Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Satire Paradox

I've enjoyed all of Malcolm Gladwell's podcast, Revisionist History, but this one on The Satire Paradox seems particularly relevant now as we limp toward election day in the U.S., laughing at the comedy shows and waking up at night with anxiety as we seriously consider the reality of our political debates.

I am absolutely guilty of laughing my way through recent elections, but there is a need for serious reconsideration of how "entertaining" we've allowed politics to become. There is a great contrast between the U.S. humour and the Israeli show highlighted in the podcast called "Eretz Nehederet". Try Hope Kindergarden.

While I laughed at Stephen Colbert for years, I feel somewhat justified in that I always most valued hearing those people as themselves, explaining how they got in that position and where there motivation comes from. Here's Colbert being interviewed on Fresh Air in 2012 and then in 2005.

I learned a lot about Super PACs from Colbert. I wasn't the only one.

All this is relevant to me as we have a deadly serious divide and an urgent need for the non-satirical voices to fill some of the air space before and, most importantly, after the election.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

How Is This Possible? -- The Redux

Looks like I am not the only one asking this question. Roger Cohen also asking the question today. I think the first response is most critical to me.
How is this possible? It is possible because spectacle and politics have merged and people no longer know fact from fiction or care about the distinction. It is possible because fear has entered people’s lives and that fear is easily manipulated. It is possible because technology has created anxiety-multipliers such as have never been known before. It is possible because America is a country living with the dim dissatisfaction of two wars without victory and the untold trillions spent on them. It is possible because a very large number of people want to give the finger to the elites who brought the crash of 2008 and rigged the global system and granted themselves impunity. It is possible because of growing inequality and existential dread, especially among the white losers from globalization who know minorities will be the majority in the United States by midcentury. It is possible because both major parties have abandoned the working class. It is possible because a lot of Americans feel the incumbent in the White House has undersold the United States, diminished its distinctive and exceptional nature, talked down its power, and so diluted its greatness and abdicated its responsibility for the well-being of the free world. It is possible because the identity politics embraced by urban, cosmopolitan liberals have provoked an inevitable backlash among those who think white lives matter, too. It is possible because Trump speaks to the basest but also some of the most ineradicable traits of human beings — their capacity for mob anger, their racist resentments, their cruelty, their lust, their search for scapegoats, their insecurities — and promises a miraculous makeover. It is possible because the Clinton family has been in the White House and cozy with the rich and close to the summit of a discredited political establishment for a quarter-century now and, to people who want change or bridle at dynastic privilege, that makes Hillary Clinton an unattractive candidate. It is possible because history demonstrates there is no limit to human folly or the dimensions of the disasters humanity can bring on itself.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Is This Possible?

Lots is happening. And by lots, even more than just having two kids. It's been hard to put down any thoughts and I don't like doing it on other social media. But it's time to re-engage.

Two big things happening are Brexit here in the UK (where I live) and elections in the US (where I am from). There are a lot of conversations for me these days that include the phase "How is this possible?", whether discussing the UK's pending departure from the EU or the 22.5% (today anyway) possibility of victory for Trump. For me, it's not that we have a 22.5% of Trump winning, it's that he's even there at all. Something big has happened and we haven't noticed.

I'd heard this podcast, Trends with Benefits, several years ago, but it stuck in my mind and reading some recent political commentary made me want to go and re-listen.
The number of Americans receiving federal disability payments has nearly doubled over the last 15 years. There are towns and counties around the nation where almost 1/4 of adults are on disability. Planet Money's Chana Joffe-Walt spent 6 months exploring the disability program, and emerges with a story of the U.S. economy quite different than the one we've been hearing.
I did re-listen and it is pretty amazing. I think it goes a long way to explaining a group of people who feel left out, angry and might vote without having too much too lose.

I'm not suggesting that an deliberate policy to push people off welfare and onto disability benefits that started with the Clinton administration during it's 1990s can explain the rise of Trump (and I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with why the UK voted for Brexit). But there are very interesting aspects about a changed economy and whole armies of people who are not prepared to work any more. Incentives have changed for a lot of people and, what I hear in a lot of the interviews, are people who don't see anyone doing anything about their problems. They rationally come to accept what they get.
And it's not a great income, about $13,000 a year. But if your alternative is a minimum wage job that will pay you $15,000 a year-- a job you may or may not be able to get, may or may not be able to keep, that probably won't be full time, and very likely will not include health insurance-- disability may be a better option.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Indesit Customer Disservice

What can a consumer do except let other consumers know?!

Do not by an Indesit product!

Over the New Year holiday, our refrigerator stopped cooling (just over two years old), ruining all foods in the appliance. We arranged an engineer visit for 22 Jan 2016. The engineer came and the paid invoice states: "Work done: adjusted thermostat and tested ok.... Faul Code: R3". No parts or major repair was made, i.e., he turned it on and off.

The unit stopped again prior to 6 April (we were not at the property until then and are unsure when it stopped and all food ruined again). A second visit was arranged 19 April 2016. An engineer came and did not have a part he said he needed, meaning an additional visit was needed.

That visit was scheduled for 04 May 2016. Each time this happens, I have to arrange for the engineer to enter the property through friends and neighbours. The engineer has my wife's number (on the booking reminder‏). Instead of calling that number, we got a note through the front door informing us that he had been unable to access the property. Had the engineer called the number (or looked on that back door used to enter the house as he did on 19 April), he'd have seen our neighbours number or we'd have called her, as she was standing by next door to let him in.

A chat with Kieran from Indesit confirmed that the following:

That's right, it was in the van. We just needed to arrange a new date. So simple, right?

That was supposed to be today. Despite a formal complaint, the best they could do was re-schedule another visit 19 May 2016. They did, ironically, kindly offer me "3 months of warranty free of charge and a Refrigerator Care Pack". In actuality, they sent a Washing Machine Care Pack. They also said:
Please rest assured that we do value your custom and will always aim to resolve any of your future issues as quickly and efficiently as possible.
This morning, my wife got up at 05:15 so as to catch a train and make the 09:28 – 12:28 visit slotted on the e-mail we got last night. Literally an hour before the visit, she got a call that there was no part in the engineers van, meaning that they’d have to order the part and the soonest they’d be able to return is 6 June.

I called Indesit this morning and told this story to someone who said they’d have a manager call me “in four hours”. Six hours later, I called back, told yet another operator this story – waited on hold for another 15 minutes. When he came back on, he flatly said that the only solution was to wait until 6 June since this required ordering a part.

I asked him if he considered this normal customer service, to which the poor guy said it was the best he could do.

Indeed. Buy another brand.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Russian Reflection

I've always been supportive and appreciative of the open society notion. Even if one is critical of the means used by Mr. Soros -- and I know many people can be -- the notion that people have access to information, travel and experience new places is a means to a better end, I have to believe. This is so different than other media outlets that use the pretty slogans, but then just try to drown out the opposition.

This video, Out Commitment to an Open Society in Russia, is a nice chance to hear from people who have been working on the principles of open society long before it was cool. I can't imagine these organisations not working in the CIS or Russia.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Re-writing History -- Kenya and Beyond

This Radio Lab story on the Mau Mau rebellion in Kenya and British response is gripping. It seems like Radio Lab was a bit late getting the story since the importance of Hanslope Park, where the documents were stored, was discussed years ago.  But it appears from this article in Feb. 2014 that it will be a while before anyone learns much more...
Since its existence was quietly made public in 2012, the FCO has twice had to seek a special 12-month dispensation from the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, while it decides how much of the archive to declassify. The department announced in December that it will spend six years assessing 60,000 files from the archive, kept at Hanslope Park, near Milton Keynes and classified as "high priority".
The Radio Lab programme has an interesting section on why these documents were saved. Apparently, one idea is that Edward Snowden-esque people opposed the wrongs they witnesses and wanted to save the evidence in hope that the world would eventually find out.

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

No Proof

Further to my post about having a numb mind, here is the response to a report that claims there are chemicals typically found in fracking fluid that have been found in drinking wells.
The industry criticized the new study, saying that it provided no proof that the chemical came from a nearby well.
The full title of the article, Fracking Chemicals Detected in Pennsylvania Drinking Water, as well as the contents make me realise that you can't form an opinion on these matters by reading the newspaper.

But to the point, why is the only industry response to say "no proof". Why not something on well integrity or what they do to ensure well integrity?