The Lessons of “I’m Just A Bill”

If you’re paying attention to the political shenanigans in Washington, D.C., you might be aware that the Republicans are aiming for a partial government shutdown of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in retaliation for the immigration-related executive orders that President Obama issued last year. Reading through the comments for various political stories, I see frequent calls to save the U.S. Constitution. It’s painfully obvious that some citizens—and too many Tea Party Republicanshave no clue how the government works. During the U.S. Bicentennial (1975-1976) celebration, ABC TV had a series of Schoolhouse Rock! cartoons on how the government works. My all-time favorite was “I’m Just a Bill” that explains how a bill becomes a law in Congress.

Education and civic responsibility still meant something 40 years ago. Not today. Too many people display their willful ignorance with pride, too many politicians lack courage to rebuke ignorance with knowledge. This became obvious after the House Republicans passed their bill to fund the DHS and reverse the executive orders, which failed four times in the Republican-controlled Senate to override the Democratic filibusters, insisting that they did their job and the Senate needed to do their job by rubber-stamping the bill.

That’s not how Congress works: the majority can cram bills through the House; the minority can halt bills in the Senate.

The Republicans may have a majority in the Senate, but they lack the votes to override a Democratic filibuster (60 votes) and a presidential veto (67 votes). As the House Republicans demonstrated on Friday night, they don’t have the 218 votes to pass their own bills if the Tea Party Republicans votes no and the Democratic minority withhold their votes. Even if their bill did get rubber-stamped by the Senate, the House Republicans don’t have the 290 votes to override the expected presidential veto.

I was quite pleased to see that the Disney Educational Productions had uploaded new versions of the Schoolhouse Rock! videos on YouTube. While glancing through the comments for the “I’m Just a Bill” video, someone noted that Saturday Night Live did an updated skit of that video. President Obama comes out to push “I’m Just A Bill” down the Capitol steps and introduced “I’m Just An Executive Order” to run the government. The funny thing is, despite a Republican judge ruling that 26 states have legal standing to file a lawsuit and granting a temporary stay, the executive orders are constitutional and legal.

If the Republicans believe their own rhetoric that President Obama is the dictator in chief, they can always remove him from office through impeachment. They have enough votes in the House to impeach; they don’t have enough votes in the Senate to convict. With the Obama Administration being scandal free for the last six years, the Senate Republicans will have a tough time getting any Democrats to vote with them for conviction.

While the lowest voter turnout in 72 years gave the Republicans control of Congress, voters didn’t give them enough power to ignore the Democrats and President Obama. Until that painful reality sinks, expect two more years of political shenanigans.

Rent-A-White-Man Super Bowl

I found the 2015 Super Bowl commercials somewhat lacking in the humor department. Nothing made me barked out aloud in laughter. (Although the Kia Sorento car commercial with Pierce Brosnan, who imagines himself being pitched for a James Bond-style car ride with snipers, missile launchers and explosions that became rather uninteresting, made me smile.) A Satire Bowl commercial that most of America and the world haven’t seen was “Rent-A-White-Man”, where black people can rent a white man to act on their behalf in post-racial American society without getting shot by the police.

Unless you’re living in a cave and watching Fox News TV, this is really funny. If you understand the irony of white privilege that is, which most white people can’t comprehend because they’re never judged by the color of their skin, have to think twice while walking down the street, or followed because someone think they’re up to no good. Being a native Californian with redneck parents from Idaho and living my entire life in the multicultural San Francisco Bay Area, I can appreciate—and laugh at—both sides of the racial divide.

And rent a white man is also a fantastic idea.

As a white man in my mid-forties with graying hair at the temples, I’m deeply concerned about being aged out of the tech industry that favors younger foreign workers over older American workers. That was obvious at a job from several years ago where Indians made up the majority of the workers and only vegan pizza got served at company events. I’m transitioning my career from general information technology (I.T.) into information security (InfoSec) that requires 10+ years of general I.T. experience to get into, a difficult hurdle for anyone from India or fresh of college to overcome. If I do get aged out of my current career, I can always rent myself out as a white man.

Rent a white man isn’t all satire. Chinese companies routinely rent white men in business suits to present their operations with American faces from a non-existent U.S. company and project an international aura over the local competition. Who knew that white privilege was a marketable skill?

Riding The Hotel 22 Bus

When I started my new tech job six months ago, I initially took the 522 from San Jose to Palo Alto that ran the same route as the 22 and makes 75% fewer stops to get across the valley faster. This portion of my two-hour trip each way to work took 45 minute. As the weather got colder, the presence—and the overwhelming smell—of the homeless became more prevalent. Although I knew that the homeless rode the 22 around the clock, I didn’t know it had the nickname of “Hotel 22” until I read The New York Times op-ed piece by Elizabeth Lo on her new documentary by the same name.

Silicon Valley has three different kinds of buses that get workers from the outlying areas of the San Francisco Bay Area to their jobs in Silicon Valley, the Peninsula, Oakland or San Francisco. I’ve ridden on all three buses over the last 15 years as a computer technician in Silicon Valley.

Local buses crisscross the county to connect people from their homes to the major transit centers and thoroughfares for local companies. Minimum wage workers, techies and homeless people all mingled together, the 22 being the most obvious example. A monthly bus pass for Santa Clara County is $70 USD.

Commuter buses connect major transit centers to job-concentrated areas that are typically inaccessible without a vehicle (i.e., no sidewalks back to civilization). Some commuter and express buses are WiFi-enabled to allow Internet access via cellphone and tablets. You’re less likely to find minimum wage workers and the homeless on these buses, as the fastest routes are twice as expensive. A monthly express bus pass in Santa Clara County cost $140 USD.

Tech buses stop at major transit centers and thoroughfares to take them directly to each campus building. These luxury buses features faster WiFi connections, comfortable seats and sometimes a restroom. Access restricted to workers with company badges. Free for full-time employees, and, depending on the company, a nominal fee for contractors. No minimum wage workers or homeless allowed on these buses. These buses made the news when protesters in San Francisco and Oakland rioted against Google buses in 2013.

After riding the 522 for two months, I switched to an express bus that cut my overall commute to an hour each way. I drove the 280/85 freeway route to Mountain View for many years, suffering 45 minutes in the morning and 90 minutes in the evening. Driving beyond the 280/85 interchange to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto is much worse. I’m happy to pay someone else to drive while I read an ebook, listen to an audio book or take a snooze. Yes, like many of my fellow techies, I don’t miss dealing with the homeless or their overwhelming smell.

Some people get outraged that Silicon Valley, being richest society in America, can’t take care of the homeless. As I pointed out in the comment on The New York Times website, Californians love to vote on initiatives and propositions that decrease their taxes and increase their services. This is true for most Americans. Everyone wants services; no one wants to pay for it. Until that change, nothing else will change. Something to look forward to as baby boomers retire and the workforce shrinks in the next quarter-century.

The Simpsons Does Star Trek

As a child of the 1970’s, I spent many Saturday afternoons watching “Star Trek: The Original Series” on TV. While each episode with Kirk, Spock and McCoy was fantastic, the end credits with the sweeping music and the iconic still scenes from past episodes made for a perfect ending. A recent episode of “The Simpsons” had an homage to the vintage “Star Trek” end credits, reproducing the still scenes with Simpson characters and adding a few still scenes from “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (i.e., daughter Lisa as the Borg queen). Having spent my teenage years with my mother when she became a crazy cat woman with 91 cats (I counted them one summer), the tribbles replaced by cat heads falling out of the bin was very disturbing.

Forget Episode VII – Batman Vs. Darth Vader

If the new Star Wars Episode VI trailer wasn’t your cup of tea, watch “Batman vs. Darth Vader” as the Dark Knight Detective faces off with the Dark Lord of the Sith. Batman infiltrates the Death Star in his spaceship to rescue Superman, disabling stormtroopers like common street thugs, and picking up a lightsaber along the way. Darth Vader tracks down Batman, setting off a battle between the Force (magic) and Gadgets (science). Despite several near death scenes, the outcome was predictable.

Awakening The Star Wars Trailer

I no longer see movie trailers when they come out on the Internet. I’ve seen too many movies over the years that fell short of a well-made trailer.  (Or in the case of “Cloverfield,” a well-made end credits with awesome music that was better than the movie.) If I have a low expectations walking into the theater, the less disappointed I’ll be after seeing the movie. The only exception to this rule is Star Wars, as the first “Episode VII—The Force Awakens” trailer has come out.

When I worked at Accolade/Infogrames/Atari (same company, different owners, multiple personality disorder), my fellow video game testers and I went to see “Wing Commander” (a video game-based movie) in 1999. The “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace” trailer premiered with that movie. People got up after the trailer was over and left without seeing the movie. As for the movie itself, low expectations made “Wing Commander” almost enjoyable for being so bad.

What does this new trailer tells us about the plot of the next Star Wars movie? Next to nothing.

Although I saw the trailer on the Internet, I’m not going out of my way to read about various plot leaks. (Except for Harrison Ford being injured on the set after the Millennium Falcon door clobbered him.) Since director J.J. Abrams is responsible for re-imaging the Star Trek franchise, he literally threw out the books regarding what to expect with the Star Wars franchise. Anything is possible.

The two parts that I liked the most were X-wings fighters skimming above the water and the Millennium Falcon flying into the air before flying low over sand dunes while under fire from Tie fighters. Unlike the previous six movies, the spacecraft really do blend in with the environment. A promising start for a venerable franchise.

Unlocking The Profit

One of my favorite TV show is CNBC’s “The Profit,” where Marcus Lemonis invests his own money to turnaround failing small businesses. I saw the premier episode while attending the Las Vegas Star Trek convention last year, fell in love with the show, and can’t get enough of it on the Internet. Alas, CNBC has locked down the episodes when the second half of season two started a month ago. Since I’m not a cable subscriber, and the episodes aren’t available on Amazon or iTunes, I had to watch the sneak preview videos, and read the reviews on Previously TV, The Profit Fans, and Tycoon Playbook. A recent episode showed up on Hulu.

Over 40,000 businesses applied to get on “The Profit.” According to an article in Inc Magazine, there’s a fine line between the businesses that Marcus wants to turnaround and the drama that the producer wants to turn into good TV. In short, there are winners and losers. Swanson’s Fish Market was an obvious loser from the get go.

Unusual Product

The businesses that Marcus favors are either products or stores that have the potential to become national brands. As I’m not aware of any national fresh fish markets (the only fish I eat are frozen fish fillets from the supermarket), I couldn’t see him turn this 41-year-old family owned business in Fairfield, CT, into a national brand. With the family name being Swanson, a national fresh fish market and/or prepared food line might get confused with a national frozen food brand despite being in different markets.

Unusual Offer

Marcus discovers that the business is $900,000 USD in the hole despite doing $150,000 USD in monthly sales. The numbers are hard to figure out. Gary, the father, is laid back. Sue, the mother, has checked out of the business. Larissa, the daughter, struggles with the bookkeeping mess she inherited from her mother, and reached out to Marcus to help her family.

Marcus offers $1 million USD to buy the building to pay off the debt and put working capital into the business, giving the family an option to buy the building back at a later date. Since he didn’t request his usual 50% of ownership, I don’t see what his return of investment was unless the building has significant real estate value and/or appreciation. As he stressed in earlier episodes, he doesn’t do real estate play—and this is a real estate play.

Profitable Disasters

This fish market has a fishy history. A fire on Fourth of July 2009 gutted the original store, which was rebuilt for $1 million USD and the insurance company paid out $1.2 million USD. A warehouse fire that same year cost $30,000 USD to rebuild and a $220,000 USD payout from the insurance company. And, later in the episode, a $35,000 USD boat swamped during a hurricane got bought out by the insurance company for $70,000 USD. All that extra money supposedly went back into the business.

Many people on various comment boards believe that the owners have committed insurance fraud, as insurance companies aren’t renowned for generous payouts. Larissa in a special post on the business website disputes that accusation of fraud and how the episode humiliated her family. If anything, the owners were guilty of using the business as a piggy bank for a luxury car, boats and the remodeling of their house.

No surprise that Marcus walked away after he discovers that the building was under foreclosure proceedings. Unlike earlier episodes where circumstances became deal breakers, this episode felt like it got set up to fail from the beginning. Based on the available public records, the production company—and perhaps Marcus—must have known about this before setting up the cameras.

Farting Around The Moon

If you ever find yourself on the Moon, don’t eat a can of baked beans before suiting up. A rampaging kaiju (Japanese for “strange beast”) might come out its hole, kill your team members and hunt you down after letting loose an errant fart. Never mind that the Moon has no air to transmit the sound of the tooty-fruity outside of a spacesuit. Farting around the Moon can get you killed.

Code Monkey Re-visited

While browsing Slashdot (a techie-oriented news discussion website), someone posted a link for the animated music video of the song, “Code Monkey,” that came out in 2006. I haven’t heard that song in years. This catchy tune gave me hope of becoming a code monkey during my final grueling year of earning my associate degree in computer programming at San Jose City College, where I took special study classes because all my required courses got cancelled for the year. I graduated in 2007 by making the president’s list for maintaining a 4.0 G.P.A. in my major.

Ironically, I never became a professional code monkey.

After landing a help desk support specialist job at a financial Fortune 500 company in 2005, I made that my professional career and became a code monkey for my personal websites. My plan to go from black box testing with no programming to white box testing with programming went awry. Seven years later, and being unemployed on-and-off for three years, I’m in the middle of another job transition to information security. Maybe I’ll become a code monkey by writing security scripts. Or maybe not. There’s always hope that I can do something with my programming degree.

How Godzilla 2014 Should Have Begin

As much as I love the new “Godzilla” movie, I never liked the official trailer where the story was about a distraught husband who loses his wife and seeks revenge on the monsters. The distraught husband (and father) bites the dust about 30 minutes into the movie, setting up the adult son to save his wife and child from the monsters. When How It Should Have Ended did their video re-take for Godzilla, the conceit from the trailer got dispatched immediately. Tossing in the Jaegar from “Pacific Rim” and Superman from “Man of Steel” was a nice touch.