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January 28, 2013

A Matter of Degree

The President was asked about the violence and head trauma in the NFL. His response was that, if he had boys, he would think twice before letting them play football. He then furthered his comments by saying he felt the NCAA (the governing body of college sports) should look at football because, and I paraphrase here, "if a college athlete is seriously injured, they have nothing to fall back on."

Er, what? Aren't these people playing football at college? Some of them at quite prestigious and expensive colleges? Shouldn't these men's first goal be getting an education rather than playing football?

The President inadvertently pointed out the issue with college sports in America: that a majority of sports players are NOT there to actually get an education, that many of them are not smart enough to get a degree from a higher-learning institution, and that they are devaluing any education provided at that institution by being there and being obligingly passed through so they can play football (or any number of other sports) and bring in loads of money to the school. The problem is they are also devaluing the education for every other legitimate student who actually is going to college for an education, many of whom have to borrow up to their, or their family's, eyeballs in order to afford to go there (the sports figure gets scholarships, many of them full-ride), has to attend classes and show ability and learning in their subjects (it is rumored and often shown that college athletes are allowed to skip tests and are put in special courses made just for them), and have to compete educationally or be drummed out of the school (whereas the student athlete can attend as long as he/she is a significant contributor to his/her sports team).

I read stories of NFL and NBA players being let go from their teams, dropped off at the airport, and not knowing what to do next-- they have always been given tickets and flown as a team, and some have never flown on their own and simply do not know what to do. I read stories of athletes who work at grocery stores and used car lots after fairly successful careers because they do not have an education that allows them to do wise things with the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars they earned while playing. I read stories about how the NFL and NBA (and, I assume, many other sports, too) provide rookie symposiums where they tell the athlete about W-2s, taxes, and other life issues and events that they will now have to attend to, because so many of these athletes have never dealt with them before. I read so many articles about thug-like behavior on and off the court. I read and see so many interviews where the athlete cannot string more than a couple of platitudes together, because they don't have the education to speak more intelligently about, well, anything, including their own sport.

Mr. President, how about we change the qualifications for student athletes at the college (and high school) level so that they can only play their sports if they have a good GPA? How about we have auditors monitoring the classes taken by the athletes to ensure they are getting a real education, and not getting As in "underwater basket-weaving?" How about we go back to having student athletes being the best and the brightest, rather than there simply to play a sport? If we do these things, these poor athletes would have plenty to fall back on if they are injured playing their sport. The problem solves itself, Mr. President.

January 22, 2013

Firearm Fiasco

I realize I'm in a unique circumstance. However, I have tried to provide clear, direct, accurate information each step of the way while trying to legally get my firearms, which I left with my father when I moved here, to somewhere close by in the United States where I can go, pick them up, and legally cross into Canada with them.

First I had to go through the process of getting the proper licenses in Canada. That took some time and effort, but I am now licensed for both types of weapons (nonrestricted and restricted) that I own. I can now take possession of my firearms.

Next, I contacted the ATF -- the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and FIREARMS -- thinking they could help me by providing information. They did not know their ass from a hole in the ground. Matter of fact, the person I was in contact with did not know you could send firearms via the US Postal Service from person to person! So that wound up being a dead end, but took months of back and forth emails and phone conversations to resolve.

I contacted the USPS to find out what the restrictions and rules are for shipping firearms. They sent me to my local USPS shipping regulations line, who sent me a link that had the data. Basically, my rifles and shotguns are fine to ship, with some very specific regulations. But my handguns cannot be shipped person-to-person via the post office. The PO worker I spoke with said that federal authorities are allowed to ship weapons between offices and that many police departments will provide that service for individuals.

So, I tried the local police department. I explained my situation, explained the post office's suggestion, and asked the officer I was speaking with if they would help me with this. He laughed. He actually laughed. Then he said, "No, that's not something we would do." However, he suggested that a local shipping destination, True Value Hardware, has an FFL (Federal Firearms License) which can be used to ship/receive firearms.

I called them. My initial questions were rebuffed with, "You have to import your firearms, you can't just ship them here and pick them up." Now, when I originally crossed the border with nearly all of my worldly goods in a U-Haul, I had to declare and import everything. The last page of my import documentation included "goods to follow" -- items that I would be crossing the border with later, but for which I paid import taxes at that time. Since I knew I had to get properly licensed in Canada first, I listed my firearms as goods to follow. At this point, all I need is some place that I can have my firearms shipped to where I can pick them up, take my import documentation and the firearms to the border crossing, have the other proper documentation required by Canada to legally transport the firearms, cross the border, and I'm done.

I never expected this process to be such a hassle. And it says something about the US government that no one knows the right answer to these questions -- most especially the ATF, which should be the end-all, be-all of information about firearms. It shouldn't take me over a year to get this information, and half the time it has been accidental that I have found something out and been able to move forward.

January 9, 2013

Once... Again

I'm sitting at my desk listening to the music from the movie Once... and I'm wondering if the Guy made it as an artist, with his ex-girlfriend, or in life, in general. I wonder because the Girl was the exact inspiration and drive that he needed at the right time in his life. While he was obviously a good songwriter on his own, she was the muse that made him put it all together, gave him the drive to finish, and the impetus to move to London and make a go of it. Leaving without her, how can he possibly fare?

In my mind, the Guy probably moves back in with the ex-girlfriend, starts up a new relationship. But she hasn't really changed, and he's a different person now, one with different needs. He's still egotistical as all hell, so the relationship will probably fail. This is great for him, because the Guy now has both his leaving his muse (the Girl) and the breakup about which to write. As Bono sang, "Every artist kills their inspiration and sings about the grief." But the Guy will not have that drive; he'll probably sell the album he made with the Girl and get a contract. He'll do small shows, but with a rotating band of musicians, because he won't be able to keep them too long. He'll slowly devolve until he is nearly the same place as when we meet him... a guy with good songs who needs something outside to spur him to act. He needs the Girl.

The problem is the Girl doesn't really need him. While, in Czech, she does say that she loves the Guy, she has her mother, her daughter, her returned husband. She doesn't have the same drives or needs as the Guy, and is more willing to sacrifice for her own, private greater good. She will write and compose and play on the piano the Guy gets for her (unless her husband turns into the same jerk he was, and breaks it or sells it). She will remember the brief, intense love she had for that moment in time, but it will not rule her. She will continue her life, quietly.

The creator of the movie said he called it "Once..." because of how many times he heard his artistic friends saying, "Once such and such happens...," "Once so and so come around...," and "Once I win the lottery...," and so on. It was always something outside their control that needed to happen in order for their dreams to come around. He always felt you made your own luck and had to keep pressing (and, look, he wrote and directed a film about it!). The Guy is an amalgam stereotype of this sort of thinking, and I simply don't think he can 'do it' without the Girl.

In most cases I read, hear, or learn about, the self-made man isn't. The great politicians, artist, stars are all great because of someone pushing the right buttons. We constantly hear about people like Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant finding new motivations, and it is usually of a negative sort; someone says they can't, they shouldn't, they aren't able to, and it sends them off to prove the opposite. Sometimes it is the right person with the kind word, the words of encouragement, at the right time when they are ready to listen who propels someone to stardom and success. In every story of a great person, there is always someone who provides the kind word, the motivation, the constructive criticism at the right time(s) that propels the successful person forward one more time. The Girl is that voice for the Guy, and I just don't see him succeeding without her in his life.

I do not know why this move resonates with me so much. I watch it probably twice a year and I listen to the soundtrack often. Something about the story, the characters, the music just hits me in the right spot and puts me in a contemplative mood. Well, my Once soundtrack is done and dinner is almost ready. Maybe it is time for a DVD this evening afterward?