WORLD OF STRANGE – Marilyn Armstrong

On some level or other, I’ve been waiting for my world to come crashing down since I was a kid. Call it one of the many fragmented outcomes of a dysfunctional childhood. And reading too many complicated books when I was too young to ignore them.

I should have waited until college where you are forced to read them and can forget the subject as soon as you pass the finals. I read them because I was interested in everything, so I read any book I could find. I don’t think I’d defined “reading for fun” as a concept. I just read. I had an empty brain and I needed to fill it up.

A lot of my early reading, once I got past horses and dogs, was historical fiction. With each piece of fiction I read, I found myself in the stacks of New York’s main library, somewhere down in the basement in the stacks. Because I wanted to know what was real and what was fiction. I ultimately had to unlearn almost everything when I got into more serious versions of history, but the fiction got me to the real deal.

I started with British history. I think it was King Arthur who got me into the monarchs of England beginning with William of Normandy. From there I moved into France and then fell into Rome where I stayed for a really long time. But they were around for a long time and many of their governmental structures are currently part of our modern government.

Over the years, I got a pretty good grip on history and how anything happening now has happened before and will happen again and again and again. Humans don’t seem to have much of a memory for the past. Even when it’s something through which they lived. We have approximately 50 years of historical memory, though recently it seems to be getting shorter. We call it stupid, but is it stupid or blind ignorance? And if it is blind ignorance, is it because our educational systems have been stripped to the bone?

Do they teach history? If they do, are they using books that have any basis in reality? Most of the books I got as “history” in public school were from the early 1940s and I think they are still using the same books. A kid who wants to learn history had better have a good library available because whatever he learns in school is probably wrong.

One day last year, Garry and I were standing behind someone at Target. She had an entire cart full of kid stuff. Young kids. It turned out she was a first-grade teacher and she was spending hundreds of dollars for supplies for her “kids.” She was buying pens and pencils, paper and scissors because the school didn’t have a budget. Notebooks. Little furry toys to use as prizes. Paint and paper. Glue. They’ve eliminated all of the things that made education fun for us. Art, music, excursions, drama. In most public schools you’re lucky if you get a textbook published post-WWII. I wonder if kindergartners get crayons or have to bring their own?

There are many reasons for the economic collapse. Coronavirus is the nail in a coffin we’ve been building as long as this country has existed and before that since the Romans ruled the world or at least an awful lot of it.

We can blame the Bubonic Plague for creating central governments on the European continent. Because so many people died and serfs were gone, the fields went untended. There was no food. What was left was often infected with ergot which is not unlike LSD in how it affects the human brain. So the wealthier people (we assume nobility but that’s not necessarily true) who had silos managed to gather the grain and took responsibility for distributing it. Until then, the government was essentially confined to the lord and his serfs, but after the 14th century, there were kings and subjects. I think there are too many kings and far too many subjects.

We never developed a vaccine for the Bubonic Plague. It’s still with us. Sometimes it responds to antibiotics, but not always. We keep it from taking over by controlling it the moment it appears. There was an outbreak in San Francisco in 1900 in Chinatown.


The San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 was an epidemic of bubonic plague centered on San Francisco’s Chinatown. The epidemic was recognized by medical authorities in March 1900, but its existence was denied for more than two years by California’s Governor Henry Gage.

Cause: Bubonic plague
Date: 1900 – 1904
Deaths: 119 deaths

San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 – Wikipedia


Although Bubonic Plague — when we think about plagues which we do more often these days than we used to — is always the one that first pops into our mind, the “Spanish” Plague which lasted from 1918 through 1919 killed far more people. It wasn’t Spanish. It actually started with some sick cows near a military base in Kansas, but if I called it the “Kansas Plague,” no one would know what I’m talking about.

So the first wave came through, helped along by the horrible conditions of the war. And just like now, they closed everything. But as soon as the contagion seemed to be letting up slightly started to drop, so the manufacturers  said: “it’s going away, open everything up.” The second wave hit and killed twice as many people as the first wave. But let’s not let history get in our way. Or science. Or even commonsense. See “1918 Pandemic Influenza” on the CDC website. It even has a timeline and pictures.

Culturally, we’ve maximized workplaces while simultaneously eliminating small and medium-size companies where owners and workers could have a relationship. Live in the same town. Send their kids to the same schools. When companies and farms were scattered throughout the country, a single company’s collapse would not leave thousands of people without work and their families in imminent danger of losing everything.

But wait! When the robots take over — and they will — nobody’s job will be safe. During the Democratic primary debates, I kept wondering why no one was paying attention to Andrew Yang. He was smart. He was telling the truth. He was already way ahead of our current monstrosity-in-office.

I know I didn’t start the fire that’s now burning our world, but I didn’t even understand there WAS a fire until I was in my thirties.

No generation made this mess alone. Civilization — European civilization — has been pushing in this direction since governments were invented. Bigger, richer, greedier, more powerful has always been the gold crown. It didn’t start in the U.S. It happened long ago in a land far away. Lay this one on Rome or maybe Macedonia.

THERE IS NO TRUTH IN THE SMALL PRINT – Marilyn Armstrong

The biggest lie we tell all the time is that when we check the box at the bottom we are agreeing to an interminable list of conditions that basically say whatever they say. What we know is if we do not sign, we can’t use the product.

It’s not a choice. It’s a mandate. So we pretend we read the legal shmaltz because we need to use the application or product and there’s no other way to do it.

But we don’t read it. No one reads it. Why bother? Check the box. You have to check it anyway.

I think once I made an effort to read the small print, but it was years ago when I thought there was a choice.

Now? I just check the box, like everyone else. Have you read those terms and conditions? Ever?

2020, A MAKE-BREAK YEAR OF A MAKE-BREAK DECADE – REBLOG – WORLD RESOURCES INSTITUTE

8 Environment and Development Stories

to Watch in the New Make-or-Break Decade

by  – 

The world was not kind to the environment over the past decade, the warmest in recorded history. Superstorm Sandy caused more than $70 billion of damages in the United States. Cities like Cape Town, South Africa nearly ran out of water. Record floods killed 1,300 people in India and Pakistan. Fires burned more than 22 million acres (9 million hectares) in California, Amazonia and most recently, Australia, destroying forests, homes and human lives.

Climate activism movements can now be found around the world. Photo by Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo

New global targets — including the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Sustainable Development Goals, both adopted in 2015 — were notable bright spots. But it’s unclear if the world will be able to deliver on these ambitions in the coming years.

Key moments and decisions to be made in 2020 will be critical for putting the world on a more sustainable trajectory. “The overwhelming story for the year won’t be if 2020 will be a turning point,” WRI President and CEO Dr. Andrew Steer. “Instead, it is whether 2020 will be a turning point for the better or for the worse.”

Steer offered insights at WRI’s annual Stories to Watch event in Washington, D.C. about the issues and actors in 2020 that could make or break the coming decade. Here’s what to watch this year:

3 Issues to Watch

Three sustainability challenges will be especially important in 2020: the ocean, biodiversity and climate change. These issues are significant on their own and in how they intersect — curbing climate change improves the ocean and wildlife; ocean-based actions are essential for reining in emissions, etc. “All are interrelated, and all three together matter a lot,” Steer said.

1. Setting a New Course for the Ocean

The ocean is already polluted, overheated and overfished. A recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report found that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, climate impacts on the ocean will cost the world $428 billion by 2050. Better managing the seas is important not only for food security, livelihoods, and economies but for mitigating climate change. Research from the High-level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy found that ocean-based actions could deliver 20% of the emissions reductions needed by 2050.

Key moments in 2020 will tell us if leaders will continue with business as usual, or whether they’ll adopt a new narrative — one focused on safeguarding the world’s “blue economy” to fight climate change and protect livelihoods. Watch what they do at the second UN ocean conference in Portugal in June if the World Trade Organization agrees to cut harmful fishing subsidies at its June meeting in Kazakhstan if the world moves forward with protecting more marine areas, and whether countries include ocean-based action in their new national climate plans (known as nationally determined contributions, or NDCs).

2. New Biodiversity Targets

Ten years ago, countries established the Aichi Targets, 20 global biodiversity goals to be achieved by 2020, such as cutting natural habitat loss in half. It’s now 2020 and we’ve largely failed to achieve our goals. Natural habitat loss doubled over the past 10 years. Roughly 1 million species are threatened with extinction.

Countries will gather at the UN biodiversity conference in Kunming, China in October, a once-in-a-decade event, to establish the next round of targets. Watch to see if the goals are credible, achievable and will hold countries accountable for their commitments. A global commitment to conserve 30% of the world’s land and sea would be ideal. As a host of the event and a mega-consumer, China has a key role to play. Will it set ambitious natural resource targets that inspire action from others?

3. Galvanizing Global Climate Action at COP26

It’s clear that climate trends are going in the wrong direction. Scientists say that emissions will need to halve by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050 to avert the worst climate impacts. Instead, carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels reached an all-time high in 2019.

COP26, the UN climate conference in Glasgow this year, can be a key moment to spur momentum. In the run-up, watch to see if countries make long-term commitments to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 and short-term commitments to enhance their NDCs this year. Current NDCs put the world on a path to warm 3-4 degrees C (5.4-7.2 degrees F) by 2050 when we need to reduce emissions enough to limit temperature rise to well below 2 degrees C  (3.6 degrees F).

5 Actors Essential for Collective Action

“The problems we face cannot be solved by any individual actors or individual countries,” Steer said. “They require collective action.”

Working together, five actors can make progress on key sustainability challenges:

1. Governments

While 108 countries committed to strengthen their national climate plans before COP26, they represent only 15.1% of global emissions. We need major emitters to similarly step up — most importantly, China, the United States, the EU, and India, which collectively produce 50% of emissions.

China can be bolder by peaking its emissions before 2030 and greening its Belt and Road Initiative. India has set ambitious renewable energy targets but can surpass expectations by reducing coal use and scaling up electric vehicles. The EU’s Green Deal is promising, but it will need to gain traction and encourage others to follow. U.S. states, cities, and businesses are reducing emissions despite environmental rollbacks from the Trump administration, but federal action is imperative. The outcome of the U.S. presidential election in November will be significant, both for national climate action and for whether the country stays in the Paris Agreement.

2. Financial Markets

The financial risks of climate change were glaring over the past decade, with climate disasters costing $650 billion in the last three years. Despite some encouraging signs, like increased sustainable investments and some financial institutions avoiding fossil fuels, markets still aren’t fully aligned with a low-carbon economy.

Key decisions to watch this year include whether financial regulators push for more environmentally sustainable investments and if development banks align their portfolios with Paris Agreement goals. Finance ministers can and should help strengthen NDCs through carbon prices and other green fiscal policies. Bank of England Governor Mark Carney could be influential as the new UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance.

3. Business

As in the financial markets, the business sector has made progress on sustainability, but not nearly enough. Consumers are demanding more sustainable products, and yet consumerism is still draining natural resources 1.75 faster than the planet can replenish them. More and more companies are committing to eliminate deforestation from their supply chains, and yet 5 million hectares (12 million acres) of forest — an area of land the size of Denmark — are destroyed for commodities every year.

A key tipping point would be if 1,000 companies committed to set science-based emissions-reduction targets by COP26. So far, 750 have pledged to reduce their emissions enough to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). Watch for similar science-based commitments for biodiversity, land, water use and other sustainability challenges. Also, watch to see if trade associations shift their approach to align with climate goals.

4. Technology

Scaling up proven technologies can help reduce emissions faster and on a grander scale. For example, expanding the fleet of electric vehicles and the supply of renewable energy can accelerate the shift away from fossil fuels. Chinese cities have already boosted their electric vehicle fleets. Watch for 1,100 new e-buses in Chile and Bogota, the beginning of a 100,000-EV fleet from Amazon, and new electric trucks from Ford. At the same time, battery storage for renewables is expected to grow by 3 gigawatts in the United States.

Exciting developments are also expected from emerging technologies. Plans for the world’s largest direct air capture plant — designed to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere — are underway. Carbon removal is essential for achieving net-zero emissions by 2050; this plant can help better establish the technology necessary to do so. Electric aircraft are being tested. And the first zero-emission gas power plant is moving toward deployment.

Technological development is especially important and easier than you might think for hard-to-abate sectors like fossil fuels, steel, and cement. Research shows that decarbonizing these sectors will only cost 0.5% of global GDP by 2050. Watch to see if industries invest in the innovation needed to lower their impact.

5. People

There’s been an explosion of climate activism in recent years, including Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for the Future, and more than 7 million people marching in 185 countries over just one week in September 2019. “We’re now seeing people power like we haven’t seen since the 1970s,” said Steer.

Many of these activists aren’t just demanding climate action; they’re fighting for justice. Climate change is inherently an issue of inequality: The world’s richest 10% produce half of all greenhouse gas emissions, while the poorest feel the impacts most acutely. And climate policies can cut both ways: When designed right, they can lift people out of poverty and foster equality. When designed poorly, they unduly burden communities, especially marginalized groups. We’ve seen the result of such unintended consequences in recent years with protests in France and Chile, which were in part a response to fuel and transportation fare hikes.

Fifteen countries including the UK declared “climate emergencies,” in large part due to citizen uprisings. We’ll need to see if this activism leads to concrete political change.  Watch to see if countries address the concept of a “just transition” in their national climate plans and at COP26.

2020: A Critical Year

The sustainability challenges to be grappled with this decade are major, far-reaching and interrelated. No individual actor will be able to solve them. Collective action — with all five actors working together, supporting each other, and inspiring greater ambition — is essential for making any sort of progress.

“The 2020s are the make-or-break decade,” said Steer. “We say this every decade, but this time it really is true.”

We’ll be watching to see how these stories transpire throughout the coming year. In 2030, let’s hope we can look back on 2020 as the turning point for sustainability, not the year we locked in dangerous levels of warming.

 

The original version of this has many clickable links that did not copy to this reblog. Please visit https://www.wri.org/blog/2020/01/8-environment-and-development-stories-watch-new-make-or-break-decade/ for more information as well as things you can do.

NEWER MOMS AND POPS – Marilyn Armstrong

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 18 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

72-Deli-032015_72

But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

72-BW-Deli-032015_70

They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

96-CountryStoreHP-3

Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

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!

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

NEW MOMS, NEW POPS

Garry came back from the deli with news. Lance and Betsy have sold the place and are retiring. Someone else is taking over.

Quaker Deli and its friendly and generous owners were among the very first people to welcome us to the valley more than 16 years ago. Until we got our feet under us and began to know our way around, it was a required stop in our daily rounds. They make great sandwiches and sell quality cold cuts. And they always know how we like it sliced.

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But time has had its way with them, as it does with us all. It’s what happens nowadays to almost all “mom and pop” shops. In this case, it’s not a lack of business. It’s simple tiredness. The kids don’t want the business. Mom and pop don’t want to spend all their remaining years on their feet. So, they sell.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing if only whoever takes over the place would keep it as what it is … a place to pick up a few necessities without going into town. Where you can buy a great lunch, made for you. Buy a lottery ticket or whatever. Most of the new owners of these shops are immigrant families. They see a small business as a ticket to the Dream of America.

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They don’t mind the long hours and hard work. But they don’t necessarily maintain the place in any way that resembles how it was. They go more heavily into higher volume, bigger profit items — like lottery tickets and cigarettes. They stop selling food and making sandwiches. This has happened to every little deli or mini grocery sold since we’ve lived in the Blackstone Valley. If it happens here, we will have to go into town for everything. The last convenience store will be gone.

I have heard over and over again that mom and pop stores are disappearing because we don’t support them, but that’s not necessarily true. It may be true sometimes, in some places. In this case, Lance and Betsey have plenty of business, maybe more than they can comfortably handle. All the truckers stop there to buy lunch. It’s the only place at this end of town where you can get an emergency supply of eggs or half-and-half.

The problem is that — not unreasonably — their kids have different dreams. They don’t want to run the family deli. They want a job where they can sit at a desk and go home without worrying about the business.

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Small business are nonstop work. Buying, selling, bookkeeping. Ordering supplies. Tracking sales and figuring out what you should buy in greater or less quantity … or just stop selling entirely. The shop may be closed, but there’s always work to be done. I’m sorry to see them leaving and we will miss them very much. But I understand. I couldn’t do it.

Among many other reasons, this is why we need immigrants. They will happily do the jobs we can’t or won’t do. Think about that the next time you begin to rail against newcomers to our shores.

Do you want that job? Could you do it? Would you?

CUSTOMER — EMPHASIS ON — SERVICE

Our internet connection went down today. I figured it was a routine need to reboot the router and modem, which I did. Still no connection. A few more tries … and still no internet. And no telephone, since our telephone is VOIP and won’t function without WiFi.

Finally, I had to face the horrible reality. I had to call Charter, get through their voicemail system, get a human being on the phone. Without the internet, we are isolated. Everything requires WiFi. Our cell signal is weak, unstable, with frequent dropped calls. WiFi is like electricity these days. A necessity, not a luxury.

I did it. I won’t review the whole day except to say I burned through the entire cell phone battery and finally got someone who understood the problem. And then … as inexplicably as the problem arose … it fixed itself. I then had to navigate the system again to tell them to cancel the service call. I should have just let them come.

I have reached the end of my patience with voice mail systems.

It got me thinking about the whole “customer service experience.” They always want you to do a survey after a call, but they never ask the right questions. They want to know how the person you (finally) spoke did. Which is usually fine.

What no one asks is “how hard did we make work to get a live person on the phone?” “How many times you were disconnected?” “Are you mad enough to dump our service at the earliest opportunity?” That last one should matter.

No matter how many times I go through this, I always come out of it tired, cranky, and frustrated.

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.”

Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is a few days or weeks ago. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not news. I am not stupid. My time is valuable, just like yours. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY YE NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination thereof) an appointment. Don’t send me to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because our service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell me to use the website. If I could get to the website, I would not be calling you.

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Do not force me to spend half an hour listening to a robot tell me to do stuff I’ve already done (and didn’t work), or misunderstand what I’m saying.

Whoever picks up the call must immediately tell me: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer me to tech support. Don’t ask me to make another call. Don’t give me that damned robot again.

Today’s outage was their issue, but they assured me they didn’t know it. Really? Seriously? You couldn’t ping the line and know there was a problem? You couldn’t figure out that the phone and modem weren’t working from your state-of-the-art central facility?

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3: The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will make us angry.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money, or lose our business. I have dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action or inaction might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to Comcast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate Comcast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your only long-term asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to me. Be friendly. Make me feel valued. Calm me down. Avoid throwing gasoline on my fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why I pay you.

PRESS ONE FOR INSANITY

Garry got his “Microsoft is ready for your download to Windows 10” notification. It came in yesterday — less than 24 hours after we got the upgrade flag. This must be a record for speedy responses from Microsoft.

I haven’t gotten mine. I haven’t checked the two desk tops. I’m not sure I want to “upgrade.” I fervently wish I could call Microsoft and talk to a person. Ask a few questions.

Microsoft has no customer service, at least not for folks like me. Maybe for big corporate customers who own thousands of licenses. Perhaps then you get the magic phone number that routes you to a live person who answers questions.

Not me, though. I still don’t know if upgrading to Windows 10 will work on this computer. Or will make Garry’s laptop work better — or not at all. I’ve heard from people who had great experiences and those who had serious problems. I’ve heard of disasters with the new OS.

I’d just like to talk to someone, know someone has my back. Our computers are critical. Central. Our connection to the world. Upgrading an operating system is not a small thing.

This got me thinking about the whole “customer-provider” relationship. Here are some thoughts. (They don’t apply to Microsoft because they are far too lofty to bother with customer service. They don’t deal with humans.)

VOICE MAIL: LET ME CHOOSE WHAT I NEED

Every voice mail system starts out saying “Our options have recently changed.” Your options have not recently changed. “Recently” is no more than three months. After that, it’s not recent. Change your message already!

If I know the number I need, let me press it. Don’t make me sit there while you explain in stultifying detail every permutation of your voice mail system.

Accept this as axiomatic. Everyone is familiar with voice mail. It’s not new technology. We know to listen until we hear the option we need. I am not stupid. My time is valuable. Don’t waste it.

NUMBER 1 – BURY NOT THE LEAD

Whatever your organization does, make sure the first choice in your list is the thing most customers want. Probably not your address, business hours, website address, or the opportunity to hear about your new services — or take a survey.

CustomerSvcFallonQuote

If you are a personal service provider — doctor, dentist, veterinarian, massage therapist, hired assassin — scheduling should be on top. At least half your calls will be people who need to make, change, or cancel (or some combination) an appointment. Don’t send us to a sub menu with more options. Answer the damned phone.

If you are a utility — cell service, telephone company, ISP, power company, water — why do think most people call? Because your service isn’t working. No power, no water, no cell service, no dial tone. No WiFi. No cable. Do not tell us to use the website. If we could get to the website, we would not be calling you.

customer-service

Whoever picks up the call must be able to reply to this: “Is this a general outage or is it me?”

  1. If the former: When do you expect service to be restored?
  2. If the latter, transfer the caller to tech support. Don’t ask us to make another call.

NUMBER 2 – IT DOESN’T WORK

Option 2 must be Technical Support. Something isn’t working or not working as it ought. Have a human being answer the phone. Even if it involves waiting, don’t make your already upset, angry customer wade through another set of prompts. Take responsibility. Be a person.

NUMBER 3: ABOUT THAT BILL

Option 3? The bill. Which we already paid, can’t pay, shouldn’t have to pay, is actually someone else’s. If you put us into another voice mail system, it will might us angry enough to dump you for another provider.

We do not want to leave a message for someone to ignore and never call back. We want to straighten out what we hope is a simple misunderstanding. If you send us to more voice mail or an answering machine — and you don’t return the call immediately — expect to never get your money, or lose our business. I have dropped providers many times and will do it again.

If you annoy me, I will hold a grudge. I am a paying customer. Act like you want my business.

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A CAUTIONARY TALE

I hear so many companies complaining how bad business is. Never do I hear them wonder if their own action (or inaction) might have something to do with it. Maybe the problem is how badly you treat your customers.

Consider this. Blowing off customers does not endear you to us. If we can, we will go elsewhere. At the first opportunity, we will drop you so fast you won’t have a chance to say “Hey wait, I’ve got a deal for you.”

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine (finally) got FIOS as an alternative to ComCast. FIOS was (a bit) more expensive and had a smaller offering. She changed services anyway. She said: “I hate ComCast so much, I’d happily pay more to anyone just to be rid of them.”

I feel that way about our cable provider, Charter Communications. They think they are invulnerable because we have no choice, but WiFi based services are coming of age. There are more choices today … and more coming soon. It’s a matter of time. The ill-will you are amassing today will ultimately bury you as it has buried providers before you. The good-will of your customer is your primary asset. 

It’s a cautionary tale for corporations who think they “own” the market and the customers.

BE NICE TO US. DON’T BE A STRANGER

Talk to us. Be nice . Make us feel valued. Calm us down rather than throwing gasoline on the fire. If you are in a service industry, provide service. That is why we pay you.

THE PRICE OF TRUST

Nothing is the way it used to be.

A couple of weeks ago, I needed some new nightwear. Nothing fancy. Not interested in lingerie. That’s for display, not sleeping. I’m talking about the ubiquitous sleep tee.

For years, I bought them from L.L. Bean. They were comfortable, loose, soft. Lightweight in summer, heavier, long-sleeved for winter. Then, L.L.Bean stopped making them. They decided we all want heavy flannel or pajama mix and match. In ugly colors.

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I don’t want elastic while I sleep. I want soft, loose, breathable, comfortable. Priced so I can buy more than one. Colors other than flaccid pink and dainty floral on white.

When L.L. Bean stopped making what I want, I switched to Land’s End. I’ve been wearing their sleep tees for more than a decade. But with each passing year, the fabric has gotten less refined, rougher, and the cut skimpier. The neckline has gotten tighter to the point where it’s hard to get your head through it. The price keeps going up.

I gave up. While the price has risen, the quality has dropped to completely unacceptable. I found quality sleep tees on Amazon.

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Did “new Coke” bring new customers to Coca Cola? Or did they give Pepsi a huge boost? Did Windows 8 improve business at Microsoft … or Apple?

Do corporations think we are stupid? Do they think we won’t notice when they sell us junk, reduce quality, raise prices?

I keep hearing that consumers are shopping online instead of at brick and mortar shops and it will drive them out of business. Has anyone in corporate America considered whether or not their products and stores serve the needs of the people they want as customers?

Did you know that Barnes & Noble booksellers — their brick and mortar stores — charge 30% more than Barnes & Noble online? For identical merchandise. If you want a discount card, that will cost you even more. Even with the “discount,” their stuff still costs more than it would online.

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When asked why I should buy at the store, I was told the online and “real” stores aren’t run by the same organization and have different price structures. Which isn’t an answer.

Original Coke came back. Windows 8 will pass into history in a couple of weeks. DiGiorno’s is selling pizza with “original” sauce. Eventually, if we “vote” with our shopping carts, “they” get the message. How long will it take? Will it matter?

The thing is, you can never get back the faith of customers you screw. The relationship is broken. Trust is ruined.

Is there a price tag on trust? How much are we — your customers — worth?

URBAN MYTH?

Once upon a time, there was a company who had a great idea. Create a platform on which all kinds of people could come and do whatever they wanted. They could write, show off their photography or paintings, even show videos and play music.

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They created easy-to-use software and a congenial atmosphere. People flocked to them. They started sites. Talked about their lives, their memories, their hopes, dreams, art, ambitions. They connected with one another. Participated in collective events and formed friendships that circled the globe.

And everything was good.

One day, someone in a high tower in a far distant place said “We need to get with the real world.”

Many people were surprised because they thought they already were part of the real world, but he was the Big Boss, so they listened. He must be wise, because he was in power and we know that powerful people are wise, right?

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He told his employees that small devices were the way of the future, that no one would use real computers — desktops or laptops. Indeed, several years before, many people believed — briefly — something along these lines. Everyone had long since backed off this belief — because it was obviously untrue.

Too many things — in business, art, even entertainment — needed a bigger, more powerful machine. Working people weren’t going to do spreadsheets on telephones or tablets. These things were convenient for checking email, but without room to work and a keyboard, no one was going to write their next novel on it, try to manage finances, or edit photographs.

Ghost Town by Apache Junction

But the Powers-That-Be didn’t want to hear this. They had a vision and were determined to make it true, at any cost. Moreover, they believed they had the power to force their customers march in lock step to their music. They hired a band and played marching music day and night.

Their customers blocked their ears and expressed their dismay, but the corporation couldn’t hear anyone over their own music.

Thus over a period of months and years, they changed everything. They took away the fun, the congeniality, and the software. They sucked the fun out of blogging. And then, people began to drift away.

There were some protests, some angry voices, but most people had been doing it because it was fun and it wasn’t fun any more. So they posted less. With each revision of the platform, more people gave up.

Not with a bang, but a whimper.

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There wasn’t any other platform to take its place. There ought to have been, if this were a happier fairy tale. No alternative universe existed into which they could go, so they just quit. They found other media. Maybe not as good as the old one was, before the corporate bosses ruined everything … but it was okay. People got used to it. At least no one was trying to make them do stuff they didn’t want to do.

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Over a period of time, the big corporation noticed they didn’t have so many people using their platform. “No problem,” declared the Big Boss. “We’ll get businesses to take their place. They will pay us for our services.”

Businesses had their own IT departments and servers. They saw no reason to depend on someone else when they had their own resources. And the platform’s reputation for poor customer service while creating a user-hostile environment was all over the Internet. Everyone knew someone who’d been betrayed. No one wanted to risk their business. What if they were next on the corporate hit list?

“No thanks,” they said and moved elsewhere.

sad momProfits fell. First a trickle, and then a mighty waterfall. Customers abandoned the ship. Eventually, the corporation realized it was out of business. Like Wang. DEC. Grumman. IBM. GTE. They thought they were so big and so powerful, they could do whatever they wanted however they wanted.

They were wrong.


The End.


What a Twist! — Tell us a story — fiction or non-fiction — with a twist we can’t see coming.

TECH SUPPORT – WHERE “BAD” IS THE NEW “GOOD”

Bad customer and technical support is the new good. You only think it’s bad. The problem is your attitude. Or so they’d have you think.

YOU CAN RUN, BUT YOU CAN’T HIDE

Death cust servAll the big technology companies are working hard to save a few bucks. The competition is fierce. Every penny counts. Since executives won’t accept lower pay nor will stockholders accept lower returns, it’s customers who fill the cost-cutting gap.

In the race to be the cheapest, tech companies stopped including chargers with devices. No manuals. No system software. No reinstallation software. Short power cords that don’t go from an outlet to a desktop. No connector for printers, speakers or whatever. Everything you need to finish setting up costs extra.

Customer service was the first thing to go. They hired people who don’t know anything, don’t understand or speak English. For all I know, they don’t understand or speak Spanish either. They aren’t trained, don’t know the products. And since manufacturers no longer include documentation, you don’t have the option of taking care of it yourself.

No company — not cameras, computers or software — includes documentation. I became obsolete years ago when the industry decided no one reads the manuals. So they fired the tech writers, put some generated information in an online PDF. They figured customer service techs would handle the fallout. But they don’t. Many of us would be happy to fix minor glitches but have no alternative to spending our time on the phone, frustrated and angry.

THE PLAN IN ACTION

You can’t say they didn’t have a plan. The big corporations indeed had a plan. A bad one.Customer Service waiting

It was so bad, it was immediately adopted by everyone. Globally.

It’s not a Microsoft problem, a Dell problem, or any company’s individual problem, though some are more awful than others and a few are notorious. It’s a cross-industry problem, affecting virtually every organization in this country.

Bad is the new good. Because good is remarkable.

WOULD IT KILL THEM TO INCLUDE A MANUAL?

CustServCartoon In every industry, business, service — service support stinks. It doesn’t matter where you go. You’ll get the same lousy service. It’s the great leveler.

Sometimes, you get lucky. The guy or gal you connect with actually knows the product and you think “Wow, that wasn’t bad! Maybe it’s improving.” The next time, it’s the same old, same old.

AMAZON – THE BRIGHT SPOT

There is a bright spot. Amazon and Audible (a subsidiary of Amazon) still have terrific customer service. That could change any time on the whim of a company exec, but for now, it’s great.

It’s no accident I shop through Amazon. They offer really good service. You have a problem, they go out of their way to make it right. You need to return something? They don’t question you, make you jump through hoops.

I wish I could buy everything from them.