Sunday, October 26, 2008

Knights of Columbus in Chester Never Lacking Good Intentions

If you shop regularly at any given supermarket, chances are you’ve probably seen them at one point in your travels. Same goes for if you’re just driving down the street, their symbol is recognizable in many different areas across the land and not just here in the United States, with some of their other locations including Cuba, Guam, and Saipan just to name a few.

They’re the Knights of Columbus, and with more than 13,000 councils and 1.7 million members across the world, there’s little wonder why this Catholic organization that bases its foundation on charity, unity, and fraternity, is so well-known almost anywhere you go.

Pete Grice, chancellor and field agent, for the Knights of Columbus Council 5410 of Chester, has his beliefs as to why their organization is such a guiding force in the giving business.

“The list [of who we participate with] gets pretty long as far as charities go,” Mr. Grice says.
Grice, who has been with the Knights of Columbus in general since 1968, and with the Chester branch for the past five or six years, counts the many different charities on the list that round out their annual donations.

“We give money to ARC in Morris County, Cerebral Palsy in Chester, Wehrlen,” he says, thinking of a few other places the organization gives money to annually, “We also donate to a firemen’s house in Boonton, as one of our retired members is in there,” he says.

Along with these organizations, there are also the scholarships they give out to local high schools such as in Randolph High, Medham High, and in West Morris in Chester.

“We pretty much stick to the schools in our backyard,” Grice says.

And there are also the aforementioned stand-outside-the-supermarket charities mentioned earlier, such as the state organized, God’s Special Children Charity, where members of the Knights of Columbus stand outside the store with a can, asking for donations, with any money received never too small.

“One year we might be giving out $600,” Grice says of how much money they might donate to their charities, “And some years, it might be $1000. It really all depends on the year,” he says.
But what doesn’t depend on the year at all is the fundraisers that they hold to garner as much money as possible. One such event is the annual St. Patties Day Dance, while others not so stuck on a specific date events include meals for the public, such as pancake breakfasts and Italian dinners.

“Every time there’s an opportunity to have a donation, we’ll hold a meeting [about what we can do]” Grice says.

This notion of giving for the sake of giving sticks closely to the group’s original intentions. Founded back in1881 by a parish priest named, Father Michael J. McGivney, the fraternity was founded with the intention of forming an organization dedicated to selflessness and philanthropy. And in 2008, that organization still stands strong on their ideals, their beliefs still alive that the bigger picture is much more important than the smaller self.

“I’m just one member,” Grice says, “one little cog in the wheel.”

Luckily for the world, it’s a wheel that never stops turning.

Review of Salo or The 120 Days of Sodom

95 out of 100

Few movies outside of Eraserhead can be considered cult classics purely for being so outrageous that they need to be seen to be believed. A Clockwork Orange fits that bill, and so does Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom, a movie that is so graphically powerful that some people believe that Italian director, Pier Paolo Pasolini was actually murdered because of its release, though, the case has since been re-opened for his 1975 murder.

Set in 1944 during the final days of Mussolini, the story is centered around four powerful men who take male and female teenagers into captivity as sex slaves for their pleasure and experimentation, submitting them to horrible sexual treatment and even a whole feast of devouring feces. If you thought that whole shit eating scene at the end of Pink Flamingos was bad, your stomach won’t be able to handle this.

But amidst the controversy of seeing young people in such depraved situations, this is not torture porn in the vein of Saw or Hostel, which both derive their giddy thrills out of seeing other people in pain; schadenfreude at its extreme. Instead, this is a deep, introspective film about consumerism, fascism, and a metaphor for a totalitarian government taken at face value. In every way, it’s a masterpiece that outlives its horrific past and shines even more resplendently on this 2-disc special edition, Criterion release, where it has been re-mastered and decked out with discussions on the creation of the film.

Granted, on first viewing, some of the story-telling segments where old prostitutes tell stories to arouse the gentlemen into debauchery may seem a bit repetitive at first. But on multiple viewings, the film begins to unravel itself into a state where it’s not even shocking anymore, but rather, mesmerizing.

Few movies outside of the great ones can do that, and even after 33 years since its initial release, Salo still does.

Defending Uwe Boll

It’s easy to pick on Uwe Boll. His movies are the equivalent of the trash bag ripping open on your shoes on garbage day, and he’s unabashedly German. And who doesn’t like making fun of the Germans?

But Boll isn’t nearly as bad as you make him out to be on your blog, and he certainly isn’t as bad as Ed Wood.

Really, a closer look at Boll’s films shows that he’s at least making progress, with his most recent release, Postal, being a good example of a director flexing his creative muscles to make a movie about some dude going nuts more than just a crappy reinvention of Falling Down.

But before I get into praising Boll, let’s get some of his skeletons out the way first.

House of the Dead. Garbage.

Alone in the Dark. Garbage featuring Tara Reid.

Bloodrayne. Garbage starring Ben Kingsley as a vampire. Oh, and Kristanna Loken topless.

In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Seige Tale. Promising garbage.

And now Postal, which is more about life in Bush America than anything else. If you haven’t seen it yet just because of Boll’s name, I advise that you do. If not for Boll’s humorous take on terrorism, then at least for the shock of seeing somebody actually making a 9/11 joke in the first five minutes of the movie.

Really, Boll has a lot of passion for his films. Why else would he box his critics to defend them?

And in all truthfulness, just look at the games he’s translating into movies in the first place. Have you ever played House of the Dead? Granted, a movie of it probably shouldn’t have been made in the first place, but still, Boll took what he had and made a film that wasn’t any more ridiculous than the actual game.

Same goes for Bloodrayne. Trust me, it’s no Final Fantasy.

Personally, I think a lot of Boll’s failure has to do with his source material. Some of his other, non-video game movies, such as Heart of America or Blackwoods really aren’t that bad. I mean, Spielberg may be a genius and all, but do you think he could pull off a movie version of Pong? Well, maybe, but you get my point, get Boll a quality script and let’s see what happens. Unfortunately, that day may never come. His reputation does precede him after all.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Having Problems With Your Bank? Maybe you need a good Credit Union

Here's my attempt at writing a business article. See if you enjoy.

Times are hard, and you don’t need any newspaper article to tell you that. With banks holding back on loans because of the economic crisis, and the rest of the international market stepping on eggshells, it might seem daunting to try something new like putting your time (or capital) in a credit union.

But Affinity Federal Credit Union CEO and President, John Fenton, of Basking Ridge, has a hunch that you might want to give it a try.

“[We’re always saying], what can we help you do to put you in a financial perspective?” says Fenton.

This kind of help has kept Affinity out of the kind of hot water most banks are going through right now with the whole subprime issue.

“One of the secrets to why we’re doing well is that not everyone gets a credit card or a loan,” Fenton says, “We don’t have a lot of lending and we also don’t get involved in subprime lending.”
Subprime, which is when borrowers with low credit scores are offered high interest rates to compensate for the high risk it puts on the lender, is actually one of the reasons why banks are struggling right now with the currently busted economy.

But for Fenton, besides the whole subprime lending thing, banks and credit unions really don’t have that much different about them except for one key factor—“Credit unions are owned by its members, and don’t have any stock-holders owning it,” Fenton says.

In that way, credit unions are like manual stick shift to a bank’s automatic drive, where people are more aware and more in control of their money, and the managers who run the credit unions are more aware of their customers in turn.

“Here’s a good example of how I think a credit union is different than a bank,” Fenton says, “[With the mortgage situation] banks have adjustable rates, while we said, let’s get them [our customers] into a fixed rate, so our members were protected.”

Fenton says that not all of the members opted to take this option, though, as some decided to go their own way about it.

For those who did take the fixed rate option, though, it hurt the credit union in the short term, but helped out members in the long run, which basically helps the not-for-profit business stay afloat. Credit unions are considered not-for-profit for a reason, and that’s so the members can be served and kept care of, and not to maximize profits like a bank might do. In fact, according to the World Council of Credit Unions, “credit unions use excess earnings to offer members more affordable loans, a higher return on savings, [and] lower fees or new products and services.”

“We try to put people in things that will make them successful in the long run,” Fenton says.

That said, not everybody can just up and join a credit union, as there are a few things that keep it from being as easy to join as a bank.

“Federal charters are actually a bit more restricted than a bank,” Fenton says.

They’re restricted in the sense that only people who fall within the credit union’s field of membership can join. If you’re looking to join a credit union, you’ll have to see what the specifications are, as credit unions can tend to have different qualifications for their field of membership.

Some might be community based, where people who live, work, worship, or attend school in certain areas are eligible to become members. For Affinity, it’s occupational based, and you or a family member has to be an employee of one of the 1,800 different businesses or organizations that falls in the parameters of its sector.

“A credit union is a cooperative, which means that you’re participating in it,” Fenton says, “you wouldn’t join a Costco or a Sam’s Club without using it [your membership],” says Fenton.

The thing about a credit union, though, is that being a cooperative, a credit union can cooperate with other credit unions all across the country, making for collaborative networks between everywhere from California to New Jersey, creating a united base all across the nation.

“A bank borrows from the public sector,” Fenton says, “[but] a cooperative makes use of everybody’s deposits.”

You can have accounts in both a bank and a credit union without stepping on anybody’s toes, so there’s no real risk if you wanted to give both a try. And with the twentieth Affinity Federal Credit Union in New Jersey opening in Flemington soon, you’ll have plenty of more options to get started with a credit union if you’re actually interested in doing so.

All you have to do is give them a call or stop in one of their offices.

“It’s an easy process to have both,” Fenton says.


Sunday, October 5, 2008

Mortal Kombat Vs. The DC Universe Is Either Going To Be The Greatest Thing Ever, Or The Worst

Crossovers suck. From The Flintstones meeting The Jetsons to the Harlem Globetrotters meeting Scooby Doo, there has never been a justifiably good crossover besides the satirical The Critic meets the Simpsons, which actually made fun of the whole idea of crossovers, and Marvel Vs. Capcom, which surprisingly worked beyond any level of comprehension.

But the idea of the Otherworldly beings in the Mortal Kombat universe meeting the Justice League and their super-powered reject friends just sounds stupid from the get-go and here’s why—Both Mortal Kombat and the DC Universe are wildy unbalanced. Okay, okay, okay, you can tell me until you’re vermillion in the face that a match-up between Servbot from Mega Man doesn’t seem like a fair match-up against The Incredible Hulk, but the Capcom universe has always been bound in a sense of never mind the story-lines, just stick to the multi-hit combos. And that’s what makes Marvel vs. Capcom 2 so much damn fun—you’re not being asked to think, just to rub your flat palm against the buttons quickly during combos. But Mortal Kombat has always prided itself over its storylines, even if they suck, and the idea of the DC Universe, with its ultra-powerful Superman facing off against a lowly grunt like Baraka, just sounds idiotic, even if Ed Boon does say that the DC characters have been weakened to make it a fair fight.

The fact of the matter, though, is that this DC Universe game doesn’t have enough well-rounded characters to really sell the crossover in the first place. Checking out the new list, DC is throwing in fan-favorites like Superman, Green Latern and the Flash, but leaving less powerful Joes like Sgt. Rock, Lobo, and Sandman out of the mix because they may not have the appeal of a Batman, Wonder Woman or a Darkseid. Of course, a character like Sgt. Rock would NEVER make it into this game since it doesn’t gel well with the overall storyline, but why does this game need a storyline to begin with? Can’t it just be a bunch of brutes duking it out, Mugen-style, just because it sounds like an interesting premise? Do we really need to sell this crossover to the fans, causing all kinds of hubbub amongst both the DC lovers (Superman could kick Raiden’s ass any day!), and the Mortal Kombat acolytes (What? No dismemberments? Come on!)?

Fighting games, unlike RPGs, which need a storyline to sustain themselves, are not about storylines and never should be. Similar to a martial arts picture, (excluding all these new artsy fartsy ones about love and iridescent colors), the storylines will always lag behind the actual combat, as it should be in video games as well. And when that interesting combat is taken away in exchange for some ridiculous scenario where the DC Universe battles the Mortal Kombat warriors, then you’re just looking to run into some problems from the start, many of which I’ve already pointed out.

But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll be totally awesome. If it is, then this will be the first MK since the fourth one that I will have actually liked, and the first DC game since Batman for the old, change-my-contrast-please, Gameboy that I’ve even found tolerable. If it does rock, I’ll eat my own words with catsup and sauerkraut, I promise you that.