Archive for the 'rant' Category


Reframing the conversation

You may have heard of Alexandra Wallace, the UCLA student who recently posted on YouTube a rant called “Asians in the Library” about how Asians were “taking over” her school. (If you haven’t, just Google her name.) The video went viral within hours and created a shitstorm that she never expected. She quickly removed the video and offered a fauxpology, but the cat was out of the bag. Lots of people responded with thoughtful rebuttals to her arguments. And, unfortunately, lots of people responded with their own racist or sexist (or both) rants against her.

A slam poet named Beau Sia created this video, which is one of the best responses I’ve seen. He doesn’t insult Wallace by commenting on her sex or ethnicity; rather, he presents his comments in her “voice,” and ends up with a very sharp critique of racism and white privilege:


(Via the awesome folks at Sociological Images.)


Now I understand Pearl Jam’s pain

In recent years, I haven’t attended many concerts or other live shows, mostly because the ticket costs are prohibitive and partly because I live an hour from Philly (where most performances are in this area) and schlepping into the city, dealing with traffic and parking, and forking over a lot of bucks for a ticket usually seem like a bigger hassle than it’s worth to me.

But when Jan and I heard about the Walking with Dinosaurs show (oh, I’m sorry–it’s officially an “arena spectacular”) we knew we had to take our dinosaur-crazy daughter to see it. At first we thought, “Let’s get the cheap seats.” Well, it turns out that the cheap section comprises only the last four rows of a small portion of the arena. Okay then, how about the mid-priced seats? The only ones still available are next to the stage wings, which means that our vertically challenged five-year-old probably isn’t going to see squat from there. So we decided to throw down for the most expensive seats, which make up about 70% of the seats in the arena. Seriously.

Once that decision was made (after lots of agonizing and checking alternate dates, in case we could find decent less-expensive seat on another day–no such luck, alas), I then had to deal with Ticketmaster’s fees.

First, there’s a $10 “convenience charge”* per ticket. (My friend Rob, who attends many large-venue events each year, calls this the “bend over charge.”)

Then, I had to choose a delivery method. Interestingly, having hard-copy tickets mailed to me in 10-14 days will cost me nothing. But being able to print them immediately (which I did, because if there’s a screwup with my order I want to know about it as soon as possible) costs $2.50 per order.

And then, on the final screen, I saw that Ticketmaster assessed a $3.50 order processing fee. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

“Fuckers,” I muttered. And then I sighed and hit the “buy” button. Because if I want to take my kid to see this show, I have no choice but to do things Ticketmaster’s way.

Was it worth it?


Yeah. Totally.

Eddie Vedder, if you’re reading this, when you’re ready to take on Ticketmaster again, let me know. I’ll be in the front lines with you.


*Whose convenience, eh? I had to deal with captcha challenges every time I checked a different date, then had to accept Ticketmaster’s terms (which included letting them give my e-mail address to all sorts of advertisers) before I was even allowed to buy anything. Oh, you mean this whole setup is a lot more convenient for Ticketmaster? I see!

I’ve related here a few stories about annoying experiences with the USPS. For the most part, though, I’ve been a supporter of that organization. It does its job very well (most of the time) and at a decent price (though my opinion has been shifting a bit on that one lately, with the recent rate hikes).

And then I read this, on the Consumerist:

“Postal employees have been ordered to upsell pricey express or priority mail services to anyone sending anything more than a letter, according to an anonymous tipster. The directive comes straight from Washington to help combat the Post Office’s $1.1 billion operating deficit. To avoid the upsell, specifically ask if there is a cheaper way to ship your package.”

If you read the letter from the anonymous tipster inside the USPS, you’ll find that you won’t be offered the lowest shipping rate unless you specifically ask for it.

Really, now. Come on!



No secrets here

I’ve participated in a number of knitting-related swaps in the past. They’ve exposed me to people and blogs I otherwise probably would have missed. I’m happy to be in touch still with nearly all of my swap partners. We keep up with each others’ blogs and swap e-mail from time to time. And I’m very glad about that, because I do these swaps in order to connect with people—I think that people who are in it just for the loot should save themselves and everyone else a lot of trouble and just buy what they want for themselves.

One of the biggest swaps out there is the Secret Pal series. It’s huge—to the tune of several hundred people, scattered around the world and organized by eight or ten or so volunteers. I first signed up to SP8, in the spring of 2006, and kept signing up through SP11. For the most part, my experiences with these swaps were great. I met some interesting and kind people, and I’m delighted to count them among my friends.

Last fall, as SP11 wound to a close, there was a big blowup on Ravelry about it. In short: the SP exchange rules specifically state that participants can not “bad mouth” their partners, the hosts, or the swap on their blogs. Some participants had less-than-happy experiences with SP11 (e.g., swap partners who didn’t fulfill expectation, swap partners who completely disappeared, hosts who did not respond to queries or concerns). Since they weren’t allowed to write about these things on their own blogs, they took the discussion to the Ravelry forums. And there, things got nasty.

They got so nasty, in fact, that the SP hosts decided to take a break from hosting the swap. Usually one round follows another, with just a few weeks between the end of one and signups for the next. But this time the break lasted several months.

When SP12 was announced in May, I took at a look at the blog set up for it. When I read the rules, I knew then and there that I wasn’t going to participate.

The rules are pretty much the same as they’ve been for the last several rounds, with one notable exception:

“Along with the changes previously announced for this round, we are also initiating a $2.50 participant fee to go toward ‘angel’ contributions for the participants whose pals drop out from the exchange. . . . If we end up not needing all of the funds, we plan to donate them to a charity to be determined later.”

I have two problems with this new rule:

1. I understand that partners do sometimes flake out and disappear. But I don’t like the idea of requiring participants to contribute to a fund to pay for gifts in those situations. Asking for up-front contributions assumes that people will be bad swap partners. Me, I like to have a bit more faith in people. The whole swap experience is predicated on trust: when I send a box o’ goodies to someone, I trust that someone will send a box o’ goodies to me. This sort of thing confirms my belief that people are essentially good. I don’t want to participate in something that starts with the belief that some people will definitely be bad.

2. I’m not keen on the fact that individual participants don’t get to choose where the excess funds go. Me, I’m very choosy about where my charitable donations go. What if the swap hosts decide to donate the money to, say, the NRA? Or to a white supremacist group? Or to McCain’s election fund? Or to another cause that isn’t aligned with my own values? It’s bad enough that my taxes (about which I have no choice) are helping fund American military aggression overseas; I’m unwilling to let money that I voluntarily contribute go to causes I don’t support.


Rant the fourth

I love reading blogs. I love how blogs can offer intellectual and creative stimulation. And I love how blogs can point me in directions I hadn’t seen before.

A lot of this pointing takes the form of links. I don’t click through every link I see, but when one grabs my interest I hover the cursor over it and look at the URL in the status bar at the bottom of my browser to see if the link looks clickworthy.

On some sites, though, my placid cursor-hovering is interrupted by a little window that pops up in the middle of my screen: a Snap Shot.

I hate these things. Loathe them.

First, they obscure a good chunk of the surrounding text. Here I am, merrily reading along, when suddenly one of those little windows appears and completely derails my train of thought.

Second, the Snap Shot windows are so small that they’re actually useless. (Note that I am not advocating any embiggening.) Whatever text and images appear in them are barely discernible from the noise in the window. If there’s a link to, say, Matthew Fox in a Speedo*, that little window isn’t going to show much. If I really want to see Matthew Fox in a Speedo, I’m going to have to follow that link.

Third. if I want to know where a link goes, I find it far more useful to just look at the URL. The URL of a blog post can reveal a ton of information, including the website, post title, and post date.

Fortunately, there are ways for site visitors to avoid seeing those annoying windows: by disabling Snap Shots. Apparently, the company has had enough complaints about this product that they’ve included this info in their FAQ; just follow the link in #3 on the list. Unfortunately, this solution requires cookie placement and has to be reactivated whenever your cookies are deleted.

If you’re using Firefox and running the AdBlock Plus extension (which is awesome), you’re in luck: you can get rid of those Snap Shots forever. (Well, for as long as you’re running AdBlock Plus. Which is so awesome that you’ll never want to get rid of it. So yeah, I guess that does mean forever.) Check here for the details. (Opera users will find their solution in the comments to that post.)

*That one’s just for you, Gina!


Rant the third

I had an appointment with a doctor a few days ago. Her office is in a “medical building” (you know, those doctor-office buildings that look like corporate office parks) right next to the hospital, about twenty minutes from my house.

Her staff was very competent, professional, and friendly. The doctor was very competent, professional, and friendly. Overall, the visit was fine. I didn’t have to wait long to be seen, and I got some knitting done while sitting in the waiting room.

Two things bug me, though.

First, because it’s been over two years since my last appointment with this doctor, my records had been sent to offsite archival storage. To get them back into the office costs eighteen bucks. Which I (and not my insurer) must pay.

Why in the world does it cost eighteen dollars to pull a file from a cabinet and deliver it to an office? Especially since I’m certain that mine isn’t the only file on the delivery truck that day; this practice has six doctors who see a ton of patients, so it’s no doubt getting lots of files delivered regularly. Heck, even sending this thing via FedEx Overnight would cost a lot less money than what I’m being charged.

The most annoying part of this is that I have no choice. My file must be present at my exam, and of course there’s no way in hell they’re going to let me take it home with me and bring it myself to my next appointment. I don’t even get to touch it. (This is a far cry from practice at the Birth Center, where not only do I get to handle and read my own file on every visit, but I’m actually responsible for recording some of that data myself. Talk about patient empowerment!)

I was pretty resigned to paying this eighteen-dollar fee when I left my house to drive to the doctor’s office, but when I neared the building something else made my Annoyance Meter go nutso: a fee to use the parking lot.

This hadn’t been in place when I was last there. There’s no fee for the first hour, but the second hour will cost you four bucks. I know, it’s not like using a garage in New York City. But this isn’t New York City, where you’re paying for a very limited commodity. This is the Philadelphia outer suburbs. There is a ton of parking available at this office.

I asked the office staff about this and got a lot of exasperated eye rolling in return. Not aimed at me, though—in fact, they are as outraged about it as I am.

Parking fees at hospitals and medical buildings are just wrong. It’s not like the shopper who has a choice whether or not to use the valet parking at Lord and Taylor while shopping for a new wardrobe. Most of the time, people who are going to a hospital or to see a doctor don’t have much of a choice about it. They’re sick, someone they love is sick, they need help, etc. (And it’s easy enough to prevent freeloaders for taking advantage of free hospital parking: give out parking validation, and people who used the parking but didn’t actually visit a doctor or the hospital should get their asses fined.)

I’m lucky. This sort of parking fee usually doesn’t pose a financial hardship to me. And my recent medical appointment was just a checkup, not any sort of emergency. But what about people who have little money? And what about people who are sick, or sick with worry about someone else, and have yet another thing—however “minor” it might seem—to stress them out?


Rant the second

Dear Senator Clinton:

Just stop it, already.

Seriously. Whether I support you or another candidate is irrelevant at this point. You are not going to win the Democratic nomination.

Some of your supporters and staff call your tenacity admirable. I call it selfish and incredibly destructive. Do you think that your stubbornness-turned-stupidity is actually going to win you more votes? Do you not realize how much your shenanigans are strengthening McCain’s campaign and detracting media and public attention from far more important issues?

Right now you can gracefully bow out of the race with your dignity and reputation intact. But if you wait until summer starts—or even until the convention—all that the public will remember is a kicking-and-screaming departure. To be honest, judging by your behavior lately I think it’s quite possible that the kicking and screaming will be real and not just figurative.

So, please. Do your supporters a favor. Do the Democratic party a favor. Do the nation a favor. Stop pursuing the nomination.

A voter who’s really fed up with you


Rant the first

What’s up with the latest postage hike that went into effect two days ago? Honestly, I’m not terribly annoyed by the one-cent raise in the domestic letter rate. But bumping international (letters and postcards alike) from 90 cents to 94 cents? Doesn’t the USPS realize that it’s singlehandedly stopped my Postcrossing activities? And that I have a lot of friends and family who live outside the USA? And don’t even get me started on the Priority Mail flat-rate boxes. The domestic rate on those just went up over a dollar, from well under $9 to nearly $10. Good grief.

For decades, the USPS has been operating without taxpayer money. Its job was to break even—and it accomplished this just fine, and did a great job of delivering the mail in a timely fashion.

But in 2006 the idiots in Congress decided to change the rules. Now the USPS is legally required to make a profit. How is this accomplished? By drastic staff cuts in the brick-and-mortar offices (which, in spite of efforts to get everyone to use online features, still see a lot of traffic) and by charging customers more and more. The day after Mother’s Day in 2007 the international postcard card jumped twenty cents, and the USPS eliminated international surface mail.

Um, hello? USPS? I know that FedEx and UPS and DHL are some of your strong competitors and that some changes to USPS practices are necessary. But if you keep pissing off regular, noncorporate, non-bulk-mailing customers like me, then you’re going to lose your bread-and-butter money.


USPS rant

I’ve mentioned before that I have a very good friend who lives in Australia. She and I have been pen-and-paper penpals since January 1993, and when we first started corresponding, she lived outside Montreal. We’ve never met, but she’s one of my best friends–maybe one day we’ll meet, maybe not.

Our daughters were born three days apart, so it’s been fun to swap parent talk with her. (She has a son who’s three years older, so this isn’t her first time around with diapers and toilet training.) She recently told me how much she liked some of the clothes Sylvia wears (lots of earth tones and simple lines) and mentioned how difficult it was to get non-pink, non-girly stuff where she is. We chatted back and forth about this, and the upshot is I volunteered to do some end-of-season hardcore sale shopping for her kids–just a few things, whatever I could find that was ridiculously inexpensive–and send them to her.

So a few weeks ago, in about an hour I managed to score some great, high-quality, non-girly stuff for her kids–for almost nothing. Seriously. Something like five shirts and two pairs of pants came out to under twenty bucks. (Clothing is cheap in this country!) The best part is I bought summer stuff that was on clearance because summer is over…here. It hasn’t even begun where she is, so these items would arrive just in time. I wrapped it all up in the smallest possible bundle (brown paper secured with packing tape–not even a box or envelope) and took it to the post office.

I handed over the package and the customs form I had filled out at home. (Pet peeve: people who take up time at the counter filling out postal forms, and the postal employees who don’t attend to other customers while waiting for said forms.) “This can go surface mail. There’s no hurry on it.”

The man behind the counter shook his head at me. “There’s no more surface mail. Only air mail.”

“Are you kidding? When did this happen?”

“Mother’s Day. Wasn’t making any money.”

“Hmmm. Okay, then air mail it is, I guess.”

“That’ll be thirteen dollars.”


Um, hello? That’s almost the value of the contents! I took my package home, deciding to send it when I had more things to add (since the first chunk of postage is the most expensive, a slightly larger package shouldn’t cost a lot more to send).

Now, I’ve been pretty good about defending the USPS in the past. When I was in college, a friend of mine told me about the time he got a letter addressed simply to “Todd Davis, Belleville, Illinois.” That’s it. It was for him, and it arrived something like two years late, but it did arrive. And on the envelope, some postal employee had written “Are we good or what?” Wow.

In light of that–and in light of the stellar service I’ve gotten from the USPS–I’ve been a bit of a fan. Rate hikes have been mildly annoying, but I didn’t mind them that much. (Postage in the USA is still pretty cheap.)

And then the employee at the local post office hassled me when I tried to send a package without a return address. (This was for my first Secret Pal swap, SP8.) Okay, this wasn’t really the fault of the USPS. I blame this one on the Bush-Cheney war on American civil rights, er, I mean the war on terror.

The rates hikes earlier this year didn’t bug me much, until I found out that the international postcard rate was going from 70 cents to 90 cents. Whoa! What’s up with that? That’s one heck of a jump–and since then my Postcrossing has ground to a halt (a temporary one, I hope).

But completely scrapping international surface mail? USPS, you’ve really let me down now. For shame, USPS. For shame.

P.S. You can try to suck up to me by issuing a set of knitting-themed holiday stamps, USPS, but it won’t work.