Tags: .tpc_sociopolitical


No Political Solution

I'm a generally apolitical (if not anti-political) person, and certainly keep that my policy online, but i'm making an exception here.

My latest attempt to capture my thoughts on the election is below for those who want to read it, but the most important point is this:

If you're reading this — whoever you are, however you voted, whatever your feelings about the election — i care about you, and you have my love, good will, and sincere consideration of your views.

Last week, i found myself commenting on a lot of folks’ posts about the election. I sought to comfort those who were distraught, but also to raise my concerns to everyone about the real problems with this election. From my perspective, these have nothing to do with its result, and inevitably affect all of us in the long term. Because i found myself hitting a few main themes over and over, i decided to write up a piece to capture and share my thoughts about the election and people's reactions to it. As i fleshed out the ideas, the piece started getting very in depth, and started taking more time to complete. As i spoke with people in the interim, i found so many who seemed to have already decided how they felt about things, and seemed reticent to let go of those feelings. I consequently decided to abandon my piece, as i figured it would just end up an overwrought ineffective obscurity that's unlikely to be of much aid to anyone. I suppose i will continue to try to share my thoughts with folks as appropriate via “regular" channels.

On Sunday, i had an opportunity to try to convey a portion of my thoughts at a group function. I again declined, thinking better of it. However, in the process of considering it, i found myself starting to boil down my thoughts to more basic points.

As i continue to survey the inescapable noise surrounding the build-up and aftermath of this election, i still find myself restless to speak my peace and hopefully add something constructive. In lieu of resurrecting my full-up piece to address this, i thought i'd try to share a more developed version of those boiled-down points. I welcome any who wish to delve deeper to invite follow-on discussion.

Rather than try to convince anyone of anything or attempt to directly address folks’ overwhelming feelings, i'm simply going to state Collapse )

I believe that i am willing to take the first steps to work to unite us as a people and to prevent the alternative.

... so i believe i’m just looking to see who’s with me.


Snippet Of Social Philosophy

I started to comment on a post by lisajulie, but realized it captured enough of my views on society that it might be worth posting. (It also gets me around a comment length limitation, but that's an unintentional side bonus. Honest!)

lisajulie writes:

How can I can live in my lifestyle, knowing that is built upon the labor (underpaid and so on) of others.

How moral is this? I don't have an answer.

My original reply:

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(Sidenote: I was a little reluctant to make this a public post, given how much it might reveal (or accidentally mis-represent by incompleteness or misunderstanding) my personal views of the world, but i decided i'd take a chance. Here's hopin'...)


Response From MTA

I apologize for the long lapse in posting this; it should have been done some time ago.

Back in January, i shared with you a correspondence sent to Ralign Wells, Administrator of the Maryland Transit Authority. Mr. Wells not only got back to me within a week of my email, but he invited me to speak with him live over the phone. He explained that he felt i'd taken the time to really think through the issues, and that he also wanted to take some time to properly address my concerns.

It took a little time for our schedules to line up, but Mr. Wells and i finally spoke at length and had a great conversation. He agreed with my general views about the challenges that mass transit faces, and also addressed my concern about early departures in detail.

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Overall, i respect Mr. Wells' explanation very much, and even moreso, i appreciate the dedication to service that was exemplified in the time he took out of a busy schedule to speak with me. He encouraged me to keep in touch, explaining that having dedicated riders acting as additional eyes and ears is of value to him. He also provided additional direct contact information should i wish to follow up with him. I, in turn, offered to provide feedback -- both as a rider and as a systems engineer -- on emerging service updates and new technologies such as the one currently being explored. I do, in fact, intend to keep in touch with Mr. Wells as things progress, regarding both changes at MTA and pursuits i'm making within my company to advocate greater use of mass transit.

Again, i apologize for taking so long to follow up here, but i did want to make sure it was reported that i not only received a response from Mr. Wells, but that it was an overwhelmingly positive one at that.


Railing For Mass Transit

Since moving into the City of Baltimore in mid-September, i've commuted almost exclusively via the MTA Maryland mass transit system -- something many of my colleagues didn't even realize was possible.

Baltimore's transit infrastructure is impressive for a city its size, and the service has generally been reasonable. Moreover, locals with whom i speak about it tell me it's been gradually improving over time. However, i've had some very disappointing problems from time to time, and there is definitely room for improvement.

Over the past few months, i've had a few conversations with an MTA Fare Inspector with an outstanding dedication to customer service. After hearing about some of the service issues i have having, i was given the email for Ralign Wells, MTA Administrator.

I sent Mr. Wells Collapse )

I will update if i hear anything in reply.

-=ETA=-: I did, in fact, receive a very positive response from Mr. Wells, which is detailed here.


Strategic Defaults

Thanks to netmouse for the link to a recent NYT article on the simple justification for homeowner foreclosure.

This issue is of course very timely because of the recent real estate collapse which has left huge numbers of people burdened by hopelessly undervalued mortgages. It is made much more poignant, however, by the fact that the collapse was largely triggered by the same lenders who knowingly sold those mortgages, and who not only reaped the gains of underhandedly dumping the risks off on other parties, but dodged much of the fallout entirely by successfully lobbying to stick future generations of Americans with the bill.

The article makes some very good points about the simple fact that -- just as when big companies lay off recently-hired workers -- lenders treat their own defaults as a simple business decision. On the contrary -- just as many people feel guilty for ditching out on a job after six or twelve months -- individual borrowers feel a personal responsibility to make good on their promises.

A few highlights:

"Businesses — in particular Wall Street banks — make such calculations routinely. Morgan Stanley recently decided to stop making payments on five San Francisco office buildings. ... Nobody has said Morgan Stanley is immoral ... But the average American, as if sprung from some Franklinesque mythology, is supposed to honor his debts, or so says the mortgage industry ..."

"Once, perhaps, when bankers held onto mortgages for 30 years, they occupied a moral high ground. These days, lenders typically unload mortgages within days (or minutes). ... [and in] our transaction-obsessed society, the message is that enduring relationships count for less than the value put on assets for sale."

"[Borrowers' strategic defaults] would correct a prevailing imbalance: homeowners operate under a “powerful moral constraint” while lenders are busily trying to maximize profits. More important, it might get the system unstuck. If lenders feared an avalanche of strategic defaults, [it] could produce a wave of loan modifications — the very goal the Treasury has been pursuing to end the crisis."

I have many mixed reactions to the article which i'll spare you, but for me it reinforces two trends i observe:
  1. Our contemporary political-economic system has been increasingly protecting the organizations with superior resources and position, and decreasingly prioritizing the welfare of its people, who often have little recourse.

  2. Most people are inherently superior entities than the organizations that they comprise.
Some would call these observations self-evident, but we noneless allow the perpetuation of the first despite the second.


The New Shape Of Success In America

America, self-proclaimed leader of the free world (or at least the free market, which is anything but free), has a new theme boldly re-shaping how it does business. Knowing this theme will not only bring your business in step with the industry leaders, but may likely boost your revenues in time for that critical quarterly report. That magical theme: incompetence.

I'm not talking about the kind of self-serving loss-of-big-picture lack-of-foresight kind of incompetence. That's the kind that brings about things like a trillion-dollar taxpayer-funded lending industry pseudo-bailout. (I say "pseudo" because actual bailouts fix the problem.) That's the kind of incompetence we come to expect of small-minded, short-sighted, Wall-Street-driven big business. That kind is neither new nor bold. It's old hat. Some might go so far as to call it best practice.

I'm talking about a simpler, more fundamental kind of incompetence. I'm talking about the kind of incompetence that becomes apparent when a company doesn't actually know anything about their product or service, except how to sell it.

My first realization of the prevalence of this new kind of business practice came a few years ago. I tried to take advantage of a fantastic offer that Discover Card was selling. The resultant unauthorized balance transfer they performed on my behalf was amusing, but the real amazement came when i tried to have them fix the problem. Several departments provided me with a wildly colorful collection of unique stories about who could help me and how. In the end, none of them could.

More antics with credit card companies followed. The time that Bank Of America lost my phone payment was a fun one. One month, a live person is giving me a confirmation number for receipt -- the next, another handful of departments is telling me they had no record of my call. Were it not for the rule-bending compassion of one amazing soul within the huge bureaucratic machine (think Mr. Incredible at InsureCare), i'd still be living with the usurous interest rates they tried to slap on me for lack of payment. (Well, actually, i'd be happily paying that interest to American Express, who i can honestly say has done nothing but impress me with their unequalled commitment to customer service. Maybe they're European?)

The stories go on. Pioneer sold me a dual-layer DVD burner that couldn't burn dual-layer DVDs. (Well, it could in theory, which is all you need to sell it.) Verizon sold me DSL that they couldn't install (though they at least sorta tried). Bank Of America (currently leading my personal race in selling something they don't provide) had their agent inform me that i was misinformed by their agent (did you catch that?), and that i'd need to pay the resultant penalties (as if their inability to train their people is somehow acceptable grounds for my liability).

The latest (and inspiration for this post): Sprint's online tech support didn't know that their mobile broadband hardware wasn't supported on my machine. I don't mean my specific machine, i mean my whole brand of machine. When i was buying the product, it was "plug and play" on both PC and Macintosh. When i was trying the product, it was PC-only and required software installation. I have the chat sessions to prove it.

So what gives? What's the business model here? How can you get in on the action?

I propose that this new wave in profitability is driven by a simple paradigm:
  1. Boost your sales by X% by selling exactly what people want.

  2. Provide something that is close to what they want, but costs you $Y less to provide.

  3. Make it a time-consuming hassle for them to return your product once they've bought it.

  4. If they don't notice, you make $Y some fraction of X% more often.

  5. If they do notice but don't care, you make $Y another fraction of X% more often.

  6. If they do notice but don't care enough to go through the time-consuming hassle, you make $Y another fraction of X% more often.

  7. If they do notice and care enough to go through the time-consuming hassle, either:

    1. use your bureaucracy as an excuse for incompetence and apologetically provide what they want, in which case you sustain no real loss,

    2. use your bureaucracy as an excuse for incompetence and apologetically re-sell them the something that's close to what they want, in which case you still make $Y some other fraction of X% more often, or

    3. use your bureaucracy as an excuse for incompetence and apologetically accept a return, in which case you sustain no real loss.

  8. Avoid legal liability for false advertising by:

    1. making it an even bigger time-consuming hassle for anyone to bring suit against you, and

    2. using your bureaucracy as an excuse for incompetence if they do.

While bureaucratic complexity and hassle are important parts of this new flavor of success, it is incompetence that is the key. Incompetence is incentivized, because it is incompetence that creates that profitable gap between what you're selling and what you're providing. It's the buffer between you and the customer during their buying and their trying.

This is, after all, America: land of opportunity for the enterprising, hard-working soul. It's this kind of outside-of-the-box innovative business creativity that obviously embodies that ideal.

However, in case anyone out there -- Discover, Bank Of America, Sprint, Verizon, or whoever -- decides they'd like to try something even newer, i have an even more innovative solution. Really. After years of experience as both a customer and a manager, i have engineered a groundbreaking paradigm that leverages the low-cost of compartmentalized functionality and specialized outsourcing into an unprecedented level of efficient and reliable customer service excellence that will rocket you head-and-shoulders above the competition, all with minimal capital investment and almost no retooling.

If you're interested in this solution, please do contact me. I'd be happy to sell it to you.

Do you have any similar experiences to share? Post your story in a comment. Feel welcome to link to the providers involved.


On Inaugural Eve

(For those who've already seen this piece, please pardon the re-run.)

On the night before the inauguration of President Barack Obama, i wrote a piece that a few folks encouraged me to submit to the New York Time Op-Ed page. As expected, it wasn't selected, so i wanted to post a public version (with a few inconsequential edits) for folks to share.

Thanks to everyone who has been encouraging my writing endeavors of late (including by catching errors and making suggestions). Please know that i continue to welcome honest feedback from anyone (especially as i occasionally entertain the idea of trying to write semi-professionally at some point).

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A Fast Report From The Front

I arrived shortly ago at the Troy Marriott, where BAE Syatems is holding a career fair today from 9am to 8pm. Some press on the event claims they're hiring across the board due to the purchase of TRW's Sterling Heights plant last month.

When i arrived at the Marriott entrance on Big Beaver Road, the Troy PD had the hotel's driveways blocked off with flares and patrol cars. "What you see is what you get," the officer i hailed through my passenger window replied, and suggested i check out the nearby Community Center for parking.

Not knowing where it was, i went around the perimeter of the hotel property as best i could -- noting at least one neighboring property that had sealed off its own lot to prevent it being lost to overflow -- looking for options. Everywhere i looked were people in businesswear and longcoats, some trudging through snow in the sidewalk-free business district, others trying to cross four lanes of divided traffic in dress shoes while maintaining their hair and not dropping their handsome resume folders.

Thankfully the officer was right. Around the back of the hotel block, the Troy Community Center had not only taken on overflow parking, but had been added to the route of the Marriott's shuttle. In my case, the driver beeped to hail me just after i'd tucked the cuffs of my Hickey Freeman suit into my Red Wings and started trudging off into a roughly-hewn trail already blazed by the intrepid and desperate in the negative-ten (Fahrenheit, thank you) winter morning. I'd noticed the trail thanks to someone who was returning to the lot via the path.

"Are you coming from the Marriott?" I had asked, "The BAE fair? Is it open?"

"It's open," he'd replied, "but there are too many people!"

The shuttle driver said this was the most he'd ever seen.

"Fifteen thousand ... and that's not a joke number -- that's a real number."

"What's the capacity of a typical event at this facility?" I asked.

"Well when Hanna Montana was here ... at about midnight we had three thousand. ... I never thought i'd see more than that."

I guess Billy Ray's daughter has got nothing on British defense contractors.

"I'm surprised more people didn't take the subway," i'd joked after i got into the front passenger seat of the packed shuttle, "Oh, wait-- they tore that out 100 years ago so that we could have a strong economy. Somehow i forgot."

I try not to be bitter, but as i sit here in the hotel's steakhouse having my coffee and trying to get my bearings because the lobby barely has any room to stand -- let alone sit -- i'm sure some find that more difficult. Outside the temporarily quiet repose of the classy restaurant, there are thousands of people standing outside in a line so long that i'm not even sure it's a line, nor where it goes. I see men and women of every age and ethnicity. I see a man in a lovely conservative suit and a red turban. I see a man who looks like he's been working a factory job for fifteen years strapped into what might regrettably be his best tie. Thousands are standing there in utter professional civility in single-breasted pinstripes, stockings, hair gel, and/or uncomfortable shoes.

It's time to join them.

"Hey, everybody, despite what they tell you," i'd turned around to my fellows in the shuttle just before we got out of the van, "we're all in this together. Good luck."


A Snapshot In America

I thought i'd take a unique opportunity to report to you live and direct from the warfront. No, i don't mean the war in Iraq -- or Iran -- or whichever oil-rich country the powers-that-be are trying to subtly re-industrialize this week. I mean the real war, the one we're fighting here at home, the war against the socio-economic demons we unwittingly loosed long ago, now come back to claim us. I'm in a strip-mall coffee shop in Livonia, Michigan.

I arrived at the Problem Resolution Office (PRO) of the State of Michigan Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) about ten minutes before opening this morning. The Livonia PRO is one of six such offices in the state -- normally, that is -- the UIA opened a temporary seventh location in Detroit last week to address Michigan's terrifying unemployment levels. The PROs provide walk-in face-to-face support for people who are having some kind of problem with unemployment benefits that cannot be resolved via the usual channels. And, when this branch opened this morning and started handing out numbers to the line of folks stretching nearly all the way down one leg of the mall in the Michigan January morning, there were about 150 of us.

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For me, i suppose i can job search from here as well as anywhere, so i'm just settling in for the wait. I have a computer, network, power and a few bucks for lunch, and am grateful to be able to say that much. It's certainly not how i'd prefer to spend the day, but despite my own frustration and uncertainty, i, too, find myself thinking more about the other folks on that line, and then of those who don't even have the fortune of having a line to go to, or prospective jobs to search for, or any resource at all. In the end, i really do have faith that things will ultimately work out for me, and i can't help but want to pray for those who don't have the fortune of feeling so sure.


On Election Eve

I wanted to take a brief moment to share some thoughts on this, the night before the big day everyone seems to be thinking about. Particularly in relation to the national-scale elections, i want to emphasize my hope that, as of now, we have already made progress, that perhaps Collapse )

...i want to do this so that people might perhaps stop thinking that they need to choose the winning side to change the world, because it is in not creating sides at all that we will make the world a better place.

I am not a conspiracy theorist or an anarchist, but i am a cynic. As such, i really don't care who you vote for tomorrow, and on the national level i honestly don't even care all that much if you vote at all. What i care about are the things that we're doing, however small, every day -- not just once every one or two or four Novembers -- to bring about the change that our communities, country and planet so desperately need.

This is why tomorrow's big outcome is not so critical to me, despite what remains of my idealistic hope that maybe it could have some broad positive impact. This is why i want to encourage us all to look at the discourse and activism and motivation that the election has brought about, and think of that as the outcome. If we do not, we risk losing the little bit of real progress that we can count on having made, the part that could grow not over four years but over forty into something truly meaningful.

So on the "big day", go ahead and enjoy the fun, experience the exhilaration, rally at the sport, but please do not lose sight of the reality: regardless of what happens, the challenge of tomorrow will be establishing our lasting realization that the real campaign -- the one for ourselves -- has only just begun.