Copyright

All blog posts, unless otherwise noted, are copyrighted to the Author (that's me) and may not be used without written permission.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

A Test

I have a test for you: write down your current, general feeling about America on a 3x5 card and place it in a desk drawer. Now, starting tomorrow morning, do not read a newspaper, do not watch the news on TV, and do not click on any news web sites for one full week. At the end of the week, write down your thoughts about America based only on what you saw, what you did, and what you experienced for that week without news. Then get the original card out and compare the two. My guess is that the week without news will be more positive and hopeful.

Without the news ravaging you with hyperbole and sensationalism, I'm willing to bet your opinion of people, places, and things will generally improve during that week. I bet that you will focus more on the people you meet and interact with, how things are for you (personally), and the economy of your personal area over the vast threats that Fox and MSNBC news are insisting you listen to.

Without having the Bill O'Reilly and Keith Olbermmans of the world whispering in your ear what you should think, feel, and fear, your life will seem more pleasant and your problems, should you have any, will seem easier to manage and more personally yours rather than some part of some deeper tragedy. Without having CNN and others instilling you with dread and stress over terrorism, climate change, the economy and other issues that are, frankly, too big for any one person to solve, your personal stress levels will decrease and your ability to act in your own life will increase. I think you will feel generally more positive and generally happier.

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, the news was a boring but sensible way to get the facts. News organizations had policies and procedures to verify those facts before they could print, speak, or show them. The news was not entertainment. And, I think, in that far away time and place, people were generally happier with their personal lives and more committed to their neighbors, their communities, and their families.

I think that a week without news will teach people that things aren't as bad as we are told they are, that people aren't as wicked as we are taught they are, and that you are much happier in your life than you have been lead to believe you are.

Let me know how it goes.

Update:

Slate agrees with me.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Cherry Picking

When I write a blog, I try hard not to cherry-pick my statistics or my sources. I try to present both sides, or what I find to be the most prevailing attitude or opinion on a subject, and then express my opinion about that (whether I agree or disagree). You can argue how successful I am at doing that.

Facebook (FB) is an incredibly useful tool for getting in touch with people I used to know and finding connections that have been broken. I'm back in touch with a number of my extended family members as well as high school chums that I lost contact with over the years. Some of my good friends who went off to live their lives I have gotten back in contact with and have found out what has been going on.

However, one of the worst parts of Facebook is that people can post just about anything... and they do. The worst thing is that people post "factoids" from people, companies, and activists without vetting the information first. I see a ton of repostings that are simply bad information, outright lies, or misinformation. Most of these posts are fairly harmless, when someone posts that setting a certain setting in FB will help them be more anonymous online (no, it usually won't), or by posting something they might win a prize (in most cases, no), or one of the many urban myths (like Coke causes worms in meat if poured over it). These are mostly harmless and fairly easily to ignore.

However, some people repost information that is simply wrong. A friend recently reposted something that indicated that the Dairy industry is duping the world because most people (the origin information suggested 75%) in the world are lactose intolerant. The group posting it is anti-big business, pro-little guy, and often uses over-inflated data. I thought that number looked high so I did a quick search and found that the world-wide number is actually closer to 33%. The only groups that are in the range of 75% are blacks and middle-eastern people. I don't blame the friend for reposting this-- it is a way to get people to look at their choices and re-evaluate what they purchase, but I do blame the originators of the post for using scare tactics and categorically incorrect information to get their point across.

I see similar things posted concerning government, businesses, and high-profile individuals, as well. During the election, people posted many of the completely proven false lies about President Obama in an attempt to influence people's voting (like his citizenship). I see celebrities being bashed and abused similarly, by having certain comments or pictures cherry-picked and used against them.

A new trend is to take pictures that people have made public and use them in posts. Recently, a woman had one of her daughter's pictures copied. The copiers then added a sob story about how the girl, whom they had renamed at least, had a disease and didn't think she was beautiful. They wanted people to 'Like' the picture so the girl could see how many people thought she was beautiful. However, it turns out that it was a grab for Likes so that those who started it could sell the FB names of everyone who liked it to a company. So, not only did they steal a child's photo and use it for nefarious ends, everyone who Liked it is now on a company's list and getting spammed. Similarly you get people posting the "Name a state with no 'a' in it..." or the "Only a small percentage of people can read this..." type of posts that are also Like grabs by people who just want to create lists and sell them to companies (or worse).

People don't think for themselves any more. If they did, they would see that so many of these posts are simply lies and they probably wouldn't repost them. For awhile, I took it upon myself to link to the real information and to disprove these statements so that the posts would die (at least among those I know and am connected to via FB). But I'm tired of (seemingly) being the only one who is doing any thinking or questioning of these posts. I'm not doing it any more.

I'm tired of the spread of misinformation, I'm tired of the constant push and pull of high-technology, and I'm tired of Facebook. If you want me, email me. Or call. Or write a letter.

Congressional Term Limits

Why does it seem like the Right is moving farther right and the Left is moving farther left? Yet Presidential elections always and consistently show that the most moderate person gets nominated for their party and the person who appeals best to both sides (and is, therefore, the most moderate appearing of the two candidates) is the one who gets elected. It used to be true in Congressional elections as well, but now seems to be the person who talks the loudest or has some sort of name recognition gets elected.

I firmly believe that America has about 10-15% radical Right people, 10-15% radical Left people, and between 70-80% of the people are moderate. They may be moderately Right/Conservative or moderately Left/Liberal, but each side has some things they can agree with from the "other side" and this vast majority of mostly moderate people can calmly sit down at a table together and come up with compromises and solutions. Yet the rhetoric in Congress between the parties, as well as between the Legislative and Executive branches of the government is venomous and full of rancor, and it is only getting worse.

Have you noticed, however, that every time you hear of a filibuster in Congress, or an impasse between Congressmen or Senators, or problems between the Legislative and Executive branches, it is always the same few people each time? Out of the 535 people in Congress, I consistently see the same 10-15 from both sides arguing, filibustering, on TV, and making the rounds on talk shows. It seems like they have been in  office so long that they have risen to positions of power and now rule the roost like it is an oligarchy.

Originally, for the first 100 to 150 years of our nation, most of the lawmakers served one term. Few served two and it was exceptionally rare to serve more than that. Only two people served for 30 or more years prior to the early 1900s. Since the 1950s, the number of people serving for 30+ years has grown by leaps and bounds.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_members_of_the_United_States_Congress_by_longevity_of_service
People should not spend 30 years in public office, let alone 40 or 50 years!

There are many web sites that are pushing for Congressional term limits. There are many polls that show that people want term limits. Many state and local legislatures have or are introducing term limits. There are many similar suggestions on the "We the People" portion of WhiteHouse.gov.

I've already suggested my solutions to this problem. By creating more turn-over in these important offices, we can get more varied viewpoints and we force the lawmakers to live under the laws they make. We also minimize some of the damage that PACs and lobbyists can do, as they can't build up long-term relationships with people by supplementing their (already too high) Congressional war-chests or salaries.

In the end, I think that term limits can effectively build a better Congress, can cut down on corruption, and will help the country reach consensus and compromise on many important issues that, today, are at a complete stand-still.

#revolution

UPS

In general, I like UPS. They are an efficient model business that moves millions of parcels around the entire world on a daily basis with few screw-ups. However, I have to share my current issue.

My wife and I ordered a replacement TiVo drive from Weaknees.com, a company I have dealt with and is a good resource for people using the TiVo DVR. However, it turned out that the problem was not our hard drive and whatever the problem was caused the hard drive to become corrupt. So we needed to return the product. I got the RMA information from them and followed it. We found a drop-off location in Calais, ME and took it there.

On Friday (April 5) I noticed that the person entering the address had miss-keyed it. The address we were sending to had four nines in it (9999) but they had only keyed three (999). So, on Friday, I first called our UPS drop-off location to see if they could do anything about that from their end. The nice lady tried, but she could not change the address. I then went to UPS.com and tried myself. I could see that the package had left Rhode Island at 3:39 am ET on Wednesday, heading for California. This was Friday, yet there was no update or new arrival information. The link to update the address on the web site was a loop: it would say click here to change the destination, ask me to log in, then say click here to change the destination. I broke the loop and looked up the UPS phone number.
(Aside: The UPS web site "helpfully" looked at my computer's IP address and gave me Canadian phone numbers and information. I wound up having to call the Canadian phone number, explain the problem, tell them where I shipped it from (USA) and have their customer support give me the correct phone number for US domestic customer support. Many web sites think they are being helpful by reading your IP and giving you country-/location-specific information. I find it is rarely true, rarely helpful, and often makes it very difficult to get what you want.)
I called the UPS line and spoke with a woman named Mike. She said that, because the package had not reached a destination yet and was considered "in transit" she could not update the address. She said to call back the next day, as it should arrive at the Los Angeles distribution hub by then and they could update the package's address. Saturday the package still was listed as in transit, but I called anyway. Same deal from the UPS customer service representative (male, don't remember his name): call back tomorrow, it should arrive by then.

On Sunday I called back and spoke to Nate. It is still listed as in transit. But then, when I explained what the other two had said, Nate explained how the package was on a physical truck, was being driven across the country going from distribution center to distribution center dropping off packages and that was why it was still "in transit." I don't necessarily believe that, as it seems like a very inefficient way of moving a package the company knows is destined for CA from the east coast, but whatever. He also said what the other two said, that he could not update the address until it showed as arrived at a distribution center. He then said the thing that irritated me: that it was going by ground and that the package would definitely not arrive prior to Monday in Los Angeles because trucks don't make stops during the weekend, so there was "no way" it would arrive until Monday. Really? Didn't you a) just tell me that the truck was stopping at distribution centers along the way as it drove across country, and that was why it was taking it so long to reach CA and b) why didn't the other two people explain this to me? I asked him about the latter, and he told me they should have known that and not told me to call back during the weekend.

Now, I'm getting a little angry. Nate is saying that I have been both lied to by other UPS personnel and wasting my time trying to track this package and call about the address update. He says what he's told me is common policy and that the others should definitely know this and have shared this with me. This does not help me much and irritates me further; not only have I been lied to, but I have been lied to by people who are either improperly trained in UPS "common policy," are incredibly forgetful, or are idiots. Twice.

This morning, I see that the package did, indeed, finally arrive first in Vernon and then in Los Angeles, CA, which lends credence to what Nate told me. I now must wait for 8 am PT in order to call the LA distribution center and get the address updated so it goes to the right location. This better go smoothly or whomever I speak with will get an earful from me. I do not like being given the run-around or wasting my time like this. Hopefully four times is the charm.