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Saturday Morning Suits and Ties

I don't trust large groups of people in shirts and ties on a Saturday morning because I stereotype them with Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah Witnesses, what-have-you. I went to McDonald's yesterday for breakfast, when a horde of men and women in shirts and ties and summer dresses walked in from the parking lot. The only thing that struck me as odd was Seventh Day Adventists eating a late breakfast at McDonald's, but maybe theirs was a more worldly sect.

A group of four men sat next to me, followed by two others who sat at a table diagonal from mine, and I could overhear both conversations. They were talking about cars, SUVs, and auto dealerships. Ah - car salesmen and saleswomen!

Like I said, I don't trust large groups of people in shirts and ties on a Saturday morning.

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/24/2003 @ 11:41 :: [link] ::
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Parting Thoughts

It's been a very active Saturday at the ole weblog... selected news items before I leave to do something productive in the real world:

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/16/2003 @ 16:46 :: [link] ::
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I'm Straight But Not Narrow: MillionforMarriage Petition

And on the opposite end of the political spectrum, a couple of friends have forwarded the MillionforMarriage petition seeking legalization of same-sex marriages and human/civil rights protections for the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender community. If you agree with their cause, please consider signing.

My belief is that all humans are entitled to human rights, and all citizens of and immigrants in the United States are entitled to equal civil rights. The preservation of human and civil rights is pre-eminent above all else. Even Christianity, under whose ideologies many people oppose civil rights legislation for GLBT persons, teaches equal treatment for all people is the second greatest commandment, second only to loving God... and the Bible says this twice, where it also appears in the Jewish Torah.

Those who know me would be shocked to find me quoting the Christian bible... I have a big chip on my shoulder vis-a-vis Christianity because of hypocrisies I've seen amongst the Christian soldiers, "marching as to war," and generally dispensing with logical thought. But when I read the Christian bible, I must admit Christian moral ideology such as what I'm discussing in this post matches closely with my own. Yes, Jesus was a social liberal. I must also admit that in the same way many Christians judge and look down on the GLBT community, I judge and look down on those very same Christians. I guess I'm just as much of a hypocrite as the religious zealots who have perverted Christianity, and I'm no better than them for allowing their poison to get under my skin and run me off.

How's that for humility?

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/16/2003 @ 15:40 :: [link] ::
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The Pursuit of Truth Against Malicious Propaganda

I'm fired up again after receiving a mass email from a college friend. First, I will confess to being a conservative in my university days, followed by a steady slide to the left after graduation. After delving into the philosophies of the Left and the Right, I had to admit everything I thought I stood for politically was in opposition with my core ideologies. Oh well... live and learn.

Yes, I used to be a Republican, so I understand the party's views and beliefs, even if I don't share them, and I support their right (no pun intended) to speak out. When it comes to spreading lies and misinformation, however, I don't care which hand describes your political persuasion - IT PISSES ME OFF!

Argue ideologies: Good. Express your opinion: Good. State facts supporting your views: Good; take those facts of out context: Not cool, but determining what's in and out of context is a gray area, more art than science, so okay. But whenever I encounter shameless distribution of misinformation and blatant lies my blood roils in vexation. In a democratic society where everyone is entitled to express their opinion, the integrity and accuracy of information are crucial. The information technology industry hit the nail on the head with its familiar adage: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

My rather radically religious right-wing friend apparently hasn't figured out I've started speakign with my left hand. Or maybe she has, and she's trying to convert me back via mass emailing of blatant lies propagated by prejudice, hatred, and anger from especially radical elements of the radical right. When I say "prejudice," I mean it in the narrow-minded sense of the word, not the racist or xenophobic senses. To be clear, it's more along the lines of the Jerry Falwell/Christian Coalition brand of radical conservatism, definitely not the David Duke brand.

One would think she'd learn: everytime she includes me in a politically or religiously motivated mass email full of lies, I first go to snopes.com to determine if it's an urban legend, and if it's not there, I do my own research in pursuit of the facts and respond with the facts in a reply all email. I'm sure it annoys the other recipients, but in my opinion, the original email is just as unwelcome and annoying, so it becomes a question which is the greater evil: lies or truth? Enough said.

I discovered the value of snopes.com when she sent the email about Hillary Clinton defending the Black Panthers in a 1969 murder trial (in fact, I've written about my friend's propensity for disinformation before). Like any powerful tool, the Internet can do great harm or great good depending on how it is used: not only can the Internet be used to spread malicious propaganda, it also has the power to dispell the very same falsehoods.

After granting me a (nearly) two year reprieve from her mass email distribution list, she's at it again, this time with an email blaming Democrats for taxation of Social Security benefits and allowing new immigrants to receive Social Security payments without paying into the system. Okay, as I've said, my political viewpoint moved from the Right to the Left after an honest assessment of my personal ideologies to determine which was the better fit. The claims in the email did not match my ideologies, which align closely with ideologies of the Democratic Party, so a red flag immediately went up, especially the second paragraph which takes a potshot at Democrats while simultaneously claiming to be non-partisan in an attempt to appear disarming to the reader! I must admit the skillfulness matches WWII propaganda - the brazenness is impressive! Here is the first half of the original email (which is followed by a lengthy ideological argument not quoted here because I'm not attacking ideological views since they are opinions; again, I'm only going after the lies. Interestingly enough, however, after the lies are dispelled, the ideological rant falls more in line with the Democratic Party!):

Here is a message that might help make sense of the nonsense in
Washington.

This really crosses party lines. Don't get put off by the Democrats vs. Republican part first. Read till the end. It is important.

Q: Which party took Social Security from an independent fund and put it in the general fund so that Congress could spend it?
A: It was Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

Q: Which party put a tax on Social Security?
A: The Democratic party.

Q: Which party increased the tax on Social Security?
A: The Democratic Party with Al Gore casting the deciding vote.

Q: Which party decided to give money to immigrants?
A: That's right; immigrants moved into this country and at 65 got SSI Social Security. The Democratic Party gave that to them although they never paid a dime into it.

Then, after doing all this, the Democrats turn around and tell you the Republicans want to take your Social Security.

And the worst part about it is, people believe it!

So I set out and found the facts from my new friends at BuzzFlash.com, complete with a sample response to repudiate the original email's claims:

Q: Which party took Social Security from an independent fund and put it in the general fund so that Congress could spend it?
A: It was Lyndon Johnson and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate.

FALSE

Rebuttals can be found at:
Cato Institute
http://www.socialsecurity.org/
SSP Report No. 24 p. 6

http://www.theatlantic.com/issues/98jul/socsec.htm
"The Social Security Trust Fund is an accounting fiction."

http://www.aarp.org/bulletin/departments/2002/news/0405_news_1.html
"Trust Funds: A Healthy Picture"

Q: Which party put a tax on Social Security?
A: The Democratic party.

FALSE

Ronald Reagan signed a bill taxing Social Security benefits.
http://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html#1983

"In the early 1980s the Social Security program faced a serious short-term financing crisis. President Reagan appointed a blue-ribbon panel, known as the Greenspan Commission, to study the financing issues and make recommendations for legislative changes. The final bill, signed into law in 1983, made numerous changes in the Social Security and Medicare programs, including the taxation of Social Security benefits, the first coverage of Federal employees under Social Security and an increase in the retirement age in the next century."

Q: Which party increased the tax on Social Security?
A: The Democratic Party with Al Gore casting the deciding vote.

TRUE, But Misleading

The answer is misleading because it does not mention any specific bill on which Al Gore cast the deciding vote. It may refer to the VPs constitutional power to break a tie vote in the Senate. Thus the reference might be to the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993 in which the VP did cast a vote in the Senate to break a tie. This Act was a huge bill that covered everything from agricultural commodities, licensing of radio spectrum, luxury automobile taxes, fuels, banking, Medicare, etc., etc. The bill passed in the House by a vote of 218-216 and in the Senate by 51-50.

http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d103:HR02264:

|TOM:/bss/d103query.html| H.R. 2264 Latest Major Action: 8/10/1993 Became Public Law No: 103-66.

Q. Which party decided to give money to immigrants?
A: That's right, immigrants moved into this country at 65 and got SSI Social Security. The Democratic Party gave that to them although they never paid a dime into it.

FALSE

1972 Public Law 92-603, enacted October 30 "Other Eligibility Provisions Citizenship and Residence. The individual must reside within one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia and be a citizen or an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence or permanently residing in the United States under color of law." The SSI (Supplemental Security Income) and the automatic annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustments) based on the Consumer Price Index were pushed, signed, and implemented during the Nixon administration. So immigrants first received SSI under the Republican administration of President Richard M. Nixon.

http://www.ssa.gov/history/pdf/ssi.pdf

Bill Clinton signed legislation barring immigrants from receiving SSI as part of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.
http://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html

As for my college friend, well, seeing this sort of stuff from her makes me think she's been misled. If she truly dislikes the Social Security legislation described in the email, then hopefully when she discovers the political party she affiliates with signed most of it into law, she will embark on a voyage of self-discovery and realize she's really in cahoots with the Democratic Party on this one. Yeah, I held the Democrats in disdain at one time, but once I overcame my own misconceptions and opened my eyes, wow, everything started making sense.

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/16/2003 @ 14:14 :: [link] ::
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Iraq to Northeast US: Advice for enduring blackout in the heat

Poetic Justice? This is an awesome article! It reads like a Letterman Top 10, but more importantly, it's food for thought: three and a half months after your country is invaded by a foreign power, how would you feel if they still hadn't figured out how to keep the damn lights on? My favorites:

#5 - Check for bitter-enders
"They should go to the power stations and see what the problem is," suggested Ahmed Abdul Hussein, 21. "Maybe there are followers of Saddam Hussein who are sabotaging their power stations. That's what happens here."

#3 - Call in the Iraqis
Some suggested the Americans ask the Iraqis how to get the power going again. "Let them take experts from Iraq," said Alaa Hussein, 32, waiting in a long line for gas because there was no electricity for the pumps. "Our experts have a lot of experience in these matters."

#2 - Use foul language
"When the power goes out, I curse everybody," said Emad Helawi, a 63-year-old accountant. "I curse God. I curse Saddam Hussein. And I curse the Americans."


:: Bryan Travis :: 08/16/2003 @ 02:48 :: [link] ::
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Hail the Power of the Internet: Flash Mobs

Cool concept: Flash Mobs. I learned about them after two recent events in New York and London.

By coincidence, I'm planning to use a modified version of this tactic in response to the numerous botched service maintenance visits I've had with the Prius at Oxmoor Toyota's less than capable service department. It's been 10 days since the fiasco that pushed me over the edge, long enough to cool off and come down to earth. I still firmly believe Steve Smith couldn't manage a service team to save his life - independent of my opinion, his incompetence speaks for itself. Steve Smith is also such a common name, hard to single out - my apologies to the innocent Steve Smiths out there. Such a pity his name isn't more identifiable so he couldn't hide in the relative anonymity of its commonness... Horace Finkelsteinmen or Humphrey Cababblesworth III. But I digress.

My meeting the next day with the service department manager revealed the corporate culture of Toyota's customer service division. I met with the manager of the service department the next day, and got the sense my complaints were going to be ignored, or at best, nullified by their 95+% customer satisfaction (if you don't return the mail-in service satisfaction survey, you are considered a "satisfied" customer; oddly enough, I wasn't given a form for my recent visit), the increasing popularity of Toyota positioned to overtake another auto manufacturer this year in terms of autos sold, and because Oxmoor trumps the two other Toyota dealerships in the Louisville area for Prius service because their Prius-certified techs excel in experience and workforce size.

I walked out of there feeling my concerns had been invalidated and, needless to say, it didn't do much for my frustration level. I'm not good at coming up with quick comebacks and arguments - I need time to reflect on a situation - but the experience was so bad it was immediately obvious Toyota Customer Service doesn't care about the individual. Toyota may say otherwise, but perception is reality, and my perception of Toyota Service is they play a volume game.

This problem isn't limited to just my dealership. Doubtless there are good Toyota dealerships, but the bad ones are widespread, not isolated - both are equally dispersed in the dealer network. Many times has the admonition been posted on Prius Internet chat groups, "It's worth the effort to find a dealer with a good service department." Two years ago when I was thinking about ordering a Prius, such warnings troubled me because a word-of-mouth survey amongst friends and co-workers revealed none of the Toyota dealerships around Louisville are exactly renowned for their service departments. I had been driving a Saturn for 4 years and knew Consumer Reports ranked Saturn dealerships #1 in the industry (81%) and Toyota near the bottom of the pack (62%) (see link for details).

Reflecting on these, it suddenly it hit me: Toyota does not manage the customer relationship. "Customer Satisfaction Rating" is a worthless metric, because every dealership service shop naturally has a 95+% satisfaction rating from the customers they haven't pissed off who have yet to take their business elsewhere. Relationship - this is the difference. Focusing on Relationship Management is why Saturn and Lexus (a divison of Toyota) surpass their peers.

Toyota plans to incorporate its Hybrid Synergy Drive into its mainstream vehicles, which has already begun in its Lexus division. Until hybrid technology becomes a commodity, trailblazing consumers must rely on dealers until their trusted personal mechanics gain the expertise, and if dealers play their cards right, this is an opportunity to win back customers lost to independent shops. Gasoline-Electric hybrid vehicles are leading the way to the next generation of clean, fuel-efficient automobiles, and I applaud that, but if Toyota and other manufacturers want their investments in hybrid technology to succeed, dealerships must improve customer service to bridge the gap between their level of customer service and that of a friendly, trusted mechanic.

That is the essence of my Prius Manifesto. First I'll write my own letter to the Prius U.S./North American Product Manager, VP of Customer Retention, CEO, and the Board of Directors. Next, I'll take it to the Prius Internet chat groups and ask them to do the same, focusing on the Prius Product Manager and VP of Customer Retention, and provide a sample letter. The great thing about Prius owners is we're left-wing liberals, believers in social and environmental activism, which gives me great hope for making such a grass roots campaign work. Hear us, Toyota! Prius owners demand relationship management! We demand you provide the service quality of Lexus and Saturn, lest we buy our next hybrid vehicle from a manufacturer who will! (Saturn is releasing a hybrid in late 2005!)

:: Bryan Travis :: 08/09/2003 @ 12:22 :: [link] ::
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