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Archive for business ethics
People-who-are-so-dumb-they-need-a-keeper dept.: Consumerist reports “Hundreds Of Thousands Of People Are Still Renting Home Phones”
Would you pay a company a monthly rental fee for the remote control on your television set? No? How about the MP3 player you carry around with you? Still no?
Of course you wouldn’t, because such items are relatively inexpensive to purchase, and you’d be a fool to pay several dollars a month to rent something that you could buy for only a few dollars more.
But there must be a lot of fools out there…
And proving the saying that “there’s no fool like an old fool”, many of the people still renting these phones are elderly, and a high percentage of them aren’t even using the phones they are supposedly renting anymore!
Please, if you have any elderly people that you care about in your life, make sure they aren’t falling for this scam!
- 3 On Your Side: Elderly Still Renting Home Phones (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
“If I want to make my employees feel happier/more rewarded/valuable/part of the team, all I need to do is give them a raise.”
Now, especially in these hard economic times, I’m certainly NOT saying that employers should be stingy with raises and rewards. What I am saying, though, is that those are not always sufficient to motivate employees to do better, or to change a surly employee into a happy one.
“I give you a paycheck! Isn’t that enough motivation?”
If any employee were honest, they tell you that no, it isn’t. A paycheck alone just about guarantees they will put in the minimum effort to avoid being fired, sometimes less. Your employees would never tell you that, of course, but if they thought they could be honest and not be fired for insubordination or bad attitude, that’s what many of them would say.
The thing is that even if you start out loving your job, getting a paycheck to do what you love does NOT guarantee you’ll be happier – in fact, just the opposite. I refer you to this article:
The Overjustification Effect (You Are Not So Smart)
The point of the article is that if you can find employment doing what you love, chances are you won’t love it anymore, especially if you see the paycheck as your new primary motivation.
I have found this so true in my own life. When I got my first computer (a Radio Shack TRS-80 Model I), I used to enjoy trying to write programs in BASIC. Then I got a job as a computer operator at a small business. While most of my job was mundane stuff like feeding the correct paper into a printer, starting and stopping jobs, and doing backups, there were times I was called upon to write an occasional program — and yes, it was in BASIC, though a variation of BASIC not all that similar to the one used on the TRS-80. This was actually before the days of most commercial software.
What I discovered was that my employer would ask if I could write a program that would automate some small task he’d been doing by hand, using pencil and calculator. The first few times it was easy. But each time he realized what the computer could do, he’d want to add on more functionality, and about half the time his new request would require almost a complete rewrite of the program. And, he had essentially purchased an “orphan” minicomputer (translation: A computer as large as a home furnace, with far less processing power than any handheld device available today), which meant there was virtually ZERO commercial software available — otherwise he could have bought any off the shelf spreadsheet program (in other words, Visicalc) and accomplished most or all of what he wanted.
Life circumstances intervened and I had to leave that job sooner than either of us would have preferred, but by the time I was through I had really started to hate programming. When I could do it on my own time and no one was pressuring me to get it done in a certain amount of time, it was sort of fun. When I was getting paid to do it and my employer wanted it a week from now, and I would spend hours chasing down one or two bugs and losing sleep trying to figure out why the dumb program was producing the wrong result (sometimes it was my fault, other times it was buggy floating-point math in the underlying system), it was definitely NOT fun — in fact, to say I began to hate it would be an understatement.
The ONE thing that made the job bearable was that my employer frequently expressed how much time and effort my small programs were saving him. I never made big money there (it was a really small firm, and he had paid WAAAAY too much for that minicomputer to start with, so I think he was already in hock to his eyebrows for that thing) but the fact that I knew that my efforts were appreciated was more of a factor than my paycheck in my willingness to spend those extra hours (often working until dawn, then coming back at 5 PM for another all-nighter) chasing down bugs and rewriting the program.
At this time of the year, we are bombarded with variations on Dickens, basically implying that the tightwads of the world will get theirs in the end. And that may be true, but many people often miss the other point of such stories, which is that the Scrooge-like character is often a foul-tempered, mean-spirited beast that couldn’t pay anyone a sincere complement if their life depended on it. And after their “conversion”, their whole nature changes (sort of like what happens to many people who’ve had near-death experiences in the real world). If your takeaway from some stories is that the “Scrooge” turned into a more generous person, you’re only getting about half the point. The old saying “money isn’t everything” is true – it’s definitely one component to happiness for many people, but it’s NOT the only one. You can be very well off and very unhappy, if the people in your life do nothing but tear you down and constantly demand more.
I’ve said it before and I will say it until the day I die — the larger a corporation is, the more evil it becomes, and that’s true even if your corporate motto is “don’t be evil.” Mottoes don’t necessarily translate into actions. Well, I think maybe people are finally starting to see through the “don’t be evil” snow job that Google’s been shoveling at us — consider today’s article in The Consumerist:
If you’re considering porting your mobile phone number to Google Voice instead of to a new carrier, consider this: free or inexpensive phone services have a hidden expense: customer service. When Peter’s number port didn’t work, Google’s customer support structure left him with no real-time support options and no way to get the attention of anyone who could actually help him.
Full story here:
Google Has Great Services For Customers, No Customer Service
Many users will put up with a lot of shinola out of a company when they are getting something for free. But if Google Voice ever becomes non-free, the shinola is going to hit the fan, and I’ll bet that in no time at all there will be several state regulators and possibly the FCC breathing down their necks, as customers complain to those regulators about the abysmal customer service (or what passes for customer server at Google, which means you might as well put your complaint in a hermetically-sealed mayonnaise jar and leave it on Funk & Wagnalls’ porch).
From Stop the Cap!:
And when I read something like that, my thought is, if they are willing to pull this shit in California today, what’s to say they won’t try it in other states in the near future? If it were me, until they come to their senses and stop doing this, I’d avoid Frontier like a village infested with bubonic plague on the side of a hill next to an active volcano with an active nuclear waste dump at the center. But, that’s just me and my personal opinion — what you do is up to you.
Another good reason we should stop eating (and selling) foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
About 2½ months ago I posted an article entitled, Why we should stop eating (and selling) foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS). Well, just in case you need yet another reason, ConsumerAffairs.com today posted an article entitled, Kids with Unexplained Stomach Pain May Have Fructose Intolerance. The article notes that in a study of “245 patients with unexplained chronic abdominal pain (alone or associated with constipation, gas or bloating and/or diarrhea)”, a whopping 53.9% tested positive for fructose intolerance. I’m guessing that this affects many more children than other food allergies we often hear about (such as peanut allergies). But the article also notes:
Despite the simple fix, cutting fructose from a diet, especially that of a child’s or teen’s, is easier said than done.
“With fructose in everything from fruit to pre-packaged products, soft drinks and honey, it is difficult to avoid so the challenge is finding those foods without fructose and still maintain a healthy nutritional balance,” said Dr. Lustig.
Unfortunately, the way our society seems to work nowadays, with big corporate conglomerates controlling most of our food supply (and much of our government), and a powerful corn lobby that wants to fool you by renaming HFCS as “corn sugar”, I still think that the only thing that’s going to cause manufacturers to get rid of HFCS is when it starts to hit them in the pocketbook. Since consumers really don’t have much choice in foods when nearly everything contains HFCS, I still suspect it’s going to take something drastic, like a class-action lawsuit against these companies, to make them just say NO to HFCS. But with every passing day, it becomes clearer that HFCS is very bad for you, or at least for many of us.
It’s in so many of our foods that we’ve probably lost track of all the things we have in our pantries and refrigerators that contain it, and yet there is increasing evidence that it’s one of the more dangerous substances we can ingest. Part of the problem is its abundance; it’s hard to buy foods in certain categories that don’t have it. People who drink a lot of pop (soda to you folks who live in other parts of the country) probably get far too much of it, unless you go out of your way to find a brand that doesn’t contain it. It is put into our foods and drinks by big corporations, mostly to save money. It is High Fructose Corn Syrup, often abbreviated HFCS.
People have been saying for years that HFCS is bad for you, that it’s been linked to everything from diabetes to cancer. The soft drink industry pooh-poohs this and has tried to sweep these concerns under the rug. Well, now there’s evidence of how bad HFCS is. Please go read this Reuters article, “Cancer cells feed on fructose, study finds” and note that HFCS contributes to the growth of pancreatic cancer cells. Pancreatic cancer is probably one of the most deadly forms of cancer there is; if you get it you’d better go make out your will and say your goodbyes to your loved ones because (barring some miracle) you aren’t going to be around much longer.
Another thing I noticed in the article: “Now the team hopes to develop a drug that might stop tumor cells from making use of fructose.” So let me get this straight, they want to keep selling the food that contains the HFCS and then they want to sell you a drug to take away the effects of the HFCS? Only in America would anyone think that is a good approach.
The article does not mention that part of the problem is that the United States has a high tariff on sugar. Americans “have been forced to pay twice the world price of sugar on average since 1982.” Just Google “sugar tariff” and you’ll find a huge number of articles, all of which pretty much say the same thing: That the sugar tariff is bad for American consumers and American business. But one side effect is that it causes food producers to elect to use HFCS instead of regular sugar in their foods. It’s why Mexican Coca-Cola contains sugar, while the U.S. variety contains HFCS (and why some people will pay a premium price for the imported variety – well, that and they say the stuff made with sugar tastes a lot better).
If our politicians placed any value on the health of Americans, they would act swiftly to ban HFCS from foods, and/or eliminate the sugar tariff so there would not be any financial incentive to use HFCS. Of course, there are those who believe that the group that’s really in power (which, they would tell us, are not the people we directly elect) have a goal of significantly reducing the population (ever heard of the Georgia Guidestones?), so they’d welcome any substance in our food that can kill us off quicker, especially if they can sell us expensive drugs at the end of our life that will drain our financial reserves. I’m not saying that I necessarily believe that, just that there are those who do.
I am certainly not what you call a health nut (I have often said I’d rather enjoy what I eat than add five or ten extra years to my life by eating stuff that tastes like cardboard, or worse) but this is a case where food manufacturers have a choice — they can use real sugar, which most people say tastes better and which does not have the same adverse side effects, or they can use HFCS to save a few pennies on each product they sell. However, such companies should keep in mind that they are not immune to product liability lawsuits. If I had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and read the above article, I’d certainly be talking to a lawyer, and believe me, I’d probably not only consider bringing suit against the manufacturers of the foods I’ve eaten that contain HFCS, but possibly also the distributors and supermarkets that sold those foods — basically anyone that profited from the sale of HFCS. Until this research came out, you could say that those folks had some plausible deniability, but now that we know that HFCS can hasten the growth of pancreatic cancer, I would say that manufacturers ought to treat it as if it were lead or PCB or some other toxic substance and stop using it immediately, and customers should refuse to buy it.
You know all those ads you see on TV from lawyers wanting to take on mesothelioma cases? I don’t imagine it will be all that long before you start seeing ads from lawyers that say something like, “Did you develop pancreatic cancer after drinking soft drinks or eating foods containing High Fructose Corn Syrup? If so, contact the Dewey, Cheatum and Howe law firm…”
EDIT: Every time I make a new post on this blog, a Twitter “Tweet” is automatically sent out announcing it. Would you believe that within two hours of posting this article, I received a notification that a law firm specializing in class action lawsuits is now following my tweets on Twitter? Specifically, their Twitter page describes them as “Bio Class action attorneys with a record of winning multimillion dollar cases.” So, food and soft drink industry, it appears that perhaps my post has been noticed by someone with the power to hit you squarely in the pocketbook. Seriously, I’d get rid of the HFCS in your products now, if I were you.
EDIT 2: And just in case you need another reason HFCS should be banned: Kids with Unexplained Stomach Pain May Have Fructose Intolerance
United Airlines fliers must now ask yourselves: If I speak to a flight attendant will I get thrown off the plane?
Saw an item on The Consumerist site today, entitled “United Removes Passenger From Flight After He Asks Whether A Meal Will Be Served.” It contained a link to an original blog post that details the story of one Joe Sugarman, an Internet marketing consultant who was on his way home from a seminar in Austin, Texas (why does this sort of crap always happen in Texas or Florida?). And his blog post tells the story:
I get to the airport, boarded my plane and I’m sitting in first class. The flight attendant was right in front of me and was curious if they were going to serve meals onboard. So I asked her, “Are you serving any meals during our flight?”
She looked at me kinda funny and said, “I can’t answer that for security reasons.”
A little puzzled, I wondered how it affected security but I let it pass as she went into the cockpit. About three minutes later, two armed Austin police officers boarded the plane, looked at me and said, “Sugarman, follow us.”
Picking up the story a bit further down…
Finally a United representative approached me with my bags and said “We are taking you off this flight for security reasons.”
“Why” I asked.
“You apparently asked the flight attendant if the Police were onboard,” said the United representative. We’re not taking any chances and the captain asked that you be removed.”
“But I only asked her if a meal was being served,” I said. Only to be told that it was her word against mine and the Captain was not going to take any chances based on what the flight attendant claims I said.
Thrown off the plane for asking if a meal was being served was ridiculous. And why would I care if there was a policeman onboard anyway?
Strangely, United had a customer service representative ready and willing to book Mr. Sugarman on the next flight, so apparently at least someone in United has common sense. But, as The Consumerist said about the incident,
… WTF, seriously flight attendant? You couldn’t even say, “I beg your pardon” or “Would you repeat the question” to confirm that you had an evil ‘sploding terrorist on board?
Then there is the lazy Captain, who apparently could not be bothered to go talk to the passenger and do his own assessment of the situation.
Mr. Sugarman further comments,
Another thing that puzzles me is that I am what is called a 1K flyer on United flying over 100,000 miles a year at a minimum. I have flown 2.5 million miles on their airline through the years as well. Couldn’t they use common sense and realize that I didn’t suddenly go off my rocker after being such a good customer of theirs. And why did they believe the flight attendant over me when they let terrorists on board with bombs in their suitcase? Can you make sense of this?
Now, when I read Mr. Sugarman’s blog post, I scrolled down and viewed some of the comments, and noticed this one by Robert Clay:
This reinforces something I have observed for some time. It is often said that the United States is the land of the free, and at gatherings people are often asked to celebrate their freedom. But I wonder if this is all really brainwashing. After all, for all it’s many excellent qualities America right now has the largest percentage of its population in prison of any country on Earth. One out of four people, one out of four humans in prison in the WORLD are Americans, imprisoned in America. This excellent TED talk by Chris Jordan really makes the point” http://www.ted.com/talks/chris_jordan_pictures_some_shocking_stats.html
The ridiculous experience you had is another symptom of this. Interestingly I saw a TV program where Russians were being interviewed about why they were seemingly so disinterested in “democracy,” and what came out is that they just don’t need democracy. Nobody bothers them. They get on and can live their lives without interference.
That said, I don’t suppose the authorities would be too impressed if you were a political activist pushing views that oppose their own. But it’s no different in the US. Or Singapore. Or China.
But I agree with you, it’s right to ask what America is coming to when the average person really isn’t as free as they’ve been brainwashed to believe, and freedom and America are far from being synonymous for millions of people.
Mr Clay sort of verbalizes a feeling I’ve had for a long time. When I was a kid, our teachers tried very hard to brainwash us into thinking that America was the greatest country on earth. Of course, the way they framed it was that if we didn’t love America, our only other option was to live in a place like the “evil” Soviet Union, where people might be shot for asking for a loaf of stale bread to feed their families (seriously, you can’t begin to imagine the lies we were told about the Soviet Union as kids – it actually came as quite a shock to me when I finally realized that Moscow was a major city with modern buildings and electricity, even if not exactly up to U.S. standards).
But the worst thing about the old U.S.S.R., or so we were taught, is that the people there had no freedom – the government basically dictated their every move, morning, noon, and night. The U.S.A. was the closest thing to heaven on Earth, while the Soviet Union was the closest thing to hell, and if there were other choices our teachers sure weren’t about to mention any of them. We weren’t even taught anything about our closest neighbors, Canada or Mexico, except perhaps in passing references. According to our educational experience, the only countries that mattered were the United States, England (primarily for historical reasons), Germany and Japan (primarily because of their involvement in then-recent wars), and the U.S.S.R. Occasionally we’d be taught about what we now call a third-world country, like Malaysia (where the natives were still slaving over rice paddies or running around using blow darts to get their food when they weren’t dying of malaria, according to my elementary school education), but probably only to reinforce how lucky we all were to be living in the United States.
This kind of teaching occurred with some regularity throughout elementary and junior high schools, and didn’t really even begin change until about the time I got into high school, when the VietNam War basically divided the country and started causing many people, including some of my teachers apparently, to start questioning whether the U.S.A. always took the most noble course of action. The fact that we had two fairly awful presidents in a row (Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat, followed by Richard Nixon, a Republican) probably didn’t help matters any. But then the war ended and the Bicentennial came along in 1976, and that invoked a new wave of patriotic fervor.
But back in 1967, just about the time that our teachers were starting to sound a bit more enlightened, a movie called “The President’s Analyst” came out. It’s probably one of the few movies I ever saw in a theater (suffice it to say that I am not a big fan of the “theater experience”). And at the time, there was a line in the move that impressed me as being somewhat prescient, at least for the U.S.A. No, not the one about everyone hating the phone company, although I did get quite a chuckle out of that one. I actually could not recall the exact line until I went to the The Internet Movie Database, and right there it was, posted in a user review by Merwyn Grote, who wrote,
My lasting view of Soviet-U.S. relations was clearly defined after watching THE PRESIDENT’S ANALYST. Soviet spy/assassin V.I. Kydor Kropotkin, played by Severn Darden, explains to kidnapped American psychiatrist Dr. Sidney Schaefer, played by the irrepressible James Coburn: “Logic is on our side: this isn’t a case of a world struggle between two divergent ideologies, of different economic systems. Every day your country becomes more socialistic and mine becomes more capitalistic. Pretty soon we will meet in the middle and join hands.” Beautiful, simple logic, clearly stated in a whacked-out, slightly psychedelic satirical farce about Cold War paranoia. A gem of genius in a world gone mad.
The trouble is that, in my opinion, we’re not just becoming more socialistic – we’re also beginning to take on some of the negative attributes that our generation was warned about, only we were warned they would happen if we allowed the “evil Communists” to take over our country. Well, virtually all the recent laws that have seriously curtailed our freedoms were passed during the junior Bush administration, and I don’t think the Republican party is quite ready to take on the mantle of “socialist” or “communist”, though at times they seem to approve of actions that seem not too far removed from something Joseph Stalin would have approved of. Admittedly, the current administration doesn’t seem to be in any big hurry to give us back our stolen freedoms, and that worries me a lot – if we can’t trust either of our political parties to do the right thing, what hope do we have as a nation?
The incident with Mr. Sugarman and United Airlines is certainly not the worst thing that’s happened to an air traveler in our post-9/11 society, but it is symptomatic of how wacko our nation has become, both in that this sort of thing could happen and that most who read about it will think, “Well, that’s just what you have to put up with when you fly nowadays.” Most people in the U.S.A. don’t even blink when TSA screeners do full body scans on children (as this article explains, “In the United Kingdom, scans are not performed on anyone under 18 because they would violate child pornography laws”). And the people of the former U.S.S.R. are probably saying, “Welcome to our world.”
This is from The Consumerist:
As the government continues to pretend that it cares what anyone thinks about Comcast’s merger with NBC Universal, a coalition of Christian media watchdog groups are asking the cable giant to publicly divulge how much money it makes from porn channels and pay-per-view.
The coalition, which also includes the supposedly non-religious Parents Television Council and the always level-headed Focus on the Family, have asked the FCC to consider Comcast’s xxx-rated income when evaluating whether or not the merger is in the public interest. …
Now, I have to say up front that I’m not at all in favor of this merger, not that the FCC or anyone else probably cares what you or I think — this is big business, after all, and since we have turned into a nation of, by, and for the large corporations, they are probably going to get their way, and I don’t like it one little bit. But, having said that, who do these groups think they are? Maybe they would like the government poking into their finances — you know, the income they collect from their members under threat of hell-fire or something like it, to use in campaigns of hate against people who are not like them. At least Comcast and NBC Universal pay taxes on their income, which is more than can be said of groups that operate under the cloak of religion.
If there is one group I would like to see vanish from the face of the earth even more than huge corporations, it is the so-called “religious right.” They are still trying to hook our kids, but fortunately for all of us, the kids aren’t buying the same old tired religious crap anymore, especially the hateful invective of the religious right.
One of my deep regrets in life is ever getting involved in fundamentalist religion. Not only because they do preach intolerance and hate, something I could never stand in any other context, but because so much of religion is based on lies and half-truths (I’ve seriously considered writing a series of articles about that, except that I know that the people who most need the truth the most will not accept it, and even if by some miracle they would, they probably wouldn’t accept it from me). But one thing I know from all those years is that the people behind these types of groups truly believe that every spare dime you have should go to them. If you are spending money on entertainment, that’s money that’s not going into their hands, so they can print more hate-filled literature and produce more hate-filled videos. Most everything the church does is ultimately out of self interest — they want to control people and they want wealth, and the former is a stepping stone to the latter. Oh, they may preach love, but try joining them and then disagreeing with them (even if you can show them Bible verses to back up what you say) and see how much they love you… you’ll be lucky if they don’t condemn you to hell* right from the pulpit! Their love is entirely conditional on you doing what they want you to do, and saying only what they want you to say. If they can’t control you, you’re not going to feel very loved. And if you don’t take their advice on how to raise your children (of course you WILL have children, won’t you?) you’re going to hear their disapproval as well.
Anyway, to me it take a lot of nerve for groups like this to ask that anyone else answer their questions. They should be the ones being grilled about their operations. Here’s a question I’d like them to answer, just for starters: How many gay people have been killed, injured, or placed at a disadvantage because of your literature and media productions? How many women have they treated as second-class citizens, particularly if those women did not find fulfillment in raising children and being subservient to a man? How many kids are growing up thinking it’s okay to hate certain kinds of people, because their parents are raising them using your teachings (I would hope damn few, but I don’t underestimate the influence groups like these have). Okay, that’s three questions, but I bet we will never get a straight answer to any of them. Therefore, Comcast should not feel obligated to provide any answers to these folks.
*If you are part of a religion where they are even suggesting that there is a possibility you might go to hell, I suggest you read this – it explains, in a rather colorful way, exactly why the whole fundamentalist concept of hell is a lie (although Hell, Michigan, is quite real, and in the fall it’s a very nice place, actually). And once you realize that they lie about one thing, can you really trust them on any topic?
Just to mention another one they lie about: Tithing. If a religious leader tells you that you are required to tithe, or in any way suggests that giving is anything other than a strictly voluntary act, he is lying to you — and don’t let him string unrelated verses in the Bible together to create a doctrine out of thin air; that is what the fundamentalists DO! When they try to prove something from the Bible, if you are at all inclined to listen in the first place, then do this: If they want to read just a verse, you read the entire chapter (especially the verses just before and after the ones they are directing your attention to), find out the whole story, who it applied to, the circumstances under which it happened, and then whether it applies to you (here’s a hint: if it’s in the Old Testament, and you’re not Jewish, it doesn’t – and even if you are Jewish, there’s a good chance it doesn’t, unless you fall into a very specific group). If they tell you to move from verse to verse to verse in completely different chapters, they are fabricating a lie, and you should not let them get away with it!
I have long argued that corporations should not be treated as persons under the law, for the simple reason that corporations have no souls. They can therefore do evil with impunity. Even if they are convicted of a crime — which, because they can afford high-paid lawyers, is far less likely to occur than if you or I were to perform some evil act — in most cases the only penalty that can be imposed is a financial one. After all, you can’t pick up the corporate headquarters and put it in a jail cell, or anything like that. And of course, any financial penalty is often simply passed on to customers in the form of increased costs, so the corporation really doesn’t suffer at all (and worse yet, the CEO’s still get their perks and golden parachutes).
So, to give a corporation all the rights of a person, when they effectively cannot be penalized as a person might when they choose to do wrong (and it seems like they make that choice a lot these days) is just insane. And that’s why today’s Supreme Court decision makes no sense. By a 5-4 vote, the court said that corporations can spend as much money as they want to influence elections. In effect, they can drown out an opposition view, and in many cases put their own hand-picked candidates in office. Read the Associated Press story for more details.
In my opinion, this marks the beginning of a major change in the way that the United States is governed. We won’t really start to see the full effect until the next election cycle, but in five or ten years the USA could be a totally different country than the one we know today (and, I might add, nothing at all like the founding fathers envisioned, not that most people seem to care what they thought anymore).
Just as one example, if corporations can seriously influence elections, do you really think they are going to allow legislators that are pro-consumer to get into office? Think about the recent credit card reforms – now, if the banking industry had been able to buy elections in key districts, do you think there’s any hope those reforms would have passed? How much chance do you think we will ever have of getting true health care reform if big pharma and the big medical corporations can influence elections? Yes, I know that to some degree this has already happened (and I think that’s just plain evil when it does) but now the Supreme Court has opened the floodgates, and from now on there will be almost no limit on how much corporations can control the government.
It’s not like some of the science fiction films over the last few decades haven’t warned us that corporations might someday run the country, but we never took them seriously – it was just entertainment, right? Maybe not so much.
One of the biggest flaws in the American system is that nine people in robes (used to be nine old men in robes, but now there are women among the ranks) can make horrible decisions that will adversely affect this country for decades. But honestly, I don’t think the Supreme Court has made this bad a decision since Dred Scott. I honestly feel that today’s decision marks the beginning of the end of the United States as we know it, and I for one don’t think I’m going to much like what come out of today’s decision. As always, in situations like this, I really hope I’m wrong, but somehow I doubt it.
Edit: Apparently it’s not just me that sees this ruling as disastrous — see the New York Times editorial, The Court’s Blow to Democracy.
Crain’s Detroit Business reports today that Michigan is going to get $1.8 million from the feds “to launch an initiative to map and plan broadband service.” Now, you should be wondering about the timing of this announcement: December 23, just before most reporters take a long weekend. When news like this is released on a day like today, my first thought is, “Why do they want to bury this?”
The answer is in the last sentence of the article:
“Michigan is working on the project with Washington-based Connected Nation, a national non-profit organization that does broadband mapping.”
What’s wrong with that? I refer you to this article from DSLreports: One Last Warning Before America Screws Up Broadband Mapping.
EDIT: Also see “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media.
EDIT: Somehow I missed today’s post on DSLreports: “Connected Nation Wins Huge Chunk Of Taxpayer Money – And will likely use that money to fight against your interests…“
Do your research on Connected Nation, folks. Google is your friend.
Is Michigan going to get screwed on broadband mapping? In my humble opinion, the odds are very high. I HOPE that the Michigan Public Service Commission is smart enough to know who they’re dealing with, but even if they know, will they have any authority to alter any results that might be misleading?
Happy holidays. By the time the “watchdog media” (more like a sleeping chihuahua) gets back from the holidays, they’ll probably consider this old news, and totally ignore it. If you don’t have broadband now in your area and you want it, maybe you should think about moving to another state!
EDIT: I posted the above at around 2:30 PM. I then had to leave for a couple of hours, and by the time I got back, I found the following in my e-mail:
From: “Ditto, Jessica” [e-mail address redacted]
Date: Wed, 23 Dec 2009 13:10:40 -0800
Subject: Michigan Broadband Mapping Project
To Whom It May Concern:
In regards to your post about Michigan’s broadband mapping project I would caution you not to believe everything you read on the Internet. The timing of the announcement is nothing but the result of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration having just released the awards for 14 states and 1 U.S. territory late yesterday – Michigan being one of them. This is exciting news for Michigan as the state works to create jobs and opportunity in a technology-based economy. The Connect Michigan program has been developed over the past few months in close collaboration with the Michigan Public Service Commission. These funds will allow the state to collect critical broadband data needed to identify the unserved and underserved areas of the state. Connected Nation is proud to be lending our experience and expertise to that effort. What you may not realize is that Connected Nation has mapped eight states prior to this grant program. No other organization in the country has mapped broadband on such a comprehensive scale. We do this because our mission is to promote digital inclusion by addressing both the supply and demand for high-speed Internet.
Your blog can be a positive voice in this effort by spreading the word about the need for broadband in Michigan’s unreached areas. I hope that you will afford me the opportunity to let you know more about who we are so that we can work with you in a constructive way going forward.
877.846.7710 – Office
[Mobile telephone number redacted]
[e-mail address redacted]
My response: Ms. Ditto, I would guess that you are probably paid by your employer to attempt to counteract negative publicity that appears in blogs such as mine, and I understand you are probably just trying to earn a living. However, the problem as I understand it is twofold. First, and feel free to correct me if you think I am wrong, I have read that your organization was created by, and/or receives significant funding from AT&T. If that is true, then it gives the appearance of conflict of interest. Also, I have read editorials and articles that indicate that there is a belief that in states where your organization has previously done mapping, it has overstated the actual availability of broadband.
I freely admit that I did not do the original research on this (which is why I referred my readers to an article at DSLreports.com) but over the past year or so, I have read more than just one or two articles that question the circumstances under which your organization was started (was it a creation of AT&T, or any third-party organization hired by AT&T, or did AT&T have any hand in it?) and its source of funding (in other words, does AT&T contribute directly or indirectly to your organization’s operating expenses?).
There is a large area of Michigan that does need broadband, but let’s make sure we define broadband properly. My question to you would be, what is the minimum upload and download speeds that fit your organization’s definition of broadband? AT&T and Verizon seem to think that customers should be happy with minimal DSL speeds (particularly when they are not close to the telephone central office). For many customers that’s not true today, and in the future it won’t be true for anyone. If you are defining anything over dial-up modem speed as “broadband”, then that will not present a true picture of where broadband is available in Michigan. Today and in the future, customers will expect to be able to upload and download high-definition video without having to wait forever. Does your organization have the ability to change your definition of broadband to keep pace with the times and with customer expectations, or do you have to use a definition that has been imposed on you by someone else, and if so, who might that someone else be?
I’m sorry, but I just can’t help but think the timing of today’s announcement was a bit suspicious. Maybe there was a valid reason for it, maybe not, but I’m quite aware of the fact that companies tend to issue press releases on Friday afternoons and before holiday weekends, when the hope is that they will not get much exposure or commentary. Maybe that was not the intent here and it was just unfortunate timing, but if so, it was indeed unfortunate.
If you would care to comment on the above, I will publish your response. I want to be fair to everyone, but at the same time, I’ve had a bad experience in the past with a public relations firm hired by a major telephone company, so I’m not going to just let statements slide by without asking some questions, where I feel it is appropriate.
Thank you for your response, and happy holidays to you!
EDIT 2: I received another e-mail reply from Ms. Ditto. Basically, it seems that for some reason she wants to engage me further on this topic at some point next week, after she returns from the Christmas weekend. The meaningful part of her response was this:
“I will tell you one thing I am not with a public relations firm, nor was I hired to counteract negative publicity, although obviously my job is easier when I confront things head-on. I began working for Connected Nation because I wanted to work for a nonprofit that was doing something meaningful for others. I personally saw the impact they had in Kentucky and am excited about the work we are going to do in Michigan.”
But I didn’t say she was with a public relations firm, just that I’d had a bad experience with one. And I didn’t say that she was hired to counteract negative publicity, but I’ll bet her employer pays her while she’s attempting to do so.
I’m not even going to comment on her statement about the reason she began working for Connected Nation. I don’t want to turn this into something personal. This is not about Ms. Ditto — my whole point there was that she’s just doing her job and at this time of year, I’m not inclined to say anything negative against anyone if I can help it. But at the same time, if she’s going to try to sell me with an “Oh, shucks, we’re just a nonprofit from Kentucky” routine, there’s no way I’m buying into that. After doing just a very shallow Google search, I found the link to “Privatizing the Public Trust: A Critical Look At Connected Nation“, a report issued by Public Knowledge, Common Cause, The Media and Democracy Coalition, and Reclaim the Media. So if Ms. Ditto wants to set the record straight, it appears she has a lot more formidable opponents than I to deal with. Oh, and I found something interesting on Connected Nation’s own web site: Connected Nation Submits No Bid Response for Kentucky Broadband Mapping RFP.
Really, the only response I am interested in receiving from Connected Nation is an honest answer to the questions I asked above. To put it crudely, I want to know if, and to what extent, they’re in bed with AT&T and/or any other telephone company that has a presence in the state of Michigan. I’m certainly not going to be their sunshine pumper in the state (as if I had that kind of influence), nor do I intend at this point to carry out ongoing tirades against them (unless I’m provoked to do so). The point of this post was to alert you to this news item, and to express my personal opinion on the matter. I had frankly hoped that some other blog or news site with a lot more exposure would pick up on this, but to be honest I didn’t expect it, for the very reason I stated above — after the reporters (and the professional bloggers that blog for a living) return from the holidays, this will probably be considered old news.
And by the way, this is one of those occasions where I honestly hope I’m wrong… nothing would make me happier than to see Connected Nation produce a fair and accurate broadband map of Michigan, that accurately shows the actual upload and download speeds that people can receive at any given location in our state. One major problem with phone companies is that they advertise broadband speeds using the weasel words “up to”, so when they don’t deliver the advertised speed they can say they only promised to deliver “up to” that speed (often still charging the end user as if they were receiving the advertised speed!). A broadband map that shows only the advertised speeds available at any particular spot on the map will not only be useless, but disingenuous. Anyway, it concerns me when these other organizations — those that have actual funding, and probably a research staff — publish articles that are critical of Connected Nation. I don’t have funding and I don’t have a research staff, so I cannot fully investigate the claims made by those organizations, nor those made by Connected Nation. But I do form opinions based on what I read, and in this country I’m allowed to share my opinions with you. If my opinions are in error, well, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Please allow me to make a couple of further points: According to the original article, the federal government is spending $1.8 million dollars on this project (and that’s just in Michigan — DSLreports adds that the feds also awarded Connected Nation grants to the tune of $1.8 million for mapping and planning in Tennessee, $1.7 million in North Carolina, $1.4 million in Nevada, and $1.7 million in Minnesota) — dollars that probably came from you and I in one way or another. And what is the point? Wouldn’t it make more sense to use that money to enhance competition by actually giving zero-interest loans to small broadband providers that promise to serve an unserved or underserved area? You may say, well, we need to know where the unserved or underserved areas are located, but then I ask whether it’s really important to pinpoint those areas to the tune of $1.8 million dollars, especially considering that the existing facilities-based broadband providers ought to be able to provide maps showing where they are able to provide service. We require wireline phone companies to produce tariff maps showing exactly where their service is available — shouldn’t broadband providers be able to provide the same information, without it costing $1.8 million?
Also, there is a part of me that wonders if such a map might serve the purpose of inhibiting competition (whether as an intended or unintentional consequence). The reason is that once you know where broadband service is available, even if it’s lousy service in some areas, that information could be used to deny loans or grants to companies that want to overbuild in those areas. In other words, even if a provider’s service in unreliable, even if contacting their customer service department is like entering a level of hell, even if their own customer services representatives don’t seem to realize they have service in the area (a not uncommon problem!), or even if the provider wants to impose ridiculously small usage caps on their customers, on the map it would still show that broadband is available. Maybe customers would really like good quality broadband service with no usage caps and at a fair price, from a company that treats them as though customers really are important, but if this map says that Crappy Broadband, Inc. already offers service in your area, then perhaps nobody else is going to get a grant or loan to provide the type of service customers will want and expect in the 21st century.
My suggestion would be that if we must go through with this project, then a truly useful map would also include independently collected customer satisfaction data – how many area residents attempted to obtain service and were told they could not, and how many think the service is vastly overpriced, and how many are so frustrated with their provider’s service, or the provider’s customer service reps, to nearly want to “go postal” on that company? For that matter, will this map even take into account the prices charged? If it doesn’t then they could justifiably claim that broadband service is available, right now, to 99%+ of Michigan residents, because just about anyone can get a commercial data line from the telephone company (a DS1 or similar data circuit). You might have to sell your firstborn to get it (okay, I exaggerate slightly), but you can get it. Therefore, a map that only shows where broadband is available, without taking the issues of prices charged and customer satisfaction into account, won’t give a complete picture of broadband availability in Michigan.
Anyway, that’s all I have to say on the subject for the moment. Hope all of you will have the happiest of holidays!
I need to tell you up front, there are really only three types of people that I usually take an instant dislike to. The first are bigots. If you think that certain people have less value, or are less worthy than you of living the American dream just because you were born with certain characteristics and they were born with different ones, you and I are not going to get along. I was having a conversation with a guy who lives near me one day and he started dropping the “N” word into his conversation. I instinctively decided he had an I.Q. somewhere below that of a lump of coal, and have gone out of my way to avoid him ever since.
The second group I tend to dislike are the people who think that the only thing that matters in life is how much money you make. I see money as a necessary evil, and I do mean evil – the love of money drives people to act in a very inhumane manner toward their fellow human beings. I realize we are stuck in a world where money is a necessary evil (which is why I sometimes think we actually live in a reality as close to hell as most of us will ever see), but the type of person that really turns me off is the excessively greedy; the one that measures the worth of people solely by how much money they make, and of things by how much they cost. One reason I don’t like large corporations is because by design, they are solely focused on making money, and therefore tend to have all the bad characteristics of the greediest people you’ll meet.
There are other people that I tend to dislike, but am willing to cut them a break to some degree. For example, fundamentalist religious types — I think they are seriously deluded, but as they are, I once was (at least to some degree), so I can’t judge them too harshly. I may avoid them, but only because I realize they are not yet at a point where they are willing to explore the problems in their beliefs, and until they reach that point, any debate on the subject would result in a lot of heat being generated, but not much light. Such people have a path to walk, and sometimes they just really need to see the logical outcomes of their beliefs (turning into a really mean, hateful, ugly person with a very black soul) before they begin to seek the true light.
But the people that I most immediately take an instant dislike to are smokers. With a bigot, they usually won’t let you know they are a bigot right up front (there are exceptions, of course, but I haven’t run into too many of those). It’s the same with the money-grubbers — even clues such as how they dress or talk don’t always tell you what’s really in their heart; so it takes a while to figure them out. But with a smoker, you know the moment they pull out that cigarette and light it up. What do you know about them?
Well, you know they don’t care about their own health, and you know they don’t care that those they love might have to watch them get sick and die from a totally preventative disease. You know they don’t care that the medical bills associated with keeping them comfortable during the last days of said disease might drain their family’s savings, leaving them nearly destitute. You know that they don’t care that the money they spend on cigarettes could be used in far better ways, for the care of themselves and/or their families. You know they don’t care that those they live with have to at very least smell the stench of nicotine on their clothes, and that anyone that kisses them will be kissing an ashtray. You also know that at least some of those folks are spending money on cigarettes even though their children are living below the poverty level (sorry, kids, you aren’t getting Christmas presents because mom and dad need their smokes) and you know that some of them smoke inside the house while their kids or pets are present, damaging their own kids’ lungs.
You know they don’t care about their own appearance – nothing can make a person start to look ugly like a few years of smoking. And if they smoke at home, you know they don’t care about their home’s appearance either – maybe they don’t notice the yellowed ceilings and walls, or that all their furniture stinks to high heaven, but non-smokers sure notice.
You know that most of them smoke inside of their vehicles, not caring that this lowers the resale value of the vehicle, and that at least some of them do that when their kids, or their non-smoking family or friends are inside the vehicle. I have often said, and I firmly believe, that if a police officer sees an adult smoking in a car where children are present, they should have the authority to call child protective services and make sure those kids will never be put in that situation again, and the adult should be prosecuted for child abuse to the fullest extent of the law. Okay, if you think that’s too harsh (and I really don’t, given what we now know about the dangers of secondhand smoke), then give the adult one shot at rehabilitation – mandatory smoking-cessation classes under a doctor’s supervision, for which they have to pay (if they can afford the smokes, they can afford the classes). But if, after going through that program they are again caught smoking with a minor child in the car, they get mandatory prison time.
And when someone lights up in my presence, to me that is as personally offensive as if they’d walked up and urinated on my food. It means they don’t give a damn about me as a person, that they don’t care that they are damaging my lungs, making my clothing smell bad, and generally making me nauseous. I’d rather smell a skunk at moderately close range than a smoker (in fact, if there were such a thing as street justice, a fitting punishment for an unrepentant smoker might be to lock them in a room with an angry skunk, until the skunk does his thing. Then make sure he know that this is exactly how some non-smokers feel when he smokes around them).
Now, I do realize that not all smokers are inconsiderate. Some realize they are fighting a filthy habit. They don’t smoke inside their home (unless they live alone, and are prepared to pay the cost of having a professional company try to clean up after their habit when they are ready to move), and they don’t smoke in their car if kids or non-smokers are riding along. If they smoke at work, they do it outside (even if it is -30 degrees) and move far away from the doorways, so that others who need to enter and exit don’t have to breathe their smoke. They try to be aware of which way the wind is blowing, and stand so that their smoke doesn’t drift toward others. If they are with a non-smoker, they don’t even ask if it’s okay to smoke (would you ask someone else if it’s okay to spit on them, or urinate on them?), they just don’t, unless they can get far away from (and downwind of) the non-smoker(s). They don’t go into a public bathroom to sneak a smoke and then leave it reeking of smoke for the next user. That kind of unselfish smoker is unfortunately all too rare, in my experience, but to the extent they exist, I sincerely hope they can find effective help in kicking the habit. I realize that such folks are the victims of the big tobacco marketing campaigns (and in some cases, cigarettes “spiked” with added nicotine to make them even more addictive), so for those folks I have some sympathy. For the selfish smokers that (at least in my experience) seem to comprise the majority, I have little sympathy — once you start inflicting your nasty habit on others, you are no better than a common thug that goes out and assaults people at random.
There’s one other point that needs to be made. Some people, even some non-smokers, have somehow come to believe that this is a matter of personal freedom. Well, as the old saying goes, your freedom ends where my nose begins (and not just my nose, but my clothes, and the interior of my car or my home as well). However, the argument is sometimes made that if the government gets away with restricting the “freedom” to smoke, they will feel emboldened to attempt to regulate other “unhealthy” activities. Of course, if you think about it for a couple of seconds, that ship has already sailed and is now ancient history. Our government has deemed that many drugs, including those that are nothing more than the natural byproducts of plants that have been around for centuries, need to be regulated. Viewed that way, tobacco is just one more dangerous and addictive drug that should have been banned long ago, if there were any consistency in the law.
Still, I could have some sympathy for that argument — I happen to think that the government in the United States is very overbearing on the personal freedoms of Americans (and regularly treats our Constitution as something akin to toilet tissue in the process). You know something’s wrong when wealthy Americans are, in increasing numbers (and especially when nearing retirement age), choosing to leave the United States and move to other parts of the world, where their freedoms are not so put upon — and many of those destination countries have anti-smoking laws as well, so that’s not the issue. I don’t want my government to keep me absolutely safe — that should be my responsibility. If, for example, I want to ride a motorcycle without wearing a helmet (something I personally think would be a very stupid thing to do), that should be my choice, since I have long since passed the age of 21 and am past the years where peer pressure by my stupid teenage friends might unduly influence me to do stupid things. And I don’t like automobile seat belt laws for the same reason.
But the major difference is this: If I choose to sit and gulp down spoonfuls of white sugar instead of eating healthy food, or eat nothing but artery-busting hamburgers with enough grease to saturate the bun, or do anything else that adversely affects my health, it mostly affects just ME. Smoking is one of the few things I could do — deliberately exposing myself to an airborne disease and then coughing right in your face would be another — where my lack of care for my own health could directly affect your health negatively. In that case, you have every right to hope and expect that the law will protect you from my attempts to ruin your health (and more so if I were a minor child in your care). Otherwise, it’s none of your business (or the government’s) what I choose to eat, or how I choose to protect myself.
I know someone’s going to bring up the argument about “yes, but if you get sick or hurt, others have to help pay.” Well, please remember that the next time YOU choose to engage in an activity that’s even the slightest bit hazardous. If you can restrict others from eating “junk food”, maybe they will restrict you from swimming (people drown and nearly drown), boating (people fall overboard), fishing (people fall off piers, and there’s mercury in fish), any form of winter recreation (people fall and break bones on the ice, and while skiing, snowboarding, etc.), paragliding, parasailing, skydiving, mountain climbing (people fall from heights and get killed, or in the mountains they die of exposure), hiking in the woods (people get lost, run into bears and other dangerous wildlife), surfing (people drown, or get bitten by sharks and other nasty sea creatures), or even golfing (people get hit by golf balls and even falling tree limbs!). I’m sure that some insurance companies would prefer you live in a rubber-lined room and eat nothing but bland, organic vegetables. My point is that part of the human experience is doing things that aren’t completely safe — otherwise roller coasters wouldn’t exist — and that adults need the freedom to choose how much they wish to live life on the edge in order to gain experiences, whether that means occasionally eating unhealthy but tasty food, or engaging in an extreme sport such as auto racing.
So, I am definitely NOT for restricting personal freedoms as a general rule. But smoking is the exception, precisely because when a smoker smokes, he pollutes the air (and sometimes the living space) of others. Viewed that way, smoking (as practiced by most smokers) is one of the ultimate acts of selfishness. In my opinion, a nicotine addict should be viewed in much the same way as a sex addict – yes, it’s an addiction that needs treatment, but first and foremost, the addict needs to be stopped from hurting others. And that is what this new Michigan law (along with similar laws in several other states) is intended to do – stop the nicotine addict from hurting others because of his addiction.
This new law could be better – I totally disagree with the exemption for the casinos, and I also think that a companion law should be passed that protects minor children from having to breathe secondhand smoke in all circumstances, but especially in vehicles (where the secondhand smoke is concentrated in a very small space). I’d like to see a vehicular smoking law, that states the following:
- It’s a misdemeanor (first offense) or felony (subsequent offenses) to smoke in a vehicle where anyone under the age of 21 is present. First offense requires either jail time or completion of smoking cessation program. Second offense requires reporting to Child Protective Services to assess whether children’s health is being endangered by being confined in vehicle with smoking adults.
- Assault charges can be brought against a driver or passenger who smokes in a vehicle after being requested not to by a non-smoker. Also the non-smoking passenger could sue the smoker in small claims court and receive $300 in statutory damages per incident ($5,000 per incident if required to ride in the vehicle as a condition of employment, and the employer could be held jointly responsible if there is no policy against smoking in vehicles during work-related trips).
- Employers would be forbidden from firing or otherwise penalizing an employee who refuses to ride in a vehicle with smokers (it would be a criminal offense if the employee is under age 21).
- Smokers would not be allowed to participate in publicly funded carpooling or ride-share programs, unless such programs do not place smokers and non-smokers in the same vehicle under any circumstances.
- It would be an offense to use a carpooling lane while smoking (if we even have any of those in Michigan).
- Smoking while driving would be considered a separate chargeable offense if it can be proved that smoking, or an activity related to smoking (such as searching for a lighter or matches) is a proximate or contributory cause of a traffic accident.
- Any business that sells gasoline may not sell tobacco products (nor may a store that primarily sells tobacco products, such as a “smoke shop”, be opened within 250 feet of a gasoline pump, though existing businesses would be grandfathered in as long as they are not owned by the same company that owns the gas station). (And yes, I know what the chances are of getting that one passed, but it would remove a lot of temptation).
- Used vehicles offered for sale by a dealer must be tested for nicotine buildup in the headliners and other fabric parts of the vehicle (such as seats). If nicotine residue above a certain concentration is detected, that must be clearly disclosed at the time of the sale (it would be permissible to attempt to clean the residue and retest, or to replace contaminated surfaces, but prospective buyers must still be informed of the before- and after-cleaning test results). Cars more than 15 years old would be exempt from this required testing, as would private vehicle sales or auto auction sales.
Note that nothing above would stop a person from smoking in their own car when there aren’t any children or non-smokers riding along. In an ideal world, tobacco would be treated as it really is, a far more addictive drug that other drugs that are now totally illegal to possess. For example, tobacco is more addictive than marijuana (especially when the tobacco companies “spike” the nicotine level), yet unless you have the clearance to smoke marijuana for medical reasons, they’ll throw you in jail for even possessing a little pot. That, to me, seems totally ridiculous – at least marijuana arguably has some medical uses (and I did vote to legalize it for medical purposes, in case you were wondering) but tobacco is only still legal because the big tobacco companies have had so much influence in government, even though we know how dangerous it is to both smokers and those that have been forced to inhale second-hand smoke, and has virtually no medical benefits (certainly none that outweigh the damage it does to the lungs and to other parts of the body).
Now, I know that some smokers that read this will think I am the world’s biggest ass for even daring to write this (even though I’m probably saying something a lot of your non-smoking associates would like to say), and if that’s how you really feel, then I assure you that if I ever met you the feeling would likely be mutual (I know this because I’ve run into your kind before). On the other hand, many people who read this, smokers and non-smokers alike, will know exactly the type of smoker that causes non-smokers to react this way – the inconsiderate moron that doesn’t care how many non-smokers he offends with his habit, even if they are members of his own family. It’s similar to the guy who gets drunk and then says all sorts of nasty and offensive things to the people around him – even if he’s a nice guy when he’s sober, he’s still a jerk when he drinks. The same is true of smokers – I don’t mean to categorize them all as evil people, but when they smoke, many of them seem to forget all about others and think only of themselves. I truly do have sympathy for those who are trying to quit and having a hard time, but if you have any love at all for those around you, don’t let the fact that quitting is hard stand in the way of doing it. Talk to your doctor, or to a hypnotherapist, or to the American Lung Association, or to someone else you think can help, but just do whatever it takes to quit.
And if you have kids, and if you love them, don’t let them ever start! Check them for tobacco use the way you’d monitor them for illegal drug use. Smell their clothes and the inside of their vehicle, if they have one. If you find out that one of their friends smoke, react the same way you’d react if you found out that friend was using a dangerous drug. Make it very clear from the time they are about five years old that you have zero tolerance for smoking. Of course, if you smoke you’ll have no moral authority in the matter, so that’s another great reason to quit!
EDIT: It’s been less than 24 hours since I posted this and even though it’s a Sunday, it appears that someone who’s acting as a sock puppet for the tobacco industry found this post and attempted to leave a comment (which I rejected primarily because it had almost no original content, but included three links to pro-smoking propaganda sites!) . So let me make it clear – if you want to attempt to refute anything in this post, please do not send links to propaganda pages (you will note all of the above is my original writing; there are no links to any other page in this article). Instead, respond to the points I made in this post (not points that some “straw man” anti-smoking group supposedly made somewhere else – I didn’t quote them, and I’m on to that trick). I’m willing to discuss anything I’ve written, but I’m not willing to try to refute some ridiculous argument that some (possibly non-existent) anti-smoking group supposedly made – if you have an issue with someone else, take it up with them.
And just so you know, in order to refute this post, you’re going to have to prove that secondhand smoke isn’t harmful to others (and especially children, and especially when they’re riding in a vehicle with a smoker) — good luck with that — and you’re also going to have to prove that the stench of tobacco smoke isn’t repugnant to the majority of non-smokers, and the only way you could make that argument is if you’re totally oblivious to the reactions of non-smokers when you light up in their vicinity (particularly those that don’t have to try to get along with you for one reason or another) — or if you’re a shill for the tobacco industry!
(I resisted the urge to make the headline read: “Hulu EULA meant ta fool ya?” You’re welcome.)
2. Permitted License Uses and Restrictions. Hulu grants you a license to install and use the Hulu Software on your personal laptop or desktop computer (“Personal Computer”) for the sole purpose of streaming content that is available on Hulu’s site located at www.hulu.com (“Hulu Content”) on your Personal Computer. You may not download, install or use the Hulu Software on any device other than a Personal Computer including without limitation digital media receiver devices (such as Apple TV), mobile devices (such as a cell phone device, mobile handheld device or a PDA), network devices or CE devices (collectively “Prohibited Devices”). You may not use any hardware, software or service other than the Hulu Software to stream, re-encode, project or transmit Hulu Content. …
But, that is not the part that concerns me. I’m far more concerned about section 5, which states:
5. Consent to Use of Data. You agree that Hulu and its subsidiaries may collect and use technical and related information about your computer, including but not limited to system and application software and peripherals that you use to access the Services. This information is gathered to facilitate the provision of software updates, product support, and other services to you (if any) related to the Hulu Software. Hulu may use this information to improve our products or to provide services or technologies to you. (Emphasis Added)
First of all, why should I be required to tell Hulu anything at all about my computer? Is this so they have a way to enforce the restrictions in Section 2? While this paragraph would concern me even without the inclusion of any “weasel words,” including the words “but not limited to” seems to change the entire tone of that paragraph. Let me put it this way: If you happen to read down this far, what I suspect they want your eyes to see is something like this:
You agree that Hulu (blah, blah) may collect and use technical and related information about your computer (blah, blah) software and peripherals that you use to access the Services. …
And that alone ought to put you on your guard, but many people wouldn’t notice. But if I am reading correctly (and bear in mind that I Am Not A Lawyer), what I think this really means is more along these lines:
You agree that Hulu and its subsidiaries, whoever they are may collect and use any damn thing they want to know about your computer.
So, again if I am reading this correctly, this license in effect gives Hulu and its unnamed subsidiaries blanket permission to take whatever information they can find on your computer. Now, I have no idea what information they actually look at, but no way in hell would I knowingly give Hulu or anybody else blanket permission to let their software rummage around my computer and “phone home” with anything they happen to find interesting.
I’m really surprised that this hasn’t apparently hasn’t been noticed (yet) by those people who regularly look for this sort of thing. Anyway, if anyone from Hulu happens to read this, my advice is that you strike Section 5 of your obnoxious EULA. Or, at least run it by someone who understands that users do not intend to give you the keys to their computer (or the right to take the keys at whatever future date you like) simply because you induce them to use your software, and then revise that section to explicitly state what you will collect (with no “weasel words”), and exactly who will have access to that data.
So my question is this: If we have any legal experts in the crowd, does this EULA section seem as offensive to you as it does to me? Or am I just taking this entirely the wrong way?
As for the Hulu Desktop software itself, I cannot comment on whether it’s any good or not, because I’ve never gone past that EULA screen!
I was about 17 years old and radio station CKLW (a radio station in Windsor, Ontario that was then the top-rated station in many nearby U.S. cities such as Detroit, Toledo, and even Cleveland) was running a contest — seems like they were always running a contest — called “secret satellite.” The idea was, they gave clues (progressively easier) about where a “secret satellite” had supposedly crashed. If you guessed right and were the correct caller, you won a brand-new Plymouth Satellite automobile. They gave out two numbers to call (neither was toll-free) — one was in Windsor and the other in Detroit. Since there was a pretty good chance you would not be the “correct” caller even if you got through, and since the rate at the time for an “international” call to Windsor was significantly higher that the rate to the Detroit number (which was itself high enough because it was an in-state call), the obvious choice was to call the Detroit number. Well, I figured out the answer and tried to call — and got blocked by a telephone company recording.
Without going into all the details, that was where I first learned about geographic telephone numbers, and it’s also where I learned the power of contacting the Public Service Commission with a complaint. I was mad because I knew somebody was lying to me — Michigan Bell was claiming that CKLW had requested they block calls from outside the 313 area code, and CKLW replied (by letter) that they had done no such thing. In the end, you get one guess who was lying (hint: the lies weren’t coming out of Canada). Had I been older and had my dad not been doing some contract work for Michigan Bell at the time, chances are I would have pursued the matter further, but at least I got them to unblock the number — long after someone else had won the car, after giving the exact same answer I would have given.
So I have some sympathy for the woman described in this Consumerist article, who claims to have lost $1,000 because Vonage routes all calls to 1-800 numbers through New York and the station could not, or would not accept the calls. The problem is that the woman (and apparently The Consumerist, judging by the headline on the article) appear to be blaming Vonage for the screwup. Now, Vonage isn’t my favorite company either, but let’s be realistic here.
When you have VoIP service — or cell phone service for that matter — and you place a call that goes to a PSTN number, the calls have to get connected to the PSTN network somewhere, and that somewhere probably isn’t going to be in your home town. In the case of a toll-free call, it gets dumped onto the PSTN, but after that several things can happen. You need to understand that, without getting too technical, the telephone number of the phone originating the call can be transmitted in either or both of two ways — as the Caller ID number, and as Automatic Number Identification data (ANI, usually pronounced “Annie”). The least expensive ways for a VoIP company to send a call to the PSTN — particularly a toll-free call — often does not transmit ANI that corresponds in any way to the original caller’s number. Again, without getting too technical, this is because the original caller doesn’t own the circuit that makes the connection to the PSTN, and chances are the VoIP company doesn’t own it either (at least in the case of smaller VoIP companies).
So to cut to the chase, a VoIP company has few choices – in most cases they use a good but inexpensive method of sending toll-free calls to the PSTN, which may or may not send the correct Caller-ID number of the original caller, but in probably the vast majority of cases does not send ANI data that corresponds to that caller. And in fact, most VoIP companies probably could not send out toll-free calls with a “local” ANI without increasing their costs dramatically, and for probably 99%+ of toll-free calls it’s not necessary, because most companies these days know better than to “cheap out” by putting geographic restrictions on their toll-free numbers.
The real issue here is that, without commenting on this specific case (of which I know nothing other than what I read in the Consumerist article), radio stations are notorious for pinching pennies — I know because I’ve worked at a couple when I was much younger, and the lengths that station owners and managers will go to in order to save a few cents are legendary in the industry. When you have a toll-free number, one of the things you can do (particularly if you’ve obtained the number from a traditional telephone company) is request that you only receive calls that appear to originate in certain area codes. And why would you do that? For one reason and one reason only — you don’t want to pay for wrong number calls and prank calls that come from outside your service area. Of course, with the advent of “soft” PBX’s, the end-user can now do similar filtering, based on either ANI (if they receive that on their incoming trunk) or Caller ID.
That MIGHT have been a good idea back in the 1980′s and before, when toll-free calls cost the subscriber a lot more than a couple of cents per minute. It’s certainly NOT a good idea now. Why? Because people are starting to keep their phone numbers even when they move. I could be sitting in the lobby of your radio station in Washington, D.C., and whip out a cell phone and try to call you, and you might think I’m in California if I originally obtained service for my phone in California, or if my provider is connecting call to the PSTN via a gateway that’s not sending ANI associated with my cell phone. The same is true of VoIP — even if I’m sitting at home a block away from you and using my VoIP line to call you, if you are basing the decision on whether to accept my call based on ANI there’s an extremely good chance that the ANI isn’t going to be in any way associated with my actual location. Even if you use Caller ID data, I could still be a block away from you but have a number in an area code 3,000 miles away, so that’s not going to work either.
The real message here is that radio stations either need to stop refusing toll-free calls based on ANI or Caller-ID data, or if they are just too cheap to do that (and believe me, based on my previous experiences with broadcasters, many are) then stop using toll-free numbers altogether. Or, give out a toll-free number AND a local (non-toll-free) number, specifying that cell and VoIP callers should use the local number. Or, just keep cheaping out, and risk alienating more and more of their listeners. If listeners cannot get into their contest lines, what’s the point of listening to a commercial radio stations, with all their ads and (sometimes) annoying announcers? There are always online services like Pandora and Last.fm, or personal music players that play the selection of music that you like, not the stuff the radio station is force-feeding this week. Personally, even the possibility of winning a thousand bucks would not be enough to induce me to listen to today’s banal and annoying commercial radio (I know, I’m an olde phart now, but from what I’ve been reading, the kids aren’t listening to radio much either).
By the way, I’m not a lawyer, but if the woman in question decides to sue anyone in small claims court, perhaps the best course of action would be to jointly sue Vonage, the radio station, and the local telephone company that supplies the toll-free service to the radio station (if she can find out which company that might be), and let the court figure out which is actually liable. I don’t know if it would be worth the effort for a thousand bucks, but I think it would be interesting to many of us to see which party a court would actually hold liable in such a situation.
Meanwhile, if you run a VoIP company, you might consider including some language in your Terms of Service that says something like this (again, I AM NOT A LAWYER, and this is NOT legal advice – before you do anything like this be sure to run it by YOUR lawyer): “(Company name) does not warrant that calls sent to the public switched telephone network will always contain correct Caller ID and/or Automatic Number Indentification (ANI) data. If a customer places a call to a toll-free number, and the owner of the number rejects calls based on Caller ID or ANI data, they may sometimes reject calls from our customers, for reasons that are beyond our control. In such cases, it is the customer’s responsibility to contact the owner of the toll-free number and request that they discontinue blocking of calls based on Caller ID or ANI data, or to obtain and call a non-toll-free number instead. Nothing in this paragraph applies to the routing of emergency calls to 911 services.” Again, this is written by someone with maybe a small bit of technical background but NO LEGAL BACKGROUND, so IT’S NOT LEGAL ADVICE, so DON’T USE IT WITHOUT CHECKING WITH YOUR LAWYER FIRST. Got it?!?
Maybe it’s high time for the FCC to step in and ban geographic or area code restrictions on toll-free calls (at least at the carrier level) for precisely the reasons I’ve mentioned — telephone numbers are more and more becoming non-geographic. The possibility of having “one phone number for life”, no matter where you move, is no longer a farfetched notion – a child coming of age today could indeed arrange to have one phone number for life, barring technical changes that revise the way phone numbers are issued, or a company that goes out of business along the way or some such thing. Businesses need to realize that, and get rid of this antiquated and silly notion of blocking calls based on area codes and/or exchange prefixes, which nowadays often give no indication whatsoever of the geographic location of the caller.
I will tell you this much up front. I have accepted freebies in the past, in two categories. One is books — publishers frequently send out review copies of books, and I’m not above reviewing one, once in a while. I did this 25 years ago when I was writing for a computer club newsletter and I’ll still very occasionally do it today. The difference today is I’m a lot more selective – usually I won’t even accept a book unless I think there’s at least some chance it will be interesting or useful to me. Just within the last week, I declined the opportunity to review a book because, frankly, I have a bias against both the company behind the product that is the subject of the book, and against the author of the book, due to (ironically enough) what I considered unethical practices by both.
To my way of thinking, once a book goes out to a reviewer it cannot be resold as new anyway, so why would the publisher want it back? At that point it has minimal value — sure, I suppose that I could resell it as a used book if I were so inclined, but I don’t ever do that. But more to the point, the fact that it’s a free book isn’t sufficient to cause me to write enthusiastic praise about it, particularly if the book is a real dog.
The other category is hardware. In the two cases where I have reviewed a hardware product since starting this blog, I have contacted the distributor of that product because it was something that I was interested in and because I thought the product was something more people should know about. I basically wanted to verify that the product worked as advertised. In one case the product was so interesting to me that what I had intended to be a one-post review turned into a seven-part series, and yet I still reported as honestly as I could on the subject (does anyone who read that series not get that I thought the documentation that came with the unit was deficient?). I didn’t say good things about the unit because I got to keep it after the review; instead I said good things about it because it works well and could solve a problem that many users have (getting VoIP to work through a difficult firewall setup).
The actual reason that I had become interested in that particular product was because I had recently tried (and failed) to help someone get a SIP connection working using a Linksys PAP2 on a connection that had to go through two routers. The double NAT setup just killed the audio in both directions, and the guy I was trying to help wasn’t inclined to spend a lot of time troubleshooting. I got to thinking how nice it would be to have a VoIP adapter available that uses the IAX protocol, which usually works quite well in that sort of situation. The Atcom AG-188N seemed like a good choice, but I didn’t have an immediate need for one, so I thought I’d try requesting a review sample. And when I received it, it was one of those happy situations where the unit actually delivered a lot more than I had expected (even if the documentation left something to be desired).
But would I ever write a bad review of a hardware product I had received for free? Oh, yes, I certainly would. Back in the early days of the TRS-80 computer, I had an early dot matrix printer (to this day I’m embarrassed to say what I paid for that thing – suffice it to say I could probably buy about ten laser printers today for what that underpowered dot-matrix printer cost back then). Anyway, a company that was advertising in one of the computer magazines was selling a device that, when inserted between the computer and the printer, was supposed to provide enhanced page-formatting capability (remember, back then most dot-matrix printers were LINE printers and had no text formatting capabilities whatsoever). I requested a review unit, and had it worked even reasonably well I would have reported that honestly. But frankly, the product sucked. Not only did it not work as advertised, it actually interfered with normal printing!
I reported that as accurately as I could, and advised people to avoid the unit. The manufacturer was very upset with me, to put it mildly, and wrote me a nasty letter demanding I return their product, which I was more than happy to do (who needs a piece of useless electronic junk lying around?), even though I was under no legal obligation to do so (I then wrote a followup article, noting the manufacturer’s petulance). Apparently they thought that by giving me a free unit, I could be bought – and they were wrong. Free or not, it still has to work as advertised.
There are two things I will not do. One is that I will not let someone else write a review for me and publish it in my blog. If and when I use someone else’s words, I clearly identify them (for example, I might include a list of product specifications from the manufacturer’s web site, but I will tell you the source, and usually include a link). The other is that I would never accept any payment to write a review. I guess I don’t consider being allowed to keep an under-$100 product as payment (now, if I were reviewing expensive wide-screen TV’s, that might be a different matter). Again, my reasoning is that once I’ve had the product in my possession, it can no longer be sold as new, and frankly I don’t want the bother and expense of having to ship it back, and I usually wouldn’t have requested it in the first place if I didn’t think it might be useful to me at some point. But think about it – if the only “compensation” I am getting is being allowed to keep the product, and the product is a piece of crap, what possible inducement would I have to say anything good about it?
I know that a few of the major print magazines make it a point to ship review products back to the manufacturer when they are finished with them, but they usually have a lot larger budgets than most bloggers (not to mention an in-house shipping department). But keep in mind that not all reviews you see in a magazine are necessarily the result of in-house testing. Some of them may be “work for hire”, which is to say, articles purchased from independent writers not directly affiliated with the magazine. In those cases, you (and perhaps the magazine publisher) have no way of knowing if the reviewer got to keep the product — or got any other form of compensation (beyond what the magazine paid) for writing the article.
Because the FTC and others are suddenly become concerned about this, I’m probably going to have to add a line to any future reviews, that says something like “Disclosure: The publisher let me keep the book after I was finished reviewing it”, or, “Disclosure: The distributor or manufacturer provided this product for review purposes and is not requiring me to return it” whenever that is the case. I’d suggest that other bloggers who accept books or products for review may want to do the same.
But what you really need to beware of are those bloggers that will publish “ghost written” reviews, or that actually accept money (or other compensation) to write positive reviews. The thing you are trying to detect is the “quid pro quo”, where there is an actual or implied understanding that the blogger will only write a positive review. One possible tipoff is when a review says only good things (nothing is perfect, after all), but on the other hand, keep in mind that it is possible that the reviewer was simply very impressed with the book or product (it does happen — sometimes a product really surprises you). Perhaps a larger clue is if the blog in question seems to deal almost exclusively in reviews and other “PR” type material — or has only one or two posts since creation, and they both just happen to be reviews! Of course, I would hope that (whenever possible) people would seek out multiple reviews before buying a product, and not just depend on a single blog posting.
Anyway, if anyone has a VoIP-related product they want reviewed, my conditions would generally be these: First, I don’t write reviews for hire, so expect an honest evaluation. Second, if the product costs under $100 (retail) and you decide you want it back after the review, I’m probably going to think you’re a little bit chintzy, but you’d best mention that fact up front. Third, in any case, if you want it back you’ll need to provide a prepaid UPS return shipping label (and be aware that I don’t live all that close to a UPS dropoff point, so it might be a little while before you get it back). Fourth, in the future I’ll probably have to add a disclosure line to my reviews, as mentioned above. And fifth, and most important, I don’t have the time or inclination to review anything and everything, so unless it’s something I have a particular interest in (such as a VoIP-related product) don’t be surprised if I decline — I do not want this to turn into a “review blog.”
In the last week or two I’ve seen several articles and other references to the impending death of landlines (the old-fashioned copper to the home service that many of us have known and used for so many years). Some people are worried about the prospect, others have cheerfully ditched their landlines and aren’t looking back.
Some are speculating as to why this is happening. Really, it’s not a hard question. There’s sort of a confluence of factors at this point in time. We will shortly reach the “tipping point” where the remaining landline holdouts will dump their landlines en masse, leaving only a relatively small percentage of diehard landline users. The thing is, while the phone companies could have forestalled this for quite some time, they actually did nearly nothing meaningful to retain landline customers. Some have suggested that they didn’t really want to keep their landline customers, that the cost of providing landline service has become prohibitive. I don’t believe that – it sounds like exactly the sort of lie they might tell regulators when asking for yet another rate increase, but in the cold light of day it makes no sense, except perhaps for a very few, very rural telephone companies that never figured out how to game the system like some of their larger bretheren. I think it’s more just neglect and inertia – an institutionalized inability to make any meaningful change.
Just in case it isn’t perfectly obvious to anyone, here are the top five reasons people are dropping their landlines:
- They aren’t portable. Every time any company tried to come out with a method to let people take their phones with them over even a moderately short distance (more than a city block or so), the phone companies yanked the chain of the FCC and made sure that things like long range cordless phones never saw the light of day. The big phone companies probably thought they’d be the only provider of wireless phone service, and that there would be little or no competition from here to eternity. They were wrong, and as competition brought prices down, it made cell phones far more affordable. At that point, many people started to wonder – if I’m using my cell phone most of the time anyway, why should I also be paying for a landline? Sure, there are reasons one might want to do so, but for many folks none of them are very compelling.
- There are extra charges for long distance, and in some places, for local calls. If the phone companies would have had the least bit of foresight, they’d have realized that people were rebelling against long distance charges. They were using alternative long distance carriers, and making calls on their cell phones during the “free” hours. When the Internet came along, they started using VoIP to avoid toll charges. The phone companies could have responded to this by offering wider local calling areas and “free long distance” hours (say midnight to 8 AM and on weekends at first, gradually expanding the free hours to meet the competition) but they didn’t. In fact, not only did they not do that, but in some cases they actually started raising toll rates again, after people had gotten used to seeing them decrease over time. They never figured out that many people hate meters, and would actually pay a bit more just to not have a meter.
- There are extra charges for “custom calling” features and other services – and the charges weren’t at all relative to the costs of providing the service. A couple bucks a month for touch tone? A charge for not publishing your address and phone number in a directory? $6-$8 per month for Caller ID? These and other charges were simply outrageous – it cost the phone company little or nothing to provide these types of services, but they saw them as cash cows, and thought their customers were too stupid to realize they were being gouged. What could have been a public relations bonanza – constantly adding new features and service at little or no extra charge (something that almost certainly would have happened in a truly competitive environment) was replaced by a philosophy of pure greed, where the idea was to gouge the customer for every nickel and dime they could get. It was stupid to ever treat customers that way, but it was especially idiotic to keep doing it when the cell phone companies (and later the VoIP companies) offered all these features and more at no additional monthly charge.
- They are redundant. When, because of the items listed above, people started making more use of cellular (and, in some cases, VoIP) service, it suddenly occurred to them that there is really no need to pay for essentially the same service from two different providers – especially when one of the providers had been overcharging them, giving them marginal to poor customer service, and basically taking their customers for granted for years. For many years, and even today in some cases, the landline companies still approcah customers as if “you need us more than we need you.” I’m old enough to remember when phone company representatives actually threatened people with prison (or at least the cutoff of their phone service) for buying and hooking up their own extension telephone, thereby depriving Ma Bell of a monthly rental fee that actually paid for the phone in about 6-8 months. As Lily Tomlin’s character “Ernestine” used to say, “We don’t care. We don’t have to. We’re the phone company!” So when people started to realize that it was silly to pay for essentially the same service from two or more providers – something that’s only going to accelerate given the present economic conditions – guess which one is going to get the boot.
- They just aren’t cool anymore. Landline telephones are fast becoming like a spitoon in the living room – something you just don’t see anymore, particularly in residential settings (for those of you that are young enough to have no idea what a spitoon is, just remember that in your grandparents’ or great-grandparents’ generation, it was a lot more socially acceptable to chew tobacco than it is today, which is probably why so many older people have false teeth. Anyway, they needed someplace to dispose of the excess saliva that tended to build up while chewing – hence, the spitoon. And you thought ash trays were disgusting!). Watch TV or any recent movie – unless they are showing an era of times gone by, about the only place you will see landline phones are in an office-type setting. If you’re in your mid-20′s to mid-30′s, think about when you were a teenager – would you ever have seen a teenager on TV haul out an old style record player and spin a few tunes? Maybe on “Happy Days”, but not in any show set in the then-current era. Well, look at today’s shows – how often do you see a modern teenager (or adult, for that matter) use a landline telephone, especially at home? The media has always helped set the trends for the current generation, and landline phones just aren’t where it’s at anymore (neither is the expression “where it’s at”, but at my age I can get away with using it!).
Any one of these things by itself would not be insurmountable – but right now, in the current economic climate, it’s just a “perfect storm” of reasons for people to dump their landlines. And it’s not necessarily that every one of the defectors really hate the idea of the telephone itself – after all, a not-insignificant number will replace their landline with some type of VoIP service – it’s just that when you put all the above together there no good reason to keep a landline phone. Even the oft-repeated mantra of the landline diehards, that in an emergency the landline phone will be the only phone that still works, was disproven during Hurricane Katrina, where it turned out that the only thing that still worked in downtown New Orleans was VoIP.
Thing is, the phone companies were stupid. They took their customers for granted, abused them and overcharged them, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. And what other big industry is guilty of this? Yeah, I know, the banking industry, but forget them for a moment – who else is guilty of treating their customers like dog poo? That would be certain cable companies, of course. They just keep raising rates and acting like they are the only game in town for TV and Internet access. Well, they haven’t been the only game in town for TV for many years (and yet their rates keep climbing) and even if they are the only Internet provider in a given area today, I can guarantee that competition will be coming in that area as well – maybe not for a decade or two in some of the more remote areas, but it will come. The big cable companies would be well advised not to make the mistakes the big phone companies have made, but I suspect that (as is the case in so many American corporations) the current executives only care that things don’t go completely in the crapper while they are in charge, but what happens after they retire is of little concern to them. Is it possible that, in 15 to 30 years or so, someone will be writing an article like this one, analyzing the reasons that people are giving up their cable service en masse?
If you care anything at all about the future of the Internet (and all the services provided via the Internet), drop everything and go read this article:
I get a sense of Déjà vu here – I was making these same arguments over a decade ago when telling people why you could not trust the phone company to accurately bill for local measured service. There was actually one verified case where every call made from a particular telephone exchange was being counted twice, effectively resulting in double billing for measured service customers – it took a city hall auditor to finally figure out what was happening. At least in that situation, someone could put a notepad next to a phone and make a check mark every time a local call was placed, to try and get some idea of whether the billing was accurate.
Let me make it perfectly clear – given the current trend for large corporations to shaft the consumer any way they possibly can, particularly when they think there is very little chance that the consumer will discover that they are being conned, there is no doubt in my mind that some broadband companies will deliberately overbill customers if given the opportunity. I don’t know which company will be the first, and I don’t know exactly how they’ll attempt it, but the very first time a customer gets a bill for excess usage you should at least be suspicious. Look at how the cell phone companies deliberately mislead their customers about things like international data charges and you may begin to understand why, if metered billing ever takes hold, customers will have a very real problem.
Seriously, metered billing is a VERY bad idea from the customer’s standpoint, especially if there are additional charges for “excessive” use (as opposed to bandwidth throttling when the customer passes a certain usage plateau, which while still objectionable, at least limits the damage by making sure the customer never pays more than the monthly rate he or she agreed to pay).
I read some consumer-oriented sites and blogs fairly regularly (if for no other reason than that telecommunications companies have been known to do decidedly consumer-unfriendly things at times, and those sites help me keep track of such abuses), but every now and then they take me down a path that leads to some real pearl of wisdom. And thus it was when I followed a link to a post entitled, The Consumer Overdraft Protection Fair Practices Act Needs Your Support – which is a site that encourages you to “Write your representative today to support Rep. Carolyn Maloney’s bill which will clean up this predatory lending practice that fleeces consumers of billions every year.” And while that’s certainly a noble cause, and one I hope many folks will get behind, it’s not the thing that caused me to write this post.
Rather, it was a comment (or “signature”) on that page, from one Ani L. Schwartz of Arroyo Seco, NM, which said (in part):
- If Consumers are not helped, the whole system will crash harder and faster. It is indeed what Jim Hightower calls “TERMINAL STUPIDITY” for Corporate Powers to kill their markets.Please work to END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD and the “legal person” status of Corporations which allows them to get away with Murder, literally and figuratively.
That was enough to cause me to click on the link associated with Ms. Schwartz’s name, where I found this posted on her “Comment Wall”:
I pledge to speak out to End Corporate Personhood as often as I have the ability & opportunity to do so. The “legal person” status of Corporate “entities” must be revoked before WE (LIFE) can gain any ground towards HEALING.
In my own view, THIS is “the most pressing issue facing the country today” that I “would make the centerpiece of the address if [I] were President” NOW:
END CORPORATE PERSONHOOD
Ultimately pols & govs must join the People in efforts to free ourselves and our planet from the Chains, Catastrophes & Anti-Life IM-Balances of Corporatism, which are systematically destroying all life, liberty, & PURSUITS OF happiness, health, peace, education, wisdom, creativity, love, spirit, & all the things that really count in life to all living beings. In order for vital changes to be possible, the “legal person” status of Corporate “personhoods” must be revoked. Until this is accomplished, Corporate “entities” will thwart all vital changes because these changes require that these “entities” GIVE BACK to the Universe upon which they depend for their inedible Profits.
One need not agree with me about what is “the most important issue” in order to sign this pledge.
I’m not entirely sure whether Ms. Schwartz came up with this on her own, or if this is a new Internet meme, or what, but it makes me wonder what is taking so long for people to realize this simple truth:
Back in olden times, following the “great flood” and for at least a few thousand years thereafter, royalty held most of the power. And therefore, most of the oppression of the common folk came at the hands of the Kings and Queens, or whatever the ruling monarchs were called.
Then, for a time, religion held more power than royalty. The Pope was more powerful than the Prince, and most of the oppression of the common folks came at the hands of religious leaders.
Neither of the previous two forms of oppression have totally gone away, but they are now being overshadowed by a third form of oppression – that is, oppression by large corporations, which operate largely above the law.
The problem is that we give corporations most of the rights and the legal status of an individual. But when a corporation commits a criminal act, they can’t be punished in the way an individual can. You can’t jail a corporation. You can fine a corporation, but because large corporations have so much more in the way of resources than any individual, fines are largely ineffective (and are often thought of as a cost of doing business). Part of the very purpose for the existence of a corporation is to shield any individual from personal liability for the corporation’s actions. So if a corporation does something that causes real people to be injured or killed, it’s extremely rare for any individual to go to jail (and when it does happen, it’s often whichever poor patsy the corporate masters decided to throw under the bus, rather than take any responsibility for their own actions).
I’ve heard it said that the sort of people who would have set up an organized crime syndicate back in Al Capone’s day find it much more convenient today to set up a corporation, and run their scams from underneath a corporate shield. It’s much more lucrative, and a lot safer for the people involved. Instead of mobsters with tommy-guns doing the enforcement, now they hire high-priced lawyers. Corporations sue each other (the upper-crust equivalent of mob warfare) but they also go after common people who don’t bend to their will. Indeed, certain four-letter organizations that end in “AA” have been compared with organized crime in the way they bring lawsuits against the most defenseless (they seem to pick their victims carefully, although occasionally they do screw up and pick on the wrong person) and then demand the equivalent of “protection money” to stop bothering the party sued. Since most of the accused don’t have the funds to mount a real legal challenge (they really DO seem to pick their victims carefully), it’s basically a choice between paying the “protection” or losing their financial life.
And I don’t want to pick on just one industry – the problem cuts across many industries. People die because pharmaceutical reps try to get (and too often, succeed in getting) doctors to prescribe the newest and most expensive durgs, rather than the old, tried-and-true drugs that work just as well (if not better), and have fewer toxic side effects. People can’t afford the more expensive drugs, so they skip doses, or they have life-threatening problems with some side-effect of the newer drug. Now many physicians are forming “professional corporations” to try and limit their personal responsibility to they patients, and of course, virtually all hospitals are incorporated and many are now a part of some large corporate chain of medical facilities. Nowadays almost all hospital bills contain errors (often very significant errors), and they are nearly always in the hospital’s favor, so at a time when you should be worried about getting better you are burdened with the stress of dealing with an uncaring corporate hospital billing department (or worse yet, the collection agency that gets your bill when you can’t pay, which is also a corporation).
I could go on and on, but the point is, today virtually every oppression of ordinary citizens comes either at the hands of some large corporation directly, or because government is acting to protect some large corporate interest(s). Think about it – is there some law that you really hate, that you think should never have been passed? Assuming it wasn’t passed to bring more revenue into, or accrue more power for the government itself, the next most common reason a law is passed is to protect some large industry or corporation. Our governments often act as lackeys for the corporations.
Which brings me back to Ms. Schwartz’s “Comment Wall” – she has the right idea, although that’s only one of many reforms that should be passed – not just as laws, but as constitutional amendments. I can think of three amendments that would go a long way toward ending most, if not all of the abuses of corporations:
1) All human beings are entitled to the rights accorded by this Constitution to persons, but such rights shall not be extended to non-humans. The government shall not grant the rights of a person, or convey the legal rights of a person to any corporation or similar entity, or to any entity other than an actual human being.
2) No entity other than a human being, or a group of one or more specific human beings which are individually named, shall be granted ownership of any patent, copyright, or any other form of “intellectual property”, with the sole exception of a trademark. A corporation or similar entity may own a trademark, but shall not be granted ownership of any other form of intellectual property. Nothing in this amendment shall prohibit the inclusion of intellectual property rights in the estate of a deceased person, provided that such rights may only be passed to other named individuals, and the inclusion of such rights in an estate shall not extend the term of the patent, copyright, or similar form of intellectual property.
3) In any case where a corporation or similar legal entity brings a lawsuit against one or more individual human beings, and does not obtain a judgment against that individual or individuals, the corporation must pay double the attorney fees incurred by the defendant to the attorneys that represented the defendant, and in addition must reimburse the defendant for any costs and lost income incurred by the defendant while defending the case. If the individual’s life has been significantly altered as a result of the lawsuit, the defendant may petition the court for an additional award to compensate the defendant for any losses incurred. This amendment shall not be applicable in a case where a corporation or similar legal entity has brought a lawsuit against another corporation or similar legal entity.
I’m not a constitutional expert, so my wording might need to be polished a little. I’d also like to see included prohibitions against undue influence by corporate lobbyists, and the use of “sock puppets” (individuals or non-profit organizations that are compensated in some way to represent the views of a corporation as if they were their own, usually without disclosing the Quid pro Quo), but have no idea how to word that sort of amendment in such a manner that it would not trample individual rights.
I seriously doubt there is any chance I will see any of these amendments passed in my lifetime, but who knows – if enough of these corporate abuses keep occurring, maybe one of these days we will see an anti-corporate backlash turn into a strong enough movement to get some very strong protections against corporate abuses passed into law.
In closing, I want you to think about this:
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of kings, and our constitution contains protections against giving any one individual too much power.
When our country was founded, we knew about the abuses of religious leaders, and our constitution contains protections against government unduly influenced by religion.
Neither of the above work perfectly, and they are sometimes ignored by Congress and the courts (to our detriment), but at least they are there.
As time went by, we’ve added other amendments to protect people (most notably forbidding slavery, and enacting civil rights, and giving the vote to all adults regardless of race, gender, etc.). What we did not seem to realize, when our country was founded, was how powerful large corporations could become, nor how devoid of empathy and human compassion they could be. It is now time to reign in their power and to protect people from the abuses of large corporations, but they (the corporations) will not give it up easily.
Please don’t give the me the old bromide about how corporations are just individuals joined together for a specific purpose – in the first place, there are all sorts of studies that show that people behave much differently in large groups (particularly when they do not feel any individual responsibility for the actions of the group). Think about suicide jumpers that are sometimes encouraged to jump by onlookers – chances are that if any of those onlookers was the only person there they would not open their mouth, but once one person yells “Jump!”, the crowd takes up the chant. Large groups of people are often devoid of the compassion that individuals would exhibit when alone, and this seems just as true (if not more true) when people think they are simply following the directives of their corporate employer. And also, don’t forget that the specific purpose for which these individuals join together is to make a profit – in large corporations, everything else is secondary to that, specifically including the health and happiness of the people they deal with, or who deal with them.
I hope you will remember this article the next time you are feeling truly oppressed by forces outside your control – very often, there’s a large corporation (perhaps more than one) somewhere in the background, trying to advance their own financial interests. Even in cases where government is the oppressor, if you dig a bit deeper you’ll find corporations pulling the strings.
Take our drug laws as an example. The alcohol, tobacco, and pharmaceutical industries all have a vested interest in keeping marijuana illegal – they fear the competition from another drug that’s probably every bit as safe as at least some of the substances they sell. And just so you know, I’ve never smoked pot in my life, not even once – but I still think the current laws against it are ridiculous and protectionist. There is no valid reason anyone should serve a long jail sentence over marijuana usage or possession for personal use – especially when our jails are so overcrowded that truly violent criminals are being released early. I don’t want anyone to use marijuana or tobacco, and I don’t want anyone to drink alcoholic beverages and drive (or drink to excess), and I’d rather not see anyone take dangerous but legal pharmaceuticals just because some corporation managed to get them approved (perhaps by withholding negative tests, and only showing the FDA the ones that didn’t indicate a problem). But only ONE of those substances is illegal, and classed as a felony to even possess – and it’s not the one that makes money for the large corporations!
I won’t even get into the corporate influence on organized religion – but think about what houses of worship were like a century or two ago, and what they are like today (especially the big super-mega-churches that have sprung up in the suburbs). There are large corporations that make huge sums selling goods both to the houses of worship themselves, and directly to the “sheep” – and a lot of that is the books and other literature (and in the modern age, DVD’s and other forms of media) that help shape people’s religious views, starting with Sunday School. I’m just waiting for one of them to start teaching that Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the temple because that space was better suited for a big box store – we’re not quite to that point yet, but I can pretty much guarantee you that the big corporations that publish church literature are not going to say anything negative about large corporations, so if you are involved in an organized religion you might want to give some thought about who is shaping your family’s views on modern life.
If you think there’s any truth in this article, please feel free to link to it. And, of course, you should feel free to comment (even if you disagree with me), as long as you don’t include any links that might make me think you are a spammer (if in doubt – leave the link out).
David Lazarus of the The Los Angeles Times blasts Verizon today for withholding contract terms from customers until AFTER they have signed up for service – and some of the contract terms are ones that I sure wouldn’t agree to:
For years, credit card issuers have gotten away with withholding contracts from customers until they actually have the plastic in their hands — a practice that denies many people a fair chance to look under the hood for onerous terms and conditions.Now it looks like Verizon has adopted the same technique.
What really struck [Torrance, California resident Sandy Lough] was the discovery that to receive the promised discount for her bundled plan, she’d have to go online and agree to a 2,000-word “bundle service agreement” and a 7,000-word terms of service for Internet access.
This was the first time she was being presented with the full contract for her new FiOS setup, and the service had already been installed and activated.
The LA Times article goes on to mention some of the more notable terms of the contract. The interesting thing is that it would appear that this is not simply an oversight – that perhaps Verizon deliberately withholds contract terms from customers until they’ve already committed to the service:
As for why the full contract is withheld until after FiOS has been installed in a person’s home, [Verizon spokesman Cliff Lee] said only that “this is the way we’ve found that works.”
Now, I Am Not A Lawyer, but it seems to me that in the old days a court would never enforce a contract imposed “after the fact”, that is, after the deal had been consummated and the customer had signed on the dotted line. What has happened to make large corporations think they can simply change the deal at their whim, after a customer has already signed on the dotted line, without giving the customer the same right? Did someone slip a new amendment to the Constitution when I wasn’t looking, saying that corporations can do any sly legal maneuvering they want, and the courts are forced to go along with it, while individual consumers are put at a disadvantage?
This is one reason I’m not making too big a stink about Verizon not offering FiOS in Michigan. Sure, it would be nice to have those high speeds, delivered via fiber. But in the long run, I’d rather see a competitive market of many smaller broadband providers than one or two large mammoth corporations that seem to think they can do whatever they want to the consumer.
I know the amendment I’d like to see put into the constitution:
“Only an actual, physical human being shall be given the rights of a person under the law.”
Like I said, I’m not a lawyer, but that about sums it up. It would mean that no large corporation, with almost infinite legal resources and billions of dollars behind them, would be able to use their wealth to put real people at a disadvantage, because it would be presumed that only the real person had any rights. Think about that for a while, and how much it would change things from the way things are today!
Edit: Additional commentary at DSLreports
Did Comcast Hire Public Stand-ins For Neutrality Hearing? – Napping, disinterested attendees mysteriously appear, cheer Comcast – dslreports.com
You’ve heard of a denial-of-service attack – read the following and see if it appears to you as though Comcast might have taken the same principle and applied it to citizen participation. Or, if you’re of my parents’ generation, see if this reminds you at all of the days when union organizers (or opponents) would fill a meeting with a bunch of paid shills:
The Save The Internet Coalition, a coalition of consumer advocates like the Consumers Union authors of Consumer Reports and the Free Press, is claiming that Comcast bussed in a large number of disinterested individuals to yesterday’s public FCC hearing at Harvard on network neutrality and traffic shaping. The group is claiming Comcast paid these individuals so those seats would not be filled with interested, question-asking participants. Many didn’t even know what the meeting was about …..
The real question is, are the FCC Commissioners so isolated from reality that they can’t figure out that this sort of thing might be happening right under their noses? I mean, if we assume that the critics have the right take on this, it would seem to me that once the Commission discovers that Comcast apparently believes their case is so weak that they dare not allow opponents to fairly participate in the process, that would work against them. I might be wrong, but to me this sort of seems like an admission that if the hearings are conducted in a fair and open manner, Comcast doesn’t believe their position will be the one with which the FCC sides. But then, that (and everything in this article other than the article excerpt and link) is just my personal take on what I’ve read in the linked article. As always, feel free to leave a comment if you disagree.