Monday, July 26, 2010

Short term thinking breeds long term problems

I saw this link on several FB friends' pages the other day. The article, I think get's it about half right. I think we are seeing the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but to aim the ax mostly at US corporations is disingenuous. To blame this administration or the past two is likewise not the answer either. The American consumer, as much as the American worker also shoulders some of the responsibility.

For every bit of Chinese manufactured bit of fluff purchased at Wal*Mart or Target or where-ever that is one less manufacturing job in the US. The quality is sometimes shoddy, but hey it is cheap. It will likely break in a few months, but then it did not cost that much so what's the big deal. The big deal is the rich get richer and the poor, well poorer.

The REAL problem is as someone in the comments section of the article stated - it is all about short term solutions. In both business and government, and dare I say our culture in general we favor the short term quick fix to long term problems. ...Couple that with corporations being encouraged by Wall Street, to MAX out profits - notice I did not say be profitable - but max out profits quarter over quarter that you have CEOs and CFOs making short term profit maximization decisions and not decisions with an eye towards long term longevity and sustainable profitability.

The tipping point will be, I think, when the American consumer, cannot afford even goods and services using what I call the Walmart pricing model. That or we will all collectively stop supporting companies who fail to match their corporate strategy with our personal value systems.

We need less government intervention. I am very much a free marketer. We will live to regret not letting capitalism work its ruthless magic and allow Wall Street to implode itself. Someone would have stepped in with a business solution, not a tax payer funded solution. Money is like matter, it is never created or destroyed. Someone has money and will move to spend it, when the price is right. Governments creating artificial funding sources, just make matters worse and rarely better.
Sometimes we only learn from terrible and painful lessons.

When I worked for Merrill Lynch a deathly hush fell over the office when Greenspan testified, I said then and I say now, it is dangerous fun to put so much focus and reliance on the ideas and theories of one man, no matter how much or little you think he knows. It was too much power, centralized in one part by the government and one part by the media. Was he brilliant, maybe. Was he savvy, you betcha. Could he read a crystal ball? Only at parties and only for fun. He got it wrong as much as he got it right.

The real issue is this, we lack a real sense of who we are and what we want to represent and the most worrisome statistic in the bunch to me is this one:

In 1950, the ratio of the average executive's paycheck to the average worker's paycheck was about 30 to 1. Since the year 2000, that ratio has exploded to between 300 to 500 to one.

This is the crux of a major issue in American business, the fleecing of the stakeholder and the employees. There is no reason for this type of wage inequity. I have YET - to see a CEO who warrants this type of pay. In fact most CEOs of most US companies are not worth a plugged nickle and some hog spit. A leader leads by example. He or she does not fleece the business, cut the wages of the rank file, to enrich themselves. In my opinion, CEOs who cannot produce sustainable, ethical profits for a business, year over year, should earn nothing. It should be a commission based job. No golden parachute for a crappy job, no bonus if you have cut shareholder returns and slash rank and file pay. Earn your keep, like the rest of us.

Not accounting hocus pocus, but real income, real profit. No fancy accounting gimmicks or games of depreciation. I am talking about selling a product and banking real cash. Providing a service, providing it well and banking the profit. Let's pick on my industry du jour - the airlines. The CEO's of all the big ones, need to be put on a CRJ and pelted with garbage, becasue that is exactly how they treat their customers. They should not pass GO and they certainly should not earn 8 figures. The CEO of BP, who is stepping down. He should not get his golden parachute, he should get some hip waders and a one way ticket to a FEMA trailer on a beach on the Gulf Coast and a roll of bounty towels, to wipe down water fowl. That would be leadership. That would be making a difference. All he has done thus far is fail to come up a solution, look stupid and tank the stock.

Business used to be honest and straight forward. When we return to that, to a time when a hand shake meant something - and no double talk and loopholes, then and only then will we start to see a level playing field. It is about an honest days work and a job well done.

I also am totally against any more regulation, let's enforce the regulations we have. Look back on my blog, I have advocated for some time some real accountability. When people who commit fraud and fleece the American taxpayers and corporate stakeholders, they should do hard time, then and only then will it be a deterrent.

There is more than enough blame for this situation to go around. So next time you are trotting off to Wal*mart, with the remains of your ever diminishing paycheck, ask yourself, what am I doing to send the message to businesses that I am serious about keeping the Middle Class and American jobs stateside.

Understand, I am not picking on Wal*Mart exactly, but it is the idea that we think cheaper is better... sometimes it is and in the longer term, sometimes it just isn't.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Word Choice

Or more correctly choice words. Four letter words. I use them from time to time. Sometimes those little zingers are just the thing. Sometimes they are overkill or frankly, as I tell the kiddos, there are better word choices out there, anyone could use that word, so go find the RIGHT word.

That said, I think that our touchiness with subjects that deal with alternative lifestyles, sex, violence, and gender, are supported with the creation of a curtain of "obscenity" and that curtain is woven together with banned words. We deem obscene that which we are not willing to face, deal with or acknowledge. Erasing words from the collective vocabulary is the human equivalent to an ostrich burying its head in the sand.

This story in the Other Paper caught my eye the other day.

If the mainstream wants to ostracize a group, then the easy way to do that is to make that groups vocabulary or words taboo or obscene. Culture depends on a common language or vocabulary. Word choice matters.

While I am not a lawyer and therefore some of what Chris Fairman says fails to make some sense to me, I do agree with the premise of this article:

Fuck reviews notable Supreme Court decisions that, Fairman argues, have empowered institutionalized censorship in the form of state anti-obscenity statutes and actions by federal agencies like the FCC. The book also includes chapters on “Genderspeak in the Workplace” and “Fuck in Teacher Speech.”

Fairman is concerned not only with state-regulated speech, but with moralists who push for self-censorship and government enforcement of their own linguistic taboos.

“Refraining from the use of fuck only reinforces the taboo,” Fairman writes. “Silence empowers a small segment of the population to try to sanitize our vocabulary under the guise of reflecting a greater community. Taboo is then institutionalized through law.”

I do know however that this sanitizing of speech is insidious. It is a question of who gets to decide. I have a real problem with the "government" being that who. I also have a problem when those choices are made with the desire to exclude. Who gets to decide is the real question.

Words are the vehicles, which we as humans, writers, journalists, mothers, fathers, children form our thoughts and ideas into something tangible to share. Words have power.

Don't believe me. Take a gander at the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. A big giant F-you to the king of England - and obviously words with teeth enough to start a war...**

**Disclaimer - While I have not read Mr. Fairman's book, it is on my to be read list. That said, I have read the bill of rights and the declaration more than once.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Fit to be Tie Dyed

L has been after me to tie dye shirts. I have no idea what prompted this obsession, but last week, I relented and we bought a tie dye kit. (Actually one like that one, but that gives you the idea, they have them at Micheal's, JoAnn's, Walmart and other craft retailers.)

Then we bought 6 plain white tees at JoAnn's and an assortment of 100 rubber bands.

I was not sure this was going to work, but Sunday morning we sat and watched cartoons and rubber banded our shirts. E struggled with being able to hold the shirt and twist the bands, so I had to take over. He kept getting connected and stuck to his shirt or flicking himself.

The plastic gloves in the kit are not helpful in the least, we switched to latex gloves, much better. I had the kids color over cookie trays for easy clean up.

After letting the shirts sit, wrapped tightly in plastic, I rinsed them out in hot water and let them drip dry, still banded over night and then hung them out to dry in the sun. Tonight I will wash them in the machine.

They turned out great. I was very surprised. Our kit came with more dye packets, so I image we will be doing this again in the fall.

Pictorial Evidence of crafty craziness:

L's night shirt. She banded it in a long cylinder and then used blue and green dye.

E's night shirt. This was our first try at star bursts. I did not get the bands tight enough. So very little white is showing. He also was very liberal with the dye.

E's around town shirt. Second shirt I banded and it worked better. The red and yellow work so well together. E's favorite color is orange.

L's around town shirt. It is a variety of star-bursts. She used the red and purple dyes.

My sleeping shirt. I was not sure purple and green would work, but I was the last to dye and I was stuck with the left overs. It turned out ok. I have an idea for making it better next time.

My around town, to the gym shirt, and the last shirt I banded. Clearly I had the tightness of the rubber bands figured out. I am very pleased with how this one turned out. I used the left over red, blue and purple dyes.

So just another summer craft project, but totally easy and fun.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Additional thoughts on travel

These people are killing me. Am I the only one, aside from some of my Tweeps, who see the value in families with small children flying together? From a sheer safety and comfort and liability perspective.


Furthermore why the assumption that parents are less competent than "nonbreeders."

I do agree with cjr - if parents/families do not attempt to make travel arrangements which include sitting together - then that is on them, but what about when you do, like I did. I did it right and still - the airline flubbed up. My kids should not suffer becasue of the airlines mistake.

cjr says:

“It’s these entitled “frequent travelers” that flying a pain for the rest of us.”

Wow, somebody else has the nerve to throw the “entitled” word around? Really?

I am by no means a frequent traveler; I fly a couple of times a year. But if I book a seat, I expect to receive that seat, regardless of you or your family’s seating problems.

I just flew home from London a couple of weeks ago on two legs of flights. On the second leg, a family tried to sit together, even though they didn’t have the seats. When the correct passenger went to their seat and it was taken, the family member glared at the other passenger and the flight attendant over it. Guess who felt like the “entitled” one?

“frequent travelers, be willing to give up “your seat””

Or, families, be willing to book far enough in advance to guarantee that you can select your seats to sit together on a flight. And if you didn’t, don’t expect sympathy from the rest of us from your inadequacies in planning your trip.

I follow up with...

@cjr and @Raven – all of you… WHAT I am trying to say is MOST PARENTS book seats together. ( I can show you easily 10 via my twitter rant) I always do. I plan ahead, I have even not taken flights at better times, becasue I cannot get seats together. Responsible and reasonable parents do plan ahead. When I booked the tix with CO, there was no charge to pick my seats, unless I wanted more leg room. Why would I take extra leg room seats when my two traveling companions’ feet don’t reach the floor. I picked three seats, middle of the plane together.

My point is – the airlines do not take this into account. Thru this mess with Continental – I have learned that it is their “informal policy” to allow priority elite and other frequent full fare business flyers to “bump” people from their preassigned seats. For a fee or not.

I did everything right. I planned ahead, I picked my seats online, I did not take a flight that did not offer me seats together, I checked in 24 hours prior, discovered CO’s error, contacted CO and was told it was not their problem. Had the CO website offered me the choice to lock those seats in stone with a fee, I would have, I understand that is in the works, when I booked travel, that was not the case. IN SHORT I DID EVERYTHING YOU ARE SAYING PARENTS SHOULD DO. READ: EVERYTHING YOU DO.

I paid for the same services, rights and privileges you did. Why must I, then settle for less than what I pay for, while you enjoy exactly what you paid for. I paid the full fare for my kiddos, a fair I felt was reasonable, given the stipulation that I would be sitting in the seats I selected, seats that had me with my kids.

There needs to be a system in place to keep parents and kids under the age of 15 together. At 15, I flew to Europe solo. I can see that being ok. But a 5 year old. No way.

Or let’s allocate the last 5 rows on each plane to families with kids. No one wants to sit back there anyway. No priority elite passenger is going to bump me from the last row.

My point in all of this is the airlines create these situations and it is their problem to fix it. I also think that if we are all traveling together, we need to think about what is the safest and best way to ensure that everyone has a reasonably comfortable flight. Kids count. They pay the full fare and if their parents have taken pains to make sure they are booking seats together - then there is no reason for the kids to have to sit alone, with strangers on a flight.

End of story.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Traveling with kids...

So Regina - comments negatively on parents wanting her to move so they can sit together on the travel blog I mentioned in the previous post:

Pick your seats when you book so that you all sit together! Wow, I really had to wrack my brain to come up with that one! As is so often the case, people with children think the whole world revolves around them. If they can’t be bothered to choose their seats ahead of time, tough luck. Don’t expect others to give up their seats for you. Flight attendants should not buy into that nonsense and it’s appalling that they would try to guilt people into it. I totally agree with Raven – I choose an aisle seat for a reason and I’m not giving it up.

Thanks Regina - I never would have thought of that. That is why I actually did that when I booked my full fare tickets on Continental's website. I did not go discount, I did not look for the cheapest fare - I bought my ticket directly from the service provider, providing the service I am buying. I even took care to book seats in the back of the plane, the seats no one really wants. It was a 737, I booked ABC and yep, Regina, I was going to spend the three hours in dreaded middle seat.

Here is the deal, there are some parents out there who are clueless and insensitive to those also traveling. Flip the coin? There are some travelers who are really clueless and insensitive about kids. News flash, those kids paid the same fare you did. They deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Children are not plague. Nor are they put on this earth to make your life, Regina or those like you, miserable.

Let's go back to my example. I did not create the travel bru ha ha. Continental did. They separated me from my children. It was not sloppy planning on my part. I was not looking to sit with my kids, because I want to be difficult. It is for safety reasons first and foremost, that I sit with my children. L and E are little children. I would not allow them to ride in a car with a stranger. I would have children's' services on my case of I put them on the bus alone.

Let's think this through, in the event of an emergency is a stranger really going to want to deal with my hysterical child, while I am 10 rows forward. I think not. Is that same stranger going to want to deal with the spilt apple juice, crushed crackers, or other issues, which are NORMAL for children to experience?

This is my response to Regina and other people commenting on the blog:

@Regina – I did. I picked my seats with CO. I was traveling solo with my kids ages 5 and 7. Due to an equipment change, we were scattered all over the cabin. Not acceptable. Southwest is cattle call and you take your chances. When I booked with CO, I selected seats together. Ergo in my mind, I paid for seats together.
@ Everyone else – Really? On a 3 hour flight, late in the day, who but me, wants to fly with my kids??? Do you, Mr. “I want the aisle seat” want sit with my tired, hungry and now SCARED 5 year old. Being over 10 rows from mommy is a panic inducing moment for most 5 year olds. Do you Mr. “I plan to stretch out and nap with my leg room” really want to sit next to my chatty 5 and 7 year olds, separated from mommy? Both of my kids talk a mile a minute, which I try to mitigate for the sake of those around us, if I am separated from them, there is little I can really do. I cannot shush them from 10 rows away and you - just don't have the authority or right to be rude to my kid. Let’s not even talk about kicking the seat. Again if I am next to them, I am there to nip that in bud. 10 rows away, what am I going to do to stop that. Do you have their toys, their lovey, their mp3 player, crayons or books. No I don’t think so.
Had I not booked ahead and selected seats together – I could see this being my “problem” the reality is – families with small children do not just “want” to sit together – it frankly is the only things that makes sense.
Did I mention that I called CO twice the day prior, I tried in CMH and IAH repeatedly to get us reseated appropriately, safely and sanely (cuz I gotta tell you a book and nap has a certain appeal, but my kids are my responsibility and no one elses’) and then having failed, appealed to the lead FA, who ignored me. So yes, my crying kids clinging to me, did manage to get us back together again. But really? It SO did not have to be like that.

I was not asking for special treatment. I was asking for sensible treatment, which I had paid for and dearly. Furthermore, I reached out to the service provider - Continental - asking them to correct their error. They changed the equipment or merged flights or something and as a result, they busted up our seating. Don't ask me to pick seats and then sprinkle us around the plane on a whim, knowing full well I am traveling with small children, to the detriment of everyone. No one, certainly not Regina it would seem, wants to sit with or near my 5 or 7 year old but nor do they want to make the sacrifices to get us back together, so that I can care for them properly on the flight. That is my role. It is no one's job but mine to care for them during the flight. That said, I cannot care for them properly if Continental makes such egregious errors in judgment and then refuses to correct it. No less than 7 Continental employees failed to provide any of us with the correct and sensible level of service. This was a process failure at its finest.
So next time you want to jump on the parents traveling with children and wanting special treatment - let's take a deep breath. Sometimes they are boneheads. Sometimes they are getting the screws put to them, by companies who want to take their money and not deliver on the services promises.

Destination - SUK

In the interest of full disclosure, H works for a regional airline. He is a pilot. I am very aware that airlines are businesses, but seriously, something has to change. If the business model is not working and ALMOST every single customer - even your really, really loyal ones think you do a pretty crappy job delivering the service they pay for, it has to make you think that, um, I don't know you are doing it wrong. Don't believe me, go check out this travel watch dog website. I have yet to read a story that talks about Airlines getting it right.

Let's play word association - I say Airline(s) and this is what ten people said just now at the local farmers market:

1. Suck
2. Stupid fees
3. No fun
4. Rude service
5. No customer service
6. Lost baggage - always
7. Not getting what you pay for
8. PIA (pain in the ass)
9. Bloated CEO's
10. Out of touch

Wow. No one at the farmers market had anything nice to say. Not a one. Zippo. (ok, in all fairness #4 said Delta first and then followed up that remark with "rude service")

I conducted this informal poll, after reading this story, posted to Twitter by a friend. Seriously. Charging for carry on bags. Charging for drinks, charging for seat assignments. The bathroom? Ben Baldanza the CEO of Spirit Airlines must be high from inhaling too much Jet Fuel.

Feeing people to death has gotten the banks nowhere and it will get him nowhere too. It will I predict lead to his airline being grounded. While on its face, the idea of a la carte pricing makes sense. Ruth's Chris has made a mint doing it. The difference between Ruth's Chris and other steakhouses' ala carte menus and the airlines - at a great steak house - you really DO get what you pay top dollar for.

At a fine steakhouse, they will not lose the baked potato you ordered and will likely pay $7 for when it is all said and done, they will not tell you that your medium steak, which comes to you black is your problem. No they will serve you the meal of your dreams and then bill you handsomely at the end and you will gladly pay it - becasue the food is fantastic and the service is divine and their a la carte model - does allow you to build the meal of your dreams.

The airlines' a la carte model only serves to annoy the hell out of consumers. Pure and simple. I pay $50 for my checked bag, which the airline loses and then has the gall to tell me, it is my problem and when or if they find it, I can come pick it up. Seriously. What did I just pay for exactly?

Another example. My trip to Cancun on Continental. Per their own website children 5 and under may not travel alone. Naturally fees apply when children 5-11 travel alone. So on the Houston to Cancun leg, an international flight, they busted us up. Now believe me, I had to put in our ages when I booked, passport numbers, the whole deal. I selected seats together, cuz duh, we are traveling together. Still they had E sitting in the rear of the plane, me in the middle and L up ahead of me. Seriously? I called to fix this oversight and was told to address it at the airport after she reseated L and I together, but told me there was nothing they could do for E. At the local airport, I was rudely told, by a grunting gate agent to deal with it in Huston. It was not "his problem to fix." In Huston, I have never, not ever been treated so rudely and told it was my problem and the gate agents were busy dealing with important work. I should be happy I have seats, I pay to be flown to my destination, everything else is not their problem.

Um, hello - isn't customer service part of their work?

The airline had totally created an unaccompanied minors situation, a safety risk, and to make matters worse, a possible flight delay when my five year old freaks out, becasue he is 10 rows behind me.

The flight crew sadly was of no help. They were more interested in up selling me on direct TV than helping us get reseated together where we belong.

I paid well over $400 for those tickets. I was not flying cheap. L dealt with it. She up sold the guy next me to the emergency exit row, explaining that he would get more leg room and she would get to sit with her mother and brother. She had bravely taken the other seat, but was very tearful about it.

I also happen to know - that becasue the flight crew was too busy and the gate agents were too busy, I could have created a situation where the flight was delayed leaving. I told the lead flight attendant about my issue, upon boarding. He told me he would send someone back to help us. Which never happened. Had L and I not dealt with the issue, I am not sure who would have and I will, in the interest of full disclosure, state, I authorized her to throw a fit to end all fits, if it came to that.

While I can totally see the advantage to the fee model, from the perspective of the balance sheet. It makes sense, on paper. The problem is for consumers, it makes the fee bearing items/services a premium item and then you actually have to deliver. I pay $50 for my checked bag, you damn well better have it waiting for me when I get to my destination. I pay for my seat assignment, you better have provisions in place to ensure I get exactly the seat I request. You charge me for carry on, you better be prepare to let me have my pick of the overhead bin.

The bottom line - airlines are not just providing carriage, the sooner they realize that, the more likely they are to find consumers willing to pay more per ticket.

Some customer service would go a long way here boys and girls. Airlines, your customer service attitude from CEO down to baggage handler sucks and no fee can fix that.

Do you really want that list of ten words to be what defines you? I surely wouldn't.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Fireworks

This year was E's first ever fireworks. E is an early to bed kind of guy for the most part, so we have never tried to fight that particularly. This year though, E wanted to go to the fireworks and H was out of town in NYC, so if L and I were going, E really had to tag along.

My dear friend K came with us. We got to the normal spot, in what L calls the "fireworks park" and waited, while L and E played on the playground.

The show was wonderful. Lots of variety.

E sat on my lap, with a self described "scared face" but he did not cry and I think he really did like the show, but could live without the booms. He said it was like super scary thunder.

I figured this would mean, next year he would pass. Then the other day he announced.

"Mom, when I grow up, I am going to be the fireworks guy. You can come watch me if you want."


Yes I know, I have not been around much. I have been laid up with a sinus infection, prepping for and then taking a trip to Cancun. Then back home for a fantastic 4th of July holiday weekend.

Whew. I am currently sitting on the love seat in my home office, in my pjs, recovering from the whirlwind of fun.

So Cancun, you say? Yes Cancun. My very dear friend JS got married to a very nice man we will call EM. I have met him once before, took the time to explain to him that the first man she married, who cheated on her and then got angry when she found out, yes him, well I have a very heavy American made SUV and I know how to use it, let's just say. I was willing and I am only 6 hours away.

No really, he, EM is nice guy and he makes JS very happy and she makes him happy and I think they are very happy together. I was very pleased to be there with them as they celebrate love, commitment and flirted with a tropical storm.

I have schlepped all over central and northern Europe. More than once. Actually 5 times I think. I have been to Canada at least 3 times. All over the US and I have tackled NYC more than once by myself, with some directions and suggestions scratched out on a piece of paper by my other dear college friend SS.

I was over the moon worried about Mexico. I posted this to Facebook:

Is wishing JS and EM, were getting married in an English speaking country... I am ridiculously hung up on the fact that I speak German and understand a passable amount of French and am going to a place I just don't speak the language. I need to get over this, cuz I wouldn't miss this for the world, but still...

This was the kicker for me. I have not, in a very long time, traveled somewhere, where I cannot speak the language. My German is still pretty fluent and my French will succeed in finding me the WC, a roast beef sandwich and the police. It might get me kissed too...

My only other trip to the Caribbean, was to the Bahamas, where English is the official language.

It also did not help, everyone and their Uncle took this opportunity to tell me their, "Oh I went to Mexico once..." story, which always had a bad ending or involved vomit or stolen property.

I am pleased to report. We had a fantastic time, Tropical Storm Alex notwithstanding. We traveled there without a hitch really. We had one airline induced issue - which will be addressed in a separate post.

The kids and I made it solo. They were troopers. Tired little soldiers when we arrived in hot and humid and rain soaked Cancun, but troopers nonetheless.

All the horrible stories about customs and transport in Cancun, all wrong. We met our driver, waiting for a reasonable amount of time. Arrived at our hotel, were treated like guests. Drinks while we waiting to check in.

Our room was amazing. Ocean view, marble everywhere. A jacuzzi in the room as big as the bed. Two double beds, a shower bigger than a generous walk in closet. Since it was all inclusive, we had a fantastic, stress free room service meals.

The pools at the Moon Palace were fantastic and the kids swam and swam, despite the less than perfect weather. The wedding was lovely, very sweet and the wind did not hamper the beach feel, even though it was moved out of the sand and into a beautiful glassed in gazebo.

While I saw nothing of Cancun but the resort, I would totally go back. I found the people to be friendly and welcoming.

The check in at the airport, was organized and frankly more hospitable than what one gets in the US.

Now as I relax, becasue lets face it, traveling with little people, even to relaxing all inclusive resorts solo, is not relaxing exactly. A nice change of pace, but not exactly relaxing the way I am now, in my pjs, writing uninterrupted, the cool breeze of a ceiling fan mussing my hair.