Category Archives: Critique

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.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

On The Road: The Movie

screenshot-2016-10-07-23-37-44Walter Sallas made a movie of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road a few years ago. On the Road was my favorite novel when I was in high school, it fired my interest in Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs, and it introduced me to a form of truthseeking and mystical engagement with the world that changed my life.

In other words, for a while I was obsessed with UFOs and horoscopes, but I found a way to shift my imaginative engagement to something more human. That, at some point later, is what really matters.

I didn’t watch Sallas’s movie for years, I think because what I read about it was bad. Critics did not like the movie, and I wasn’t interested in engaging  with a bad movie about my favorite book. A favorite book that was problematic in the way it treated women.

In the many intervening years, I’d talked about On The Road with many women who had read the book and found that it failed the women in the story totally. I grew to understand that this was an important thing, and a failing of Kerouac’s book.

I watched Sallas’s movie tonight and, after a rough start, was surprised how well the movie told the story of Sal and Dean’s friendship and respected the women’s part in the story.

This is an adaptation that is also a critique of the original novel, exalting the romance of Kerouac’s writing, at its high points, but not overdoing that, and also treating the story with a modern brush. Woman are more than objects today, even if Kerouac didn’t always treat them that way.

In this way I came to admire the movie, though it is far from flawless. The Ginsberg  character is given due as a figure, but as a personality he’s irksome and pretentious and lacks charm. I’m not sure that’s inaccurate but it undermines the fact of all these character’s sexual fluidity. In fact, the movie goes out of its way to protect Kerouac’s hetero identity, when that wasn’t the case.

The bottom line is I think everyone should read the novel. It has deep and abiding meaning, especially in the context of it’s time. And I don’t think the movie screws that up much, except that it adds a layer of much-later critique, which I hope makes women feel more welcome.

 

Governor Cuomo, Sir! A Way Better Idea for Penn Station.

Yesterday the Governor of New  York, Andrew Cuomo, announced a new shopping mall and Amtrak station adjoining the James A. Farley Post Office Building, across Eighth Avenue from the current Madison Square Garden. Call it the new Penn Station.

If you’re not familiar with New York you have no idea just what a disaster the current Penn Station, which currently resides under the Garden, is. For one thing, New Jersey Transit, Amtrak and the Long Island Railroad all come through the station, which is a tangle of platforms and stairways and levels, all with low ceilings and a sense of crushing crowdedness.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-30-17For another, it isn’t the glorious station that was built in 1910 and graced the site for 50 years before it was ingloriously torn down by greedy developers, a move that sparked New York’s historic preservation movement cum bureaucracy those many years ago.

If you are familiar with the station, you know all its horrors, but you might not guess that 650,000 people arrive and leave from it every day. It was designed to handle about 200,000.

As someone whose portal into the city when I was growing up was Penn Station, it was always a miserable place to be. Its dismal surroundings were ameliorated somewhat by the fact that you were either leaving or coming, you didn’t linger longer than necessary in Penn Station. Still, sometimes the wait was long.

I don’t know if it is by coincidence or plan, but the New York Times today has an elaborate suggestion for how to fix Penn Station. The beauty of the plan, which was developed by the architect Vishaan Chakrabarti, is to leave the massive cylinder that is Madison Square Garden intact, but to do away with all the innards.

screenshot-2016-09-30-23-32-00No concrete shell, no hockey rink, no basketball court. No stairs or escalators. The shell would be replaced with something called blast-proof glass, and the space would be open to the sidewalk. No doors!

Though in cold weather the station may be sealed off by temporary walls. But the idea is that the sun beating down on a giant glass building would work like a greenhouse.  Anyone who has ridden the escalator up with a full complement of luggage to the door on Eighth Avenue and 32nd Street knows how nice the elimination of door would be.

In any case, the Times presentation of this idea, written by Michael Kimmelman, the paper’s architecture critic, is not only beautiful, but it is beautifully presented. If there’s a reason to move from print to digital now, this is it.

And I’m not showing any of it. Be surprised!

 

The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot, as Newsweek details.
Donald and his dad Fred, to whom he owes a lot.

Three authoritative pieces about Donald Trump have emerged in recent days. These are based on solid straight-forward reporting by Newsweek, The Atlantic and Washington Post, and are followed by Keith Olbermann’s oxygen depleting recitation of factual reasons Donald Trump shouldn’t be president.

These stories are all over the place today, but I’m pinning them here just in case anyone lands here who needs to be reminded what their vote for Trump is actually a vote for. Continue reading The Known Facts About Donald Trump

Recommended: Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk


After finishing Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: A Novel I read Geoff Dyer’s review in the Sunday Times Book Review of May 18, 2012. Or reread, probably, at least partly. My approach to book reviews is flexible. I read them if I’m interested in the non-fiction subject, even a little.

I read fiction reviews if I like the writer or I like the reviewer, or if the writer or reviewer I don’t know captures me for some reason. References to books and writers I like help. But it is hit or miss.

If I start reading a review, for whatever reason, and think I might read the book, I stop. It isn’t pleasurable to read with a critical voice in your head, no matter whose. Read the book first, read the review later. Same goes for movies.

I’m sure I at least started Dyer’s review of Ben Fountain’s book because I like reading Dyer, and I’m sure I stopped because I thought I would read the book, which I eventually did and have now finished.

All of which is to say that Dyer’s review gets the book, and does it without even mentioning Beyonce’.

What I can tell you is the book is a love story, and like all love stories it’s a wish-fulfillment scenario. The fact that that mostly-dry humping mise en scene intersects with the War in Iraq, Bush 43 giving medals, Fox Television, the Dallas Cowboys, Hillary Swank, Destiny’s Child, a twisted dysfunctional and sweet family, and many vile and some sweet characters, and is written with vivid access to metaphor that captures life in these United States these days, is secondary.

But not unimportant.

Market Basket Fantastic.

I was near Boston yesterday, in the western suburbs, and everyone (I talked to, at least) is talking about the family feud that has disrupted business for DeMoula’s Market Basket supermarkets.

This is a family feud, but it also turns out to be a textbook illustration of the perversity of inadequately progressive tax rates and the rapacious nature of those who don’t work who own rights to the returns from those who do.

I’ve shopped in the original Westford Market Basket many times, and as someone who likes food was mostly impressed by lack of the foodie stuff in the store. But what regular shoppers tell me is that the store was customer friendly. Not only did they have lower prices than all the other groceries, but they also rebated four percent of what you bought. And they stocked local produce (that actually was a reason I shopped there sometimes).

On top of this, it turns out, they also had a generous profit sharing program, excellent wages, a program for paying for college tuition and a pension program it was easy to join and easy to collect on.

Not only did the company produce value for its workers, but it also threw off a ton of money for its shareholders.

I didn’t know about the good benefits or the happy workers, until recently, and often shopped at Hannefords and Stop and Shop when I was visiting the inlaws, because those stores had cooler food (more organic, though not more local). But things have changed.

After years of feuding, the DeMoula cousin who is a financial operative has taken control of the company from the cousin who has been a successful retailer. And business has ground to a halt. This fine story from Slate has more details, but doesn’t really hint at the main issue here.

DeMoula’s family business, started in the shadow of the War to End All Wars (the centenary of which we’re now recognizing), has grown into a business worth more than $3 Billion dollars. Some significant part of that expansion was due to the nice cousin’s investment in worker and customer satisfaction.

These investments cut into the bottom line and shareholder reaping in the short term, and the current dispute seems to stem from the dissatisfaction of those who own shares but do no work and who hate seeing money paid to people who actually labor.

The people I spoke with in the Boston area (including some self-described conservatives) seemed to understand that this was a feud between a grocer who recognized the value (and profitablity) of good wages and reinvestment, and a guy schooled in investment who was looking to squeeze as much cash out of cow as quickly as he could. Ouch!

Obviously there is a value to people investing in the products of other people’s labors, but too often this ends up with rich people using money to extract more money from those who actually make the value. Which not only hurts workers, but also strips away the dynamics of our society. We need workers who buy to expand.

The rapacious policies of Artie S. have radicalized, though I’m not sure they would call it this, a broad swath of suburban Boston. But the bottom line belongs to Artie T. It’s better business in the long term to have a well paid workforce than to force them into penury for immediate riches that are there to be gained.

As a society, unfortunately, we’ve allowed the plutocrats (a minute minority) to define the discussion, rather than look out for our own (and, curiously, society’s) interests.

That’s where we can make change.