the top one percent…

…are the ones in control of the U.S. economy and therefore what happens, or doesn’t happen, in our country. The country’s purse strings are essentially managed by these few. If they consider something that’s good for the country is also advantageous to their bottom line, these mostly white men will put all their weight behind the cause. However if there’s even the smallest doubt that they will benefit from the outcome, these few will either step aside and let the cause die a natural death, or use whatever it takes to ensure that it dies.

Lack of gun control.

Global warming.

Two issues that are killing people. Unless the top one percent are personally affected by either problem, they will continue to fan the flames of our destruction. It might be that they’re hedging their bets.

Until the earth self-destructs, the uber-wealthy will continue to line their pockets with gold. Meanwhile, it doesn’t hurt to have a backup plan…they’ve booked a flight into outer space on Virgin Airlines. Such a likelihood was depicted in the movie Elysium.

Of course some of the wealthiest, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet among them, are notable philanthropists. I’m not sure where they stand on gun control and global warming. Whatever their stance, however, I don’t see them or any of the other wealthiest one percent in America taking on those lobbying against gun control, namely the NRA, and global warming.

Charles and David Koch, and Donald Trump for that matter, are arch defenders of capitalism at any price. They put their substantive pocket books where their mouths are. They walk the talk.

No gun control.

No global warming.

As long as the wealthiest one percent in America can defend themselves against guns and global warming, they won’t take action against either. It would require too much effort…

…and too much of their amassed fortunes.

………hugmamma.

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quench your thirst…and make some $$$

Sen. Joe Biden buys lemonade at the 2007 Itali...

Image via Wikipedia

Have you ever sold lemonade from a makeshift stand as a child? I have. Those were the good old days, when making a living was simpler. When I needed some spending money, my best friend and I would just throw together some cardboard boxes, from which we’d sell our freshly-made beverage.

In my time, we probably sold a cupful of lemonade for no more than a nickel. Maybe some kind adult would spend a dime so we could sell out faster, and get down to the real business…of playing. This recipe reminded me of my childhood and some of the fun times my friends and I had. Of course, in those days lemonade was…well, lemonade, made with lemons, water and sugar. I don’t think my mom would’ve pitched in for some fancy, schmancy fruits to add. She’d have probably asked “What are you making? Watermelon Raspberry Lemonade?!?” I don’t think she would’ve followed it up with “Are you crazy or something?!?” But you never know…you never know.

So go help your kids set up a lemonade stand, and do pitch in for the extra ingredients. After all these are not the “good old days,”…these are the “better than ever days.” And have a cupful yourself. Then get out there, enjoy the day with your kids…and play!!! Take the opportunity when you can, for one day you’ll be reminiscing like me…about the “good old days.”

Watermelon Raspberry Lemonade

Raspberries (Rubus Idaeus).

Image via Wikipedia

6 cups watermelon cubes (seeds removed)
1/4 cup raspberries
1 cup water
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 lemon juice

Place watermelon, raspberries and water in blender
container; cover and blend until smooth. Strain
through fine-mesh strainer into pitcher. Stir in sugar
and lemon juice until sugar dissolves. Refrigerate
until chilled, about 1 hour. Makes 4 servings.

Obviously you’ll have to up the quantity of ingredients. I don’t think 4 servings is going to make successful entrepeneurs of your children. Unless, of course, they have a little bit of Christ in them. You know, like when he multiplied a few fish and loaves of bread in order to feed the masses gathered about him. Or unless your little ones can pull off some of the stunts I’ve seen magicians do now days on America’s Got Talent.” What am I thinking? If you’ve got budding magicians in your household…forget about lemonade stands…even ones selling fancy, schmancy…Watermelon Raspberry Lemonade!

…save me a cup…oh, by the way…what’s the price?…hugmamma.  

 

“service with a smile”

Having both worked in service-oriented jobs for many years, with my husband still in the business, we agree that customer service is a “dying art.” Shopping on the Internet has made it more convenient for consumers to surf the global market for all their needs. An appealing product, savvy marketing and a credit card completes the transaction. There’s no need to interface with a flesh-and-blood person. After all, Google can answer any of your questions. And if you’ve got a hankering for “warm and fuzzy,” click on “smiley face” or download your choice of YouTube videos, to get your endorphins moving.  

Businesses grew by leaps and bounds when consumers had quantities of disposable income. Customer service was unnecessary, so it became a thing of the past. A few retailers, like some purveyors of travel and TV’s QVC, continued their traditional practice of being solicitous towards customers. But some, like E-Bay, Amazon.com, Craig’s List, department stores, supermarkets, drugstores, fast-food chains, medical practitioners and airlines, may have opted to minimize service in favor of quick turnover, with a “get ’em in, get ’em out,” attitude.

With the downturn in the economy, companies are scrambling to win back customers who have fewer dollars to spend. Customer service may be on the rise again. I hope so. It doesn’t cost businesses more to have employees smile, offer a warm greeting, listen with patience, offer options for resolution, and express appreciation for ongoing patronage. However, a company may want to invest in customer service training. Even employees with impeccable manners and the greatest intentions, will meet their match in irate persons. I know, I’ve sat on both sides of the desk.

In my mid-20’s I worked as a customer service agent for the Hawaii Medical Service Association in Honolulu. It represents Blue Cross/Blue Shield in the islands. I had extensive training in the technical aspects of HMSA’s policies so that I could answer policyholder questions. I did so in person, and on the phone. I enjoyed helping people, especially when I could clarify or demystify the finer points of their coverage. Receiving their thanks, and seeing their smiles when they turned to leave, was extremely gratifying. Of course, there were some who were disgruntled with what I had to say. And there were a few who insisted upon speaking with my supervisor, hoping his response would be different. Sometimes a review was scheduled, but often his answer confirmed mine. One particular encounter left me “shaking” in my muumuu (long, Hawaiian dress).

A gentleman from the island of Molokai had called, unhappy with a bill payment. I think it was a hospital claim, probably of a sizeable amount. I explained how the insurance carrier had determined his coverage. Unhappy with the information, I can only imagine how the man’s eyes bulged, his belly heaved, and how difficult it might have been to breathe, as he screamed profanities through the telephone. The tirade continued when I handed the call over to my boss. We were mistaken to think we’d heard the last of the policyholder. Not long after, the huge Hawaiian man  arrived at our offices, having made the flight specifically to address us in person. I gladly introduced him to my supervisor, who withdrew to the privacy of his office, with the angry islander in tow. I think someone from upper management eventually joined the conversation, but I don’t remember the outcome. Needless to say, the experience left me wary.

It’s been awhile since I’ve been the irate customer. However I’ve certainly done my fair share of yelling, I’m sorry to say. But it’s always been when I felt inconsequential, the company having already snagged my business. There was the time we’d refinanced with a bank at a low-interest rate. Because the appraiser hadn’t submitted his report on time, our rate was due to be increased. Not until I spoke with the President’s secretary, shedding tears of frustration, did she resolve the matter in our favor. 

When my 19-year-old daughter’s VISA bill showed an annual $85 fee for fraud protection on a credit limit of $500, I went ballistic! If she didn’t pay the fee, she’d be slapped with a finance charge. And if that kept up, she’d reach her allowed max in no time.  It was ludicrous that a billion dollar corporation would take advantage of a teenager. Unfamiliar with marketing schemes, my daughter thought VISA’s $2 rebate check was a reward for opening a bank account. Cashing the check actually signed her up for credit card protection, as indicated on the back, in fine print. My nonstop tirade failed to move the customer rep until I asked how she’d feel if her teenager had been scammed. The rep agreed to remove the fee, without requesting repayment of the rebate.

Purchasing a used sofa back table in Atlanta for $300, I agreed to pay the dealer another $265 to ship it to my home in Washington state. He shipped with a small, regional carrier because of its comparatively low-cost. When the merchandise arrived in Tacoma, my husband was told that the price had escalated to $600. In speaking with the seller, I learned that the price change had occurred within the shipper’s bureaucracy. The clerk with whom the transaction originated, wrote up the piece as a “sofa bed,” not a “sofa back table.” Sight unseen, the receiving office modified the price accordingly. When we asked that they open the crate to verify that it was a table, not a sofa bed, we were aghast when the amount shot up to $800+. No reason was given, but I surmised the decision was made that the piece was an antique. If I refused to pay the exorbitant price to retrieve my belonging, it could be sold locally for a hefty sum. After phone calls to 3 different offices, I was directed to the company’s corporate offices in Alabama. I wrote a letter describing, in great detail, the events leading up to my outrage. I addressed it to the President of the freight company, copying the President of its parent company, and express mailed both. It was sent on a Saturday, and I followed up with a call on Tuesday. Long story short, the Tacoma branch delivered the table to my husband for the originally quoted price of $261. That didn’t include door-to-door transportation, but it did in my case.

Who wants the grief that accompanies confrontation? Not me, that’s for certain. I’d just as soon turn my back, leaving it to those with hardier constitutions. But as I’ve indicated in my earlier posting, “put a ‘face’ on the ‘unknown,’ ” sometimes I’m integrity gone amuck! As with most people, there’s a “line” which when crossed, Mr. Jekyl steps in for Dr. Hyde. At that point, I become “warrior mom,” battling until my opponent is “face down,” eating dust from under my high-heeled stiletto, specifically removed from moth balls for the occasion. 

In my travel experiences from one end of the country to the other, southerners and Hawaiians exude genuine warmth and hospitality. The tellers at my mother-in-law’s bank welcome her with sunny smiles, and assist patiently with any questions she may raise. I find Southern wait staff gracious in their greetings, and their drawls hold my attention as they enticingly describe the “specials of the day.” What both ethnicities share is a slower paced lifestyle. That seems to translate to great customer service. Of course, as with anything else, there are exceptions to the rule. But I enjoy spending time in those locales, where “getting to know you” and “service with a smile” are more than fanciful sayings. They’re a way of life. 

for amazing customer service, huge hugs…hugmamma.

the internet, friend or foe?

Among other books of lighter fare, I’m beginning to read “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains – The Shallows” by Nicholas Carr. On the inside jacket Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Field Notes from a Catastrophe, challenges, “Nicholas Carr has written an important and timely book. See if you can stay off the Web long enough to read it!” I have to admit now that blogging has become a “part-time job,” I may find it difficult to finish the 276 pages of technical information. I’m hoping it reads like a bio, the central character being the internet user, me and you. As with other revolutionary inventions of the industrial age, like TV, I will probably rationalize using the “beast” that threatens to take control of my life.

 But if it’s already been unleashed, like Pandora’s Box, can the internet be returned from whence it came? Probably not. But can this Frankenstein be controlled? Or is the monster free to do evil, along with the good it was intended for? Do inventors ever look past the perceived  immediate need, to what injurious consequences might be wrought upon humankind?

Again on the inside jacket of Carr’s book the question is posed “Is Google making us stupid?”  It’s followed by this paragraph “When Nicholas Carr posed that question, in a celebrated Atlantic cover story, he tapped into a well of anxiety about how the Internet is changing us. He also crystallized one of the most important debates of our time: As we enjoy the Net’s bounties, are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?”

I have taken to blogging because of my passion for writing. I’ve tried, albeit half-heartedly, to get published in non-mainstream print media, as well as online, to no avail. Rightly or wrongly, my desire to have my voice “heard” motivated me to blog. Judging from my oft lengthy “dissertations,” you can see that my attention to detail involves more than superficial thinking. And so it begins, … my attempt to rationalize using the internet.

You, dear reader, have been with me since the start of my internet journey so, in a way, you are complicit in my “crime,” i.e. my use of the “beast.” What say you in our defense? It’s use for all the small things that give quality to our lives must count for something?! I’m certain you’ll agree that searching for medical answers, support comfort when a child dies, discounted products in the current economy, are viable reasons to keep the internet going. Or am I again trying to rationalize too much? But what else can we do?

Your opinions on the subject are appreciated. The internet has impacted our lives beyond imagination. But did we sacrifice too much in our rush to deify it? Your thoughts?

are we beyond deep thinking?…hugmamma.

not so friendly skies

 Hearing about a Delta Airline flight whose passengers were closeted in a plane for 3 hours on the tarmac, inspired me to write this post. An engine problem was said to be the culprit, but upon close inspection nothing was found to be amiss. To Delta’s chagrin, the event was broadcast worldwide on YouTube. A very resourceful passenger captured his image with the camera on his cell phone.  Beads of sweat were shown cascading down his bald scalp, over his brows, and onto his cheekbones. It wasn’t a pretty sight. I can’t imagine that it felt any better than it looked. This picture ran countless times throughout the newscast. The Network drove home its point, and then some. Of course they included snippets of an interview with the passenger. In it he underscored how awful the situation was by explaining, that as a soldier, he’d served in Africa where temperatures soared well over 100 degrees. He’d also endured grueling conditions as a navy Seal. But nothing, he said, NOTHING could compare with the abhorrent conditions he experienced onboard Delta’s “flight from Hell.”  

Pictures of fellow passengers showed their disgruntled faces. Children’s cheeks were flushed from the heat. The air-conditioning was left off because of the supposed engine problem. A lone flight attendant finally took it upon herself to distribute bottles of water. Meanwhile, no announcements were made to explain the situation to the passengers. And according to the man in the picture, no apology was extended by Delta. I don’t remember what was contained in a formal letter sent by the airline. But judging from the man’s demeanor, it didn’t contain the mea culpa he expected. My husband and I experienced a similar situation on a USAirways flight leaving Philadelphia, but the outcome was considerably different.

Taxiing out on the runway, we were lined up with other outbound flights. It wasn’t clear if a passenger forced the captain to relinquish his place in line when she went to the bathroom, ignoring the “fasten your seat belt ” sign. I gathered that’s what happened because announcements were made to that effect. Pulling out of position, the plane went to the back of the line. Then Mother Nature stepped in, and “leveled the playing field.” All flights were delayed indefinitely because of bad weather in the Midwest. 

TV newscasts showing scenes like the one described earlier, drifted through my mind. I let myself go numb, knowing there was nothing to be done but settle in for the long haul. Getting agitated wouldn’t resolve the situation, and the accompanying stress would go against my resolve to stay healthy, and avoid Alzheimer’s. You know the old saying “Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face.” 

Unlike Delta’s indifference to its passengers, USAir kept us apprised of the status of our delay. It was like having an open phone line between the cockpit and the cabin. When the captain wasn’t on the line, the flight attendants were. At the time I was slightly annoyed. (I told you I was calm, not dead.) I just wanted them to stop talking and do something, anything, to relieve our discomfort. Even in business class, the seats were HARD. More disturbing, you’d have thought there was a party going on! (Helllooo…am I the only one wanting to get underway here?)  The  flight attendants strolled the aisle, smiling and laughing while serving up cups of water, and casually visiting with passengers who got up to remove items from overhead bins. All around me were voices chattering, while I sat with furrowed brow.

Finally, the captain announced that our plane would be returning to the terminal. Once there, the door was opened and a ticket agent came aboard. From the cockpit came a further update that our delay would depend upon reconfiguration of flight patterns due to the thunderstorms and lightning. What came next must have surprised my fellow travelers as much as it did me. We were told that, because of new government regulations, passengers were free to disembark to make other arrangements if they so chose. Now THAT caught my attention! Wow! An airline wasputting the passenger ahead of the “bottom line.” Of course they had their “neck on the block,” but no matter. While it didn’t make a loyal fan of me, USAir won my respect.

My husband and I have both worked in the airline industry, he with Pan Am, and me with Iran Air and TWA.  Airline employees enjoy very nice perks, foremost of which is traveling free or at greatly discounted rates. It does involve going “stand by,” where they literally stand around waiting to hear their names called if space is available on the aircraft. This can be nerve-wracking, especially when accompanied by young children who wonder aloud “Why can’t we get on yet?” The wait is worthwhile, however, if they’re upgraded to first class…for free.

When we flew our own airlines, we awaited takeoff, giddy and delighted at our good fortune.  Gazing out the window, we’d admire the planes bearing the company logo. We felt proud, and special. Proud to be employed by companies who transported people all over the world. Special, because we were part of what seemed a fantasy, air travel. We dressed accordingly, suit and tie for my husband, dress and heels for me. Stewardesses were fashionistas, carefully groomed from head to toe. How I admired, and wanted to be one of them. But they seemed an elite class. Pilots too seemed like mythical beings, ensconced in their private domain, the cockpit. Catching a glimpse inside was a treat, sitting in one during flight was memorable. I had that privilege once, on an Iran Air flight.  Reminiscing about air travel in decades past, makes me think how different it is today.

I’ve agreed with friends that flying today is like riding a bus. Line up; get your ticket punched; squeeze into a seat; read your book or paper; eat food you’ve brought aboard; get to your destination, deplane, and go your own way. Flight attendants are likened to waiters and waitresses, except they may, or may not, serve you something. These days, you couldn’t pay me to be one of them. I’d much rather sit in my comfy jeans, “catching 40 winks” or some part thereof. Now, passengers try to cram as much as possible into carry-on luggage, not wanting to hand over $15, $20, or $30 for checked bags.

Airline travel has certainly changed. Deregulation enabled airlines to set their own rates which allowed consumers more options in popular markets; not so much, in  less traveled markets. Big companies scrambled, some eventually closed their doors, or merged with others to survive. Small companies like Southwest and Jet Blue grew to prominence with travelers who wanted the biggest “bang” for their buck. The industry continues to expand and contract, mirroring the economy upon which it depends.

My initial experience with Southwest was terrible. Traveling with my husband and daughter, we stood in the haphazard line waiting to board. People were sitting on the floor or standing, luggage at the ready, making sure they’d get a good seat, for it was “first-come, first-serve.” Then unexpectedly a voice was heard over the loudspeaker calling out a gate change. A mad scramble ensued. Everyone made a dash for the new gate. Upon arriving there, our family was nearer the front of the line than before. Eventually we heard murmurings at the back that there was another change. Slowly the line unraveled, people running in another direction. Finally making it aboard the plane, my husband, daughter and I managed to sit together in one row. There and then, I made my husband promise never to book another Southwest flight again. He promised. 

Fast forward to now, and Southwest is my airline of choice. Management figured out that herding passengers like cattle wasn’t good for public relations. A new system was put into effect lining people up according to positions assigned upon check-in, A-1 through 30, B-1 through 30, and c-1 through 30. People are more civil; boarding runs more smoothly. Without the lengthy process inherent with other airlines, it seems Southwest is in and out of the gate more quickly. Service on board is comparable to major carriers, sometimes even besting them. Air fares are comparable or better.

Current air travel is a “free-for-all.” Passengers get, or don’t get, what they pay for; airlines make, or don’t make, a profit. Fate seems to have the upper hand these days. I’m not sure what to think.

what do you think?…hugmamma.