April 7, 2015

Communications Matter: When Politicians Respond

I recently had an interesting email exchange with the NDP party, after being bombarded with funding requests. After a lifelong aversion to politics in all its forms, I've decided that it's time I understood Canada's ruling body better. So I reached out with an email, and was pleasantly surprised to receive a thoughtful response. The end result? I have donated $50 and will vote with a clear knowledge of how the NDP treats people like myself.

The first email I sent:

"My inbox has been crowded with requests from the NDP and the Liberal Party for fundraising. Can someone please explain WHY our government officials need money?

I barely make enough to cover my own expenses. Even though I'm 57 years old, I haven't been able to save for my retirement years. As a writer, I expect to be working most of my life. Why should I give money to the NDP, and what will you be doing with this money? I know $5 is not a lot, but that's not the point. I really do want to understand where the money goes.

Living in Quebec, I have paid taxes all my life - hundreds of thousands of dollars over the course of my working life - and now I have to pay more money to ensure that the party of my choice is successful? I have every intention to vote for the NDP in our federal election. I voted for Jack Layton, and will trust Mulcair to fill his shoes. Now tell me truthfully - why do you need more money from me?

Is it for advertising? Staffing a campaign? Paying for posters? I landed a career on my own merits, with my own money, and had to do it with no one's help. Why should we subsidize our political hopefuls? I guess I just don't get it. If you can explain to my satisfaction, I'll happily donate $50 and tell all my friends to do the same.

Perplexed and feeling exploited by the world of capitalism... "

Their thoughtful response:

Hello Lorrie,

Thank you for taking the time to share your feedback with us.  I have forwarded your feedback to the campaigns department. I understand your concern and would like to explain why sending emails like the one you received is an important part of what we do as a movement.

In 2011, 4.5 million Canadians voted for the NDP. In order to form Canada’s first federal NDP government, we need to mobilize all of those supporters and many more in the next 15 months or less. Email is an essential tool to accomplish that. That’s why we send emails about the campaign, the NDP’s work in Parliament, and events in your area. We also send fundraising emails—and it is an important part of our work, too. Here’s why:

Less than one year into his majority government, Stephen Harper got rid of a law meant to level the playing field and keep big money out of politics: The per vote subsidy.With the per vote subsidy, parties received public funding based on how many votes they received in the previous election.

Now New Democrats face a new reality: One that will set us back financially—unless we increase our fundraising efforts immediately. We understand that individual donors can only make financial contributions within their means. We appreciate the support we get from thousands of Canadians, financial or otherwise.

I want you to know that each time you see an email from us, people like you all across Canada are chipping in to build our truly grassroots campaign. That’s something we can all be proud of.

You can unsubscribe from NDP emails at any time by clicking on the link below, but I hope you will be able to stay in touch.

Thanks again for your feedback.

Isaac Campbell
Accounts Clerk (Fundraising) | Commis comptable (Levée de fonds)
Canada’s New Democrats | Le NPD du Canada

PS: I did the research, and it turns out that Harper DID eliminate that funding. I donated $50, and would encourage others to do the same, with the party of your choice. 

February 7, 2015

The Cranky Consumer: Who Cares?

I just gave up on the bench I was trying to build. After a half hour of struggling to get it out of the box and examine the idiot-proof pictograms, I realized that one of the connecting parts was damaged. The wood dowel had snapped off, and a screw insert was missing. It felt like the last straw.

Last week I purchased and had delivered several pieces of furniture for my new apartment. From three different stores and all within the same time period, the experience was pleasant and helpful up until the point of purchase, then a HUGE hassle. Each store, as an example, assured me that the delivery men would help set up my new stuff and remove all the detritus.

Instead, the three items were dumped onto my floor, after which the delivery men immediately handed me a paper to "sign off" on the quality of the goods received. I made a point of noting on their sheets that the product had not been taken out of the box or inspected. "I was told you would help set it up," I said, a bit stunned. They were equally surprised. "What?" the young man said, "No, that's not our job at all! We just deliver." And off they went.

The huge box with the metal frame pieces and mattresses stood in the doorway of my bedroom. Another heavy and super awkward box sat on the living room floor, supposedly containing my new dining set. Obviously this table and chairs were in a lot of pieces, in order to fit into that box. The bench, too, came in a small box that screamed "You have to build me now!" Not one salesperson mentioned that assembly was involved. In fact, the man who sold me the bed assured me that the men would be happy to help me set it up. He was so confident of this that I left the store feeling like I had made a friend. Not.

I know I have to build Ikea furniture, they've always been very clear about what they sell and that this is their business model. But these were three established furniture retail chains that gave no such information when I on the floor making a decision. Quite the opposite.

How does this make me feel? Well, at one point I sat down and had a good cry. I was feeling sorry for myself, powerless as an individual, and exhausted beyond the point of reason. Moving is tiring enough; having to deal with this bullshit is draining.

Unless I'm just experiencing unusual and isolated bad luck, I'm starting to believe that good customer service is a thing of the past. With large retail chains outsourcing their deliveries to third-party transport companies, the responsibility has shifted, accountability is sacrificed, and the rest is collateral damage. Oh, and did I mention that stores now insist on a 20% restocking charge if you want to return an item? I learned that last year, after I bought my sectional sofa. It's there in writing on the back of the receipt.

The people who work at these large retail outfits don't care. It's a job, and they just want to get through their day, get back to their families and enjoy the weekend, like any other wage slave. The owners are betting that the average consumer won't put up a fuss. For $175, am I going to now take apart the bench, fit it back into its stupid little box and return it? Yes, I am. When I have the energy. Not today.

Today I just want to warn everyone out there - the consumer experience is changing, and not in a good way. Unless you enjoy building furniture, you might want to get those in-store promises in writing before you pay. The delivery experience as equally frustrating, resulting in one dining set being cancelled altogether. This has not been a fun experience! And when you're spending thousands of dollars, it really should be.

January 6, 2015

Resisting Change: Perfectly Normal, But No Excuse

Here I am, packing up my home and moving again. My friends and family think I'm crazy. But I can't help it; after two years anywhere, I'm bored and restless. In fact, I seem to thrive on change, seeking it out with eager anticipation. If I was more courageous, I would just get on a train to anywhere and never look back.

Change is inevitable. Yet it's human nature to resist change -- we want things to stay the same, and we look nostalgically upon the past as something that was stable, comfortable, reliable. If we try to go back, we are confronted only with the reality that everything is always changing, including our perceptions. That house that seemed so big when you were a child? Not so big, much shabbier, oddly unfamiliar and usually depressing.

Is change stressful? Absolutely! This week I'm waking up every day in a panic, wondering if I have enough time to do it all before Friday, hoping that nothing will go wrong, and checking over and over to ensure that nothing was overlooked. I'm tired, exhausted, grumpy and miserable.

Before visiting South Africa for a month, I was a mess of nerves. I packed and repacked dozens of times, and still took too much and/or all the wrong things. Before my trip to Alaska, I was sick for an entire day, puking and nauseous. Whenever I change jobs, it's even worse. I tear my hair out, have anxiety attacks and usually buy something new to wear, just to get through the first day. Change does a real number on me, as if to say - Are you sure you want to do this?

The excitement of planning change, though, and the thrill of getting through it, usually cancels out the negative stress. There is great satisfaction when I sit quietly in my new space, get home from a mind-blowing travel adventure, or settle into a new job with different challenges.

Change. It's constant. The black hole exploded, the universe expanded, and nothing has stayed the same since. The entire universe is molecules in motion, continuously moving, still expanding, anchored by centrifugal and centripital forces and gracing us with no two snowflakes identical, no living thing immortal. It's awesome and inspiring to think that we are part of this stardust voyage, ignorant of our ultimate destiny yet desperate to learn more as we grow and die within our allotted 100 years or less.

The next time you find yourself resisting change, ask yourself why. Be honest with your answer. Are you just being lazy or scared? If everything around you is changing, why stand still? It might be better to embrace change and enjoy it. Life is short.

December 30, 2014

Sexism: One Step Forward, Two Stilletto Steps Backwards

Ugh. Watching the new face of sexism is getting tricky. Creepy mysognists compete with attention-grabbing gals who seem happy to exploit the evidence that breast cleavage, rounded butts and ridiculous footwear can send the average man into a dizzy moment of vacant-brain syndrome. Is that why they make high-powered females (from Glenn Close in Damages to Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife, even the icy-featured Gina Torres in Suits) totter around in high heels? And who do they think they're fooling when the female cop runs after a perp in her stillettos? Seriously, that's some bad culture warp.

Reality TV at its worst.
Beauty and the breast
A recent episode of Undercover Boss really got to me; within minutes I was cursing the owner of a chain of restaurants called "Bikinis" (an obvious knock-off of Hooters) and wondering who in their right mind thought this was a timely idea, let alone good TV. By the time the show was wrapping up - I stopped watching when he rewarded one gal with a boob job - I had written it off completely. They blew it with this one, and lost me as a viewer.

A CEO with more ego than brains, more greed than generosity, dull-witted and dull, pursuing his vision of giving guys the chance to look at tits and ass while they consume beer and sloppy chicken wings. Oh yeah, that's a winning formula.

He eventually fires a gal who decided to cover her breasts for the camera crew (no modesty allowed in this man's narrow vision) and rewards another one with a boob job. The on-air firing of the first gal was reminiscent of the ridiculous Trump-style "You're fired!" dramatics that viewers seem to thrive on, and her reaction was rightfully indignant. The boob-job bonus was equally ridiculous, in terms of creating false value around a bra size. As it turns out, the boss is the biggest boob in this company.

Are we evolving or devolving?
I despair for my nieces and nephews. As long as we celebrate the female body as eye-candy, we continue to feed the monster of sexism. I have to believe that some women, like Mylie Cyrus, are doing it strictly because they are starved for attention. I doubt they're thinking about the long-term consequences of baring their boobs, sticking out their tongues or wagging their butts at the camera. They just want people to notice them.

The sad part is that it works. As long as men are willing to pay for sex, pornography and masturbation material, the market will supply it. And as long as women are willing to pander to it, it will not go away.

Freedom of sexpression.
As individuals, we have an opportunity to express ourselves freely with our wardrobe. What does it say about you when you decide to draw attention to your body parts? Are you telling people that you're proud of your musculature, or are you simply doing what is expected to look trendy and glamorous? Do you just get a kick out of the way men react? And if so, what does that say about your view of men?

More importantly, are you being a role model for thinking, intelligent women of the future, or are you pandering to an outdated and increasingly irrelevant form of sexism? Think about it the next time you reach for that insidious Victoria's Secret catalogue. Who exactly are you trying to impress? And why?

December 15, 2014

The Rapist Who Would Be Famous: A Cautionary "Tail"

Like the rest of CBC's listeners, I was dismayed last October when I heard that Jian Ghomeshi, a popular radio show host, was fired for inappropriate sexual behaviour on and off the job. Right on the heels of this revelation, fuzzy-warm icon and celebrity Bill Cosby was similarly exposed, with women stepping forth to speak their truths about sexual abuse at his hands. Talk about shattered illusions!

Former USA President Bill Clinton should be relieved that his sexual indiscretions took place in 1998 and before social media caught on fire - although this remains an historical marker in my life, because it was one of the first times that sexual behaviour and political aspirations were significantly linked.

Women finally won the right to vote in 1920, and it made a difference in more ways than one; if politicians were to "woo" female voters, they would have to subject themselves to our scrutiny and evaluation. We represent over 50% of the population, with the power to influence political outcomes. (Or is the voting game just another illusion?)

I remember discussing the Clinton affair with friends at the time. Most of us didn't care that POTUS was a "roving randy" - beyond feeling bad for Hilary - but we did care that he tried to squirm his way out of it. One gal said we have no right to judge public figures according to their sexual preferences; that we should assess them purely on the job they were hired to do. Another felt that sexual activity was a huge precursor to character, and that we couldn't just ignore character flaws altogether. I had no illusions about a man in power getting what he wants; it just pissed me off that Clinton (or his advisors) thought we'd be stupid enough to believe the idiotic cover story. It's deliciously ironic, but generally we felt that if a man were going to cheat, he should at least be honest about it.

Then along came Tiger Woods' infidelity, just to prove to us that talent is no precursor to character either. For some reason, I ended up feeling bad for Woods, possibly because he seems the "complete victim" of our times. I think he just wanted to play golf, and then got caught up in the inevitable dynamics of fame and fortune. But that's no excuse for doing what he did, nor was it for the philandering hi-jinks of self-made Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Of course, putting people's sexual activities under scrutiny just brings other issues under scrutiny, such as whether or not we should even expect men to be monogamous, the definition of "personal privacy" in light of social media, and the line between professional and personal conduct, which seems to be disappearing.

It makes you wonder. How many men are quaking in their boots right now, wondering if they will be exposed in the next day or decade? How many women are planning revenge or blackmail? How many people, men or women, are turning away from public exposure simply because they don't want the scrutiny?Can the media, including social media, successfully turn this into an opportunity for further discussion?

I welcome the discussion, if only because ignorance terrifies me. Stories like the one out of Milwaukee in November scare me most - a 20-year old man raped a 101-year old woman in her home, and then walked into court grinning and saying directly to the media cameras: "Y'all gonna make me a celebrity!"