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And, yes, I DO take it personally: 07/06/2008 - 07/13/2008
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And, yes, I DO take it personally

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A reason for hope...? Is something in the air...?

well, in argentina anyway...

yesterday at ezeiza airport in buenos aires, while waiting in line to present my passport at immigration, i noted that the argentine "citizens only" line had cleared and that the agent at the window was checking out the long line of foreigners remaining... he stood up and left his booth... at first i thought he was going for a break, but then i noticed that he had not only left the booth door open, but had walked over to the foreigner line and was looking over the people there... he finally motioned to one couple further back in the line, opened up the restraining strap, and directed them over to his booth... i wondered what had caused him to pick out those particular people until i saw the woman cradling a small baby in her arms... accustomed as i am to uninspired and insensitive customer service, i have to admit i was both surprised and pleased... then, after taking care of the couple with their baby, he continued right on to help clear the foreigner line, definitely not the indifference i've come to expect from argentine government employees...

a few minutes later, after loading my stuff into a taxi, the driver, a pleasant older gentleman, announced that he needed to stop for gas and wanted to know if that would be ok with me... i'm always honored by a considerate request, so of course i said "no problema"... he pulled into the petrobras service station on the airport grounds where all the pumps were occupied by other cars, so he held back a bit to wait his turn... another car jumped ahead of him and, when the space at the pump had cleared, the driver pulled right in... the attendant (yes, they still have gas station attendants in argentina) had obviously made note of the situation and, when the line-jumper got out of his car, spoke to him while gesturing to my taxi driver, clearly indicating that he should give way and let my taxi driver go first... my driver simply smiled and waved for the man already at the pump to go ahead... the man, somewhat bemused at this point, graciously accepted the kindness with a nod and a smile of his own... and, as if that wasn't enough of a display of decency, when we were out on the toll road into the city, the taxi driver offered me a butterscotch toffee...! needless to say, he got a handsome tip, a tip he accepted with his own indication of bemused surprise along with a modest smile...

now that i think about it, maybe it's not just argentina...

i've learned to always check my various frequent flyer accounts online to make sure the proper mileage credits have been posted... possibly because they know i hate them passionately, it seems the airline that consistently fails in this area is united...

a couple of years ago, i carried on a running battle with united for damn near a year to get lufthansa mileage credits posted... because it involved two flight legs, one from belgrade to munich and the other from munich to jfk, it was a considerable chunk of mileage, and i was damned sure they were going to give me the proper credit which, after much hell-raising on my part, they finally did...

so, after arriving in afghanistan, i checked to see if the extremely large number of miles from buenos aires to dubai had been posted... sure enough, the leg between sao paulo and dubai was there but the leg from buenos aires to sao paulo was missing... i followed the instructions for claiming mileage credit from a partner airline by sending them the original boarding pass and all the pertinent itinerary information, and then checked regularly to see if it had been posted... nothing... when i got back to the u.s., i checked to see if the equally large number of miles from dubai to reno had been posted... sure enough, the jfk to reno legs were there but the massive chunk from dubai to jfk wasn't... shortly thereafter, i received a letter from united announcing that the buenos aires-sao paulo leg couldn't be credited for some damn reason or another...

i was now not only very pissed but also dreading another lengthy pitched battle... i girded my loins and called the customer service center where, naturally, the nested set of automated options DIDN'T include the option to speak to a live person... fortunately, i know enough to press "zero" which takes me to a live service rep... when she came on the line, i dispensed with all formalities and immediately asked to be connected with a supervisor... when she asked the nature of my call, i simply said "no," that i just wanted to speak directly to a supervisor... when the supervisor came on the line, i slowly explained the situation and made it clear that any bureaucratic nonsense would be completely unacceptable... the supervisor was looking at all the information i had sent on her computer screen, but patiently explained that they didn't have a ticket number and that, without a ticket number, they wouldn't be able to credit the mileage... i pointed out that, as a contractor, the ticket had been purchased for me, and that i didn't HAVE the ticket number... i also inquired as to why three legs of a five-leg itinerary had been posted but not the other two... much to my surprise, the supervisor told me that she would take it upon herself to get everything resolved and would call me back within a week to ten days... somewhat stunned at this offer of genuine customer service, i accepted and thanked her before ringing off...

now, in argentina at least, if ANY business or service person promises to call you back about ANYTHING, you can pretty well assume it won't happen, so let's just say, even though it was the u.s., i was dubious about ever hearing from the united customer service person again... i had basically put it out of my mind until two days ago when, son of a gun, i answered the phone and it was the very same united customer service person calling to tell me that everything had been taken care of... when i finished picking my jaw up off the floor, i thanked her profusely...i told her what i always tell everyone these days who gives me good customer service - i NEVER take good customer service for granted... what i take for granted is BAD customer service and i'm always delighted and amazed when someone treats me righteously...

do you suppose i'm seeing a trend...?

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Thursday, July 10, 2008

How I spent my money while on an airport layover in Houston

i should never go within 100 yards of a bookstore... when i visited my daughter a few weeks ago in minneapolis, she gave me a gift certificate for the bookstore where she works and i cruised the aisles feeling like the winner of a shopping spree... my book stash was depleted and, since i was heading back to argentina soon, it wasn't only a very thoughtful gift, it was also very timely...


i arrived here in the houston airport about two hours ago, facing a four-hour layover before the flight to buenos aires... i was taking my time, moseying to the concourse where the ba flight was scheduled, when i was lured in by the siren song of borders... not only did i not escape unscathed, i walked out with a full-price, HARDBOUND book... sigh...

my justification...?

it's a book that, i believe, deserves a place of honor on my bookshelf...

The Prosecution Of George W. Bush For Murder

by Vincent Bugliosi

yeah, i confess, i had already decided to buy the book at some point... why...? largely because i found out that both the publisher and mr. bugliosi have been spectacularly unsuccessful in booking mr. bugliosi on any of the traditional book-shilling venues, INCLUDING the daily show... what better recommendation could any book have...?

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Traveling (yes, AGAIN) tomorrow

i'm flying to houston and then taking the overnight flight from there to buenos aires, back to my little place, where i'm anxious to see how my new afghan rug complements my living room... it will also give me some psychological space from the shredding of the constitution perpetrated today by our congress...

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Let's all join hands and say a silent prayer lamenting the demise of the 4th amendment [UPDATE]

we're so screwed...

rachel maddow and jonathan turley on countdown...


yeah... kiss the 4th amendment and any semblance of government accountability goodbye...
Senate Approves Immunity for Telecom Companies in Wiretapping

By a vote of 69-28, the Senate approved a bill overhauling
the rules covering secret government eavesdropping and
granting immunity to telecommunications companies that aided
in the wiretapping of Americans without warrants.

i thought it was a dark day when the military commissions act passed, but this is just as dark or darker... i never thought i would come to a point where i am so profoundly ashamed of my country and its government...

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The Obama smears and lies are coming thick and fast

the following was sent to me by a friend who, unfortunately, was passing it along believing it was true... this scurrilous slander is evidently in wide circulation on the internet and vividly demonstrates what we're in for as the presidential campaign heads into the final months...
Published: June 29, 2008
Certainly the most interesting and potentially devastating phone call I have received during this election cycle came this week from one of the Obama's campaign internet geeks. These are the staffers who devised Obama's internet fund raising campaign which raised in the neighborhood of $200 million so far. That is more then twice the total funds raised by any candidate in history – and this was all from the internet campaign.
What I learned from this insider was shocking but I guess we shouldn't be surprised that when it comes to fund raising there simply are no rules that can't be broken and no ethics that prevail.
Obama's internet campaign started out innocently enough with basic e-mail networking , lists saved from previous party campaigns and from supporters who visited any of the Obama campaign web sites.
Small contributions came in from these sources and the internet campaign staff were more than pleased by the results.
Then, about two months into the campaign the daily contribution intake multiplied. Where was it coming from? One of the web site security monitors began to notice the bulk of the contributions were clearly coming in from overseas internet service providers and at the rate and frequency of transmission it was clear these donations were "programmed" by a very sophisticated user.
While the security people were not able to track most of the sources due to firewalls and other blocking devices put on these contributions they were able to collate the number of contributions that were coming in seemingly from individuals but the funds were from only a few credit card accounts and bank electronic funds transfers. The internet service providers (ISP) they were able to trace were from Saudi Arabia , Iran , and other Middle Eastern countries. One of the banks used for fund transfers was also located in Saudi Arabia .
Another concentrated group of donations was traced to a Chinese ISP with a similar pattern of limited credit card charges.
It became clear that these donations were very likely coming from sources other than American voters. This was discussed at length within the campaign and the decision was made that none of these donations violated campaign financing laws.
It was also decided that it was not the responsibility of the campaign to audit these millions of contributions as to the actual source (specific credit card number or bank transfer account numbers) to insure that none of these internet contributors exceeded the legal maximum donation on a cumulative basis of many small donations. They also found the record keeping was not complete enough to do it anyway.
This is a shocking revelation.
We have been concerned about the legality of "bundling" contributions after the recent exposure of illegal bundlers but now it appears we may have an even greater problem.
I guess we should have been somewhat suspicious when the numbers started to come out. We were told (no proof offered) that the Obama internet contributions were from $10.00 to $25.00 or so.
If the $200,000,000 is right, and the average contribution was $15.00, that would mean over 13 million individuals made contributions?
That would also be 13 million contributions would need to be processed. How did all that happen?
I believe the Obama campaign's internet fund raising needs a serious, in depth investigation and audit.
It also appears the whole question of internet fund raising needs investigation by the legislature and perhaps new laws to insure it complies not only with the letter of these laws but the spirit as well.

this is in the same vein as other email tripe purported to be from the likes of george carlin and robin williams... however, using a respected nyt columnist (respected by SOME, but not by me) as the supposed "source" is particularly egregious...

here's the title and a link to the column ACTUALLY written by maureen dowd on june 29...

‘It’s Over, Lady!’

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Monday, July 07, 2008

The Indian Embassy blast in Afghanistan hits a little close to home for me

the indian embassy is directly across the street from where i regularly held meetings...

from reuters...

and, needless to say, our worthless u.s. news media doesn't bother to give us the full background...

juan cole...

[A] suicide bomber struck at the Indian Embassy in Kabul, killing 28 persons and wounding 141. The Indian ambassador was not there at the time, but Indian embassy guards and possibly other Embassy personnel appear to have been killed.

India has 3,000 nationals doing reconstruction work in Afghanistan. Since the neo-Taliban want to pull down the Karzai government, trying to scare the Indians into leaving would be a way of removing one foreign pillar of support from the edifice of state.

Since the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence is alleged to be secretly backing some Taliban elements, there is a danger that New Delhi will read this assault on its embassy in Kabul as an indirect strike by Pakistan. Pakistan had long considered Afghanistan its sphere of influence (which the military called its 'strategic depth' against India). Pakistan exercised its regional hegemony through the Taliban in the 1990s. The Northern Alliance gradually allied with India, Russia and Iran. The Taliban were mostly Pushtun, while the Northern Alliance was Tajik (Persian-speaking) , Hazarah (ditto but Shiite) and Uzbek. So from a Pakistani and Pushtun Taliban point of view, when the US put the Northern Alliance in charge of Kabul in late 2001, it more or less turned Afghanistan into an Indian sphere of influence. Pakistan and the Taliban are fighting back against this change.

The bombing in Kabul came after allegations over the weekend that the US had mistakenly bombed a wedding party and earlier had also killed civilians in another area in an air strike aimed at militants.

virtually every afghan i talked to when i was there made the same point - that pakistan is working diligently to destabilize afghanistan and has been the force behind the most deadly attacks... meanwhile, the u.s. continues to pour billions of dollars into the pakistan military, knowing full well what's going on...

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