Picture Industry, an art show you should see at Bard College’s Hessel Center

I went back to see this show at Bard’s Hessel Center for a second time today. I rushed through the first time, and didn’t quite get all the amazing connections going on here.

This is a show about photographs that digs deep into their documentary value. The first and last images in the loop of an exhibit space are workers entering and leaving their factories.

In between, there is a fantastic survey of photographic imagery working on social issues. Walker Evans and Lewis Hines are here, in the context of their documentary work, and some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s sex pictures are here, too. Plus one of the flowers, because it exists.

Not everything clicks, but everything does get at this idea that pictures and ideas and politics and social understanding, at least, go together.

There is an amazing video, built around Kanye’s Ultralight Beam, that weaves a history of black culture in image and sound that challenges and undermines the very notion of integration. In the way that I Am Not Your Negro does, disdaining the very notion of accommodation.

Martha Rosler’s detournment of women’s roles in American advertising struck me, maybe because this is what I grew up with, and how I learned to distrust the media.

Here’s one of those not in the show. Go if you can.

 

 

 

Recommended: I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

A movie on Netflix you probably haven’t heard of.

I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore is a pretty terrific piece of work.

Here’s the Netflix link.

If you want comps, Blood Simple and Blue Ruin come to mind, but this movie is sweeter than those. And no less hard.

It stars Melanie Lynskey, who is terrific. This is star making.

Directed by Macon Blair, his first film.

I could describe it, I guess, but really what you need to know is this movie is really well made. It combines genre stereotypes with stereotype breaking tropes. There is violence and very little dialogue, but it is more thoughtful than action-y.

It’s not perfect. Some of the characters are too broad. Some of the scenes don’t score perfectly.

But partly because of Melanie Lynskey and partly because of the craft of the production, it is highly recommended.

 

I Forgot My Yahoo Password! You can’t imagine what happened next.

 

Verizon now owns Yahoo, and all of a sudden when I went to log in today, because I signed up for newsletter, my password at Yahoo didn’t work. This is exactly what used to happen at the Verizon website when I had my phone and internet accounts there. The passwords never worked.

So, I went to reset the Yahoo password today, thinking that maybe I changed the password after last summer’s revelation that a billion Yahoo accounts has been compromised, and then didn’t write down the new one. That would explain the problem.

I told Yahoo to reset my password and was taken to a Verizon screen, which asked for my user name and zip code. I entered it, clicked and went to this page:

Yes, Verizon is going to mail me a temporary password by US Mail. That’s so 20th Century.

What else can you do? I’m supposed to be confirming my email address for a newsletter. I click the button and am taken to this page:

They’re acting as if I’m a Fios customer. I’m not. I’m a Yahoo customer, who will be getting his password reset by US Mail! (That’s where the exclamation mark went.)

Yeesh.

William Powell, who wrote the Anarchist’s Cookbook, died a few months ago

The history of resistance is populated by lone wolves, some who are admirable. Some who are truly transgressive.

William Powell was young and fired up and figured out how to terrorize the world. His obituary is well worth reading.

He also lived, after his transgression, something of an exemplary live, serving our society’s greater goals always.

I loved the Anarchist Cookbook when I was a teen, for the assumption of pure power anyone could have by building a bomb. It stroked my teenage dream of blowing things up to make things right.

But we all knew we were small potatoes compared to the international situation.  Or we thought we were.

Today we know that a small potato with a big bomb can change everything, and while Powell may have known that, his amazing book is changed by that knowledge from an object of romantic upheaval to a harbinger of terror.

It’s the same thing, but the context changes everything. And I write now of my love for the book without apology, but with a much greater understanding of the obligations and costs of, well, revolution, especially as practiced by someone better equipped to blow stuff up and kill than to actually change things.

Time to head to the basement to find my copy of Abbie Hoffman’s Steal This Book.

Fenn’s Treasure Hunt

Forrest Fenn is a dude, apparently.

He made lots of dough on Southwestern artifacts. You can surely see how that happened.

When he found time to confront his own physical demise, he wrote a poem with nine clues about where he buried a small chest or artifacts worth two million dollars, somewhere out in the wilderness of the Rocky Mountains.

Where? Idaho, Montana, Colorado, or New Mexico.

A cult of treasure hunters going after this treasure was inevitable, but so far the most anyone has gotten out of it is a good yarn.

 

 

Brackets! March Mammal Madness 2017 is on.

This is year five of MMM (March Mammal Madness). Read all about it here.

They even explain why there is a Gila Monster in this year’s bracket! In short, they’re not fooling around.

There are four divisions. Sixty three mammals, plus the lizard. There are seeds, venues, home venue advantage and, on schedule, matchups.

The big thing to know? There are upsets. Like this one:

The rankings are not infallible and there are upsets in nature too. Upsets are what make March Mammal Madness exciting. Like in 2015 when #3 seed Quokka exited stage left for those sweet burger rings allowing #14 seed Numbat to advance!!! OMG! WHO SAW THAT COMING!?!?!?!

I did not.

Another important question:

Is the battle always to the death?

The battles are NOT always “nature, red in tooth and claw.” Sometimes the winner “wins” by displacing the other at a feeding location, sometimes a powerful animal doesn’t attack because it is not motivated to- a few years ago in the “Who in the What Now?” Division we had a dhole lose to a binturong because the night before the dhole had gorged on babirusa and the gut passage time of wild-canids is 24-48 hours. This meant that the dhole was still full from the night before and unwilling to take the risks of tangling with the binturong. Even a small claw cut or bite wound can get infected and lots of times an animal will back down rather than take a risk for little potential benefit.

So, play along, follow obsessively, or just read the charming and funny description of the event. And before registering your bracket in a bettering pool, keep in mind a rules change for this year that completely overshadows major league baseball’s recent changes: A mythical mammal can now defeat a real mammal. That wasn’t the case last year.

 

The Spectacular Awfulness of Verizon Customer Service

I wrote this in January, but didn’t post it then because I was too angry and wanted to let it sit. Then I got distracted by other things, and it sat waiting for attention. Reading it today reminds just how screwy our world can be. So, I hope this provides a laugh. Plus, I got a bill from Verizon the other day. It said I owed .75 cents plus 8 cents tax for a Three Way Call between 1/13 and 2/12, though our service was disconnected on December 20th. I struggled to find a phone number and I struggled to get through the voice-activated phone tree, but eventually spoke with a charming woman in Finance (I had been misdirected). She said (before transferring me to customer service), “Don’t tell anyone I said this, but just tell them that this is too small an amount to write and mail a check, and they’ll take it off. Just don’t tell them I said so, she laughed wonderfully. And I did, and so did they.”

goodbye-verizon-featuredI’m on hold right now, having finally found a way to contact a person at Verizon. The issue today? I cancelled my Verizon phone service on December 20th, but today they pulled money from my bank account automatically for December 13 to January 12. I want a refund for the days after I cancelled service.

Here is what happens when you go to the Verizon website:

It takes you to a page with no login link.

You click the Phone link and it takes you to the home page. There is a login link in the upper right corner of the screen, where it should be.

You log in, but it doesn’t recognize your password. I know it didn’t recognize my password last time and the time before that. I figure this has to be my fault, I must be entering the wrong password, but I can’t think of another website where I have to so methodically reset the password every time I visit. I have an entry in my password list for Verizon, could it be outdated? No way to know what the matter is, but this happens every time at this website.

It asks me a security question. Where did I meet my wife? I know the city name, the restaurant name, the security answer I usually enter to answer security questions, the answer which has nothing to do with the truth. All are wrong.

It offers to reset my password. I enter my username and zip code. It prompts me to text or email a temporary password. I say Text.

I’m texted a temporary password.

I enter my username and temp password. I am then prompted to enter my a new password and confirm it. I enter the old password twice, meeting the requirements of capital letter, lower case letter and at least one number. At least eight characters overall. Now my password list is right, I think. I press enter and am prompted to choose a security question.

I do so, choose a new one not involving my spouse, and am prompted to log in. I type my username, click sign in, and am prompted for my password.

I enter my password and am told that the user name/password combo doesn’t exist. I want to scream, then notice that autofill is adding a y to the beginning of my username. Maybe this is on me, my browser, some past typo. I don’t know. I have to click the x on the autofill tab to advance to the password page.

I type in the password, click sign in, and am taken to the security question page, which I answer flawlessly. I’m finally in!

I click Billing. I’m given the choices to View Bill, Pay Bill, Payment History, Auto Pay, Paper Free Billing.

I click View Bill and am told my account has been disconnected, and I will remain in Auto Pay for my final bill(s). My final bill should have covered 12/13 to 12/20, but instead covered 12/13-1/12, so I need to arrange a refund.

I can’t find a telephone number to call, there isn’t a telephone number to call, so I contact the automated Virtual Chat. I type “I need to arrange for refund for overcharge on bill.”

Nothing happens. I realize this might be an issue with Chrome, with a security setting that suppresses popups, so I move over to Safari. I am able to log in directly. I ask the virtual chat the question and am given a link to the View Bill page. Grrrr. I was there already.

I find a menu item at the bottom of the page for Billing Disputes.

The link takes me to a page called

Billing Disputes.

It tells me I need the date of my bill, the amount of the charge, the label of the charge, the page number from the bill, and the reason for my dispute.

There is a link to contact Verizon. Clicking it takes me to a page that shows this (click to enlarge):

screenshot-2017-01-02-09-50-59

I click Billing & Account, which brings me to this:

screenshot-2017-01-02-09-53-35

I click Billing Questions, which brings me to this:

screenshot-2017-01-02-09-59-19

Grrr! No phone number. No link to Billing Disputes after many links starting with the prompt Billing Disputes.

I’ve already been given the runaround by the virtual helper. Forums won’t help. Chat is busy! Hmm. More contact options. I click that.

Click that and the button changes to this:

screenshot-2017-01-02-10-01-16

I click that and am given this:

screenshot-2017-01-02-10-02-16

But I don’t think the one I saw said Call Me in 29 Minutes. What I know is that I entered my phone number, but made a typo in the area code box, and it would not let me delete it. Not by back spacing, not by using delete, not by highlighting and typing. Nothing.

So I X’ed out, reopened the form and made sure to type my phone number correctly. I clicked the Call Me button and my phone rang immediately.

Wow, that was fast. But it wasn’t a person. It was a voice recognition system which asked me if I was calling about the number I was calling from.

No, I said.

What is the number you’re calling about?

I give the number. There is a whirring sound, like a robot thinking, and then I’m told that the account has been found and I’m prompted for the four number PIN attached to the account.

I don’t know the PIN. This happens every time I contact Verizon, no one ever tells me what the PIN is, they can’t tell me what the PIN is, but after a really frustrating time we always proceed. In this case, the voice prompts for the PIN. I give the PIN I often use for low-security accounts (not banks etc), and am told that’s not right.

Will I give another PIN?

No, I say.

Okay, the voice says. We’ll proceed without a PIN, but you may be prompted to answer some security questions later.

I’m given a list of menu items that seems familiar: Hear billing amount due, pay bill, recent transactions, anything else.

Anything else doesn’t help. I say Customer Service.

Would you like to speak to a customer service representative?

Yes.

I’m then prompted for the three digit number that appears on my bill next to the phone number. I start to say One and the voice interrupts me. I stop, listen to the prompt, then say One Seven Six.

The voice says back: DId you say One One Seven Six?

No.

Please read the three digit number that appears on your bill next to your phone number.

One Seven Six.

I’m transferred to Ashley, who answers the phone, Verizon Financial Services.

Ashley listens to my problem, says she’ll take care of it and puts me on hold. I’m on hold a long time, listening to terrible music, but she jumps back in a few times to apologize for the delay. It is okay.

After about 10 minutes she tells me that Autopay has been turned off. I ask if my card will be charged back for the balance I shouldn’t have been charged for and she says it will.

She’s very nice and helpful. Just as the man was who turned off my service two weeks ago, the man who said I would be billed for the useage in a final bill and I didn’t need to do anything else, was.

So, we’ll see.

Verizon is a giant company offering services to vast numbers of consumers. In my experience, over many years as a phone, wireless and internet customer, the website has always been a user interface disaster. The thing you need is always hidden, the pages take you to endless loops of not the information you want. The account page is sparse and not helpful.

On my page, a view of past bills, shows no past bills.

The messaging system deletes messages after 15 days, so you have no record of  your interactions.

The chat system, when it’s working, doesn’t allow you to easily save the chat.

This utter disregard for the customer experience has to be designed into their service intentionally. It must be working for Verizon, in some cynical bottom-line way, but it is lousy and I’m glad to have finally moved on.

Spectrum, the new combined Charter-Time Warner service, is paying attention to customers now.

 

 

 

 

 

Donald Trump’s Health Care Commitment

He promised these things in his speech to Congress. Sounds pretty good. We should not forget, or accept excuses if he fails to deliver:

The way to make health insurance available to everyone is to lower the cost of health insurance, and that is what we are going to do.

Here are the principles that should guide Congress as we move to create a better healthcare system for all Americans. 

First, we should ensure that Americans with pre-existing conditions have access to coverage, and that we have a stable transition for Americans currently enrolled in the health care exchanges.

Secondly, we should help Americans purchase their own coverage, through the use of tax credits and expanded health savings accounts, but it must be the plan they want, not the plan forced on them by our government.

Thirdly, we should give our state governors the resources and flexibility they need with Medicaid to make sure no one is left out.

Fourth, we should implement legal reforms that protect patients and doctors from unnecessary costs that drive up the price of insurance and work to bring down the artificially high price of drugs and bring them down immediately.

And finally, the time has come to give Americans the freedom to purchase health insurance across state lines.

Which will create a truly competitive national marketplace that will bring cost way down and provide far better care. So important. Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing and hope. Our citizens deserve this and so much more. So why not join forces and finally get the job done and get it done right?

 

Leonard Cohen, The Future

When Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature a few weeks ago, what surprised me was the number of people who said Leonard Cohen was more deserving.

Now, Cohen is dead. And there is an even more fitting chance to evaluate his contribution to our poetry, music and culture.

For me, he’s a great artist, but one who pales beside the Monadnock of Dylan. Cohen wrote many excellent songs, but for me this is his best. Your mileage may vary, which is why we have comments.