I don’t know what’s leading off your evening news, but here in New Zealand we’re all abuzz about a bank’s $10 million mistake.

This situation might be resolved by the time you read this, but these are the basic facts: a gas station owner in Rotorua applied for a $10,000 overdraft from his bank to help him and his business partner survive a bit longer in the current recession. Somehow, when the money was transferred, the bank employee must have pressed a bit too hard on the zero key because $10,000 suddenly became $10 million.

What would you do if your bank account was suddenly fattened by money you knew had no reason to be there and was not your property?

In the case of these two men, they chose to disappear from the country, along with, reportedly, $6 million of that cash.

Interestingly enough, one fellow did not bother to take along his girlfriend, who had, according to the news, been working at the gas station for free just to help out.

I’m guessing he is now cut off for life.

I’m guessing, with his $3 million share of the pot, he doesn’t much care.

The two men, now being eagerly sought by various grumpy authority figures, are Asian. I only bring this up because it means they can easily blend into any one of several heavily-populated countries — preferably one without an extradition treaty with New Zealand — and not raise any eyebrows. Well, except for the fact that, while their neighbours own one goat apiece, they would own 10,000 goats.

So, again, what would you do with such an unexpected windfall? Hint: The correct answer is “Give it all back.”

But, just for the sake of argument, what if, like these two gentlemen, you decided it was payback time for the banking system? What if you had cursed for years about how banks plead poverty whenever they raise their fees by a dollar every time you blink, and then turn around and trumpet a year-end profit of billions?

Wouldn’t you feel — just a teensy-weensy bit — that this banking error was somehow karmic? That absconding with the better part of $10 million, obtained without resorting to wearing your wife’s pantyhose over your head or taking the risk of reprising any scene from Dog Day Afternoon, was simply a long-overdue payback for every time Big Business took you up the bum?

For the sake of argument, how would you go about accomplishing such a feat? This, more than any other detail, is the background I’d like to know. They were, after all, managing a gas station, for chrissakes, one that was sinking into oblivion. We’re not talking rocket scientists here. They pump gas not repair the Hubble telescope.

How did they know to get away with this? Could you do it?

Obviously, the clock would be ticking on their operation. At some point, the bank manager was bound to wander into the vault, notice an empty space on one of  shelves where $10 million  had once resided, and proceed to get very agitated.

I’m guessing this is where the Internet would come in handy. Maybe you’d start with about.com and ask how one goes about transferring large sums of money from your bank account to a bank in another country. Because — and, again I’m guessing here — you don’t just stuff that kind of cash into your shorts and walk onto an airplane. Ideally, as I mentioned above, that destination country doesn’t bother wasting its resources rounding up miscreants who’ve been bad boys in New Zealand.

Once you’ve found that country and arranged to transfer the money (and, somehow $4 million fell out of the virtual sack during said transaction), you’d need to hope your passport was current, purchase a ticket and start packing, all without raising the suspicions of, say, your girlfriend.

Those tasks almost sound too daunting to take on. But hard work does have its own rewards, in this case six million rewards. These guys have shown a clever streak and, simply from a logistics point-of-view, I hope their little adventure lasts awhile longer. At least until they’ve spent millions on wine, women and gambling, and then wasted whatever was left over.

I actually encountered a similar situation years ago. This was the ’70s, mind you, before ATMs, before the Internet, when Canadian banks were open Monday to Thursday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and 6 p.m. on Fridays. Arrive at 6:01 and you faced a cashless weekend.

It was only a quick perusal of my printed bank statement that alerted me to the fact I seemed to have an extra thousand dollars in my account. Being anal retentive organized, I knew that had to be a mistake. When I finally made it to the front of the queue and stated my situation to the teller (remember those?), she perused some of the bank’s papers and then proceeded to x out the deposit notice on my statement with an exaggerated flourish.

No “oops.” No apology. No explanation. No indication of gratitude for pointing out the error. The bank simply took the money back and sent me out the door, cavalier bastards that they are.

So, would I have taken the $10 million and run? Actually, I just might have, if only for the challenge. Talk about your amazing race.

On a related note, the second item on the news was how the four major New Zealand power companies, having overcharged their customers to the tune of $4.3 billion over the past six years, will not have to pay any of that back.

Let me get this straight. Rip off a bank: bad. Rip off a widow with 30 handicapped children: OK.

I guess it all depends on who’s getting screwed. I’ll just be over here, bent over my power bill. And biting my pillow.

UPDATE: This above blog entry was based on information contained in a May 22 story on the msn.nzherald.co.nz website. A followup story posted today (May 23 in New Zealand) contains more details. The bank in question (Westpac) is how claiming the main suspect in this incident, Leo Gao, only managed to spirit $3.8 million — of the original $10 million — out of the country. And, while this story says Gao is now in Hong Kong, last night’s TV news stated he has fled to China.

No word on the whereabouts of Gao’s business partner from the gas station, but now comes news that Gao’s mother, brother, girlfriend and her daughter have also disappeared.

It appears Mr. Gao opted to take along extra baggage after all.

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One of my wonderful, beautiful step-daughters, knowing how much I miss the Great White North, sent me a gift to remind me of home. No, it wasn’t a copy of The Hockey News — I should be so lucky — but, rather, a DVD entitled Girls Gone Wild: Canada.

I knew of this series, of course, but had never viewed any of its, um, parts. Depending on your opinion, its founder, Joe Francis is allegedly a) an asshole; b) a complete asshole; c) a pornographer; d) a hopeless idiot when it comes to math, especially the part where you’re supposed to subtract the current year from someone’s birth year and arrive at a number at least equal to the legal age; e) a tax evader; or, f) all of the above.

I had to watch the DVD, if only because one of the commandments in the Planet Man Handbook reads, “Thou can never see enough boobies in your lifetime.”

Plus, the whole Canada angle intrigued me. I needed to hear someone say “eh” and “hoser” and “aboot,” having resided too long in New Zealand and grown frustrated with people ending sentences with “sweet as.” Sweet as what, people!?! Finish your bloody thought, for chrissakes!

There was a time when I would have watched this DVD to the final second, chair drawn close to the TV, one finger poised over the Pause button, another over Rewind, eyes wide and staring, breathing hard and ragged through my mouth.

But not this time.

In fact, I only watched maybe 10 minutes before pressing Eject.

It’s not that I’d grown bored with 20-something sweeties displaying and caressing their perky bits. My new passport photo may look like something taken during an autopsy but my ticker is still turning over and pumping blood to all the right places.

No, the reason I hit Stop was a combination of embarrassment, despair and sadness. I actually felt bad for these girls, plied as they were with free booze, flashing dazed and confused smiles as they dutifully followed the instructions of an offscreen cameraman (Francis himself?) to shed their tops and, because they were invariably teamed up with a best friend, to nuzzle each other’s breasts.

For what? The free beer? Free T-shirts? A free hat? The opportunity to be “famous” via the DVD? Was money exhanged and, if so, how many pieces of silver buys one’s dignity these days?

I found myself raising my eyes from these ladies’ breasts to gaze instead at their faces. Realizing this was not simply meat with nipples, but real people, with feelings and aspirations and dreams and entire lives lying ahead of them.

They might have been too drunk to feel degraded, but I certainly wasn’t. I was stone-cold sober and left shaking my head at how stupid people can be. And realizing the name at the top of that Stupid List was my own for watching this crap.

Oh, Christ, I’m starting to sound like a puritan here and I assure you, Dear Reader, that is not the case. I enjoy living on Planet Man, where porn and sports and scratching and farting and muscle cars and caffeine addiction are part of the air we breathe. The day I do not want to look at a winsome young lass is the day six of my closest friends will be carrying me into a church.

But I’m tired of being a grotty-minded voyeur. I’m bored with watching professional copulators, with their exaggerated size and endurance.  They leave me feeling less of a man and serve only to deflate my self-esteem. Why the hell would I want that?

Face it, I will never be the next Johnny Wad. But I can be a better John Ireland.

And if that means throwing a gift DVD in the rubbish, so be it. If that means deleting youporn.com from my Internet Favorites, consider it done.

Maybe it’s a sign that I’m getting old. I prefer to think of it as an indication that I’m growing wiser.

I’ll go tally the tears

January 29, 2009

The meek will inherit the earth, after which the cynical will stand back and mock them.

I came to that conclusion, amazingly enough, by being a fan of Survivor.

Observations of the human race based on a reality TV show might seem random at best — and just plain silly at worst — but lately it is from my perch on the couch that I’ve had my only view of my fellow Earthlings. Such is the lot of freelance writers and unpublished novelists who can seldom afford to venture much past the front gate.

With Survivor’s 17th season (Gabon) having concluded last night here in New Zealand (more than six weeks after its finale in North America, and barely two weeks before the 18th season is slated to begin in the more civilized parts of the world), I was finally able to return to Entertainment Weekly’s website without worrying about accidentally stumbling across spoilers that would ruin what little surprise still exists in my life.

And that’s when I started to worry about the future of the human race.

You see, Dalton Ross, EW’s self-proclaimed Survivor “expert,” baldly states that he dislikes both the Fallen Comrades and Family Visit sections of the show.

Maybe he finds them schmaltzy or overtly sentimental but his reaction is typical of Generation Whatever, that of poo-pooing anything the majority happens to be enjoying at the moment. The idea, of course, is to stand out by being in the minority.

If everyone else is cheering, Dalton is going to boo. If everyone else is wiping away a tear of happiness, Dalton is going to jeer. The subject matter doesn’t matter: He does it simply to be different, to be noticed for his negative noise.

Ross is also typical of the new breed of critics and writers whose schtick is to heap disdain on popular entertainment. These are the same people who are subsequently amazed at the proliferation of “sleeper” hits: movies that make millions despite bad reviews; TV shows that top the ratings even though they supposedly left reviewers dry-heaving.

I call their style contrary reporting and, frankly, it’s gotten old. It’s also gotten predictable.

Katherine Monk, a movie reviewer for the Vancouver Sun, hates action movies. That much has become obvious over several years and hundreds of trashed films. As a reader, I already know her opinion when I see her byline above any slice of celluloid bearing even a whiff of testosterone. And so I don’t even bother finishing the review. Why waste my time when I already know she is just going to bash it with her purse and her heels for being insensitive and lacking any social value.

But Monk is simply representing the sisters. Dalton Ross’s attitude is another kettle of sneers altogether.

If we lose our ability to sympathize/empathize, if everything in life is meant to be pointed at and laughed about and waved off as stupid or inane, what does that say about us as people?

If we’re not allowed to shed a tear or three when some dirt-caked, food-deprived reality show contestant gets to hug their spouse after three weeks of hardship in a remote jungle, then we have lost an essential part of what separates us from the beasts. And I’m not just talking about the ability to type.

Dalton Ross and his ilk may think they are somehow above the stinking masses who revel in this kind of TV. They may think they are too professional to be sucked in by manipulative editing and slick production values. That they are too intelligent to be entertained by anything geared towards the lowest common denominator.

Their opinions bear no resemblance to anything honest or heartfelt. Rather, they come across as pretentious and self-inflated and shallow. The phony mocking the phony.

They may think themselves somehow aloof and sophisticated and superior, but need I remind them that “cool” rhymes with “fool.”

Now excuse me while I go watch Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. That Ty Pennington makes me bawl like a baby every time.

Howe too lurn reel gud.

December 23, 2008

Call to extend the school day

–Headline on Page 1 of New Zealand newspaper The Dominion Post, dated December 23, 2008

I second that call but would like to add a new one: extend the number of school days as well.

It’s summer holidays here in New Zealand and, with Christmas looming, it’s no surprise the streets are filled with lost boys and girls. Wandering listlessly in the way teens have since God invented the filthy beasts, bemoaning their lives like they had a bloody mortgages to pay. Hate to break it to you, my fine young cannibals, but it only gets worse.

But I’ve seen these same kids wandering these same streets during what I assumed were school days. Although it’s difficult to tell in New Zealand, where term breaks seem to occur every other week.

When we managed a B&B in Gisborne six years ago, the deal included a car and the owners’ son. I swear Young Sam spent more time surfing than sitting in a classroom. And it wasn’t because he was flagging school or anything. But it seemed he would just be finished with holidays and along would come some kind of Professional Day for the teachers to shorten the week.

These days, Young Sam is apprenticing to be a tradesman, when he isn’t working as a snowboard instructor, so all that readin’, writin’ and ‘rithmatic (known as maths in NZ) was probably a waste of his surfing time anyway.

(Sam was a good kid but he did try us on one day by walking around the house wearing a beanie — what we Canadians call a toque — and trying to look all gangsta. Viking Woman didn’t blink — after all, we’re both Children of the Sixties, an era during which they invented both rock’n’roll and sex, and so have seen it all, sometimes twice — and simply asked Sam if he was cold. We never saw the beanie again.)

In my day — and you can stop rolling your eyes right now — we had to walk to school uphill both ways. In the snow. No, wait, that’s my Dad’s story.

We went to school every single day, from dawn to dusk, 365 days a year. No term breaks, no extended holidays, no field trips. OK, maybe it just felt like that way at the time, but my point is the education system didn’t dick around. Between the ages of six and 18 you had one mission in your miserable life and that was to learn. We had to wait until after graduation to have fun. (The fact that I’m still waiting is probably my own damn fault.)

No teachers’ Professional Days. Or Development Days, or whatever the hell they call something that is basically Teachers Sitting Around Drinking Coffee Days  (known to parents as Now What the Hell Do I Do With These Little Shits? Days).

Normally, I could care less about teenagers. They’ve got spotty faces and their music blows. Plus, I know what awaits them in adulthood and it’s going to wipe away those smug little smirks awful darn fast.

But I hate their ignorance. And by that I mean their lack of spelling skills. Now, I admit I’ve made some doozy mistakes all on my own — forgetting the “l” in public being only the most embarrassing gaffe I can recall at this moment — but those were due to sloppy editing and fat typing fingers and not because I was clueless to begin with.

I know the difference between too, to and two. Between it’s and its. Between your and you’re. Between grisly and grizzly. (That last one causes me to scream every single time).

From what I’m seeing out there (and even in here with my fellow WordPress bloggers), a lot of people have no idea.

I long ago came to the conclusion that the entire world needs an editor, and that thought is only reinforced when I see “lightning” spelled “lightening.” As if those jagged streaks were somehow caused by Mother Nature lessening her load.

Typos? Lack of a spell check program? I believe it’s more a lack of basic English skills. And I do mean basic.

And that scares the hell out of me, especially when I see newspaper editors hiring kids off the street simply because it means they can avoid paying the top union-mandated wage for a veteran journalist like myself. “You get what you pay for” has never been more true.

So, yeah, have the little shits stay in school longer. Maybe an extra hour surrounded by books will elevate their education, if only by osmosis.

It’s either that or we make them walk uphill both ways. That’ll learn ’em.