Sunday, October 27, 2013

Screw "It Gets Better"

Don’t get me wrong. I respect the “It Gets Better” movement. I love some of the videos. And although I know that they were born as a means of support for gay teenagers, I think they have much broader applications…because middle school and high school suck for a lot of kids.

But, why do we accept that?

Long before there was an “It Gets Better” campaign, parents were commiserating with their kids that middle school was horrible for everyone, but it ended and before long it would be a fading memory. Teachers and administrators rolled their eyes and talked about how “difficult” adolescents were, feeling more sorry for themselves than for the 13-year-old girls contemplating suicide in the back of their classrooms.

I heard those platitudes when I was in middle school in the late 70s, and I was still hearing them when I rescued my youngest child from 8th grade in 2009.  In thirty years, the best we’ve come up with is a video series that reassures our kids that the hell we’re forcing them through won’t last forever.

If you lived in an apartment building where your twelve-year-old was routinely bullied in the hallways, to the point that he was depressed and his whole personality was changing, would you give him a hug and remind him that in six short years he could move out on his own and get away from this? If you worked in an environment that made you physically ill every morning, if you stepped off of the commuter train each day kind of hoping you’d be hit by a car so you didn’t actually have to enter that building, would you keep that job for three or five or six years?

I suspect not—at least, not if there were any way possible for you to change it. Yet, we accept the high-stress, abusive, soul-destroying environment that is public school for adolescents and teenagers without a blink.  We agree that it’s horrible, nod sympathetically, and tell our kids to hurry up and get in the car so that we can deliver them to its doors once again. And, we’re thankful when something like the “It Gets Better” series appears to give them hope for the future.

That’s our job.

And we don’t show them that there’s hope for the future by encouraging them to quietly serve their time in purgatory, to curl in on themselves and learn to protect themselves from the world and hide who they are until they can escape that environment. We don’t show them hope by telling them they’ll be happy when they’re twenty-five and expecting that to be enough, expecting them to even know what that means. We show them that the future can be better by showing them how to change it, by working our asses off to make the school environment better or by removing them from it and showing them that better world instead of just promising that it will come along one day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System, 15.8% of teens had seriously considered suicide in the 12 months preceding the survey. In fact, 5,400 7th to 12th graders in the United States attempt suicide every single day. And we wait for it to pass? Hope they’re not successful, or that our kids are the ones who escape (and the hell with the ones who don’t make it)? Because, you know, that’s just how the teen years are.

Title notwithstanding, I mean no disrespect to the folks behind “It Gets Better.”  I think it’s fantastic that successful people from many walks of life have invested the time and emotional energy to share their personal stories and give our kids enough hope to get them through the worst years of their lives. Now, it’s time that parents, teachers, school administrators and everyone else who controls our children’s destinies get to work making that unnecessary.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Wal-Mart Parking Lot Scandal from a Very Different Perspective

Recently, a white guy took his mixed-race children to Wal-Mart and all hell broke loose.  Someone--stories seem to vary on whether it was a customer or Wal-Mart security--saw the guy with kids who "didn't seem to fit" and called the police. The police went by his house (immediately) to check it out, determined that everything was okay and went on their way...and then roughly 276,383 bloggers and minor news sources got involved.

If you've ever read this blog before, you probably know that I'm not a racist.  My daughter literally didn't know that there were different races until she went to school and someone else filled her in, despite regularly interacting with people from at least a dozen different countries.  She viewed the differences in the color of their skin no differently than differences in hair color or height.  Probably, had she been in that parking lot, it wouldn't have registered with her that those little girls didn't look like the biological children of the man they were with.  And that's a lovely society to look forward to.  But it's also beside the point.

Discrimination sucks, and I'll be the first to admit that I don't really know what it's like. I've seen it, but as a middle-aged white chick, I haven't felt it.  But it, too, seems to me to be rather beside the point in this case.

What happened is that someone saw very young children with a man they thought perhaps shouldn't have them and acted.  Then, the police immediately followed up to make sure those children were safe.

Yes, it was an inconvenience and probably very stressful for the parents, and I'm not minimizing that.  But look at the bottom line: it's not that a stranger at Wal-Mart was racist because he or she recognized that it's very rare in our society for a white man to have children who appear to be African American.  It's that a stranger at Wal-Mart went out on a limb to make sure that a stranger's children were safe.

Just recently, we saw the escape of three women who had been held captive in Ohio for years.  After the escape, neighbors told us that they'd called the police on more than one occasion, but the investigation was half-hearted at best and those girls grew into women as captive victims.  Not these cops.  They followed up so quickly that they reached the guy's house before he got home himself.

I'm a mother and a grandmother, and I can tell you without reservation that if some stranger had ever called the police because of something out of the ordinary they thought they'd witnessed, and the police ran right over to my house and asked me to prove that those kids were mine or that their mommy knew I had them, I'd offer a sincere thank you.  No, it wouldn't be any fun, but I WANT to live in a society where strangers care about children they think may be in danger and police follow up quickly.

In 1999 (the last year studied), 797,000 children were reported missing.  33,000 of those are believed to be non-family abductions--you know, people like those girls in Ohio or Elizabeth Smart or, worse, young children who are molested, terrorized and then killed.  When those children survive, it's often because something out of the ordinary caught the eye of a stranger, who had the courage to act...and then the police took that person seriously enough to investigate quickly and thoroughly.  Amber Alert reports alone have saved 642 children since the program was implemented.

Our ridiculous knee-jerk reaction to the fact that racial disparity was an element that caught the eye of the reporter in this case has sent a powerful message to society that if you're uncertain, you should keep your damned mouth shut.  It's just not worth the risk to make that call and have the press ranting about what a horrible person you are for weeks on end because you wanted to make sure that kid was okay.  You were probably wrong anyway.

So...mission accomplished.  Society has learned its lesson about getting involved and children may die, but better that than having them saved because someone recognized a racial disparity and wasn't quite sure about it, right?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Visiondecor Customer Service Debacle Continues

A few days ago, I posted about my experience ordering furniture from Visiondecor. In a nutshell, 11 days after I'd paid for the item and 8 days after I'd received an email saying the item had been shipped, I hadn't received the item and no tracking information was showing.  I emailed the company inquiring about the status of the order and received no response for five days.  On the fifth day, three things happened:

  • The shipping company advised me that it had received the item on the 8th day after I received the "your item has been shipped" email...coincidentally, the day I sent my follow-up email;
  • I posted negative feedback on Amazon; and
  • Visiondecor suddenly became interested in talking to me.
I chose not to accept the 50% refund Visiondecor offered me in exchange for removing the negative review on Amazon, and that apparently is outside their usual experience. (No wonder a company with arguably the worst customer service in North America has mostly positive reviews.)  

The same company that couldn't respond to a simple inquiry about order status in a five-day period has contacted me FIVE TIMES to offer a discount in exchange for immediate removal of the review.  I ignored the first two telephone messages and the first email, but after the second email I responded that I was troubled by the fact that the company had been so disinterested in actually solving my problem but was now so actively engaged in getting me to remove the negative feedback.  

Unbelievably, the response (email # 3, included below in its entirety) from Visiondecor consisted almost entirely of detailed instructions for removing my negative feedback from Amazon.

Nadine Alvarado, Oct 10 11:09 (PDT):Hello,
I am very sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused. If you do decide to remvoe the feedback below are the instructions to remove the feedback:
You will need to log into your Amazon account.
Once you are logged in, please click on the "Your Account" tab on the top right hand corner.
Once that has loaded to the next page please scroll to the bottom of the page where it shows the "Personalization" section
In this section you will see another tab that says "View seller feedback submitted by you" and click on it.
On this screen it will show you all feedback submitted for any order by you, and locate the feedback for this specific order and on the right side of that feedback will show a button that says "remove" and you will need to click on that.
Once you click on remove, it will ask you the reason for removing and you can choose seller resolved problem and then click remove seller feedback.
Once that is done, please let me know right away so that I can issue your refund.
Thank you,

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Visiondecor Furniture Offers Payoff to Alter Amazon Review

Bad customer service experiences are hardly rare these days; in fact, most of the time they're not even worth mentioning.  Last month, though, I had one bad enough that it seemed worth taking a few minutes to leave seller feedback at, and what happened next left me feeling worse about Visiondecor Furniture than I had when they'd simply been ignoring me and failing to fill my order.

Here's the backstory, condensed:

On September 11, I ordered a bed frame from Visiondecore through  I ordered a few other items from other sellers at the same time, including a loft bed/futon combo.  On September 14, I received an email from Visiondecor saying that the item had been shipped and would arrive between September 19 and 21.  By September 17, all of my other items had been delivered.  No tracking information ever appeared on Amazon for the Visiondecor order, and when the item hadn't appeared by September 22, I sent a message to the company inquiring.

I received no response.  However, on Monday the 24th, I received a call from a logistics company wanting to schedule a delivery.  I returned their call on Tuesday morning but didn't get a call back until Wednesday.  When I got that call back on Wednesday, I was advised that they only delivered to my area on Wednesdays, and since they hadn't put the item on the truck that morning (because they hadn't returned my call the day before), I wouldn't be able to get the item until October 10.

When I protested that it had already been ten days since I'd received the "your item has been shipped" email from the seller, the shipper said, "We only received this item on the 22nd."  Prompted by my email, perhaps?

I told the shipper that wasn't acceptable and suggested that she get in touch with her customer and find out what they would like to do to get the item to me sooner, since I had been unable to contact them directly.  Then I went to Amazon and left 1 Star feedback with this comment:

"Worst online ordering experience ever. Seller misrepresented that item had been shipped, it still hasn't arrived 13 days after "has been shipped" email, no tracking information ever appeared. Delivery estimated 9/18-21; it is now 9/27 and no delivery or information. Email to seller has gone unanswered for 5 days."

Within hours I'd received a call back from the shipper saying that the item would be delivered the next day and one from Visiondecor apologizing and offering a discount.  I decided not to return the call to the company until I received the item.  Then, when I did call, it was early afternoon on a weekday and I received a message asking me to call back during regular business hours.  I decided it wasn't worth pursuing further; I had the item, didn't care much about receiving a discount and couldn't imagine what Visiondecor could do to change my impression of the company at that point.

I was wrong, though.  

About a week after the initial call, I received an email from Visiondecor.  The company lost points right away because the email was a reply to the one they'd never bothered to respond to back on the 22nd.  As I read further, I was totally dumbfounded: the purpose of the email was to let me know that IF I removed my negative review from Amazon within 24 hours, they could offer me a 50% discount to "change my customer experience".  My customer experience was NOT improved by being offered a bribe to remove my entirely accurate description of my experience with the company--especially since I had myself relied on customer feedback when deciding which seller to purchase the item from and now think it's likely that the feedback was positive only because the company has purchased that result.

The email I received from Visiondecor is below; the moral of the story is that apparently customer feedback isn't a reliable way to determine whether or not you want to deal with a seller.  When (after the fact) I checked sites like TrustLink, I found reports much more in line with my experience.

Nadine Alvarado, Oct 04 15:41 (PDT):
Hi there!
My name is Nadine. I’m the customer care manager here at Visiondecor. I’m writing to personally apologize for the inconveniences you suffered due to your negative experience shopping with us on Amazon. I would like to do something to help change your customer experience into, at least, a more satisfactory outlook. I see that you’ve been offered a discount for the inconvenience already. But, if you would be willing to reconsider the negative review you left within the next 24 hours I can get a refund of half your entire order approved.
Please respond as soon as possible and let me know if you would like this. I can get it for you right away if you do that.
If you have any questions, concerns or aren’t sure how to remove it please let me know and I will be more than happy to help you out.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Looking for a Spammer with an Ounce of Creativity...

Unlike most bloggers, I don't really mind when other bloggers (and even businesses) try to piggyback on my posts to gain some traffic for their own sites or draw attention to their services. That's just good marketing strategy, and I'm all about a collaborative environment where potential customers know what their options are and make informed choices. I don't want my law school admissions consulting business to be the only one a prospective student finds online--I want it to be the one they choose after they read the information on my site or talk with me on the telephone. And I certainly don't want my posts on topics I consider to be socially significant to be the only opinion someone sees. So post away--comment, disagree, add supporting points and feel free to include your link.

But add something of value.

I have a lot of blogs, but the two that draw the most targeted spam are my relationship blog and my LSAT / law school admissions blog. That makes sense--one is a competitive area and the other is a money-making venture. That being the case, I'd expect the people who drop spam comments on those blogs to be good at it. I'd expect them to be thinking in terms of marketing their sites or their services when they commented.

If they were, and they made intelligent comments, I'd leave their links alone. Even direct competitors are welcome to add valuable insights and information in my space, and when they do, they should take credit for it.

It's when they show themselves up as lazy and incompetent that I get annoyed. If my subject matter is also your subject matter and you have something related of value that you're trying to draw readers back to, shouldn't you have the ability to craft a sentence or two reasonably related to my content? And if you want someone to trust you with their hard-earned dollars in return for a service, shouldn't you show that you have the capacity to perform that service well?

I'm always torn in this situation. This morning, for example, I found a spam comment on my law school admissions blog from an LSAT tutor. As I said, if he'd added anything at all of value to the conversation, I'd have left his link. In fact, I'm only tutoring a very few students at the moment under pretty narrow conditions, so if he'd impressed me I'd have checked out his site to see whether he might warrant adding to my list of referrals.

If he'd just dropped a link, I'd have deleted it and moved on.

But no--he left a "comment". His comment was that he was glad I'd posted this LSAT information because he had been looking for it for a long time.

And then he left his link. As an LSAT tutor.

Can't you just feel the confidence bubbling over?

I deleted the comment, but I had to think twice about it. Part of me wanted to promote that post all over the place and let his prospective market see that either he was too stupid and lazy to formulate an intelligent sentence to post or that he was reliant for his "expertise" on information found on a stranger's blog.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Inside Information About the Dashing Cody Rhodes and His Disfiguring Injury

This is the first post from my new co-blogger (and long-time daughter), Tori.

When I was a little girl my daddy loved the WWE. He would watch it all the time and he had all the video games and the t-shirts, so I loved it too. His favorite was always Undertaker. I know all about Undertaker now of course. I had his poster on my wall as a child; I even have an Undertaker teddy bear on my bed. Then, Undertaker brought another wrestler into my life: his brother Kane. Nowadays Kane is the extremely large, half naked, bald man who teams with the Big Show, but when I was a kid he was the menacing, stringy haired, evil masked brother of Undertaker. I remember staring at my television screen in horror as superstars stole Kane's mask from the locker room. I remember the towel he wore on his head until he got it back. I remember him losing to Triple H and taking his mask off. Then his career went on. He wasn't the prettiest wrestler out there, but he got one of the prettiest divas, then he lost her to my favorite wrestler Edge, crashed their wedding, Edge stole his father and tied him to a wheelchair and so on. Everyone seemed to forget about the mask AND the reason he wore it. Supposedly he had been so badly scarred by a fire set by the Undertaker he couldn't show his face, but then he did.

Eight years go by. Enter Cody Rhodes, son of "The American Dream" Dusty Rhodes, brother of Golddust. He could have gone in any direction with his WWE career he wanted to. He chose to focus on his looks. He became known as "The Dashing Cody Rhodes" and had video segments on Smackdown sharing his beauty tips for being dashing. His titan-tron featured mirrors and his perfect white teeth. Then it happened. He was in a match with Rey Mysterio when Mysterio, who's had surgery on his knee five times, hit Cody Rhodes in the nose with his knee brace. Cody Rhodes then disappeared to have facial reconstructive surgery. The show's outraged announcer Michael Cole went on and on about how terrible it was and the shame Rey Mysterio should feel (Is it just me or does Michael seem to have a bit of a crush on Cody?) until Cody returned. Suddenly his titan-tron was a mess of newspaper articles about his accident. He started being referred to as "The Formerly Dashing Cody Rhodes". The beauty segments stopped. Then he came out to the ring for the first time since the accident and I saw what was coming; he was wearing a large black cloth over his head and pushing cameras away. "Don't look at me!" he screamed at them. He climbed in the ring and let the cloth fall, revealing a mask.

Now this wasn't just any mask. It wasn't a red and black mask like Kane's. It wasn't star embroidered like CM Punk's. It was a clear, plastic mask with eye holes and a good inch of space around his nose. Everyone gasped. He covered his face with one hand while speaking into a microphone about how ugly he looked. Michael Cole jumped in with him talking about how "disfigured" he was. I laughed. I thought out loud, as I usually do, "That mask is clear." and my mother looked up from her computer. "Yeah?" she said sounding a little confused. I explained to her all about the accident and the knee brace he had taken to the face. I told her how he had called himself dashing and now he called himself disfigured.

My mother had never seen Cody Rhodes. She is NOT a WWE fan, but I went searching for a picture to show her. She looked at it and then the T.V. and she laughed too. Months passed; Cody's gimmick spread to insulting other people's looks and making them wear plastic bags on their heads. I was watching Smackdown last night when they began talking about him again. "I had a long conversation with Cody's doctor yesterday" one of the announcers was saying. He explained that Cody didn't have to wear his mask anymore unless he was competing, but he still wore it everywhere. "Wouldn't you?" Michael Cole asked. He began his usual routine of comments about Cody's ugliness. They zoomed in on him again, showing his mask. I laughed again, because I know something that no one else in the WWE universe seem to have realized: Cody Rhodes hasn't changed a bit.

Week after week since he first came back from his surgery I find myself yelling at my T.V. "I CAN SEE YOUR FACE CODY! YOU LOOK JUST LIKE YOU ALWAYS DID! That mask is CLEAR!!" He can't hear me of course, nor can his millions of fans, but I have to wonder: Why they haven't noticed for themselves that the "Formerly Dashing" Cody Rhodes is just the Dashing Cody Rhodes with a see through mask on?

Saturday, June 26, 2010


Complaining about the media is nothing new--for decades we've heard that reporters or publications or the news media as a whole were biased in one direction or another, that they slanted information, withheld details that might have harmed the case they wanted to make and generally acted more as advocates than reporters.

Then, in the past 10 years or so, something even more sinister started to unfold. The news media gradually ceased to be "the news media" at all. Once a supported branch of a major news station, "news" was quietly folded in under the general income-generating umbrella of a television station or publication. While we might have argued for years that the media had an agenda, now it was clear--the mission of a news program was no longer to inform, but to earn its keep at the station. In days gone by, a news program might have earned its keep simply by lending credibility to the station, by providing a source of reliable information for viewers who might then stick around to watch the income-generating programming, but no more. Today, a news show has to pull its own advertising dollars.

That means, in short, that providing accurate, useful information is no longer the job. Getting people to turn on the news program, regardless of how misleading your headlines and teasers have to be to get them there, is job one.

Of course, people have a threshold for drama; after eagerly tuning in to see a story time after time and discovering that it wasn't as compelling as they'd been led to believe, the sense of urgency wears off. The same is true when the target audience is being asked to click through to a website rather than tune in to a news show. And so the media has to up the game. The result is teasers and headlines that have little relationship to the actual news being conveyed. And that's more than just dishonest: it's dangerous and destructive.

News producers know it can be dangerous and take steps to protect themselves from liability, but those steps don't reach so far as to actually protect those who happened to catch the headlines or teasers.

Recently, for instance, it was widely reported in network teasers that a "popular" blood pressure medication might cause cancer. The actual report referred to a narrow category of blood pressure medications, stated that the increase in rates of cancer as compared to the control group had been very small and no causal relationship had yet been identified, and emphasized that people shouldn't stop taking their medication.

Sometimes, the misipressions formed by those sound bites aren't actually dangerous, but simply inflammatory. This morning, for example, an MSN news station ran the headline "Mum aborts baby to end morning sickness". Naturally, the story was reposted in many forums (probably often by people who hadn't actually clicked through and read the story) and outrage abounded...but in fact the woman in question had aborted to put an end to Hyperemesis Gravidarum, a serious side effect suffered by some pregnant women which involves near-constant vomiting, extreme weight loss, strain on the heart and dangerous dehydration.

Of course, it's still open to debate whether or not abortion was the right answer, but that, at least, is the right question. The woman interviewed for the article appears to be telling her story because she was no offered counseling or other options for dealing with the condition and wants to help get the word out to others facing the same difficult situation. The content of the article itself makes that clear. But the overwhelming impact of her choosing to speak out is that her face is now associated in the minds of hundreds of thousands--perhaps millions--of people as the "mum" who killed her baby because she didn't like feeling queasy in the morning.

We complain that journalists "aren't doing their jobs", but in fact we simply misunderstand what a journalists job today looks like. The person who wrote this particular misleading headline created a page that's already drawn thousands of inbound links and been reposted in forums, across Facebook, Tweeted and otherwise disseminated to people who might otherwise not have visited that site. He or she has helped the station's search rankings and spiked traffic in a way that raises advertising revenues. That journalist, in short, has done a GREAT job of what he or she was hired to do. It just happens that "what he was hired to do" was not "report the news".


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