Wednesday, July 28, 2010

United we... drop the ball?

While browsing current events yesterday, I came across this story about a 9-year-old boy who was flying as an unaccompanied minor, and somehow missed his connecting flight while traveling from San Francisco to Ottawa, by way of Chicago O'Hare. The young boy was flying back from visiting his father. I won't go into a lot of details about the article, you can read that yourself, but suffice it to say that while under the care of United Airline per their unaccompanied minor policy (and for a generous fee, might I add), the boy missed his (already delayed) connecting flight, and no one noticed it until his mother arrived at the airport to pick him up and could not locate him. It took the boy calling his mother on his cell phone for her to be able to gather any information about his whereabouts.

Talk about a friggin' mess.

Having put my own then 9-year-old son on his first unaccompanied flight just last summer to visit my parents up north, this whole thing was rather alarming for me. It's the kind of thing that I worried out loud about during the planning for said unaccompanied flight, and was told, repeatedly, by my husband, mother, and brother, that I was worrying "too much". Of course, we put our kid on a direct flight (partially because the airline we chose, er, were stuck with, would only allow this method, but mostly because I myself refuse to fly with layovers, given the cluster-fuck that is air travel, and so it eased my mind), and fortunately, he did fine and said that he was well cared for during his trip by the flight attendants. But things like this DO in fact happen, and I quickly emailed the article to my various family members, and later, read it aloud to my husband, as supporting evidence that I was not "worrying too much".

But aside from my enthusiasm for being able to say "I told you so", I was more interested in the comments at the bottom of the article than in the contents of the article itself.

People were blaming the parents left and right. "Oh, I would NEVER put my child on a flight alone", "My son is twenty five, and I won't even leave him with a babysitter", and "The mother should have been right there on that plane next to him" were comments spewed by "perfect moms", and I suspect, perfect "not currently moms, but feel that they can comment on how to appropriately parent" from all over the cyber world. I am (obviously) as judgmental as they come (hence the name of this blog), but I am going to come right out and say that these people are pointing fingers in the wrong direction.

I worry about my children as much as the next person. I don't let my 10 year old ride his bike in our subdivision because we don't have sidewalks, and I have personally witnessed people flying down our road like it is the back stretch in Nascar. I always remind my son "don't talk to strangers". I don't allow him to use the microwave without permission. But I let him fly unaccompanied more than 700 miles. Why?

Well, because the airline has a FORMAL POLICY dictating how unaccompanied minors will be treated, how their tickets should be booked, which flights they should fly, and how they should be dropped off/picked up. I guess they have these policies in place because hundreds of thousands of children fly alone each year. And, as a former medical professional, I am bent, set and pressed by policies and procedures. As far as I'm concerned, there should be a manual for how to clean the bathroom and how to bathe the baby, so that each time it is done, it is done to the same standards. I am comforted by policies and procedures. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. So when I called up a certain airline that I hate but yet have to fly because they are the only airline that flies direct from Raleigh to Detroit, and inquired as to their policy on minors flying alone, I was actually impressed with how seriously the took it. I actually only entertained the idea of him flying alone because I felt that after doing a minimal amount of research, I would arrive at the conclusion that they would take as good care of my son as they do the hundreds of thousands of pieces of lost luggage each year, and then I would have solid evidence to keep him at home, and my ever-meddling mother and her husband would have no choice but to stuff it. But, like I said, they had a policy. So, we ended up letting him go.

And you know what happened?

He made it to and from his destinations, safe and sound. No bumps, no bruises, no molestation, nothing. Even his luggage made it. The policy and procedure worked well.

If it hadn't though, and if he'd gotten lost, kidnapped, misdirected while in the care of said airline, would be be MY fault, or would it be THEIR fault?

Here's what I'm going to do to draw a fair comparison. Like I mentioned earlier, in the health care industry, there is a P&P and a standard of care for EVERYTHING, from when and how a dietary aid can drop off a meal tray, to how to handle a patient admitted for acute abdominal pain. If you place your child in the care of a medical facility and the staff within it, and they mess up, is it YOUR fault for taking your child there? Would you tell that to the shady ass, money hungry attorneys who would undoubtedly start hounding you to sue said facility/providers after a screw up?

I think NOT.

The people to blame here are not the parents who put their kid on the airplane. Chances are, and I'm just guessing here, that some douche bag judge with minimal knowledge of the family or the circumstances, decided based on paperwork that the kid needed to fly to and from his parent's residences X number of times per year, and Mom and Dad are following orders. (This brings me to a whole other topic on government intrusion into parenting, and how they, quite honestly, should just get the F-U-C-K out of the whole thing, but that's for another day. Another LONG, LONG day.) Usually, one parent has to bear the brunt of these transportation costs, and while you wouldn't leave your 2 year old at home alone while you head out to work because of the cost of day care, Mom and Dad shouldn't have to ride along to be sure that the kid makes it safe to his destination if there is a formal policy in place set to handle situations just like this. It wasn't long ago that people put their kids on busses without any formal policy or procedure to visit grandparents/family across the country, and not only did no one rant about what idiots they were, but nothing happened to the majority of the kids, and they made it home just fine. And it's not as if this kids parents plopped a ticket in his hand and told him to fend for himself, they'd see him when he arrived back home, these are paid professionals who are entrusted with caring for unaccompanied children for a hefty additional fee. United wasn't doing this out of the kindness of their hearts.

Now, this is not the same as the many other cases of misplaced blame in society: the burglar who injures himself breaking into your house, the idiots who spill hot coffee on themselves and blame it on the restaurant, the kid who falls out of the cart at Wal-Mart because his illiterate 14 year old mother didn't strap him in, or the family who ignores their toddler in favor of watching "Teen Mom", while meanwhile the baby wanders into your yard and drowns in your baby pool while you are at work. Those people are friggin' morons who DEFINITELY didn't do a whole lot of thinking or planning. This is entirely different. This is not about someone simply exercising poor judgement and tossing their kid on a plane to fend for himself. This is about a company not meeting it's responsibility to provide a service because they ignored their own P&P. This is about a company failing to meet it's obligation to its customer. Sure, flights get delayed and cancelled all of the time, but to not even call this woman?!

The whole thing just earns United a big fat FAIL in my book.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Must they LOOK like the projects?!


Why is it that you can spot "the projects" a mile away, no matter where in the world they are located?

I just don't get it. The cost of these homes are GREATLY subsidized by tax dollars (you're welcome), and the residents are not responsible for the cost of maintaining the unit. Plus, in many cases, the residents are also taking advantage of, er, utilizing a myriad of government assistance: WIC, EBT cards, home heating credits, free phone service, health care for themselves and their children, subsidized child care, cash assistance, the list goes on, and the combination of which should put their actual bills due at next to nothing each month. So why, prey tell, do these housing developments take on the appearance of such shit holes?

It's one thing to live a humble life. My husband grew up poor, but his father is a hard worker and did not rely on the government, or anyone else for that matter, to provide for his family. He worked hard, made an honest living, became a homeowner, and passed his work ethic onto his sons. As a result, my husband grew up knowing what it meant to earn his own way, and he provides a comfortable life for our family. The cycle of poverty was broken. It's an entirely different thing to be poor and not care about it, and to have no initiative and make no attempt to NOT be poor, or to have your children rise above the blight that you CHOOSE TO raise them in. Not to mention that being poor doesn't mean that you have to live like pigs, simply sitting in your pen, not contributing to the betterment of the community in any way, shape or form.

In my home state of Michigan, the projects were a pretty clearly defined area: mainly, ALL of Detroit, and then a rough looking area in some suburbs that housed the "section 8" housing developments. No matter what city you were in, you could easily spot this "bad side of town". It just looked dingy, poorly lit, broken, littered, and unloved. But here, in North Carolina, I was surprised to see that while there are certainly still obvious areas of blight, "the projects" are actually scattered throughout the cities, not condemned to one area where the occupants could litter up their own patch of dirt without infringing on the rest of us. They are camped right smack in the middle of a nicely kept neighborhood, like a big ugly bruise on an otherwise perfect apple. Hell, in Charleston, South Carolina, one of the most beautiful, historic cities I have ever seen, there is a low income housing development practically right around the block from the absolutely gorgeous and pristine Bay St, lined with colorful historic (and multiple million dollar) mansions. Why is this? Why are these housing developments, provided at such a low cost to its residents, so neglected, depressing, and bothersome to the eye?

Well, if you ask a few bleeding heart liberals that I know, they'll tell you that it's because "the man" doesn't keep up the buildings or the landscaping, and it creates a culture in the community where the residents don't have any pride in their surroundings. They'll tell you that the solution is to "invest" more time and energy (read: your tax dollars) into keeping the appearances of these segments of society up. That being said, they place the blame on the property owner for not constantly painting over the graffiti and picking up the piles of litter on the grass and sidewalks.

But, if you ask me (and let's pretend you did, because, after all, this is my blog, and you knew I was going to tell you anyway), the problem is with the residents themselves. They DECIDE to have no pride in their community. The DECIDE that if SOMEONE ELSE isn't going to plant/water flowers, tend a garden, pick up litter, keep an eye out for their neighbors, and for punks writing graffiti on the walls and signs, well then neither are they. Why should they, they figure. It's not "their" house, because they don't own it. They know that as tenants, they are not responsible for the maintenance of their unit, so they even will go as far as to not replace a burnt lightbulb on their own porch, or to fix a ripped screen that their own child damaged. They simply decide to take ZERO responsibility for the state of their own living environments. They refuse to break the cycle. They themselves decide that riding around in a Hummer with 24 inch chrome rims (paid for with all of them money they are saving by NOT paying for their own housing, health care, child care, or groceries) is more suited to them than spending some time making their community, the place where their children play, more attractive, appealing, and pleasant. They themselves choose to perpetuate the image that "the projects" are "ghetto", "hood", and "rough". And sadly, they seem to LIKE fostering that pitiful image, wanting to wear it like a badge of honor. If you don't believe me about that, watch a rap video. They love that image. They live for it.

Why should the landlord, or property management company, work to make the projects more pleasing to the eye? They know full well that if they do it, the residents won't respect it, won't appreciate it, and that it will likely be destroyed. So why bother?

Let me tell you that when my husband and I moved into our first house, the first thing that we did was make it a home. We planted flowers, put lights in the garden, stained the deck. We picked up litter that blew onto the yard. We painted the walls. We cut my grass (ok, we hired someone to cut my grass, but it achieved the same goal). We made our home pleasing to ourselves, and to our neighbors. Our neighbors would chat with us in the yards, admiring one another's efforts, happy with the state of our neighborhood, which was inarguably modest and working class. No one was forcing us to keep up our yards. We could have simply let the weeds take over the gardens, the trees and bushes grow wild, and left litter on the ground for "someone else" to pick up. But we didn't. We took pride in our homes, as a extension of ourselves. We CHOSE to keep our community attractive, bright, and welcoming.

This year, when the sign at the entrance to our current subdivision needed repainting, several residents got together and paid to have it done. What happened after that was infectious. What started as repainting a sign became updating the landscaping, trimming the brush, putting down fresh mulch and flowers, and placing new solar lights. The more we did, the more people wanted to do. And this was strictly voluntary: we don't have a Home Owner's Association mandating the collection of dues. This was simply a group of people who took an idea and ran with it. And the results are lovely. My husband goes and waters the flowers along that sign every evening, not because he HAS to, but because he WANTS TO.

So why doesn't someone living in those shitty projects decide to improve their environment? Plant a friggin' mum outside the door, hang a windchime and a hummingbird feeder, start a neighborhood watch. Be the CHANGE that they want to see in the world, instead of always wanting to put their hands out for CHANGE (forget that, they are after large bills at this point) from someone else's wallet. There is a reason why drug dealers like to hang around places like the projects: they know that no one is going to get involved to stop them, seeing as how they won't even get themselves involved with picking up trash in their own front yards. They are dirty, dingy segments of society, and so the dirty, dingy parts of society can easily blend in.

If you make your home look inviting, it changes your perspective. You are proud of it, of the work you did. You walk different. You hold your head up. You become vested in keeping it up, in keeping an eye out for problems in your area that might try to bring the community down, and that will reflect poorly on your own home. It works in other communities all across the country: why don't the residents of the projects give it a try? What are they waiting for?

Oh yeah-- They're waiting for SOMEONE ELSE to do it for them.

So, what's the solution? Well, if I ruled the world, it would be a sink or swim mentality, Darwinism at it's finest. Do for yourself or do without, plain and simple. Work for food or starve in the street, the choice being left up the each individual, and likewise, charity being left to the individual (rather than forced charity, i.e. welfare, through our tax appropriation). The projects will no longer be a free loaders haven, where women can birth litters of children without having to so much as look for work, and then raise those children to birth their own litters of babies. And then, maybe when these people have to exert some effort into their lives other than breathing, scratching and swallowing, perhaps they'll take the effort to improve the quality of their living environment, have some pride in the home in which they raise their children.

Until then, they'll live in filth. And I'll continue to drive by their scattered dumping grounds while on my way to the gym, the grocery store, or the community recreation center, and shake my head in disgust.

But I will feel no remorse for them.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Something to "Beach" about

I received a piece of mail from my the insurance company that we use to insure our home over the weekend. Of course it was over the weekend: the powers that be can never manage to get a single item of any real importance into my mailbox during the work week. Any item that has potential to cause confusion or stress will always arrive in our box on a Saturday. I'm just sayin'...

Anyway, I open this piece of mail from my insurance company. It broke down certain coverage limits, and proposed a premium that was more than 20% higher than the previous year, thus setting it at nearly 9% above the "bureau premium". The title of the page read "Consent to Rate Form" regarding our home. Consent to rate? What does that mean?

Well, here in NC, insurance rates are set by a "standards bureau": no doubt some room full of overpaid, underworked drones down in Raleigh who will introduce themselves to you by listing off all of the "important" people that they know, rather than spouting off any information of real value. So anyway, these folks down in Raleigh, they set a limit for how high insurance premiums can be for various assets. However, that doesn't mean that the insurer is bound by this limit. Instead, it simply indicates that if the insurer wishes to essentially overcharge you (per the state's standards), they must then send you a "consent to rate form", informing you in writing that they are bending you over, and asking you to sign, acknowledging that your policy is going to cost you more, but yet, you want it anyway.

Naturally, I found this pretense to be intriguing. We hadn't filed any claims, built an addition, or teleported our home into a flood plain. I couldn't understand why the premium would jump like this. But of course, I had to wait until Monday to call. So, this morning, bright and early (thanks to my youngest child's innate quality of rising as soon as the sun breaks over the horizon), I got on the phone and called my insurance guy.

Yep, that's right: I have a "guy". In this day of internet and technology, I am aware that it is possible to purchase pretty much anything from someone whom you have never met, or even been in the same state with. But I have a personal philosophy that requires me to act in what has become a rather old fashioned manner. I have insured my cars by phone and internet, sure, but see, my home is my most valuable tangible asset, and my health (and the health of my family) is my most valuable intangible asset. The home cost more than anything else that we own. It houses my most valuable possession: my family (not to mention the massive amount of stuff that we've accumulated and would want replaced come hell or high water). It's safe to say that without our home, we'd be in pretty bad shape. And as for our health, well, our health is our vitality: in the absence of health, life loses some of it's luster, wouldn't you agree? So, anyway, knowing those two valued items, I like to buy my home owner's insurance and my health insurance, from someone whose face I have seen, and who has seen my face. Someone who is a member of my community. Someone who will recall who I am, should I have to call with a question, or a concern. And most importantly, someone who, should I actually have the need to file a claim against my home owner's insurance, or look into having some sort of quality of life saving surgery under my health insurance policy, has a home that I can locate. Someone who knows that the place where he and his family sleep at night is easily determined. I think that having some sort of familiarity with the folks you do business with can not be overrated. It's important, wouldn't you agree? Folks tend to respond differently to their clients when they know that YOU KNOW that they are not only in the same state, but in the same city as you are, and that they can easily be found behind the same desk Monday through Friday. It just adds a little something special to the relationship that I can't likely get from some guy reading from a translation guide across an ocean or two.

Either that, or it's the Italian in me talking.

Anyway, I played phone tag with him for a minute, and eventually got in touch with him. He said he knew "exactly" why I was calling. And he did. Seems many folks up for renewal were calling about the same form, and that there was a lot of "confusion" about it.

And then he explained to me what was happening.

Last year, our douche bag "representatives" down in Raleigh, looking out for "our" best interests, of course, had ratified changes to a 40 year old bill known as "The Beach Plan". The Beach Plan was initially designed to make insurance rates affordable for people living in 18 counties near the coast. Undercutting capitalism, the Beach Plan offered property owners in areas deemed to be at high risk for wind damage another option to private coverage (which had the discretion to not write policies for higher risk areas). Oftentimes the Beach Plan offered policies that were more attractive than those available from private companies (read: cheaper); and the policies are underwritten by the State of North Carolina. It was an effort to guarantee residents on the coast access to adequate property insurance, in the hopes of preventing destroyed homes from cluttering up the tourism dependent coastal region. It was essentially a subsidized insurance plan that protected people living in those expensive homes (or sitting on valuable property) at the beach from paying fair market value for their property insurance.

So what's the problem? It seems like a sweet deal for those people who own gorgeous vacation homes at the beach, renting for $3000 a week during the summer: they get property insurance at subsidized rates, while those of us who live further inland pay an assessment fee on our own policies to fund the pot that will help pay for their damages, if and when a storm hits. But every rose has it's thorn. In selling such attractive policies for such high risk properties, someone responsible (read: PAID) managing this fund eventually ran the numbers, and realized that the state was coming up short. Way short. Estimates put the Beach Plan's resources at less than 3 billion, far less than the $74 billion dollars in policies that were held. Quite the discrepancy, wouldn't you say?! Now, I'm no mathematician, but if I'm running numbers, even every so often, and for the sake of argument, let's just say we do it every year, and I'm coming up short, I think I'm going to notice the deficit before it tops 70 million. But apparently, someone was sleeping on the job down there in the Oak City, and it took them a fair while to catch up.

So here we are in North Carolina, and the guys in the poly suits down in the capital realized that they were in a pinch for cash. What would the state of North Carolina do if a storm swept through and devastated the coastal communities? Here they are insuring all of these properties, but lacking the assets to cover them. Shady business plan, if you ask me. I doubt that they'd get the AAA insurance rating with tactics like this. But hey, I also don't have an MBA, so what the hell do I know.

I'll tell you what I know. I know that I don't own any property at the beach. I know that when I purchased my home, one of the things I looked at before I signed on the dotted line was how much my taxes and insurance were going to cost me. What's more than that, I know that if I lived in a home that suddenly became too expensive to insure, I'd put that puppy up for sale. And I know that even though my own insurance policy for my home in a low risk, inland area went up 20% to cover some douche at the beach's property that I'm not even going to get to stay at. A lot of those properties are investment properties: These home owners are making a killing while purchasing an insurance policy that is subsidized by every property owner in the state of North Carolina. And those of us who live inland are getting the shaft.

Oh, but what about the poor people who live in old, run down housing in these high risk areas: how can they be expected to stay in their home, and to continue to be homeowners, if the cost of insurance is out of their reach? Well, those people are free to sell their property at any time and relocate to homes that they can afford, because home owner's insurance is part of the cost of ownership when you invest in a home. And no one is forcing them to live there. Never-mind that these same people could probably make a hefty profit by selling their great granddaddy's shack to some willing investor who can actually afford to insure the property adequately. But, rather than enforce the notion of responsible homeownership, socialism put its ugly arms around the insurance industry, too.

So that leaves me, and millions of other North Carolinians, paying for insurance on homes that we don't even sleep in, and businesses that we won't be getting any profit sharing checks from. And North Carolina further solidifies itself as #9 among the states with the highest tax burden.

And those "representatives" that we stuck down there in Raleigh-- they'll be sitting pretty in their vacation homes down at the coast, partially insured by their constituents.

Maybe I'll call a few of them and see if I can get a discount for a week at the beach this summer... seeing as how I'm essentially pitching in for the cost of the property anyway.


Monday, July 12, 2010

Why blog?

During my semi regular brunch date with some of my favorite women to debate with, I ranted about how wishy washy our particular community had become, most notedly the women. Posting even so much as the hint of an opinion on the online mother's "support" group or on Facebook (or "brag book" as my husband likes to call it) could get you sneers by moms at play dates, and black balled on the PTA. Forget speaking your mind on such hot topics as breast feeding, discipline, education, politics, taxes, or going to work vs. being a stay at home mom: one is basically expected to smile, and nod, later retreating to bitch about the aforementioned self censorship when arriving at the nearest safe place, be it a friend's home, or your own home, where your poor unsuspecting (and in my case, even tempered and mild mannered) husband is just dying to hear all about how snotty bitch #1,302 has pushed your buttons today.

Now, my husband loves me, and if I'm safe to bitch in front of anyone, it's him. But that doesn't mean that he'll give me what I want in response: a good, healthy, debate. Yep, that's right: I am confrontational. I am argumentative. I'd like to be able to pass myself off as assertive, but in the name of honestly, I'll cop to being just plain out aggressive. I love a good verbal sparring. I certainly am not above resorting to gossip, but I certainly prefer the opportunity to passionately spew out various insights, defend my side and tear apart yours (even if my own argument is soft and meritless, I'll at least give it a whirl). But then, after I've stated my piece and pretended to hear yours (all the while biting my tongue until I taste blood to stop myself from interrupting you as soon as your mouth even looks like it is going to open), I don't have to hate you, or even think differently about you, and this is the key: After all is said and rebuttals have been heard, I love to laugh about how great it is that two very opposite people can be friends (or at least pretend to be), pour a nice cup of coffee (or a strong cocktail), and then settle in to some calmer conversation about our kids, book club, or Lowe's Food to Go order. It works for me. It balances me.

Unfortunately, the (very disappointing) thing that I'm finding is that it's practically impossible to do this anymore, unless you want your calendar to clear out. People are too sensitive: they can't take that others may have a differing viewpoint than they do. Outlying women, in the nature of the ultimately important goal of "keeping the peace", will tell you to "play nice", rather than supporting the notion that expressing one's opinion freely is not only healthy, but stimulating. I'm the first to admit that I've learned a great deal from debating with people who stand on the other side of the fence than me on various issues. One of my closest friends and I became allies after first being near enemies over a certain political challenge. How did we come to be friends? We realized that strong, independently thinking women were few and far between, and that while we are both great alone, we are 10x better when combining forces. And once we realized this fact of combined greatness, we realized how alike we are in so many other ways. See how nice that is? It's not all hateful.

So, having come to realize that free speaking is going to get a cross burned on my lawn, or paintballs fired at my truck, I have decided that there must be no great outlet in which to be judgmental than in the blog form. So, reader be warned: If you are looking for a sugar coated opinion, look elsewhere. If you want to read opinions and rants in the pathetically washed out "politically correct'" form, close this tab now. But if you want it served straight up, and can give it back as such, well, by all means, come on down. One need not be "nice" to be honest.

And if you can't say something nice, well then, "come sit by me"...