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

Now It’s Drone Bees

I recently read a news report that Walmart is investigating the use of drones in pollinating agricultural crops.[1] That just about knocked me out of my chair, but then, on reflection, I saw the Walmart dream: total control of our food supply.

Granted, the bee die-offs are a serious problem for farmers, a result—according to most experts—of our love affair with poisoning our food. You see, spraying herbicides, fungicides, and pesticides on our crops to kill off pests like, well, anything that hurts the crop, also kills off the bees. Without pollination that bees perform so expertly, we’ll have no food.

How clever of Walmart to attempt some redress of this terrible problem! Their concept is to enlist drones with “sticky material or bristles” to spread pollen as they move from plant to plant.  Of course the elephant in the room is the obvious question: if poisons used in agriculture are killing the bees, what are they doing to us?

Already we’ve heard—and mostly ignored—reports that frogs and other amphibians are experiencing reproductive deformities[2] due to environmental pollutants like Round-up’s glyphosate, now banned in Europe, and atrazine which is applied to tens of millions of acres of corn grown in the United States, making it one of the world’s most widely used agricultural chemicals. A powerful, low-cost herbicide, atrazine is also the subject of persistent controversy.[3]

“Atrazine demasculinizes male gonads producing testicular lesions associated with reduced germ cell numbers in teleost fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals, and induces partial and/or complete feminization in fish, amphibians, and reptiles,” according to years of study by scientist Tyrone Hayes whose reports on his research are the target of relentless attacks by atrazine’s primary manufacturer, Syngenta.[4]

Atrazine is just one of many chemicals in wide use across the United States known as endocrine disrupters, “shown to disrupt reproductive and sexual development, and these effects seem to depend on several factors, including gender, age, diet, and occupation… Human fetuses, infants and children show greater susceptibility than adults… in diseases such as cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders.”[5]

Then there are the hundreds of other chemical cocktails we are forced to routinely ingest not only in our food but also in our drinking water. Tens of thousands of chemicals are released into the environment in products ranging from shampoo to toilet bowl cleaner, few if any of which have been tested for potential harmful effects on human health and which, at last count, only a handful are tested for or removed from drinking water supplies. Not that anyone has any idea how to remove them from the water. This is part of the don’t ask, don’t tell philosophy of the chemical industry which is not required by law to test human health effects unless and until some harm is proven.

Europe, more intelligently, requires testing to prove no harm before new chemicals can be used. What a concept.

It’s such a downer to the chemical and agricultural corporations that someone might want to avoid cancer, allergies, neurological disorders and reproductive disorders. What a hero Walmart will be for its clever solution to the bee die-off, allowing for continuing and possibly increasing chemical poisoning of our food supply through the use of drones! According to the report, its grocery business will be “aided by farm-related drones, which could be used to pollinate crops, monitor fields for pests, and spray pesticides.”

If we could believe for one second that Walmart’s concern is the nourishment of Americans, we might also be sold a bridge somewhere in Manhattan. We already know from years of experience with this corporation that its objective, at least since ole Sam Walton died and left the biz to his greedy kids, is only the bottom line. Squeeze producers to make the cheapest possible product. Eliminate warehousers and trucking firms. Pay employees wages so low they qualify for food stamps. Pocket the difference, a method that propels these money grubbers to the top of the wealth lists and gives them extra spending money to proclaim their ‘generosity’ with projects like Crystal Bridges.

They care nothing about American jobs. Sam was eager to advertise that his products were made in American. His body had hardly cooled when the kids were over there making deals in China. It’s hard to find any product in Walmart today that’s made in America.

Or customer service. They can’t work fast enough to eliminate those damn middle management jobs like department supervisors. If the computer models show that a particular inventory item isn’t the very best selling product, the motto is to shit-can the damn thing. It doesn’t matter if people have been purchasing that product at Walmart for the last twenty years. Thus was the case last week when I rushed in to purchase a battery for my camera, already late for a photo-shoot appointment for a book I’m working on, only to discover that Walmart has eliminated its camera department.

Then there’s the Williams seasoning mixes we’ve relied on for chili, tacos, and spaghetti, now swept from the shelves because Walmart is rolling out its store brand seasoning mixes. Okay, now if you really want to set my hair on fire, this is the right topic. How many times have you or I visited Walmart for a particular brand-name product that we especially enjoy only to discover its shelf area filled with Walmart’s Great Value brand. I wrote the corporate CEO: “First, let me say that I’d rather live the rest of my life without chili than to buy a brand I’m being coerced to buy.”

Do I have to tell you there was no response? Oh, and by the way, there’s no online email complaint method and in order to get the snail-mail address for the CEO, you have to spend an hour dodging through multiple departments who are trained, probably on threat of death, to take your complaint and “deliver the message.” Or to direct you to the store where you encountered your problem…

Then there’s the total incompetence of Walmart’s grocery buyers who don’t know the difference between a sliced almond and a slivered almond. Since last October, Walmart stores have had only sliced almonds. Big fat bags of sliced almonds. Great Value brand, of course.

The point is, if Walmart has no idea what it’s doing with almond inventory and no sense of patriotism about supporting American industry and no honor or reliability in customer service, then what will they do to our food supply? Already we can see a hint of how that will go with their careful bait and switch methods in supplanting traditional brands with their store brands. Once they’ve got their thumb in the pie from crops on up to the shelves, we’ll be completely at their mercy.

Yes, I’ve shopped other stores. But so many of us haven’t that the other stores have one by one folded up shop and drifted into shadow. There’s no local stationery store, unless you want to call Office Depot by that name. Which they’re not. They’re as bad or worse than Walmart. No nice little note cards on thick vellum paper. Now even the standard four-squares per inch graph pads have been supplanted by the smaller five per inch, no doubt some efficiency expert’s idea of customer service. Where is McRoy-McNair with their dusty basement of old colored paper and clasp envelopes in every conceivable size?

For years I’ve made it a point to buy everything I can from anyone but Walmart. This year I’ll be especially interested in farmers’ markets in the area where I live in order to support local farmers doing things the old fashioned way. I’ll be growing my own tomatoes, peppers, squash, and niceties like dill, thyme, sage, and basil. I live in the woods where there’s still a modest bee population, and I’m planting more bee-friendly flowers like lavender, rhododendron, California Lilac, and for my cats and the bees late into autumn, catnip.[6]

It’s dangerously late in this game when they start using drones to replace bees.

~~~

[1] “Walmart imagines drone-aided farming,” Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Sunday Mar 25, 2018. 1G

[2] http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2002/12/pesticide-cocktail-amplifies-frog-deformities

[3] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4137807/

[4] https://www.sott.net/article/317851-Biologist-targeted-for-exposing-the-gender-bending-pesticide-Atrazine-poisoning-America

[5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3138025/

[6] Big list at http://beefriendly.ca/25-plants-for-bees-in-your-garden/