Archive for January, 2011

29
Jan
11

“Our” Rosa Parks moment?

Single parent Kelly Williams-Bolar has just been released from jail after serving 9 days for her felony conviction for falsifying public records. The falsification consisted of her lying about her address, stating that she lived 2 miles from her actual home, to get her children into a better school district. Her conviction initially yielded a 5-year prison term, which the judge thankfully immediately reduced to 10 days, including time served. You can read more of the story here, but I want to highlight two statements from the article.

Dan Domenech, of the American Association of School Administrators: “The correlation between student achievement and zip code is 100 percent,” he says. “The quality of education you receive is entirely predictable based on where you live.”

Bob Dyer, who lives in Copley – the town Ms. Bolar claimed to reside in: “I pay a lot of money in property taxes, 53 percent of which go to the schools, and I want that money to go to people who live in the district.”

I understand, and sympathize, with both of these views.

I paid what I paid for my tiny little house so my children could be in one of the best school districts in the city in which I live.

But should this be so?

Is it right that the quality of education in schools governed by the state’s curriculum guidelines and granted the same amount of money per child (theoretically, at least) from the state treasury varies so widely from one district to another?

Is it right to state that I want the taxes I pay to benefit only the people who live in my district? Bob Dyer isn’t even claiming that he wants the money he pays in taxes to benefit his children directly, but the children in his district. I don’t know if he even has children. But does he live in an enclosed, isolated community; one in which he never encounters any hapless soul who was unlucky enough to be educated elsewhere? And if we are going to make this argument, can’t we make the argument that only people who have children should be paying the portion of their taxes which support schools? We ALL pay taxes to support schools because we recognize that having an educated populace is good for everyone — a socialist idea if there ever was one. Can we actually say that everyone should be educated, but only the children in our district deserve to be educated well?

I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m sure there isn’t an easy one. I know we are all “in it” for ourselves, that our ambitions and efforts and the discipline which we impose on ourselves to succeed comes from blatant self-interest and the desired preservation of the health and well-being of our friends and families. What I wish is that more people could recognize that what’s good for everyone IS what’s best for each of us.

 

22
Jan
11

Borders on the brink

There’s a lot of concern that Borders, the store that really started the “sit-here-and-read-for-as-long-as-you-like” practice which led to every self-respecting brick-and-mortar book store containing a coffee shop/café and couches, may be in enough trouble to have to close their doors.

I’ve heard a lot of speculation, especially about that idea that most of their troubles have been caused by discount sales at BigBox stores, the spread of online-shopping, the nook, the kindle, the iPad, and the fact that Borders doesn’t have their own version.

I have a different theory.

I have never, in all of my years of trying, managed to successfully place an order online. Whether with or without a gift card, I really don’t think it can be done. You’ve written down your name and password, it doesn’t work. You have a new gift card you received from some generous piano students (thank you, btw), the numbers aren’t “recognized.” One time I managed to effectively place an order, I believe for Margarat Atwood’s Penelopiad, and several days later I received a travel guide to Zambia. I’m not kidding. When I called about sending it back in exchange for the book I had ordered (which was, btw, correctly listed on the invoice; apparently whoever was packing the book failed to notice that the title of the book on the invoice and the title of the book on the book had absolutely nothing to do with each other) I was told not to bother sending it back.

Imagine if they made that mistake for more than one customer a week.

That can’t be helping.

Guess I better hurry up and try to spend that gift card I got last month. . .maybe the collection of Saul Bellow’s letters. I’ll just create a new name and password so I don’t have to reset the old one that I can’t remember. Now I’ll enter those 16 digits from the back of the card. . .

Sigh.

*************************

In a related story: at a party last night a woman I had just met was carrying a book about herbs and spices she had recently loaned to our hostess. As a foodie, I asked her if I could have a look at it. She mentioned that she had heard of it, had checked it out at the local bookstore, and then went home and ordered it from Amazon. She says, with a little chuckle, “I probably shouldn’t do that, but it’s cheaper.” I wanted to say, I should have said, “you know, if, everybody did that, S_________’s wouldn’t be there anymore;” but I didn’t. I wish I had. I will next time. What is wrong with these people? Is it ALL about the $1.47 you can save by buying it from Amazon?

Sheesh.

20
Jan
11

fund raising? or extortion?

Got this message from my daughter’s elementary-school “Webzine” today:

Friday, January 21 is $1 Crazy Hair Day at T____________!

Our Media Center needs some good old fashioned TLC and kids love “Fun Friday’s” at T_________.  Break out the gel, hair spray, wigs, wires and any other creative ideas to make some wacky hair-do’s.  We ask that each student donate $1 to participate and all collected funds will go into the Media Center Make-over bank to help purchase new decorations for the most-used room at T__________ – the Media Center!

Are they actually saying that I can’t send my daughter to school tomorrow with “Crazy Hair” unless she pays a dollar?

Seriously?

How poor ARE our schools, anyway? And do we even NEED new decorations for the Media Center? Can’t we just have books?

This is the 2nd year this has happened. Last year I actually wrote to the publicity person and asked the same question. Then I sent my daughter looking like this:

and didn’t pay the dollar.

I’d give them $5 happily if I weren’t being extorted for it.

Sheesh.

16
Jan
11

“customer service” iii

I think of myself overall as a pretty accepting person. I’m not saying that I never get angry, but I try to choose my battles carefully, and only to rage when I’ve been pushed beyond reason. Of course, this happens fairly frequently when driving, as most people behind the wheel are morons, probably have difficulty walking and chewing gum at the same time, and are too busy talking on their cell phones to pay attention to the task at hand.

I can also “lose it” when dealing with Second Son and his habit of leaving whatever dishes he’s used to accumulate at “his” end of the dining table for us to stare at grimly over our eggs and coffee in the morning, or when my dear lovely daughter waits until the last minute for the 457th time before collecting her belongings to head out the door for school or gymnastics or to go to her dad’s on Fridays.

But nothing pushes me over the edge like trying to deal with customer service people by phone.

So here’s the story.

I bought Second Son a videocamera for Christmas at Target. It cost $300, quite a bit more than I usually spend on Christmas presents, but I had helped buy First Son a computer, and Second Son is planning on going to college to study film next year, so I thought it would be appropriate and fair and I’ll just buy him less for his next 3 birthdays or something. I had a feeling he would maybe rather have an iPod touch, but thought I would encourage what I thought might be something more “useful” to him (as if!), and this way, if he had it in his hand, he might at least consider it. Therefore, I included a note with the gift that said “If you would rather have an iPod touch, do NOT open this package, and you can exchange after Christmas.” I purchased the camera with my Target redcard, to take advantage of the 5% discount.

You can all imagine what happened. He wanted the iPod touch, so badly in fact that he wanted to know if he could go to Target on Christmas Eve to exchange it. He goes to Target the day after Christmas (he actually sets his alarm so he can be there by 7 a.m. to beat the crowds; this is the boy we never see before noon on weekends). He takes the videocamera, the receipt, and my Target card. They accept the camera, but rather than credit the redcard and then put the iPod back on the redcard, obviously applying the same 5% discount they had applied to the videocamera, they credit it via a “giftcard” and then use the giftcard to purchase the iPod. Of course, they tell him, since they aren’t using the redcard for the iPod purchase, they “can’t” give him the 5% discount. Right. They “can’t” use the redcard to credit the original purchase, but they “can” use the redcard to charge the difference, resulting in the loss of the discount. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

He’s 17; he’s been taught to respect authority, plus he has a new shiny iPodtouchwithretinadisplay, so he says ok.

Well, not ok. I’ve been ripped off, and I’m not happy about it.

So today I finally decide it’s time to do something about it. As I review the original receipt before calling, I notice that I was also charged twice for the purchase of one movie. (Has anyone ever noticed how those mistakes almost always go in the store’s favor? Anyway. . .)

I get the phone number off the internet. I dial it. It’s 1:03 p.m. I weave my way through a tangled web of automated instructions, including entering the last 4 digits of my redcard and the last 4 digits of my social security number. (Has anyone noticed that these automated systems always ask for this information, but when you finally get an actual person they ask you for it again? Is this just a way to keep you busy so you don’t realize that you’re actually on hold for 20 minutes? Sometimes they ask so many questions I’m surprised they don’t ask what color socks I’m wearing or I have Prince Albert in a can.) Because of “high call volume,” there will be “an unusually long wait time.” I wait. At 1:14 I get a helpful young woman who agrees to put the 2nd movie, the one I didn’t buy, “in dispute,” assuring me that until it is resolved I do not have to pay that part of my credit card bill. Well that’s a relief.  I explain the rest of the problem (for full effect, go back and read the 2 paragraphs above which explain the predicament). Unfortunately, she is “not qualified to help,” but can forward me to “someone who can.” She helpfully gives me the direct number, in case the call is lost, and forwards me onward. I then weave my way through yet another tangled web of automated instructions, instructions which sound an awful lot like the automated instructions I followed at 1:03 p.m., and after another long wait, because of high call volume, I get Neil. I repeat my tale of woe (go back and read those 2 paragraphs again). He informs me that I have apparently followed the wrong series of prompts, and have reached someone who is unable to solve my problem. He forwards me on to “someone who can.” I find myself looped back to exactly where I started, so I hang up and dial the number Customer Service Representative #1 gave me earlier; remember? in case the call is lost? It is now 1:27. I’m not very happy right now, and I’m afraid it’s going to start being apparent in the tone of my voice. The last time I was this angry at Customer Service I pissed the lady at Comcast off so badly she twisted my internet service into so many knots it took 3 managers and 36 hours to fix it. So I take a few deep breaths, redial the number, follow the tangled web yet again, wait an “unusually long time” and end up with René. After repeating my tale of woe a 3rd time (go ahead, read it again; I dare ya’!) he apologizes that he can’t help me, and offers to forward me to “someone who can.” At this point I interrupt, tell him that I have spent the past half hour following instructions and prompts and waiting and being forwarded to people who are purported to be able to help me but can’t, and that I have no interest in being sent on yet again. He then apologizes for the inconvenience, and says to me, and I’M NOT MAKING THIS UP: “The reason you keep getting looped around is because that department is closed.” He then recommends that I call again tomorrow.

Do they do this on purpose? It’s $15; do they figure that if they jerk you around for long enough you’ll just give up? Is this Day 3 of their job training?

I’m calling back tomorrow. And maybe, in the process, I should offer to send them a bill for the time I’ve spent trying to remedy their self-serving fraud.

Grrrrr. . .

15
Jan
11

“Palinschmerz”

A blogger I follow has coined the term, and defines it as “the pain and weariness caused by the reality of Palin’s existence.”

I like this term so much I have decided to change the category I had previously labeled “Sarah Palin” to Palinschmerz.

I believe it is suitable for this term to encompass the pain and weariness caused by the fact that so many Americans can actually listen to her, watch her, or read “her” books without flinching and/or plugging their ears.

I understand that some hold the belief that the leaders of the world need to be “just like them” in order to understand their plight. I don’t agree with this for two reasons: first of all, empathy does not require identity of experience, second of all, there is no way on this green earth I am smart enough to be President, and I’m pretty smart. The complexities of the job are far beyond the “average” American, and the sooner the “average” American recognizes that, the better off we’ll be.

We’re talking about the Presidency. They should be the smartest person in the room. Cerebral, intimidating, even intimidatingly cerebral.  They shouldn’t necessarily be someone you want to have a cup of coffee, or a beer, with. Or should I say, would want to have a cup of coffee or a beer with you. That’s what your buddy from work or your best friend across town is for.

13
Jan
11

would that the world would listen

Here is the transcript from Obama’s speech in Tuscon yesterday.

Or, if you’d rather watch it, click here.

The best, most important, part:

They believed, and I believe, that we can be better. Those who died here, those who saved lives here, they helped me believe. We may not be able to stop all evil in the world, but I know that how we treat one another, that’s entirely up to us. And I believe that for all our imperfections we are full of decency and goodness, and that the forces that divide us are not as strong as the forces that unite us. . .we should do everything we can to make sure we live up to our children’s expectations.

Let’s make it so.

11
Jan
11

capitalism, foreclosures, and greed

A real-estate “agent for investors” was apparently a little disgruntled at a recent foreclosed-housing auction at the fact that prices are creeping up, making his clients’ buy-’em-cheap-and-sell-’em-for-more venture a little less profitable.

I think this is shameful.

Never mind the fact that he’s/they’re in the business of throwing people out of their homes; never mind that some banks would rather sell houses at fire-sale prices and lose more money than they would if they helped borrowers restructure their mortgages; never mind that regulations (a term we should all use loosely at this point) relaxed to the point that people who probably could barely pay their car payments were given mortgages for homes way beyond their means, and then allowed to refinance, repeatedly, based on the imaginary increased value of their already-overvalued homes; never mind that the tanking housing market brought the rest of the economy down with it, and one of the things that might turn this economy around once and for all is if people aren’t losing everything they have.

No, we’re supposed to feel sympathy that this man, and the people he represents, who make their living not really doing anything productive for society, just moving “money” around, aren’t able to make as quick or as easy or as big a buck as they did last month.

And what is this: “agent for investors” anyway? I hate to sound like dear-ol’-dad and hearken back to the “good ol’ days,” but weren’t mortgages created to help hard-working people own homes while they still had need for them? I’m reminded of Mr. Potter (the banker, not the wizard) in It’s a Wonderful Life grumbling about how people, (referring to a particular demographic, I believe he called them “garlic eaters”), shouldn’t be allowed to own a home unless they could pay cash for it. The idea that you could invest your money in your home, and have some value out of that investment at the end of your life was a good and noble one; a little appreciation couldn’t hurt either, and it sure beat throwing your your money down the proverbial drain paying rent. But maybe we’ve gone a little too far from the original intent of the home mortgage when people think it’s a good idea to package them up and trade them like baseball cards. It’s MY house, my appreciation, not yours, and I really hate the idea that the interest I’m paying isn’t actually reflecting the cost of the loan, but merely a means of lining other people’s pockets.

As I think about this further, I begin to wonder how many of the difficulties our country faces are, if not created, at least impacted by the fact that most people seem to confuse capitalism with democracy. Obama tries to make sure that we all have the right to one of the fundamental needs of our society, decent, affordable health care, and people hiss “Socialist,” which number one, it’s not, and number two, is it necessarily such a bad thing? Isn’t the Christian moral ethic (you know, the one that so many people seem to be shouting from the rooftops, ramming down people’s throats, and/or using as justification to villify anyone and everyone who doesn’t agree with them), built around the idea that we take care of each other? The widow, the orphan, the poor, the disadvantaged. . .  And what about the statement on the statue of liberty: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door. We presume “she” doesn’t mean give them to me so I can ignore their basic needs and discriminate based on their income.

People also tend to confuse Socialism — a system of economics that acknowledges that all have a duty and responsibility to themselves, their families, and their society, to do their best, and that everyone’s contribution is not only important, but necessary, while at the same time providing basic needs like health care, education, and support for the disadvantaged or the needy; with Communism — a system of economics that believes that people are not capable of the above beliefs and behaviors and therefore such must be regimented and controlled by the government. (It’s ironic, in a way, that early organized religion probably came about for much the same reason. People won’t behave honorably if left to themselves, so let’s create a system of fear, judgment, retribution and reward to control encourage them. Too bad so many atrocious acts are committed in the name of religion, from the genocide of the Old Testament, to the Crusades, the killing of doctors who perform abortions, and the people who feel they have a right to picket funerals declaring that God is happy about their deaths as He punishes this country for its tolerance of homosexuality.)

Hmmmm. I seem to have gone off on a tangent. What was I saying?

Ah, yes, the role of capitalism in society.

Capitalism can be a wonderful thing, especially when it’s a part of society which respects the rights and needs of others and includes recognition that we ARE all family; that what we do, or don’t do, impacts everyone; that what’s best for everyone might not seem, at any particular moment, to be best for one particular person, but ultimately probably is. Until that’s the case (my own personal version of Utopia), regulations are important, as are prudence, fairness, justice, equality of opportunity, and the awareness that the tyranny, pursuit, ethic of the mighty dollar might not be the one on which we want to build humanity.

I’d like to propose that we find a way to get money out of politics, but that’s probably a topic for another day. . .




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