The problem is that I don't want a Merry Christmas. That has nothing to do with me. I'd be happy that you are saying something nice to me, except I know that Christians are on a campaign to make it so that saying anything other than Merry Christmas is offensive.
They are trying to force commercial organizations to standardize on Merry Christmas despite the fact that the business owners, the clerks and the customers are often of different faith.
Fox News and the Christian right wing who comprise the public voice of Christianity have turned "Merry Christmas" into a phrase of oppression. By declaring a war on Christmas and taking the offense by trying to drive out the phrase Happy Holidays, they have made Merry Christmas offensive to me.
Wishing me a Merry Christmas is like wishing that I have an easy, short labor when I deliver a baby. I'm a man. It's stupid to say that to me and it's stupid to wish me a Merry Christmas. I am Jewish.
When you lament that your seasons greeting is now a point of conflct, look to Fox News and the right-wing Christians that you have allowed to be your voice in this culture. They turned Happy Holidays into a fight. Wish me a Merry Christmas at your own risk. Say Happy Holidays and I will return your generosity with gratitude.
There is, in this world, a class of people whose goal it is to find a
weakness in your past and find a way to confuse you and make you screw
up enough that they can garnish your wages, drain your savings and take
your money. These people are called collection companies.
What they do is buy paperwork from credit card and other financial companies and try to turn that into money. The paperwork is the record of an abandoned credit card balance or some other debt that has not been paid. The company buys the legal right to try to collect on that debt.
One could make a political point about this, but mainly, it is very often unfair and, even more often, simply abusive. While I am sure that there are some people who can pay for these things and simply choose not to, I am equally sure that most people who leave debt like this behind simply came upon bad times and can't cover the bill. Sucks to not be able to control all the economic events in one's life and these people are there to take advantage of that weakness.
In my case, it was an old credit card. My ex-wife is sure she paid it after our divorce but, she is not good at paperwork and had no records of any kind from that era. The debt was for a few thousand dollars and, even if I had believed the debt was legitimate, I had absolutely no way to pay it off. The economy has not been kind to me. I had to fight them. It turns out that this is easier than I ever would have thought.
The salient point is this: They do not have a case. If it gets to a lawsuit, they will lose. The paperwork they buy from the previous creditor is mere decoration. It has, on it's own, no legal value. It is, if you watch tv legal dramas you will recognize this term: hearsay.
The company (in my case it was a nationwide company called Resurgent Legal Group) is there to produce dollars. The way they do this is to put you through a modestly complicated legal process and hope that you will fail to execute properly so they can go to the judge and get a "Summary Judgement". They will tell the judge that you have not made any claims that the facts are wrong and, therefore, they are entitled to garnish your wages, etc. If you have not done the paperwork correctly, that claim will be correct and the judge will give them your money.
If you execute properly, you will have established for the judge that there is a disagreement about the facts and he or she will have to grant a trial to figure out the real truth. Since the collection company only has hearsay paperwork, they will not want a trial and will dismiss the suit.
If a miracle happens and they do show up for the trial, you would have to tell the judge that the paperwork is hearsay. You would, at the beginning of the trial, object to the paperwork being entered as evidence because it's hearsay. The collection company lawyer might say that records collected in the normal course of business are exempt from the hearsay rules.
That is true, but these records were not collected in the normal course of the collection company's business. These were supposedly collected in the course of the credit card company's business. Unless the credit card company is the one suing you, it is still hearsay. It means that the only evidence that the collection company has is not allowed. QED
More likely they will give up without a trial but, to get to that point, you have to pay close attention. In my case, in addition to the standard paperwork, they changed the date for the summary judgement hearing several times over the course of months. It would have been very easy for me to miss the real court date. You also have to do the paperwork correctly.
Let me hasten to preface: This is the story of how it went for me and it's only the parts I consider important. I got several letters that were announcements of this or that which were not important. More importantly, in your state/county/village, the details might differ. YOU HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION AND ACT QUICKLY. Read carefully to figure out if you should do something. You should also TALK TO A LAWYER.
One day, you get a letter offering to settle a debt. It says that it will take half the money and call it quits. It says that this is a collection effort and that anything you say can be used against you. As far as I can tell, you have no obligation to respond to this. Later you will get a letter saying that they have retained council. It is not mandatory that you reply (I didn't) but, now I think it would have been good to reply to this letter saying that you have no idea what they are talking about. Send it registered, return receipt requested.
(Someone also told me, when I got this, that it was a good idea to get set of credit reports to have a record of them at that time. I never found a use for them but, better safe than sorry.)
IT GETS REAL
Later, you will get a letter that says something "Complaint". It will be very formal and will have "Counts" and "Sections" and such. Do not tell them anything except that you deny everything and even then, refer to it by their paragraph, don't use your own words. I admitted that I lived at an old address and they kept telling the judge that this was proof I owed the money. They will use anything you say against you. I went through it and denied each paragraph (they are numbered). "Paragraph #1, I know of no such account." "Paragraph #2, ...". Then I sent it to them, registered, return receipt.
You should be better than me and go to the public legal help office (in my state, the civic center has a "Legal Self Help" office that will let you talk to a lawyer for fifteen minutes whenever you need to). Show him or her the paperwork and your response and do whatever your told, unless it's to settle. Don't do that.
REQUEST FOR ADMISSIONS
Eventually, you will get a more formal paper that makes a list of assertion questions. "Did you live at..." "Do you owe this money..." "Do you have such and such an account..." You can't lie but, you also probably don't really remember things that long ago. The less you tell them the better.
Here's the thing, these things MUST BE DONE PROMPTLY. There is a time period when you must respond. In my case, it was a couple of weeks.
What I said is "I do not admit that I have ..." for every single assertion. For the section called "Interrogatives", I said, "I choose not to discuss ...". And ended it by saying, I demand that you "cease and desist from bothering me further on this matter." Someone suggested that. It made me feel good but I'm not sure it mattered.
Once you figure out what to say, take your answers to the legal self-help guy and show them to him or her. Then file the answer in whatever way the lawyer says.
If you can't bring yourself to do that, I got away with mailing the answer to the collection company. I used registered mail with a return receipt so that I had a record. Were I to do it again, I would sign it and have it notarized but, I didn't and it still worked.
JERKED AROUND BY PROFESSIONALS
I got a notice for a summary judgement hearing. Then I got a notice that it had been rescheduled. Then another and another. Clearly, they were trying to confuse me in the hope that, when the time came, I would not show up. Because I was very, very suspicious, I actually went to the courtroom for every one of the dates– four or five times – just to make sure that nothing was going on behind my back.
I think this was probably a waste of time. If this happens to you, I suggest that you call the judge's office. It's like a doctor. A clerk answers and, you can ask your question. In this case, instead of wasting my time going there, I would call and ask, "I got a reschedule notice for case #xxx [it's on the paperwork]. I want to make sure I have it right. I think I am supposed to show up on [whatever date]." The clerk, once I met her, was very nice and just wanted to make sure everything was smooth and easy for her judge.
In any case, do whatever you have to do to keep this organized. THEY ARE TRYING TO CONFUSE YOU. DON'T LET THEM.
WHERE I SCREWED UP
When I finally got to the hearing, I found out that I screwed up. It turns out that none of the stuff that I had mailed to thecollection company made it to the judge in a form that could be used for my benefit. (My two letters were in their package but, for some reason, those did not constitute 'disagreement of facts'.)
What I had thought was that those two documents would be in the case already. The judge explained that I was wrong. They weren't. She also said, and this is really important, that I was to be held to the same procedural standards as an attorney. If you have this, or anything else adverse happen, ASK THE JUDGE FOR TIME TO MAKE IT RIGHT. Tell him or her that you will see the legal self-help, hire a lawyer, whatever, to get the paperwork right. Probably the time will be granted.
FILING A FORMAL ANSWER
Turns out that the response during the extra time I was granted also must be done promptly. I don't remember the exact number but, my paperwork had to be filed within a week and a half or something. This time I did meet with the legal self-help. I told him my objections and he told me to write them down, get it notarized and file it with the court office on the third floor.
I did this immediately but was horrified to find that there was a substantial fee for filling the paperwork, $324! However, legal self-help can give you paperwork to file with the judge to get the fee waived. I'm under the impression that they are fairly lenient about that, but I just paid it. I did not want to have any more interaction with the judge than necessary.
Remember though, THIS SHOULD BE DONE AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER YOU GET THE FIRST NOTICE FOR THE HEARING.
The disagreement fact that I claimed is that I believed that I had paid all my debts and that I did not recall owing money to this company. I said other stuff but don't think it mattered. The important thing is that I had to formally say, "I do not owe that money," to get a trial.
In retrospect, I think that I could have simply used notarized copies of my first two letters. They made clear that I disagreed with the facts and did not agree that I owed money.
SUMMARY JUDGEMENT HEARING
At the second summary hearing (also at the first but that was moot), I asked the judge if I could make a statement. I said a bunch of things that I don't think mattered and one that did. I ASKED THE JUDGE FOR A TRIAL. YOU HAVE TO ASK.
The collection company responded that I had waited too long to file, that I was implausible, that it was obvious I was lying, and several other things that she just made up on the spot. If there had been a kitchen sink nearby, that would have been thrown in.
The judge said that this was a hearing for summary judgement, not time to decide what was true and false. Then said that there was clearly a disagreement of fact and that she would grant my request for a trial.
She set a trial date about six weeks ahead. (Goal achieved.)
After the first hearing when I got the extension, the lawyer for the collection company was very confident. I told her that I thought this was a mistake and that I didn't remember owing any money. She insisted that I couldn't say that in court (I could and did) and that, if it went to trial, there would be no settlement. That last said with heavy emphasis and a hilarious attempt to be a powerful bully. If you are inclined to be intimidated by people, just tell the person you'll talk about it later and walk away. YOU HAVE ABSOLUTELY NO OBLIGATION TO TALK TO OR BE NICE TO THE COLLECTION COMPANY LAWYER AND YOU SHOULD NOT. Anything you say will be used against you.
THE SUIT IS DISMISSED
About two weeks before the trial, an envelope shows up from the collection company. It is a request to dismiss the suit, "without prejudice". A couple of days later, a signed copy arrives where the judge says it's dismissed "with prejudice." "Without" means that they can raise the case again if they ever want to. "With" means that this judgement is to be considered final. That is, a new judge should consider this already to have been settled. That is better.
Before I got this, I did go to legal self-help after the hearing and before the trial (and before the dismissal) to ask if there is anything I should do to prepare and what I should say in court. He told me I should object to the collection company putting copies of old bills into evidence at the trial and that that should do it.
He also told me to lay low relative to the collection company. I had thought to do something like, ask for documentation about the old bills or something. He said not to telegraph my strategy. He said do not contact them at all.
A WARNING ABOUT LEGAL SELF-HELP
This brings up another point about legal self-help. They are not strategists. Nobody brought up the idea of using hearsay as a way to defend this suit. When I suggested it (a lawyer friend of mine instructed me on the strategy of this entire experience), the self-help guy was amazed. I asked him if it fit the law hereabouts and he said yes and that he thought it should work. He said that the judge would be surprised because it was rare for a civilian to defend this kind of thing on a "matter of law".
Which is to say, use legal self-help to help you with forms and paperwork and filing. Though the strategy I used seems to me to be universally applicable, talk to lawyer friends about it. If can afford it, get a lawyer and tell him or her about this experience. Tell the legal self-help person about it. Bring as many brains to bear on your issue as you can. For good measure, explaining it will get you ready to tell the judge if you have to.
The good news is that you probably won't.
When my birthday arrives, I will not wish you a Happy Birthday, because I know that just because the day is important to me, it is not necessarily important to you.
If your intention is mainly to talk about yourself, go ahead with "Merry Christmas." If your goal is not purely self-absorbed, then you might want to take into account the fact that I'm not Christian.
If want to wish something for me, "Happy Chanukah" is more appropriate. I will not be having a "Merry Christmas" regardless of what you say, but I will be celebrating Chanukah and appreciate the good wishes.
But, I like to share the general happiness and really do wish well for other people, so I don't walk around saying "Happy Chanukah" to everyone. I know that's not meaningful to many people. I say Happy Holidays because that applies to everyone who wants to celebrate this month and I want to offer them good wishes in a way that takes their needs into account.
It used to be that 'get out the vote' was the key to winning elections because people mostly didn't care about politics and, if they got to the poll, they would vote based on an impression gained over a long period where the only details that held constant were facts. Politicians said a lot of nasty and dishonest stuff about each other but, their reach was limited and the messages were neither very consistent or sophisticated.
Lies were background noise. People made simple decisions based on impressions that were substantially based on reality and self-interest.
Today, elections are in a communication milieu based on pervasive communication technology and sophisticated product marketing techniques. Advertising has been proven to work (people routinely buy things that are unhealthy, overpriced or useless based on advertising) and, with the addition of unlimited money, provides a constant propaganda stream where the fiction overwhelms the facts.
Both parties have access to this technology but the Democrats are missing one other thing. They are unwilling to say things that completely contradict reality. Republicans are. So, we have been subject to eight years of assertions that Barack Obama is an extreme, liberal socialist even though that is literally the opposite of the truth that he is a left leaning conservative.
We are told that Obama and the Democrats have ruined the economy and that is literally the opposite of the truth. We have been told for years that Obama "wants to take away your guns" another assertion that is completely untrue. The list goes on and on.
It turns out that humans are largely powerless in the context of sophisticated and pervasive advertising. As a consequence, we have grocery stores filled with unhealthy food that people buy with joy, a Christmas holiday season that bankrupts people, and the rejection of the Democratic party.
Back in the day, the political class had a certain loyalty to the idea of our political system. Their self-image required them to pretend to be honest, to pretend to value the give and take of a system with competing interests, to pretend that they respect America and its people, including their fellow politicians. That is, there was, if not honor among thieves, there was a quaint expectation that being able to get a lot of votes entitled one to some deference, even if only as a matter of respect to their voters.
This is no longer the case. Arguably going back to McCarthy in the fifties, we have moved away from the idea of governing as an honorable profession of serving America's interests and toward one where the pursuit of power is paramount. It is justified with the notion that one cannot do any good if one is not elected, but it comes down to the use of any means possible to gain and keep power, even means counterproductive, even traitorously so, to the interests of the country.
So, we elected a political party who refuses to implement ideas that are known to work (and it used to love) such as 'cap and trade' for CO2 reduction even though our military lists climate change as a major security threat. They pretend concern about the deficit even though it's been proven time and again that deficits are the only way to keep the economy moving in a recession. They say that health care workers exposed to ebola should be quarantined even though the experts say clearly that that would be counterproductive.
It all adds up to a vicious imbalance. On the one had we have people
There was an idea called 'laissez faire capitalism'. It said that, for capitalism to work, it must be pure. Capitalists should be allowed to do anything that made sense to them in the pursuit of profit, that there should be no regulations or impediments on market processes.
This was a very bad idea that lead to another thing called 'social darwinism'. Adherents to this idea rejected calls for them to make factories safe for workers, arguing that the workers would never adapt to industrial life if those unfit for factory life were protected and thereby allowed to breed unfit children.
It became obvious that these were completely dysfunctional ideas and, today, there are no purely capitalist societies left. Every place has regulations, some form of economic redistribution and, among other things, lots of workplace safety rules.
The long, strange trip of John Bennett "Blackjack" Baren,
psychotherapist and raconteur, age 70, ended on October 3, 2014. He was
preceded in death by his beloved wife and life partner of 28 years,
Margie C. Baren; parents Morton "Barry" Barenboim and Juliet Baren; and
his great-aunt and surrogate mother, Sadie Loeb. He is survived by sons
Ted Corky Cogan (Gina Jackson), outdoorsman and adventurer; Robert John
Baren (Darcy Haley), indoorsman and agitator; and his cousin and
partner-in-youthful-mayhem, Joan Hanssmann (Dennett). He was grandpa,
friend, playmate, instigator, storyteller and confidant of Joshua Cogan
and Allison Cogan. John Baren was friend to poets, philosophers,
psychologists, pirates, artists, musicians, theologians, scientists,
saints, and scoundrels.
He loved animals and was preceded in death by dogs and cats Lucky, Pookie, Garfield, Mandy, Savannah, Salt, Pepper, Striker, Snickers, and his beloved hound dog Beauregard. He is survived by the very sweet and loyal Molly the Dog.
John Baren held degrees and certifications from the University of San Francisco, California State University at Sacramento, and Wright State University in psychology, sociology, physiology, philosophy, psychotherapy, hypnotherapy, and behavioral psychology. He started his career working in various mental health facilities for the State of California and on the faculty of the University of California at Davis. He also served as Executive Director of the Dayton-Montgomery County Mental Health Board, Executive Director of the Bellaire Psychiatric Hospital in Houston, Texas, CEO/President of Anclote Manor Hospital in Tarpon Springs, Florida, and on the faculty of the Wright State University School of Medicine. He worked in private practice of psychotherapy for over 40 years where he cherished his longtime partnership with Dr. Kathy Platoni, COL, US Army (RET). At the time of his passing Baren was a therapist and former Clinical Director of Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center in Richmond, Indiana.
Of his many professional experiences, he was most proud of his time at Wernle Youth and Family Treatment Center. There John Baren was a tireless advocate for the care of children while also serving as surrogate father and grandfather for both residents and staff. Throughout his career, most recently at Wernle, he trained and supervised hundreds of therapists, psychologists, and mental health professionals.
Born and raised in San Francisco, California, John Baren was an accomplished sailor and juvenile delinquent. He regularly used his sailing skills to antagonize guards at the then-occupied Alcatraz Federal Penitentiary. He came of age at the epicenter of the hippie and peace movement and spent time with contemporary artists of the time including members of the Grateful Dead and Big Brother and the Holding Company. While attending the University of San Francisco he also played professional tennis.
As an artist, John Baren was known for colorful and whimsical pen-and-ink drawings and mixed-media pieces. As a writer he completed several books of poetry and short stories, and he most recently completed a novel. He also published several scholarly articles, and wrote, edited, and collaborated on numerous books and textbooks on psychology.
Throughout his life John Baren collected many rare, interesting, and extremely odd tchotchkes, pieces of art, firearms, antiques, bizarre neckties, and memorabilia. He enjoyed good cigars, quality bourbon, excellent food, and crappy beer. Rest assured the legend is true, the stories are accurate, and much has been omitted to protect the innocent...and the guilty.
Memorial service to be held on Saturday, November 29, 2014 with time, venue, and performers to be named later. Questions may be directed to the administrator of the estate (such as it is), Dr. Kathy Platoni (contact information provided upon request).
(My friend, Rob Baren, lost his father recently and wrote a lovely eulogy. I never met his father but, considering this lovely little piece, I regret that.)
Long ago, I decided that there would be a time when I would refuse medical care intended to prolong my life. The author's reasoning about 75 as the right age for this to happen is compelling. (It might even cause me to consider getting some medical care to help me actually get to 75.)
This part of his story is particularly meaningful to me. I consider the meaning of my existence to substantially be the impression I leave on my children and have long worried about the harm an infirm old age would cause. I hate the idea of their recollections and stories being dominated by illness and incapacity.
"At age 75 we reach that unique, albeit somewhat arbitrarily chosen, moment when we have lived a rich and complete life, and have hopefully imparted the right memories to our children. Living the American immortal’s dream dramatically increases the chances that we will not get our wish—that memories of vitality will be crowded out by the agonies of decline."
As I think about this more and more, I think it is very useful to have a working definition of when the end of life is no longer to be resisted, when dying is no longer a tragedy. One hopes to be missed but, I want my offspring, family and friends to have a way to consider my inevitable passing to be appropriate and good, a culmination, not some terrible end.
I certainly am ok with allowing search warrants to be executed but, I also think we have an *absolute* right to conduct out lives in ways that frustrate that goal. In the old days, one would move across the country and be effectively out of reach. Now that's impossible but, we have this.
This woman is a hero who took care of her daughter and is going to prison for it. The people at the hospital who reported her to the police, the local prosecutor and the judge who put her in prison all had the discretion to be reasonable. Instead, they allowed their right-wing, woman hating politics to PUT A WOMAN IN PRISON FOR HELPING HER DAUGHTER.
WHY? Because they they have made it so that the abortion clinic is too far away and costs too much. They are poor people.
The people at the hospital who reported her to the police, the local prosecutor and the judge deserve abuse and hatred. They deserve to never have a moment's peace while this woman is in prison.