with a young Hector Lavoe, played by Skeletor look-alike Marc Anthony, singing lustily with his father in the Old San Juan of 1963, after which Dad warns this son that if he insists on going to New York, where he "already lost one son" that it would be Hector that would be losing a father. The very next shot is a grainy b-roll of the New York skyline, sans the Towers with highly FX'ed swipe-cuts to the Beatles arriving at Idelwild. Hector and the Beatles, both invade New York at the same moment. I'm guessing the Fab Four had better PR than the PR.

Poor Hector rides the rocket to fame in moments, it seems, generating and enduring tragedy in his wake. But, apparently, says his still-living wife, he was corny. And that's why everyone loved him. What?

Let's step to some of the annoying temporal inaccuracies. On Hector's first night in Neuvo York, according to the film, he hooked up with Latin star Willie Colon. In fact, it took LaVoe four years of working in clubs around town before encountering and ultimately recording with Colon. In another scene, after he starts working with Colon, he's introduced to Jerry Masucci and Johnny Pachecohe's "new" Latin record label, Fania. That would have been in 1967, when he started working with Colon. Huh? Time compression is usual in movies, sure, but there must be some device between one time period and another that tell the audience, "time is passing here, K?"

As a good and kindly audience, perhaps we can set aside some fact-smooshing. It's nothing new for movies, making characters and places fit better to a timeline so that the pace is "correct," that is. But director Leon Ichaso applies his TV-movie-like skills with all too much force to both the timelines and characters. Pucci is a bitch from the get-go and poor Hector seems to be a drug addict from moment number two. And all other characters are non-dimensional, sort of like still-photos with captions in the form of lines of dialogue.

"Stand up, we're getting married," says Puchi to her heroin-addled husband when she finally tracks him down, preist in tow, at a hotel room littered with the remains of what was either an orgy or a frat party. The humor is not funny. At all. It's disturbing and very hard to believe that both these characters could be so destructive as to follow any path to each other, regardless of what the most basic common sense and value-based upbringing might bring. It just doesn't make sense. And, yes, unless you're David Lynch, it has to make some kind of sense. It's one of the basic concepts of filmmaking that makes a film a film. The viewer had better leave their disbelief outside the theater or the story won't fly. So, Mr. Ichaso, please remember that a short story is not a novel. Mostly, though, to the great filmmakers, the events are important, but not so important as to exclude the characters we came to find out about. Characters drive the story, so, a script on the versa enslaves the actors, sidelining character development. No, wait: it's the director's job to insure that doesn't happen and director Ichaso does not make that Job One in El Cantante.

"He looked like an innocent Jibaro choir boy, but, he wasn't." But he was corny. So, the director telegraphs the love-hate-love-hate-hate-hate-love-hate relationship that his wife, whom Hector affectionately reminds of his love through the film, though she truly seems non-plussed. "Yeah, yeah, you always love me when you're high," she says to him while cramming coke up his nose, to which he responds, "And I'm always high." To which she displays the loving gaze of, well, a wedding planner.

We are forced to watch Hector destroy himself with drugs and depression without having any real idea, except for a passing impression from Puchi, what made him tick. Her explanations, sometimes ending with "know what I mean . . . I don't know." do not help. As Lavoe returns to Puerto Rico, we have no idea why he winds up in Bayamon, a drug and gang ghetto to this day in San Juan, apparently without visiting his beloved father, to shoot up for some period of time while we're treated to flashback and sidebacks and forwardflashes, whatever you might want to call them, that are fragmented and meant to suggest drug-addledness, so it must be what's going on in his mind, I guess, since it's never connected or explained. And still, no idea of what's troubling the "poor choir-boy," corny Hector. His terror is not only not spelled out, but we're not given the benefit of the basic alphabet of his pain. Nada.

Did I mention yet that Hector was from Ponce, a city a hundred miles to the south, and not San Juan?

The musical performances are too terse and endlessly interrupted with cross-shots at Jenny From The Block, moaning, pacing, pecking and scratching, puffing at Newports like a non-smoker. Each segment is replete with shaking, over-saturated camera work meant to heighten the tension in-frame, as if the cameraperson is always ready to dodge a bullet or chair, a la Hill Street Blues. But that pseudo-cinema-verite camera work when used in drama was a fad and the fad is over. Stop it, now.

Either these characters were this shallow and destructive, or the script is lying and the director, Ichaso, is just phoning it in. Or, he's trying his best, given his pedigree in TV.

And, of course, Lavoe cracks up, gets sober, get religion in, and I clocked it, under ten minutes. More flashbacks, sidebacks. Bad stuff happens and then, more bad stuff happens. At one particularly terrible moment, Hector says to Puchi that they don't talk anymore, that this has just occured to him. I don't believe this - that's not what I would be thinking about, nor would you. And that's why the story, though it's true, does not work as a story. The drama is real, but contrite and compressed and empty, meaning to hit all the marks in the timeline, leaving the characters in the dust.

I don't have the heart to blame either Anthony or Lopez. Marc Anthony has a short list of film experience but he's not as bad as you might think. I get the feeling that, if the film were focused more on Lavoe's character and his trajectory into despair and destruction because of that character, Anthony would have been able to pull it down just fine. Lopez is seasoned and capable, but here, she's an utter character actor playing an unlikable, unbelievable and dimensionless character. Too bad, really. Plus, she manages to span three decades by aging about a week. Change of haristyle doesn't do it.

Hector Lavoe had a significant role as a star in bringing Salsa music to new levels of commercial success and listening to his music, there can be no doubt that he had talent to spare. It's a shame he drove himself to destruction. It can't be doubted that Anthony and Lopez were influenced by his hits as they grew up, especially with their music talent. So, a certain amount of reverence is understandable. But LaVoe was who he was and we can't see through the haze of tortured-soul sentimentality that we're supposed to take on faith was the root of his self-directed downfall.

Unfortunately, El Cantante doesn't celebrate either side of life's coin Lavoe flipped, leaving us with a tired effort too thin for the theatres, too annoying for DVD and too racy to flop around on Lifetime, no matter how many oral contraceptive ads are inserted by the network. Like Puchi, this movie is bitchy and irritating, and when it's over, it's not entirely clear why.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Playstation Network Down

Playstation 3 owners were shocked and irritated to discover that Sony's Playstation network, the system that connects the immensely popular PlayStation systems both to other gamers and to online games, went down sometime Sunday. PlayStation owners could not connect to services, the PlayStation store and to corollary services such as NetFlix, which provides streaming movies-on-demand to PlayStation devices. Sony's PlayStation blog, accessible if you have a computer handy, reports as of today that the newer "slim" units of the PS3 are connecting normally and the Twitter post prior to that indicates that Sony is "looking into it" and "narrowing down the issue."

I admit that I am a gadget hound. If it has gears, circuits and/or flashing lights, I am instantly in love. What I don't love is my increased reliance on gadgets for my day-to-day existence. It's the bleeding edge that I transit with the purpose and dismay of a snail on a straight-razor.

I use my PS3 for a little game-play but, mostly, for playback of BD (Blu-ray Discs) and for streaming programming from Netflix. So, when I tried to browse my Netflix Instant Queue and found it wasn't working, I set off on an expedition for information on how to solve this sudden problem. I searched Sony's site, which, like many electronics manufacturers, I have found, has a kludgey and cumbersome to navigate "knowledgebase." After giving up there, I Google-d "PlayStation can't connect" and "PlayStation network error" and read the past misadventures of others, followed the steps and got no result.And I'm no novice at computers and networks but while the PlayStation 3 is a computer of sorts, it has its own proprietary hardware, software, features and attendant issues - and quirks. Those quirks can only be resolved by a careful and studious gleaning of forums rife with dim-witted postings like "WTF!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!" and "I'm nothing without my PS3. (Sad emoticon goes here.) Yeah - helpful and very sad. And yes, I DID read the manual. So, I did dick around with the system and the network here at Chaos Manor II for about an hour until my kid let me know that Sony tweeted their admission of a problem.

But something is wrong with this picture.It really shouldn't have taken me nearly two hours of wondering whether my PS3 was broken or whether I forgot to pay my cable bill or whether my router had died again or whether my service provider was having a DNS issue as they have had in the past, also without explanation. Must I be connected to "social media" to understand that some gigantic foreign corporation's axillary service upon which my appliance relies just isn't working today? Really? Don't get me wrong - we're not talking about life support equipment here. But what if we were?

More and more, we are inexorably connected to somewhere else by wire. Information is moving out of Daytimers and into the "cloud," meaning the great virtual communal storage space somewhere other than where we are. While we, that "we" meaning those who can afford it, are afforded flexibility and life-enhancement through gadgetry, it's also a huge vulnerability. And while puppies and babies are cute because they're vulnerable, me not being able to make a phone call because a network is down three-thousand miles away is a bad thing.

In the end, Sony did the Japanese thing and waited to see what the dawn would bring. Two dawns, to be exact. Pretty laid back for a 21st century world. As it turned out, the internal clock of the majority of the older models of PS3s thought this was a leap year . . . huh? Well, that's what Sony's PlayStation blog said. And, apparently, the public accepted this explanation without question. Only . . . this isn't a leap year. Maybe it is in Japan? Who cares? As long as we can all re-connect, we're good. Right?