Why am I furious?

This is about the institutions and businesses we have to deal with on a daily basis. This is about the failure of corporations to serve the people who depend on them for necessities. This is about the breakdown of human civilization.

Today my daughter left home at 8 a.m. to pick up a rental car which would take her on a 200-mile journey to where she would stand for her oral exams to become licensed. When she arrived at the place where she was to pick up the rental car, she found an empty lot. Apparently the corporate representative she spoke with (on more than one occasion) has no idea what’s going on in the real world. The computer told the corporate representative there was a Fayetteville office. The computer told the corporate representative that my daughter could pick up the car at 8:30 a.m. The corporate representative believed what the computer told him. He lives in India.

This is one tiny example of the customer abuse increasingly rampant across the U.S.

Go into a Walmart store. Look for something you bought three months ago. Not only is it not where you last found it, no one in the store knows if it’s been discontinued or if it’s out of stock or where else in the store it might now be located. And since Walmart has been almost universally successful in under-pricing any local competition out of business, there is no place to find that item you want.

Consider my 95-year-old mother who a few years ago agreed to a switch of her phone from Southwestern Bell to Cox since she already had Cox cable. Touted as a money saving move, the switch has meant that when Cox service is down, she has no phone. For the last two days, this woman who will be 96 in August had to walk to a neighbor’s house to use a telephone, and that worked only because the neighbor had a cell phone. Because Cox is out all over town.

Who is responsible? Who cares that this fragile woman can’t use her phone? Will she or any of the Cox customers without phone or cable service be refunded for the days Cox didn’t provide its contracted services? Ha!

Consider my nine-month old refrigerator. As if anticipating the problem, installers set the refrigerator and freezer at their lowest temperature settings. Despite that, the refrigerator has never cooled below 45° even though the FDA says 40° is the highest safe temperature for storing food. Or my new range, also nine months old. The manufacturer saved money by downgrading the controls. The oven light doesn’t come on automatically. Oven temperature is set by ten degree increments instead of five like my former range. Heat pours up from the bottom of the oven door which gaps enough that I see the flames reflected on the floor.

A couple of months ago, I came into the cross hairs of an organized hate group because I said something they didn’t like in a public policy discussion on the Arkansas Times Facebook page. Not content with rationally arguing their views on that forum, they attacked me personally and professionally. One of the places they could harm me was on Amazon.com where my books are for sale. They proceeded to go to each of my books and post 1-star reviews.

In order to report a ‘problem’ with book reviews, you must use certain links. Then the workers (in the Philippines) check the review guidelines and if the reported review violates the guidelines, they are able to remove it. If it doesn’t violate the guidelines, they can’t remove it.

Of the 39 one-star reviews posted to my books on Amazon, fourteen now remain. It took two months and over thirty online requests and repeated phone calls to Amazon service representatives to achieve even this partial success. Amazon service representatives aren’t allowed to remove reviews. That’s only accomplished through a special department which has no phone access.

One service representative kindly explained that if the review change requests aren’t formatted in a specific way, the requests can’t be processed. He took my information and submitted the change requests in the required format and as a result, eight of the 39 reviews were removed. But I never could reach him again because there are thousands of customer service representatives (in Seattle) and the service requests go to whoever is next available and none of the other seven service representatives I spoke with offered any assistance, instead referring me back to the online review report system.

Now I have fourteen 1-star reviews written between March 24 and March 30, 2019, by people whose sole intent is to harm me and there is nothing I can do about it. You would think that any platform presenting itself to the public as a service to authors would carry some responsibility to protect said authors from attacks like this. So far I haven’t found an attorney who knows enough about online entities like Amazon to advise me on whether I can sue Amazon for failing to protect me from this harm.

But I haven’t stopped trying.

The problem, in part, lies with men like Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg who believe they can set up an enterprise and replace thinking human workers with lists of guidelines and/or algorithms. Anyone who’s ever had a problem on Facebook knows only too well that THERE IS NO PHONE NUMBER to call if you have a problem.

Zuckerberg has refused to delete a purposefully distorted Facebook video of Nancy Pelosi. His response? “We don’t have a policy that stipulates that the information you post on Facebook must be true.” So if it’s not their policy, it must be OK. No responsibility. No morals or ethical standards. Since Facebook is “free,” users have no rights.

I want to sit down with Bezos and explain why a list of review guidelines can never anticipate the myriad problems which might occur. I want him to invest in employees who have the authority to think on their feet. I want to punch him in the face if he doesn’t accept responsibility for the protection of authors whose books are sold on his website.

Companies routinely profit off your crisis whether it’s no rental car, no phone service, or intractable one-star reviews. By refusing to ensure employees are available for customer needs and capable of fully comprehending English and U.S. social norms, corporate moguls like Zuckerberg and Bezos zoom to the top echelons of the world’s wealthiest people along with bankers who can pull off mortgage fraud and the ultra-rich Walton heirs who insist they can’t possibly pay their employees a living wage.

News alert to the Waltons: It’s the employees who earn your fortunes.

Feeling so smug with their “success,” what these greedy MFs don’t realize (or care about) is the steady toll on our society, their contribution to the destruction of the marketplace, the rising level of anger and frustration, or the inevitable outcome when all that bottled up rage manifests itself in violence.

I like to think of a time when vacant big box stores have been converted into housing or indoor farmers markets, when I can wander into a mom and pop store and ask where to find that thing I bought three months ago and they lead me to the shelf where it’s now found. Or they tell me how long it will take for them to get the next order. You know, human interaction, smiles and apologies and gestures of good will.

I like to think of Zuckerberg spending his days sitting face to face with people subject to his data gathering and advertising, to hear real world crises with his genius setup so that he can actually understand the problem. I like to imagine Bezos being subjected to one-star reviews for his books – but then he’s never written a book, so…

I don’t have anything against the people of India or the Philippines or anywhere else where people need jobs. But I don’t think for one minute that the employment of foreign workers is about helping them. It’s about paying the cheapest possible labor in order to generate higher profits for the fat cats at the top.

It’s about pushing customers in need of those goods and services as far as possible toward the brink, of Bezos calculating that authors like me need to market on his website and will continue to use those services even if he doesn’t protect me from hate campaigns. It’s about Walmart knowing they’ve destroyed all the local stores and entire companies and product lines in order to create a monopoly on the majority of consumer goods.

None of this is new. It’s a creeping illness in our society—and the world—that has yet to hit bottom. We’re hooked on what they offer and can’t get off the hook.

How long before we revolt? The guillotine comes to mind.

~~~

Michael Douglas in Falling Down: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XkwQ6EjLdMQ

Jack Nicholson in Five Easy Pieces: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdIXrF34Bz0

A Comfortable Shirt

worn-out-shirt

Are so many Americans furious just because the rich keep getting richer and the rest of us are getting poorer?  That seems an amorphous target for such visceral rage. I think the anger roiling the masses also stems from a hundred small deceptions inflicted upon the public on a daily basis.

Take, for example, the shrinking product. Manufacturers, faced with rising costs of raw materials, labor, and transportation, have quietly reduced the content of your bag of chips. The subterfuge becomes apparent once you open the package. There, nestled in the bottom of the once-puffed up bag, is a notably smaller quantity of chips. Still sold for the same price, the lesser content sends a subtle message: You are being cheated.

Crackers come in geometrically reduced proportions. Toilet paper is narrower, less tightly rolled. There are only four gel pens in the package instead of five. All for the same price as before.

The true cost of food is most clearly displayed in the produce department where two pears will cost you a dollar-fifty. Or in the meat department where a pound of ground chuck has somehow crept up to the unbelievable price of $5.99. Yes, you can buy ground beef at a lower cost—but it’s suspiciously slick and off-scent and each mouthful yields little granules of gristle and other mysterious and disgusting bits.

Manufactured goods suffer a similar problem. While potato chips must still—for now at least—be made from potatoes, wooden picture frames can be made of plastic that won’t hold a screw. Wooden cabinets and furniture can be made of plastic or pressboard which, once broken, cannot be repaired. Toys and shoes fall apart.

world_fiber_production_polyester_cotton_wool_chartbuilderClothing once warmed us, comforted us, an ancient human invention to ameliorate the savages of raw nature. But what comfort comes in wearing synthetics manufactured from crude oil? Synthetics sit on the skin like plastic sheeting. Even the latest efforts to make this material more user friendly can never take away its basic petroleum nature.

Want cotton? Prepare to spend a lot more money than you ever imagined. A simple work shirt can run upwards of sixty dollars. If you can find one. Can’t afford it? Walk around all day in clothing that irritates your skin and contributes to the random outbreak of eczema. The aggravation becomes subliminal but ever present. Check your anger level as you rip off your clothing at the end of the day.

Recently my hard drive crashed and I was forced to upgrade my version of Windows. In the process, I lost the ability to interface with my laser printer—a new driver wasn’t available. I also lost my favorite word processing software, Word Perfect, since I could not afford to buy it new as well as Microsoft Word. For a writer, Microsoft Word is required so I had no choice about how to spend that money.

The financial hit started piling up. My version of Photoshop no longer worked. I lost use of clipart software that included over 10,000 images and there is nothing comparable available. I lost font software that included 1000 fonts. The fonts that came with the new system are essentially all the same—nothing fancy, scrolling, or ornate. New fonts are sold by the each. (Recently I’ve learned of a font source that sells fonts in bundles, but they’re still costly.)

The new email software (Windows Live Mail) that came with the new Windows—because of course my old Outlook Express no longer works—is full of fancy bells and whistles I don’t need but is haunted by a glitch that has cost me more than one friend. At random times, if I add an attachment to the email, the email will send and send but never show up in the sent folder. I discover the error if I happen to check the outbox and see it still sitting there happily sending the ten thousandth copy. One time I merely replied to a message with imbedded images and because of those images, the glitch sprang into action. That recipient got several hundred copies of my reply.

(Yes, I also use Gmail but my vast reserve of old info from Outlook was imported into Live Mail.)

Things get worse instead of better and it’s the certain knowledge of this, the personal daily acid drip of unexpected expenses and losses that eat away at your nerves. Admittedly, if we earned more, we might not stand in shock at the price tag on a cotton shirt or a bundle of fonts. However, until the day that we can drop sixty bucks on a comfortable shirt, we’re forced to shop at big box stores such as Walmart. And therein lies another wrathful screed.

(Yes, one can shop at second hand stores. Good luck finding what you want in your size. For me, shopping is akin to sitting in a red ant hill. Do it and get out.)

It’s not just the computer world that disregards and/or manipulates its buyers. In big box stores, nothing is where it was the last time you shopped. (Okay, slight exaggeration, but I’m ranting, so bear with me.) Driven by some junior executive concept of aggressive marketing, store managers are instructed to move key items from one place to another in order to encourage shoppers to explore new aisles. In theory, when we have to search for Band-Aids in a new location, we’ll find a new product to buy.

A similar strategy drives these bargain stores to make strategic shifts of entire departments. Too easy to place the paper, pens, and other office supplies in a convenient aisle near the grocery section. That made sense until the latest theory came into play. Now one must trudge a half mile to the farthest corner in order to purchase a note pad. This might not infuriate shoppers so much if there was an alternative retailer where a note pad might be found. But alas, along with the big box came the demise of the local stationary store, five and dime, and other potential competitor.

Let’s not forget the bait and switch method where a useful product appears on the shelf only to be replaced six months or a year later with an inferior clone.

Or how about the now-you-see-it, now-you-don’t ploy? Or the clerks (assuming you can find one) who have no idea what you’re talking about because they didn’t work there when that product was stocked. Or they did but they have no idea why there aren’t any now. Or a tired acknowledgement that no, trays that catch overflow under flower pots aren’t stocked in the fall or winter because that’s not the garden season. NEVERMIND that pots don’t need trays when they’re outside for the summer, they’re needed in the fall and winter.

For me, it’s this sense of being played in service to greed and ignorance that underlies my fury. It’s the paper checking account register that’s half the size it was in the days before online bill payments. They can’t sell enough checks now so you have to buy registers. It’s the Facebook newsfeed default setting that sends you back to their idea of your ‘top stories’ instead of allowing you to receive your friends’ posts permanently in chronological order.

Progress should means keeping what’s good and adding new good stuff. Instead, our progress seems to mean replacing the good stuff with cheaper shittier stuff while paying the same price. It’s not difficult to understand consumer outrage over corporate executives who rake in millions. The race to the bottom in quantity, quality or durability comes not because they can’t afford to offer more chips in the bag or software that works with my laser printer, but because the profit formula means that people at the top and their stockholders must make more money.

The profit formula dictates not only that the cost of production must be suppressed but that the consumer must be beguiled into the belief he is paying less. The details of this formula are all too familiar—jobs exported to Third World nations, lousy workmanship, poor quality contents. Rape and plunder of the earth’s remaining resources. Consumers confront the guilt of adding to the trade deficit by buying a shirt made in Bangladesh, of knowing they’re contributing to an industry that may employ child labor or which ignores workplace safety.

What lies within memory for perhaps the angriest Americans are times when most clothing was made from natural fibers, when a pound of ground chuck could be had for a buck ninety-nine, and the meat tasted good. We remember furniture that could be repaired with a larger screw and a bit of yellow glue. We remember stores that remembered us, familiar aisles where we could find another one of those things we bought last year.

Rationally, we know the government is not to blame. We know that the fundamental corporate mandate dictates the endless machinations by which its executives gain ever greater salaries and its consumers function as pawns in their capitalist game. We buy in because we’re not ready to stop using computers or stop buying chips. They’ve got us by the short and curlies.

The reason we’re angry with the government is that the government alone has the power to regulate the corporations. Only government can mitigate the capitalist prime directive and look out for the common man’s interests. When evidence supports the suspicion that corporations have infiltrated the government’s function, then it’s time to vote in a new Congress.

Then let them eat cake.