An ode to old people in grocery stores… apparently world wide

Dear old people in the grocery stores …. I realize that you have to get your groceries just like the rest of us, but apparently in your advanced years, you seem to have forgotten some basic public space etiquette. Please, let me remind you of a few small details.

1. You seem likely to be retired … why the hell are you going to the grocery store at peak shopping hours for non-retired people? Seriously — there is no need for you to invade en masse on weekends. This is why the senior buses always go on like a Tuesday through Thursday during the day. Keep this in mind.

2. The old people speed contradiction needs to be solved. That is, you walk down the aisles (usually in the middle of the aisle and look put out when someone politely excuses themselves around you) at less than a snail’s pace. Clearly, you are not in a hurry or it’s hard to read/ decide… whatever… the point is you’re freaking slow as you toddle around the store. However, when it comes to the checkout line, you suddenly are in the biggest hurry on the face of the planet.

3. If there are a lot of folks in the store and the check out lines are long, bitching from the back of the line to the person checking out is NOT, I repeat NOT going to get the line moving faster.

4. Just because you’re old, doesn’t mean that you don’t have to wait your turn. So, don’t look all put out when you try to cut in front of me and I politely remind you that you’re behind me. I’m only polite once and it’s only because I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt for being bloody blind or senile to have missed me standing there.

5. You may have lived this long, but you’re really taking undue risks with you life by invading my personal space in the line. In particular, there are two offenses that old people in lines seem to be most likely to commit. The first one is bashing you with their grocery cart while you’re standing waiting in line. This is inexcusable and should get you told off immediately (I particularly like telling people off in German, it’s so much easier to sound all pissed off…and yes, I do mean when I’m in Germany I like that). The second one is standing too close (ewwwww) and then coughing your old person nasty ass cough in my hair. Really????? I’d turn around, but I wouldn’t want to get that sputtering nastiness in my face as you’re like a foot from my head and clearly not covering your mouth.

In short — you’re old, but you’re not excused from being socially appropriate. Remember, we get to pick, run, and regulate your nursing homes…


Oh yeah — and if you were actually expecting an ode with its three parts, lyrical nature, and communication of love or affection — you’re out of luck too 🙂

Papa Johns, only the latest corporate whore to reveal themselves

Definition of WHORE (n)

1: a woman who engages in sexual acts for money :prostitutealso : a promiscuous or immoral woman
2: a male who engages in sexual acts for money
3: a venal or unscrupulous person

Definition of WHORE (v)

1: to have unlawful sexual intercourse as or with a prostitute
2: to pursue a faithless, unworthy, or idolatrous desire

The Case of Papa John’s

In a recent statement Papa John’s CEO, John Schnatter, announced that instead of raising the price of pizza by the 12-14 cents it would cost to fund health care for his full-time employees to comply with the new American health care legislation he would, instead, cut employee hours because President Obama was re-elected. Keep in mind, this is at a time when the company’s 3rd quarter 2012 profits have increased and the company’s international economic performance is higher than that of many of its competitors like Domino’s. So, at a time when shareholders could afford to lose a little from each share, split the cost with consumers, or consumers could pay an extra 14 cents per pizza and still be within a tolerable market threshold, Schnatter decides to do the most ridiculous thing of all — hurt his employees to make a political point.

So what is Schnatter’s price?

Apparently his price to sell out his employees is, at most 14 cents per pizza. Now, in a world driven by bottom-line only this doesn’t necessarily even make sense because in any given American market there are already pizza places that are less expensive than Papa John’s, so this seems unlikely to be the threshold significantly driving sales down. No, this isn’t a rational business decision that Schnatter’s made, this is an irrational decision based in political dogma. Perhaps he doesn’t understand the influence that image, evaluation of corporate social responsibility, and trust are the cornerstones of doing business. In fact, most people look for opportunities to minimize their exposure to companies they don’t trust or like. Now, in the case of a company like Wal-Mart that gets a lot of bad press a lot of the time, it’s not going to hurt them as much because the competition for Wal-Mart is pretty thin. However, in the case of a company like Papa John’s — a market that is saturated with competitors — if people look at this as a political move with few benefits and hurts a working segment that’s already at risk, Papa John’s risks much more than losing 14 cents a pizza profit. And, by the way, they should lose out because this is a snarky response to not getting what he wanted in the election. I’m sure a man who lives in a castle can arm himself against economic ups and downs, but his employees are unlikely to be able to manage the changes.

Apparently, Schnatter’s humanity can be bought…

but clearly his long-game strategy needs some work. If he wanted to make the case that Obamacare was hurting his business, then the smarter strategy would have been to wait it out — see if profit margin went down significantly, face some pressure from major shareholders, create the illusion that you were trying to keep it going for the employees, but then either make the decision to increase pizza prices by the requisite amount OR cut wages with the evidence laid out for you. That would have been the smart strategy in the long game. But that would have risked having to admit that it might not significantly affect profit margins or that it was good for his company’s employees. See, that’s why we can be pretty confident that this was about political dogma and not good business strategy.

The problem?

Papa John’s isn’t the only company nor even in a small group of companies whose actions defy both long-term sound strategy and social responsible actions, they are the norm. In the United States, we have a business culture that is ‘a-moral’. It’s not that it’s immoral, but it is without consideration of morals. In fact, if anyone sits through business, law, or MBA courses in the US they are taught that a company’s core purpose is to maximize shareholder value. Sitting through these classes, banal conversations about the importance of ‘companies doing the right thing’ come in conflict with short-term decisions that shareholders might not like, are rife with a lack of sensitivity to the communities and socio-economic realities of the world that the companies live in. Despite cases like Merck Pharmaceuticals demonstrating that a corporate leadership pursuing cures for diseases — even when some of those cures (like that for Malaria) weren’t profitable — is more likely to lead a company into positions of industry strength than when MBA ‘business’ types lead the company with a firm hand on profit and shareholder responsibility as their core values, the message never sinks in. That’s why we see Wall Street corruption, companies taking short cuts to maximize short-term profit, and a fundamental tension between doing what’s in the community’s good and what’s in the shareholders good emerge in modern corporate decision-making.

Mistaking Incompatibility Between Capitalism and Socialism

People mistakenly believe that there’s a necessary incompatibility between capitalism — a market driven economy — and socialism — a belief that those things that are used by everyone should be owned by everyone (e.g., health care).  In fact, the two are necessary to work together and keep corporate interests from becoming a ‘whore’s affair’. Getting past the sexual implications of being a whore, the root of it is someone/ something that will do anything for money. That is our modern conceptualization of business because in a world of multinational corporations where the corporate suits are so far removed from the people doing the ‘work’ of the company and where the corporation itself is removed from the communities that it affects it’s easy for the corporation to pursue the unworthy goal of putting profit at a higher premium than humanity. Yet, greed is seems to be a natural instinct for humans in modern society. That is where socialism comes into play — for education, police, fire, health, infrastructure, etc. (i.e., all of the things that we need in order for society to function) — it ensures that we live in a more secure community, one that tempers the interests of the few to retain all of their wealth and the many who make their wealth possible.
Not only does a dose of socialism temper the negative impact of greed, but it actually fuels capitalism. Think about today’s reality where IF someone’s lucky enough to have a good paying job that provides health care and they can live a relatively comfortable life, they are essentially bound to that job because without it, in the United States there are few safety nets. It’s not hard to imagine that many people have good ideas for businesses and probably the money to get started on their business; however, the real risk to themselves and their families is losing the benefits — especially health care. This is likely to create the biggest disincentive for people to take a financial risk to start a small business because they simply cannot gamble with their family’s health. In a world where health care was guaranteed, that’s at least one risk mitigated. Yet, a couple of years ago I was having a conversation with a lovely lady — a Columbia University PhD in economics who had never considered that socialism enabled capitalism’s true opportunities and once she had thought about it admitted that would change the risk scenario for most innovators.
But this is exactly the problem in modern America — we fail to consider that we live in society together. So, instead we get poor, dogmatic, and insensitive decision-making by corporate heads like John Schnatter. Well, we’re not powerless in this conversation, we can be better consumers. Someday, I hope that happens.

Remember, remember the 5th’ish of November OR NOT

Today happens to be Bonfire Day in the UK — a commemoration of Guy Fawkes day here. The story behind it is interesting (heck anyone who’s see V for Vendetta should know the basic story) and it’s a novel piece of history to commemorate. 

That said, my little neighborhood in Wincobank (Sheffield) South Yorkshire has sounded like a bloody war zone for the last 4 to 5 hours.  And while the shiny flashing light through the window is pretty and our neighbors clearly have spent a good chunk of cash on something that ends up being community entertainment, why can’t they just have a damn bonfire and be done with it? Or organize a few city fireworks displays and people who want to go, can contribute to the fireworks fund.

Now, I know I’m American and we have our Independence Day — but in most of the US fireworks are heavily regulated and in many states anything that makes big bangs and goes up in the air is illegal (we have enough problems with out of control forest fires in the half of the country that is high and dry… we don’t need more hot sparks to contribute to them). So, for the most part we rely on town displays or have cute (i.e., pathetic) little home displays of sparklers.

I don’t just say this because after the 3rd hour the artillery shelling gets a bit annoying, but because there are two populations that are actually negatively affected by this. I’ll begin with the ones who are the most helpless — the dogs. Not surprisingly dogs find them mc-scarry and pretty much the only advise is to make sure they don’t hurt themselves or run away… and if they do run away make sure they’re microchipped so if they don’t get hit by a car, you can get them back. I’m not trying to be macabre but Dani — my normally happy-g0-skippy beast has been going bat shit crazy for the last 4’ish hours. Xander, my tough guy, is sitting on my feet just to make sure that I’m not scared by them ;).

However, our furry friends aren’t the only ones affected — our veterans are likely to be as well. And after a decade of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq both the UK and US have plenty of veterans likely suffering from PTSD.  In the UK, while the percentage of veterans suffering from PTSD is a debatable question, the numbers seem to be rising. In the US, the numbers seems to suggest between 25 and 30% of those returning from war are affected by PTSD, a number that’s consistent no matter what conflict/war they fought in.

Not surprisingly, not only do fireworks and dogs not mix, but fireworks and PTSD veterans don’t mix. For the veterans, is it any wonder? I’m surprised the numbers aren’t higher for soldiers and residents in war zones… the now 5 hours of ‘shelling’ is about to do me in. For people who have actually been in war zones, 360 degrees of shelling sounds from fireworks is likely to produce a reaction, even if they don’t suffer from PTSD.

I enjoy fireworks — they’re pretty and shiny. I don’t suffer from PTSD and while the 5 hours of the craziness is annoying, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it, but I think we should probably think of our furry friends and our veterans.  Portland State University has a number of recommendations for consideration of both veterans and pets … bottom line use common sense and be considerate!

Musings on connections…flights and friends

So, here I am flying across the American heartland, crushed into the cattle car that is modern air travel with the aggressive armrest using middle-aged guy beside me highlighting almost everything in a JAMA article, then going back and underlining about half of the highlights. Directly in front of me is the guy who moves like Stevie Wonder grooving to his music, yet this guy has no music turned on, he just randomly moves like that. Oh yeah, and Stevie Wonder thinks it’s cool to recline his chair all the way back and then flop around in it like an epileptic cow. Quality.

So as I’m sitting here updating my FourSquare locations with places like ‘Mile Marker 161’ & ‘Deserted On-Ramp’ in Kansas or ‘God’s Country’ (a farm) in Missouri, I’m completely amused that I can do that on the plane. So, now I get to dot my near mayorships of random shitty places in the US all the way from Dallas to Chicago amd then hopefully een Chicago to the Atlantic later (assuming that I make my connection in Chicago…the odds are about even on that one right now).

There is an absurdity about modern life. We share and post all kinds of meaningless shit in social media and think we’re keeping in touch with those we know or once knew (btw, asshole behind me is about three knee hands in my kidneys away from a stern ‘fuck off’ facial expression…and yes, my seat is in its upright position), but in a way it is kind of like being around them. Must of the stuff that happens on a daily basis is pretty much of the ‘hey, I took a huge dump’ quality and variety, yet that’s what we share with those most close to us.

So is the fact that this goes out to the couple of hundred people we know on Facebook and Twitter, some if whom we haven’t seen in 5, 10, or more years worthless? I don’t think so, especially for those of us who have moved around. Where we were once links by the places we live, now we’re more linked by the connections (good, bad, and ugly) that we choose to keep. Is this a good thing? Who the hell knows?

But at this point, I can amuse myself and maybe 10 others with bumfuck egypt updates and wait for the verdict on whether I’m going to make my connection to Manchester out of Chicago….

… a post script — I made my connection with 6 minutes to spare before they closed the plane doors to Manchester.

The first one to do anything loses…

Can you guess the context for the title?…………………Bureaucracy!

I recently found a quotation that summarizes the relationship between people and bureaucracy beautifully:

“Some third person decides your fate: this is the whole essence of bureaucracy.” ―  Alexandra Kollontai, La Oposición Obrera

Just by way of contextualizing Kollontai’s comments, she was a Marxist feminist who worked for and won significant advances in women’s rights in the newly formed Soviet Union.  Oh no, now I’ve gone and done it — I’ve identified the work of not just a woman but a Marxist feminist as a way to critique bureaucracy. That’s practically an abomination in the United States, but let’s get beyond the dogma for a few moments to realize that most of us have been hosed by some kind of bureaucrat. When most people think of bureaucracy, they think of the public sector and we know it’s easy to demonize the annoyances we have with government bureaucracies.  In fact, both the typical critiques and defenses of bureaucracy are always framed in terms of this false separation of the public and private sector.  Yet, these very boring and traditionally politicized debates about whether government is good or bad (yawn) really miss the underlying nature of bureaucracy — it is an organizational tool meant to separate work and accountability.

Bureaucracies can exist in any type of organization from public to private to nonprofit/ nongovernmental.

For example, several years ago I was trying to do research with an indigenous rights group and the structures of their organization were used to direct me from person-to-person and phone call-to-phone call. What I found out later was that because I was white, they were very nervous about letting me do any interviews with the members of the movement, but they were hesitant to actually say that. Now, in a historical context I can understand that, but it’s still a racist conclusion not based on the evaluation of me or my project. Yet, the organizational structure that was used in order to communicate the non-decision decision — bureaucracy. Ok… so nonprofit bureaucracy… CHECK.

Private organizations might have some of the most infuriating bureaucracies ever. We had Verizon Fios at an apartment and loved the fiber optic cable and internet — it was great. Then we moved to a house where we couldn’t get the Fios because it wasn’t available. We set up the new account, shifted our contract to a different provider but still using the Verizon packaging because we had the two-year contract. No problem, right? Yeah, until they charged us for early termination plus messed up a few other things. Here’s where the true bureaucratic craziness comes in — I spent 5 hours on a Saturday being passed from person-to-person, each claiming that it wasn’t their department, so by the time that I had spoken with several departments two and three times, each trying to scapegoat someone else, I lost my mind, used my sailor language, spoke to a manager and we finally got things straightened out — or so I thought. Three months later, while I was out of the country the television service was cut off and because it was in my name, I had to deal with it — my husband could not. After about an hour of sorting things out on the phone at international cell phone rates (yes, from Verizon as well), I just paid the whole bill only to be issued a full refund within 3 weeks.  Ok…so private sector bureacracy… CHECK

And, then there’s the obvious governmental bureaucracy (and no, this time, I’m not going to use an American example… there are too many fun ones here, but I’ll vary). The citizens of the UK, pissed off with the economy, Gordon Brown (and his unfortunate microphone gaffe), and the Labour party splits their votes between the Tories, Labour, and the Liberal Democrats (who as far as I can make out are the party that promises the world but seldom has the power to deliver).  Absent a clear majority, a coalition had to be formed and the Liberal Democrats decide to back a Tory government. And without a clear citizen mandate, they do as most conservatives do — move forward with the fervent conviction in their ideology behaving as though they have a mandate from the people.  So, now in the UK the bureaucracy’s response to a factory worker whose hand had been severed in an accident trying to get public assistance? You still have one hand, you can work in your career field. Then there’s immigration — an even bigger clusterfuck. Again,  absent a strong mandate, they rush 1,001 (no, not literally) rule changes about immigration through to be implemented in mid-July screwing up the system so long that the first of September a lot of those new rules had to be changed in order to even get international students into the country. For the rest of us awaiting news, it pushes our applications back months only to find that the rule changes have taken what was described in June as an easily supported application for settlement to a rejection but because they took so long, it screws up other avenues for visas in the short-term. Ok, so public sector bureaucracy… CHECK

So, let’s come back to the Marxist feminist’s critique of bureaucracies — third persons making choices for others (and often screwing up our lives). Now, when well used, these kinds of rule systems can be helpful. For example, even within Kollontai’s work, she wasn’t advocating doing away with the government bureaucracies that discriminated against women — her argument was that the bureaucracy must make better decisions for the people it governed.

In fact, that is a fair response to all bureaucracies — their existence isn’t the problem, their use to scapegoat owning uncomfortable decisions, to fleece consumers out of money, or to mess with peoples’ life plans (among so many other effects) are the problem. Too often, we see people in positions of authority in bureaucracy who have lost their humanity,  their minds, or just a basic grasp on reality that rules are necessary to keep things in society and life ordered but people cannot and should not use rules (or rule changes) to fail to do their job CORRECTLY.

It was not appropriate to use a bureaucracy to justify a racist argument against granting me research access just because it was more convenient compared to telling me that because I was white I wasn’t being granted access (later confirmed in a face-to-face). It isn’t appropriate to use an organization’s structure to hurt their consumers service or financially. And it’s certainly not appropriate to screw up existing (and probably already bureaucratically challenged) policies with even less clear and less sensible policies.

Like with most other Marxist critiques of capitalism and bourgeois problems, the critique is spot on. The challenge comes in what people can do about it, which is often the failing of Marxist critique — identifies the problems but doesn’t pose nearly as many solutions. With regard to nonprofits and private companies our recourse is often a bit limited because we can only indirectly affect them — unless enough people are pissed off like we saw with the mass campaign against Glenn Beck on Fox directed at threatening his advertisers with the loss of business.  Absent that, we can at least most affect government bureaucracies through the elections process.

Yet, that doesn’t even address the more fundamental challenge of bureaucracies — even when change is brought about, later bureaucracies can come in and fuck it all up (e.g., Stalin’s removal of many of the protections gained for women initially after the revolution in the USSR or Congressional removal of the protections of the Glass-Steagall  act protecting the economy from the financial industry–thanks to the GOP Congress and lack of advocacy from the Clinton administration).  Bureaucracy is necessary but it must be managed. It cannot be left to the lazy, unmotivated, and self-serving people that often self-select into these types of positions — protected from owning responsibility.

In the end — we should all become hyperactors — choosing to construct a new reality of bureaucracy.

If you build it, they will come! 🙂

American health care, great for the rich and old

My Dad is having a minor surgery today to repair a hernia. He’s 69 years old and on Medicare and I’m glad for it because since he turned 65, for the first time in his life, he’s had affordable access to medical care. You see, my parents have always been self-employed and there were a lot of years where proper regular medical care was a luxury they couldn’t afford.

And then in the years leading up to their eligibility for  Medicare, their health insurance premiums were about $650/month….EACH. So, for a family making around $65,000 per year, about one quarter of their income went to their health insurance premiums. Gold plan? I think not, they still had a $2,500 co-pay, plus cost sharing up to $7,500…each. One year, they both had to have surgeries, so they paid 47% of their annual income that year to medical expenses, and they had insurance. Fortunately, they were able to shoulder the expense, unlike the thousands of Americans each year who have to declare bankruptcy because of medical expenses (about 60% of American bankruptcies are a result of medical expenses).

Do you want to know the irony of it all? My Dad’s a lifelong Republican, who has spent his whole life voting against his own interests. He’s spent his whole life begrudging ‘government interference’ in education, health care, and life in general. Yet, my whole family are the products of public education. My grandparents and my parents (all faithful GOP members) have all taken more out of the federal system than they ever contributed. And yet, each and every one of them would’ve voted against any or all of these programs.

Thankfully, politicians have more sense than my family (scary thought) and have enacted policies designed to educate and help at least some segments of the American population in spite of themselves. But this is the problem… We have a political system that relies on voters and politicians to be sensible and focused on not only their own good, but what’s good for society.

So, now as we look ahead to the 2012 election, we face a fundamental question…do we want to live in civil society or “Deadwood”. While I’m pretty confident I’d make it alright in Deadwood, I don’t think most would. Yet, when you listen to the rhetoric of the right, I genuinely don’t think they understand the implications of their advocacy. I also don’t think it’s because they’re evil, I do think that they’re so isolated from where regular Americans live that they just can’t understand the lack of access absent shared costs through government programs (notice shared costs, not free).

As for the citizens of Deadwood, people like my family, they’ve all drunk the Kool-Aid, they fail to think, and they can’t see beyond their own fake world … one where people are fooled into thinking the interests of the wealthy are the same as the interests of the working class. See, that’s the big lie in America — the ‘American Dream’ sometimes happens, kind of like winning Lotto, but for the vast majority we just spend our $1 each week to be disappointed, and then get on with the rest of our lives.

So, as I’m looking around this waiting room, at a majority of old folks having surgeries, I’m glad they’ve left Deadwood… at least once they reach 65, no matter whether they vote their interests or are like my family, vote against their interest, their family’s interests, and the interests of average Americans. That’s one reason representative democracy is a heck of a lot better than direct democracy :).