LIVING IN CIVILITY – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has become a hot topic. We have a racist, narcissistic president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so maybe I can discount their opinion. I don’t have a strong religious predilection, but I’m absolutely sure Orangehead is no one’s messiah.

We talk about manners vanishing and I’m beginning to believe it. Not only can our head of government not conduct a civil conversation, but delivery men lie, our neighbor is mad at the world and won’t deliver packages accidentally delivered to him rather than us.  Some years ago, Bonnie had wandered up the driveway. A passing  motorist picked her up and would not return her until the police showed up with sirens wailing and then she decided I didn’t really need to pay for her to return my dog.

Cover of "The Graduate"How many people are actually know what good manners are? So many people are clueless about what’s appropriate  They don’t know when it’s okay to be casual — and when it’s not.

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. The standards were pretty rigid for professional communications and I’m pretty sure they still are. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers or bosses. We learned this stuff watching other people. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whats-your-name.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal. They didn’t get that equal before the law is not the same as equal in the office. Or in the military.

The thing is, we are very far from being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues are a huge factor. Dig a little deeper and it’s just as much about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works. Being a minority is fine as long as you have more money than the other guy. Green is really the only color that matters.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor you working for any number of people who are unworthy of anyone’s respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and future career moves. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but keep it to yourself.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to roost. You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow up your world by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally. Kids who are long past childhood don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

A DIFFERENT WORLD – RICH PASCHALL

Reinventing Ourselves, by Rich Paschall

When I was much younger, perhaps late teens, and throughout my twenties, I used to like to go down to State Street, “That Great Street,” in Chicago. It was alive in much the same way as Time Square and Broadway in New York were. And yes, just like NYC, our downtown had a somewhat seedy period, but that came later.

“On State Street, that great street
I just want to say
They do things that they don’t do on Broadway, say…”

I particularly liked to go downtown in December to see all the Christmas decorations. Marshall Field’s, the giant department store, had Christmas windows filled with mechanical people, trains, cars, and all sorts of moving parts to marvel at. I was just like the children gathered around the windows to get a good look at the displays. Our fantasy world was mechanical back then. Today it is video, but I digress.

Marshall Field’s at Christmas.  Photo credit: Richie Diesterheft

There was a time when I would plan to do my Christmas shopping, sometimes all of it, on Christmas Eve. I could arrive at the Red Line subway stop right in front of the historic Chicago Theater and go first to Field’s. I might not buy anything there because it was the most expensive stop, but if you went downtown, you had to go there.

After the visit to Field’s and perhaps a purchase of Frango Mints, off I would go to Carson Pirie Scott, Montgomery Ward’s, Sears, Wieboldt’s, Goldblatt’s, JC Penny. By the time I got to the last of the giant department stores, I would buy everything else I may have needed. Then I could go right out to a subway stop at the other end of State Street and head home. It was a marvelous adventure and has always brought happy memories of downtown at Christmas.

The stores are gone now. Every single one of them is gone. Marshall Field’s is now Macy’s. They have kept the Marshall Field’s plaque outside the building below the famous clock, so as not to upset the locals. They also have Frango Mints. These are the only throwbacks to those days. Except for that one grand store, the department stores of State Street have all been replaced by other businesses or torn down.

Times changed. They did not. Instead of transforming themselves for the future, they waited for the past to come back. It didn’t. I saw these great stores disappear one by one. Ward’s, Sears, Wieboldt’s, and Goldblatt’s all had large stores in our neighborhood. When Sears had the motto “Sears Has Everything,” they really did. From washing machines to stoves to clothes, that was our favorite store. Gone.

It is the same with many businesses. As motivational speaker Simon Sinek likes to point out, these are not unprecedented times. Major shifts in business have come before. This one is just “more sudden, absolutely. More shocking, absolutely.”

He gives several good examples we all know are true. The internet changed business. Some companies are surviving now because they have changed the way they work. In Chicago during a period of lockdown, one small clothing shop gave virtual tours of the store and video displays of the clothes. When delivery and pickup was available, people could tour the store online, pick out and pay for what they wanted, and drive to the business, where an employee would come to the curb to hand them their purchases.

Restaurants are gone for good after being out of business for months. Others survived by reinventing themselves as an online product. They found their way to Yelp and partnered with Grubhub, Door Dash, Uber Eats.  Reinvention saved them.

Sinek likes to note that Starbucks did not put the local coffee shops out of business. They offered a newer version, and the old-time shops refused to change. Why would I go to a shop with an old worn-out sofa and year-old magazines, when I could go to one with the latest newspapers, a variety of beverages, pastries, and sandwiches, and importantly for millennials, wifi?

I work for a major airline that is operating at 5 to 10 percent capacity on any given day. Most of its fleet is grounded. It has lost 20,000 people from its workforce. Facilities around the globe go unused. Business disruptions and government regulations eliminated many flight destinations.

The airline industry believed back in March that they could regain 90 percent of their pre-COVID business by December. Now the hope is 50 percent. As the novel coronavirus continues to surge in certain countries, the USA for example, so the hope to recover your business any time soon is fading.

In 2012 Air Canada had launched Rouge, a subsidiary to more effectively compete in the low-cost tourist/vacation travel industry. It was looking at other growth opportunities to serve the ever-growing luxury tourist trade. Their business model was built around these expanding travel markets. That dream has taken off as the last flight from the battleground.

So what is a passenger airline with no passengers to do? The Canadian government is not going to hand the airline billions of Canadian dollars to help it through to the time when business returns to “normal.” The new normal is right around the corner and it does not look like it did in January.

No passengers? Move cargo.

They have to reinvent themselves of course. The 767 Boeing aircraft are being retired early. Accelerating this process for an older part of the fleet only makes sense. They were not being used anyway. Some of the planes had the seats removed to put freight on top, but this is a stop-gap measure. The main deck has no cargo door so this is labor-intensive. Other planes fill the belly entirely for cargo runs, but the seats are not removed. Mail, e-commerce partnership, and cargo and business charter runs are added to the new business model.

What about underserved areas of Canada? The airline has entered into a drone partnership. The initial run was to indigenous people who live on an island. There are many far-flung communities that can be served through a combination airline, drone service.

Without adapting and changing, airlines will die. Some already have gone under while others stay afloat through government bailouts. There are those, including a prominent orange so-called politician, waiting for things to go back to the way they were. We have news for them. It is not going to happen.

THE GLOBAL SUPPLY CHAIN DISRUPTION – RICH PASCHALL

Now that supply and delivery logistics are breaking down throughout this country and the rest of the world, this might be something to which you might want to pay attention.


The Pandemic Problem, by Rich Paschall


Arriving at Chicago O’Hare

It is a lot quieter at the airport these days. There are few passengers, therefore fewer flights. The drop off is significant. The reductions will continue, not just because of a fear of flying by the public, but also because of the restrictions put into place by countries around the world.

After over 30 years in the freight forwarding industry, I joined an airline last year. I have been working for Air Canada at Chicago O’hare International Airport. ORD is one of the busiest airports in the world. In fact, it has been ranked 6th in recent years. There were over 83 million passengers served at ORD in 2018.

On Friday of last week, we were told to take home our laptops and whatever else we needed and not come back until told to do so. My “office” unfortunately is now less than 15 feet from my refrigerator. I’ll survive.

About Air Canada

Here is a little info on the company from a press release issued Wednesday. I tell you this not as a company promotion since you aren’t going anywhere, but so you will understand the problems that lie ahead:

Air Canada is Canada’s largest domestic and international airline serving nearly 220 airports on six continents. Canada’s flag carrier is among the 20 largest airlines in the world and in 2019 served over 51 million customers. Air Canada provides scheduled passenger service directly to 62 airports in Canada, 53 in the United States and 101 in Europe, the Middle EastAfricaAsiaAustralia, the CaribbeanMexicoCentral America, and South America.

Needless to say, they have an extensive schedule. Unfortunately, I can not read the flight cancellations fast enough. Many weeks ago we stopped flying to mainland China. Flights to Seoul, Korea, and Hong Kong have been cut by more than half.  The extent of the outbreak in Italy stopped flights to Rome and delayed the return of the Air Canada Milan flight. Other lanes have stopped or will stop.

You will notice above that not counting the USA and Canada cities, there were 101 international airports served, most with wide-body aircraft. By the start of April, that will be cut to 6.  SIX! We know passengers don’t want to fly.  All airlines are cutting flights. But what about your freight?

Freight Forwarding

To simplify the explanation, I used to tell people that a freight forwarder is like a travel agent for your freight. It is a lot more complicated than that, but it is the best I can do.

ORD is quiet now

There are a lot of regulations and hence a lot of paperwork to complete. Since 9/11 and the “known shipper” rules, it became more complicated. Follow that with a realization made a few years ago that we really ought to be screening freight because we screen all passengers. This made the challenge greater.

I would tell people if they have a package of a few pounds and of low value, they ought to call UPS or FedEx or even take it to the post office. If you have a thousand pounds, the first two might take it at a high price, the last, probably no chance at all.

So how do all these goods get around the world? If they need a thousand widgets in Lyon, France and you have to get it there in a few days, there are a number of airlines that could help. They could fly to Paris and truck to Lyon. Yes, most airlines have a trucking network in place. That allows them to get to most major cities in the country to which they fly. When you consider “interline agreements,” some airlines can take your freight almost anywhere in the world. Air Canada does not serve Antarctica, but they are working on plans to serve the more remote places in Canada.   Think drones.

Belly Space 

If you ever gazed out the window while airline handlers were loading an aircraft, you may have noticed that they were not just putting baggage on board. On the widebody international flights, up to two-thirds of the belly space could be filled with cargo. Multiple positions could hold boards of freight (airline pallets) that are 125 inches long by 96 inches. Stacking the freight up to 64 inches high you could get up 4000 kilos (8800 pounds) in each spot. Yes, that’s a lot of cargo.

Chicago Department of Aviation says ORD handles “just under two million metric tonnes of cargo per year.” Consider all the large airports in the USA, Canada, and Mexico. They are all sending out goods and bringing goods back. The supply line is about to be slowed to a trickle. As plants shut down around the world, fewer goods will be shipped.

Now we are in the unfortunate position of turning away cargo for lack of flights to some areas. Soon the number will choke industry. Remember the numbers above. One hundred and one airports served are now cut to just six. USA and Canada service will also be curtailed. How will our goods get to foreign customers? How will their goods get to us?

The Darkest Days

How can we keep everyone working when there is little work? How does a factory work if it can not get its supplies? Many may want to ship us goods, including food, but how will they get in if we close the borders?

The darkest days are ahead, that’s for sure. I am not trying to scare you to death, although you should be scared. Conserve. Be safe. Wash your hands. Stay home as much as possible.

Leaving on a jet plane

After the darkest days and nights will certainly come the dawn. We survived the slow down that followed 9/11. We had days of no flights and then a slow return. This will be longer, but the return to normal will come.

The sun will shine for you again. In order to help you with that, I am lining up sunshine songs for Sunday.  Seriously.

Come and sing along with us. At a social distance, of course.

BETWEEN GENERATIONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Civility, manners, and communications has, for obvious reasons, become a hot topic. We have a president who insults people in front of the entire world and a lot of people apparently believe it’s okay. Of course, some of these people also believe the same idiot blowhard is the next messiah, so I figure I can discount their opinion.

We talk about manners vanishing and sometimes that feels true. How many people are clueless about what’s appropriate? Do they know when it’s fine to be casual — and when it’s not?

This is pretty much a no-brainer for my generation. It’s not that we’re so smart, but we were raised differently. We grew up when there were clear rules about social behavior. There were fairly rigid standards for professional communications. Nobody had to tell us how to talk to superior officers and bosses. We learned this stuff watching others. We learned it at home, in our friends’ homes. We even learned it on television.

Cover of "The Graduate"

We called our teachers “Mr. or Mrs. Whatsyourname.” That’s also how we addressed our friends’ moms and how our friends addressed our parents. That’s how we addressed everyone older than us.

It’s one of the funny parts of watching “The Graduate” with Dustin Hoffman. He may be sleeping with Mrs. Robinson, but he never calls her by her first name. That would be impolite.

The next generation had its own set of rules. They didn’t believe they needed to respect their elders simply because they were elders. Or bosses or teachers. They heard a different message: everyone is equal.

Happy New Year and let’s hear it for more of the same!

The thing is, we are unbelievably far from all being equal. It’s not only about race or ethnicity, color or sex, although these issues factor in. Dig a little deeper and it’s about money and power. Which is what it has been about since history began. That’s how society really works.

In my generation, we all knew this before we left high school. You don’t treat your boss like your buddy. It has nothing to do with whether or not your boss deserves your respect. It’s nice if he or she does, but In the course of a building a career the odds favor your working for any number of people who are unworthy of your respect.

As long as they sign your paycheck, you treat them with respect, tact, and care. Not only does your salary depend on it, so does your reputation and any future career moves you plan. Your boss may be the biggest asshole you’ve ever met, but you don’t say so.

Filling in the forms

If you’re smart, you don’t say it behind his or her back either because another rule of the real world is what you say will get back to whoever you said it about. Those chickens always come back to roost, every damned time.

You will need all the goodwill and recommendations you can get as you fight your way through the working world. Don’t squander it. Don’t blow your world up by gossiping, backbiting, and behaving like a brat.

To people my age, all this stuff was obvious, that all men may have been created equal, but after being born, some are much more equal than others. No one had to tell us not to start a memo to the boss with “Yo, Bossman!”

Looking for work?

We knew that. We knew who had the power and who didn’t. We knew when to fight and when to duck and cover. We knew we needed to earn our way and had to behave professionally.

But kids who aren’t kids anymore don’t seem to get it. Unsurprisingly, neither do their kids. I don’t understand what they don’t understand.

Do you? Maybe they’ve been watching too much news and have a bad case of Trumpitis.

THE DEATH KNELL OF GREAT AMERICAN LITERATURE – Marilyn Armstrong

Many (maybe most) manuscripts are never are “trendy” or popular enough for today’s publishers. As far as publishers go, no matter how well-written or interesting the plot or characters are if it isn’t a genre they sell, it doesn’t exist.

A Kindle and a speaker for listening to audiobooks

Many genres do not fit in any publisher’s predetermined categories. This is not only true for beginners to the field but is equally true for those who have published — successfully published — eight or nine books, including more than one bestseller. Publishers want their authors to keep writing what they wrote before and not veer from it. They also don’t want to pay real money. Or provide publicity, advertisements, or even a professional proofreader.

I’m not making this up.

I know several well-published popular authors who fell out of favor because they wanted to try something different. They weren’t less good at writing, but publishers want books by an author to be the same as the previous one. The one that sold well. If this is something new, then they do not want it.

They also don’t like first manuscripts from mature people because they want nice young authors who will be able to churn out books for a long time and not be stopped by getting old. I also know a number of these authors, too.

I worked in publishing back when all the books being published weren’t “niche” books. When a relatively rough manuscript could get someone’s attention (back when people read manuscripts, not software), and it was the job of editors to help fix manuscripts and turn something rough into a gem. Long before “Kindle” and free publication, they had already thinned the ranks of editors to nearly nothing — and decided the author should do the work the publisher used to do.

In part, this accounts for the many atrocious books they actually DO publish and the good books they ignore. It isn’t only the author’s failure to recognize what the publisher wants. It’s that publishers no longer want to help authors get published.

What was art is now “just business.”

Does anyone think Hemingway, Faulkner, or Thomas Wolfe would have gotten published without their editor’s help? Maxwell Perkins — ever heard of him? Because he was “the man.” Without him, half of America’s great literature wouldn’t exist. Were they less brilliant because they weren’t good editors — or didn’t have the financial means to hire a quality editor? Nope. They were what they were but the industry is entirely different.

Publishers refuse to admit it is really a business issue. It’s not art. It’s business, politics, and aiming books at what they perceive are their target audiences, ignoring all other potential audiences. It was not always like this and I was working in the business when it was not like this.

Everyone is very busy blaming someone else for the state of the business. It’s the Internet, or Amazon or “nobody reads books anymore.” None of them ever looks in a mirror and says “Maybe our failure to help authors work out problems with their manuscripts, give them some decent publicity and help them make some real money is at least in part OUR responsibility too?” It’s true that fewer people seem to read now than did when I was growing up, yet most people do read at least sometimes.

The publishing world is undergoing a huge transformation and we are in the middle of it. How it will end? I don’t know. But just because publishers say what they say, you don’t need to believe every corporate word they utter.

You can write the most glorious, delicious book ever written for whatever genre for which you write and no publishing house will so much as read it, much less publish it. Why? Because it doesn’t fit into their (usually) very short list of “the types of books we publish.” That, to me, is the death knell for great American literature. It leaves no room for the unique or unusual.

This may not be true in other countries. I don’t know. I do know this market.

If only the “tried and true” can get published, the unique and possibly brilliant will never have a chance.

ADULTERY IS A SIN – Marilyn Armstrong

The first time I heard the word “adultery,” I assumed it meant the sin of growing up. I’m not sure I was entirely wrong. I thought when you got to adulthood, you got your freedom. You didn’t have to take orders from parents, teachers, and every grownup in the world.

It turns out that bosses were less fun than teachers, and everything was ultimately about money. Working for it. Saving it. Using it well. Building a career that would support the life you wanted. Having enough so your family could have a house and nice things.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

I rebelled against it, the whole concept … and went off to do my own thing, dragging my son with me. I took a sharp right turn into unexplored territory. And it did indeed give me a great deal of satisfaction, not to mention many experiences that were beyond price. But I still had to work and money was still the bottom line.

Money is the issue unless you have so much you never have to worry about it — an experience I’ve never had. Money doesn’t buy happiness, but having enough will buy physical comfort, peace of mind, and a good chunk of freedom to do as one pleases.

Night in Boston

When I was little, I remember hearing my parents talking in soft voices at night behind their closed door. I wondered what exciting things they were discussing. Would I ever have such adult conversations in my life?

Indeed, I had many of those conversations. Because they were talking about money.

How to earn it, how to spend it. What they needed. What they might be able to afford for themselves, for us. That’s the basic issue of adulthood in this world. Maybe it has always been this way.

The freedom I was looking for definitely is part of reaching grownup-ness … but so are a heap of responsibilities I never considered. Having to work when it isn’t fun and not what you want to do plus the worry and insecurity. Also, the lack of awards for doing a great job. And the daily fear of getting fired. And finally, getting fired.

Next time around the wheel, I’ll try to do better. I give myself a solid B minus on this round. Which might be an overly generous assessment.

FORGETTING AND REMEMBERING – THE PAST IS NEVER GONE – Marilyn Armstrong

History wasn’t supposed to be an academic subject we learn in school and promptly forget. I am always a bit pixelated by people who tell me that there’s nothing in the past that means anything to them. They are inevitably the same people get twisted up in something they could have  (easily) avoided if they knew some history.

Photo: Owen Kraus

Let’s take the old “trickle down” theory of economics. It has been tried by I don’t even know how many conservative or Republican administrations. It has never worked. That’s because it doesn’t work. It can’t work. It’s one of those theories that presupposes that the people involved will intentionally do “the right thing.”

That extra money will be reinvested in the business and used to pay employees better and hire more people.

Except they don’t. Ever.

They take the money as a bigger salary for themselves and other top-level administration. They use the rest to pay bigger dividends to investors and as often as not, cut staffing, lower salaries, and these days, move the entire business to a less expensive economic environment. The thing they never do is raise salaries for current employers and hire more people.

Why not?

Good question. There was a time when that is what businesses did. They believed in America. They weren’t any less greedy or rapacious than the current bunch, but they were patriots too. They believed in the United States, trusted Americans to produce high-quality work. They also thought high-quality work mattered.

Crown and Eagle mill

These days, greed is what’s left but without the patriotism or dedication to producing quality work. They don’t care whether what they do strips the land, destroys anyone living in the area, or is lethally poisonous. As long as they make an extra penny per whatever, that’s good enough.

Most of these “old time” rich people eventually turned to philanthropy. They did care about America and once they’d wrung every penny they could get from whatever industry they built, they thought it was their duty to “pay back” the country.

Photo: Garry Armstrong

These days, most of the super-rich have no allegiance to anyone or anything but themselves. They think if we aren’t rich, we’re trash. That’s exactly how they treat us.

If you work harder at your job, they will fire someone else and you will get twice the work. I eventually learned to never let them know how quickly I could work because I never got a raise or a pat on the back. I just got more and more work. In one job, I started out as the junior writer in a department of five.

Rumford River dam, part of the original Bernat Mill complex.

By the time I left, I was the junior writer in a department of me alone. Everyone else had quit or been let go. I still hadn’t gotten a raise or promotion. I did what five people had previously done. Nothing trickled down.

That was the last time I let myself work full-speed.

And that’s why trickle down is a pile of horseshit. Nothing trickles down. The guy at the top keeps it all and laughs as they haul his money to a Caribbean island while he avoids paying any taxes. To anyone.

Two banks, night in Uxbridge

If anyone reads history, the story of economics in this and every other country will assure them this isn’t going to work because it never has. It never will.

Meanwhile, a pile of damn fool voters will believe the bosses who promise they will make it better — yet never understand why they keep getting poorer.

CORPORATE VERSUS POLITICAL AMERICA – BY ELLIN CURLEY

I read an interesting article about the difference between corporate America and political America. In a nutshell, corporations’ bottom line is with the public. Politicians’ bottom line is with their donors.

Today, ironically, it seems that corporate America is more beholden to and therefore more sensitive to public opinion than politicians are. This makes sense. Corporations deal directly with the public. They function in more of a true democracy than politicians do.

Politicians have a huge and powerful layer of lobbyists, special interests and large donors that shield them from the will of the people. Or at least the vagaries of public opinion.

The result of this is dramatic. For example, Roseanne Barr makes some egregious racist and conspiracy theory tweets. Within 24 hours, her show is canceled by the ABC Network. That was done in response to and in fear of the outcry by an outraged public. The network has to placate their viewers or risk losing them.

On the other hand, Trump has frequently tweeted awful, racist and conspiracy theory comments. Each one worse than the last. Yet there have been no consequences for him. Despite great public outrage. He is protected from the effects of public opinion by his loyal Republican base and his congressional supporters. In turn, the Republican congressmen are bolstered by their large donors, including lobbyists and special interest groups. They don’t have to pay attention to the negative reactions of over 60% of the general public.

So, our political system is, in some ways, less democratic than our corporate system. Starbucks closed their stores across the country to hold a nationwide racial sensitivity training session. This was done in response to public pressure after some racist incidents at a few of their stores. Again, public opinion had a direct and immediate effect on the company’s policies and actions. In contrast, there are layers of buffer between politicians and their constituents. At least between elections.

Elections bring politicians a bit closer to their constituents, at least temporarily. But it’s still not the direct connection that corporations enjoy. You either buy the corporation’s product or shop in their store or you don’t. There is nothing between your checkbook and the company you are buying from. Even at election time, special interest and donor money can shield a politician from his voters. And can have disproportionate influence on the politician.

Take the NRA. The NRA has only five million members. Public opinion is over 80% in favor of reasonable gun control. That’s over 200 million Americans who support gun control legislation. But somehow those meager five million people wield huge sway over a majority of politicians. That’s because the NRA throws an outrageous amount of money at politicians. No matter what a politician’s constituents think or want, the NRA will get the politician’s vote if the price is right.

The Electoral College is another buffer zone between Presidential candidates and the American voter. The popular vote does not determine the president. That would be the pure democracy that corporations have to deal with.

Local politics in certain ‘swing’ states have a disproportionate influence on presidential election results. And the voters in those states have a disproportionate influence on elections. That leaves the rest of the country out in the cold.

Lately, it seems like we’re getting even farther away from the concept of democracy. Now, we have never been a pure democracy. But it seemed that the ‘will of the people’, at some points in our recent history, had more sway. Maybe I’m being idealistic. Maybe public opinion never had a major influence on elections or on politicians once in office.

But I would love to live in a country where public opinion could have a direct effect on our country’s policies. Like Roseanne losing her show within 24 hours – I would love to see meaningful gun control regulations enacted 24 hours after public opinion goes nuts over yet another fatal school mass shooting.

I don’t believe that that will happen anytime soon. But maybe if Democrats can motivate people to vote who usually don’t vote, public opinion might be able to overwhelm the ‘money talks’ bias of the political system. At least I can nurture that dream for the next five months!

BLOGGING DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE – Marilyn Armstrong

WordPress’s new “algorithm” has made a lot of bloggers unhappy. I’m sure they regret our unhappiness, but I think what is really making them unhappy is that other companies — like Google and Facebook — are raking in fortunes — and they aren’t. It’s not that they aren’t profitable, but in this world, merely profitable is not enough. I’d like to say that Trump is at fault, but I think he is the product of greed, not greed itself.

They want it all. Big money. Bigger money. Now.

We aren’t the money machine they want and we can’t be. It isn’t that they don’t appreciate our writing. It’s that we are not bringing in business and their bottom line isn’t big enough.

They made an ugly mistake with the new algorithm. I am guessing it was supposed to show off “new posts” but instead, effectively “disappeared” older sites and thousands of posts.

Originally, it seemed like it was just me and some other “big” sites with a lot of followers, but it’s going around and hitting all kinds of sites. The only thing we have found that fixes it is to rename the site. This is unfair and annoying, but it works.  I am seeing posts from people whose sites have been missing so long, I thought they were closed.

A lot of people don’t check to see how they are doing in the search engine. I never did. I don’t like the Reader, but they have centralized their engine into it, so at some point, if you want to find other blogs  — and they want to find you — that’s where  you have to go. At this point, it is the central “finder” for 23 million blogs around the world. It doesn’t work well and they are always fixing it.

It never gets fixed because as soon as they get it settled down, they decide to take another whack at it.

WordPress has gone from two or three million sites when I joined to 23 million now and it includes every connected country on the planet. WordPress has grown too big. too fast. They are understaffed. Worse, WordPress believes — because their marketing people told them so (watch out for those people) told them they can attract young, chic, bloggers who are looking for a home.

The problem? There are no such people. That audience doesn’t exist.

Bloggers are readers. Most bloggers are past 40 and more or less settled. Blogging is time-consuming and requires dedication. Most kids aren’t readers. Sure, some are, but not nearly as many as there were back when we were younger. We didn’t have telephones, so we read books. And newspapers. And magazines. I even read the back of the cereal boxes in a pinch.

WordPress’s attempt to attract kids is doomed. Wrong audience. Youngsters look for short, snappy products like Twitter and Instagram. They want stuff that works on their phones and doesn’t take hours of thinking to produce.

For us, there aren’t many choices remaining.

GeoCities became Yahoo and they closed their blogging sites. There were a bunch of smaller ones. All but TypePad are gone and I really haven’t figured out what Medium is trying to do. I am not sure Medium knows what they are about, either.

All the others — aside from Blogger on Google — are expensive. If you’re in business, the expense is not outrageous, but if you just want to write and post lovely photographs or poetry or your art, $25 per month is a big chunk of change. Paid services (few though there are) have better customer service and technical staff, but they lack “reach.”

I hoped someone else would jump in and build something, but it hasn’t happened. Maybe blogging isn’t profitable enough. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon — they make money. WordPress? Not so much. WordPress was not supposed to be a sales platform, but that’s what they want to be today.

Blogging is something else. We aren’t selling stuff. In fact, most of us pay to NOT have advertisements on our sites. Few of us “monetize,” even though they have been trying to convince us to do that for a few years.

What’s will happen? Blogger with Google at its back, will hang in there because their platform is a small piece of a much larger enterprise.

A well-founded rumor is that WordPress is pressing for more business accounts, fewer bloggers. This bad new “algorithm” was one of many attempts to push that concept through.

That this has been a disaster from which they already are pulling back is temporary. They want money and international reach — like Google has.

Either they will go out of business and start over, or they will make it harder and harder to use them without paying much more. Some people can afford it, but many of us can’t. One way or the other, when the bottom line is money, they aren’t going to quit. They will keep at it until they are bankrupt or they find a way to get richer.

I hope we still have a place to write a few years down the road.

THE BAKING BUSINESS FIASCO – BY ELLIN CURLEY

For several years I tried to start a baking business. I knew nothing about the food industry or marketing. I should have known I was doomed from the start. But I got sucked in gradually and ended up way over my head.

It all started on a trip through the English countryside. We ate at some marvelous pubs and local restaurants and I fell in love with the desserts. I discovered a whole world of lightly textured but densely flavored desserts that were nothing like anything I had eaten before. And I’m a dessert fanatic. These cake-like creations are called Traditional English Puddings. ‘Pudding’ is the English word for dessert. It does not refer to the custardy dessert we call ‘pudding’ in America.

Cover of my marketing brochure

So I came home with some English pudding cookbooks and started to experiment. I focused on dishes that were different from the conventional American fare. Many of these desserts were steamed, not baked. Many were served with delicious sauces instead of icing, usually what we call a crème anglais. The ones I chose were fantastic confections that didn’t taste or feel like a typical American cake.

I adapted many of the recipes to accommodate American tastes and preferences, like more sugar and less fruitcake fruit. I even invented some new cookies and bar recipes that used some of the English ingredients and techniques.

I checked with a friend who worked at the town hall and she told me that I could start a baking business from home without any permits from the town. So I made some basic marketing flyers and in 2006 I started doing dessert displays at friends’ parties or at events, like a home jewelry show. I called my business Sticky Pudding.

Inside page of my marketing brochure

People loved my desserts but I wasn’t getting many customers. I hired a marketing person and developed a more professional flyer as well as some additional marketing materials. I paid for a professional food photographer to take photos for my brochure. We placed an ad in the local paper.

My very first phone call was the town, shutting me down. Apparently my friend was misinformed. You cannot bake and sell from home in most towns today unless you have a fully professional kitchen that meets all the health code regulations of a restaurant kitchen. I was devastated and furious. My friend at the town hall hadn’t bothered to double-check with the proper authorities, even though they were just a few doors down from her office.

Back of my brochure

I had already put in over a year of time and plenty of money. For nothing.

Then a friend told me about a baker she knew who had a factory in Queens, NY. She thought he might be able to work with me. So I met with him. Lo and behold, he said that he would help me develop some of my desserts from home scale recipes to mass production recipes. I just agreed to give him a percentage of my profits from the sale of any goods baked at his bakery. We signed a written agreement.

So I developed a whole line of cookies, bars and cakes, sixteen different products in all. I thought it was smart to give buyers a wide range of choices. In the development process, I also had to design and pay for packaging for every individual product. I also had to learn all the arcane rules relating to labeling the packages. I had to hire someone to do the analysis of ingredient percentages and calorie count that are required on all commercial labeling.

This is the cookie I developed, based on some English recipes

It was a lot of work, a lot of money and a steep learning curve. But I managed to overcome every obstacle that was thrown at me in the one and a half-year process.

The only problem was that I had no idea how the industry worked. The baker I partnered with sold to name places like Dean & Deluca’s, Zabar’s and Fairway Market. I ASSUMED that he had hired me to create a line of baked goods that he planned to sell to his established customers. I had no clients of my own and no concept of marketing. Certainly not on this large a scale. For example, each run of each individual flavor of cookies produced 900 cookies. All had to be sold within a few days of baking in order to make money. Multiply this by twelve! That’s how much product I had to sell, quickly, if I didn’t want to lose money on each run.

I also planned to sell frozen cookie dough that you just put in the oven

When I was finally ready to start production, to my dismay, I discovered that the baker had ASSUMED that I had done my own marketing and had my own, large-scale customers lined up to buy my products! It turned out that he couldn’t even guarantee that his regular customers would buy anything from me.

He got me a few introductions, which allowed me to APPLY to his clients as a potential supplier. None of them was interested in anything in my line.

Some chocolate bars. I also invented the recipe for these.

Most people build a business from the bottom up. You develop a customer base and increase production as demand increases. I started out using that model but had to stop. I then jumped ten steps ahead and went right to mass production before I even had a small customer base. What was I thinking?

At this point, if I wanted to move forward, I would have to invest serious money into professional marketing on a large-scale. And even then there was no guarantee of success in the limited time frame I had boxed myself into. Then the financial market crash of 2008 happened. Any money I might have had to put into the business was now gone. I had to pull the plug on the whole enterprise.

And that was the end of my ignominious career in the food industry!

CONTINUING FOREVER ON THE MASS PIKE

Does you ever feel like life is an exercise wheel for hamsters? And you are a hamster? You run and you run, but you stay in that wheel.

This morning, I got a note from our state government, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts about our EZ Pass. It showed two cars, including one we sold months ago. I tried to delete it using the “Delete car from list” option, but instead, it decided I was closing my account. There was no option for “do not close my account” and their chat line was broken, so I called. On the phone. Remarkably, I got an automated answer.

After yelling “AGENT, AGENT, AGENT” into the phone a few dozen times, a person came on the line.

He insisted he couldn’t do ANYTHING without my pin number — which I apparently created 15 years ago? More? What PIN number? I finally figured out it must be someone’s birthday and in desperation, figured out who that might be — because otherwise, I’d have to take three forms of ID and go to the nearest physical booth. And where would that be? No doubt somewhere on the Mass Pike and there I would sign a few hundred forms so they wouldn’t cancel the account I never tried to cancel.

Eventually, after I deduced the pin number and now (he says) we have an open account and the yellow Sunfire is gone. That’s what he told me.

But I’m dealing with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Which has the bureaucracy from Hell. I’m not sure how it got this bad, but we put other bureaucracies to shame. Ours is THE best bureaucracy on earth, bar none. Talk about continuing.

I bet they cancel the account anyhow. A couple of weeks from now, I’m going to get another notice telling me that I requested my account be cancelled. That’s just the way it goes. Year by year, month by month, day by day.

Welcome to Massachusetts. Forever may it continue!

THE PAPER IS ONLY AS GOOD AS THE CONTRACTOR

A paper is just a paper unless everyone abides by it. 

Yesterday, I had arranged for Shawn Perry (Clear Vision Construction) to fix our front door. He wasn’t doing the work himself, but sent two guys to do it. The quality of the work is possibly the worst I’ve ever seen. I don’t believe (or at least, I don’t want to believe) that he has actually seen this atrocity personally, but he says “his guys sent him pictures and it looks OK to him.”

So. Here is a set of photographs. This is less than 24 hours after the work was deemed “finished” and complete. I called him one more time to tell him this was his last opportunity to come over, look at it, and do the right thing. He would not take my call. I left a message which said: “I’ve given you every chance to do right by me, but you have refused to even take a look at the job. Be it on your own head from this point on.”

The name: Clear Vision Construction, Owner: Shawn Perry. Maybe find a different guy.

Maybe Shawn is capable — but this is work done by his company and it is not merely unprofessional. It isn’t even amateur. It is horrendous. His workmen, his responsibility. It’s a pity he refused to make an attempt come back and do it properly. A shame. IF you insist on hiring this company, be VERY sure you have every detail of the job written clearly and accurately. His “words” are empty. I’ve had work done in my home many times over the years. I have NEVER seen anything this atrocious.

You can write the paper and sign the paper. But in the end, the other party has to live up to his part of the deal. I’m sure there’s a clever way to say this, but I’m not into “clever me” mode at the moment. Maybe tomorrow.

U.S. AND ITS HUMILIATING WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS ACCORD

We pulled out of the Paris Accord, a decision which may be the worst ever by any American president. No one but our Republican party fails to believe in the changing climate.

National Geographics map

The good news is that this pulling out on the part of the United States is not really going to change anything.

Coal is not coming back. We would all like the miners to have jobs, but they aren’t going to be digging a lot of coal. There’s a simple reason: coal isn’t clean and people don’t want to breathe it in or have it hanging in the air. They have been closing coal-burning power generators including two this week and this isn’t going to stop. Coal is dead. The miners really are going to have to find another way to earn a living. This has happened to many people including me and my son. The world changes and even miners are going to have to change with it.

Vehicles will continue to become more efficient. Slower than we’d like, but that was set in stone before this horrendous, almost mind-boggling decision. The army is deadly serious about dealing with climate change and they’ve got a big budget to use to work on it … and they will.

Map: Boston University

All the west and east coast states are deeply concerned — for obvious reasons. All have comprehensive plans to deal with reality and what Trump says will not change their intentions. No one is going back to pollution. Been there, done that. No thanks.

Corporations working towards being cleaner will continue to do so, regardless of what the First Asshole says. It will be years before we will be out of this accord. Since it never actually passed through the Senate, it really isn’t an accord, or at least not in any legal sense. It was an agreement designed loosely so the United States and other industrialized countries wouldn’t need to vote on it in order to agree to it. Which is also why Nicaragua didn’t sign on. Nicaragua felt the looseness of the agreement was too favorable for wealthy countries — and they were probably right.

So — practically speaking — nothing will change. Except that every other country in the world is laughing and sneering at us. It is embarrassing to be us. Humiliating and so incredibly, breathtakingly stupid.


And just this final note from Pittsburgh’s mayor:

Donald Trump: “I was elected to represent Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Bill Peduto (Mayor of Pittsburgh): “As the Mayor of Pittsburgh, I can assure you that we will follow the guidelines of the Paris Agreement for our people, our economy & future. Pittsburgh stands with the world & will follow Paris Agreement “

FLYING THE BLOODY SKIES – HAROLD MEYERSON, THE AMERICAN PROSPECT

Soon, no one will fly unless they have no choice. The financial “bonanza” airlines have seen will diminish. Vacations involving flights will sink to the bottom of the pile — and are already doing so. 

We know many people who won’t fly. We are two of them. Between TSA and the airlines, it’s horrible, more like torture than vacation. Every day, more people say “NO PLANES. NO THANKS.” When the numbers start piling up, watch how quickly the airlines will shift position. 

You can’t continuously mistreat the majority of your customers without a payback. It always comes. Sooner or later. 


Dr. Dao received exceptional treatment, but passenger abuse is built into the airlines’ business model.


 By Harold Meyerson / The American Prospect  –  April 12, 2017

Dr. Dao received exceptional treatment, but passenger abuse is built into the airlines’ business model. While the videos of security cops dragging a bloodied physician down the aisle of a United Airlines plane clearly shocked the millions of people who viewed them, my guess is that, at some level, it didn’t surprise them. Indeed, the reason the videos were so damaging to United—and at some level, to the entire airline industry—is that everyone who’s flown in coach during the past several decades knows that the welfare of airline passengers, save for those who fly first- or business-class, is the least of the airlines’ concerns.

Photo Credit: PhotonCatcher / Shutterstock

The systemic abuse of those who fly coach has become the sine qua non of the airlines’ business model, as the incessant shrinkage of the seats and legroom afforded passengers clearly attests. “The roomiest economy seats you can book on the nation’s four largest airlines,” according to Consumer Reports’ Bill McGee, “are narrower than the tightest economy seats offered in the 1990s.” Maverick airlines that try to market themselves as more customer-friendly have been compelled to revert to the industry’s dismal norm.

JetBlue did indeed offer coach passengers more space, partly because many of its planes didn’t devote space to a first-class cabin. When Wall Street analysts condemned company management for being “overly brand-conscious and customer-focused,” however, the airline deposed those executives and in came a new team, eager to install first-class accommodations up front even if it meant squeezing the saps in coach.

The rest of the story on Alternet: Flying the Bloody Skies @alternet