Thoughts on the Orlando nightclub tragedy and domestic terrorism

Sorry for the short delay on this, but I wanted to make sure I got it right. Wikipedia has most of the background for those of you who have been living under a rock, in a cave, or otherwise unplugged from the news for the past few days.

I first learned of the tragedy from ABC News shortly after sunrise (in Houston, TX) Sunday morning. I don’t know what I was doing up at that hour, but I just happened to turn on the TV and that’s what came on. At that time they were reporting “at least 20” dead and “at least 42” injured badly enough to be taken to the hospital, which would climb to 49 fatalities (not counting the gunman) and 53 serious but non-fatal injuries.

Like most sane, peace-loving people in this country and around the world, I condemn this act of egregious brutality and terror. I don’t know what kind of political or ideological message the gunman was trying to get across. It could be anything from a religious message, to an outright hate crime against those with different lifestyles. In the broader sense, at least for the moment it really does not matter.

What does matter is 49 lives were snuffed out that should not have been, and most if not all of the 53 injured will never be quite the same again, at least mentally if not physically as well.

What does matter is that here in the US, there still exists a rather high level of intolerance against LGBTQ+ people and their lifestyles (to say nothing of far more repressive regimes around the world). I have nothing against religion in general, but I have seen too many messages of hate taught in the name of religion (whether it be Christianity, Islam, or something else entirely). For the Christians, don’t forget Mark 12:31 (among others which say the same thing), “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The holy books or scriptures of every religion of substance I am aware of have substantially similar sayings somewhere.

What does matter is we have a huge issue with access to mental health care in this country. We as a society still stigmatize those who seek care for mental health issues. The hourly rate of psychiatrists and psychologists is out of reach for most people who really need to be helped, meaning many of the people who really need help can’t afford it. (And public mental health facilities in many counties aren’t anywhere near well funded enough.)

What does matter is we have a real problem with gun violence in this country. I’m not sure what the answer is, and I wish I did. According to Wikipedia, the gunman acquired the weapons he used legally, as far as I can tell. Contrary to what some may believe, he was not on a terrorist watch list at the time he bought them. (I agree that if the gunman had been on a current terrorist watch list, the gun purchase should have been declined. However, that was not the case here.) He didn’t have a criminal record (neither did the gunman in the Sandy Hook shooting, or the gunmen in the San Bernardino attack). The fact the gunman had no criminal record is, of course, little consolation when there are 49 dead, 53 injured, and an entire nation shaken up by senseless, brutal terror. But it does say that the criminal background check required to buy a gun didn’t stop this, and couldn’t have stopped this. Background checks for gun purchases may have stopped many other tragedies that we never get to hear about, but there’s no way it could have stopped this one.

As for what could have prevented this tragedy? I wish I had the answer. (Don’t we all?) I don’t think any of us will have the answer until we get more information about the gunman’s motive. The answer is going to be different if we find this was a hate crime against the LGBTQ+ community, versus if we find this was a lone wolf terrorist act, versus if we find this was a terrorist act as part of a larger organization such as ISIL, versus something else entirely. For now, the best we can do is sit and wait and let the investigation run its course.

A true outrage: marginalizing the poor with lousy customer service

A recent Daily Kos article exposes a very disturbing move by a company called Cable One. From the article:

Cable One considers people with low scores — which can result from late payment, unemployment, a bounced check, or even erroneous credit reporting — to be “hollow value” customers. That means they are not likely to purchase additional products and services from the company (also known as “upselling”); for example, premium movie channel packages or higher speed internet connections. As such, the “hollow” customers don’t merit help with problems and issues because it is an expense, rather than a potential increase in profit, for the company.

The article goes on to say how customer service costs are part of the monthly cable bill, as opposed to being a separate line item. This means, in effect, that the customers with low credit scores (and in most cases, probably lower incomes as well) are not getting the full value of what they have paid for.

If there’s ever been a more outrageous act by a large company, whether a cable TV/internet provider or otherwise, I have yet to see it. That Cable One even thinks that customers’ credit scores are their business on an operational level, outside of things like calculating a deposit requirement to establish or maintain service, is shocking enough. Using it to determine who gets better customer service? That’s insane, and crosses all sorts of moral and ethical lines.

And soon, it might actually be illegal. The FCC is intending to apply Section 222 of the Communications Act to cable companies. Currently, as written, the law is written to apply to “telecommunications carrier(s)” which it would appear was intended to include only telephone companies as of the time the law was written (prior to deregulation, when cable companies could not sell phone service and the phone companies of the day could not sell multichannel video service (cable television)).

However, some interpretations of the definition of “telecommunications” and thus “telecommunications carrier”) would seem to include Internet services as well, especially in light of the fact that it is now feasible to offer phone service over the Internet (voice over IP, or VoIP). I certainly read “telecommunications” as essentially defining the Internet as well as traditional telephone-based services. (Of course, the cable companies will vehemently disagree, because then that means Chapter 222 applies to them, which squashes the shenanigans such as Cable One’s.)

Here’s hoping sanity prevails going forward. The prospect of having to deal with intentionally lousy customer service from my Internet provider is quite unsettling. It’s about just credit scores today, but who knows about tomorrow if the FCC can’t apply Section 222? I’ve written some unflattering things about Comcast in the past. AT&T has also wound up in my crosshairs on a couple of occasions. Right now, these two companies are the main two options for internet access in most of Houston and the surrounding areas (even the Google wi-fi at Starbucks appears to be routed via Comcast and not Google’s own fiber). And no, I’m not going to just shut up about the screwups of Comcast and AT&T. Were I to do so, that would basically be acquiescence to corporate tyranny.

Why is the deep-pocketed NFL looking for Super Bowl volunteers?

In a recent Houston Press story titled “If the NFL Really Needs You, Then Make the NFL Pay for It”, John Royal describes how the Houston Super Bowl Committee is seeking a large number of volunteers to help make the Super Bowl and the festivities around it a success. From the article:

[T]he Houston Super Bowl Committee is seeking volunteers for the game. Ten thousand volunteers, to be exact. You won’t get paid, though, because, duh, you’re a volunteer. You also won’t get to see the game because, duh, you’re a volunteer.

For its volunteers, the Super Bowl committee seeks team players who are open, full of integrity, respectful and strive for excellence. If a person meets those qualifications, then he or she has to attend three training sessions while working 18 to 24 hours the week of the game. Which, when you think of it, is a lot of time to waste for a non-charity event that is going to pull in tons of cash.

If it seems outrageous that the Super Bowl would need volunteers, given that it’s an obvious for-profit event, well, maybe that’s because it is. Given the financial backing and the obscene amount of money the NFL makes from the Super Bowl, there’s money in there to pay people to fill these positions. Ten thousand people working 24 hours each at $10 per hour adds up to $2.4 million. (With a $15 per hour minimum wage it would jump to $3.6 million, which is still not that much money; read on.)

Split evenly between the 32 teams, that $2.4 million comes out to $75,000 per team, or one-sixth of a rookie player’s guaranteed minimum salary ($450,000). Put next to the $3.2 billion the TV networks pay to broadcast the NFL season, that $2.4 million doesn’t look like a whole lot of money at all. In fact it seems like a sensible investment to make sure the event is a success.

It is noteworthy that last year (2015), the NFL gave up non-profit status after criticism came to a head. This makes the decision to solicit volunteers all the more puzzling.

I have been a football fan ever since the Houston Texans brought professional football back to Houston in 2002. But every once in a while, something happens that makes it harder to be a football fan. This is one of those things. It really does not sit well with me that a for-profit event, run by an organization that is for-profit now (at least in the legal sense and for tax purposes), would need to solicit volunteers, which implies that they are unable to pay. Whether tax-exempt or not, the NFL is definitely not a charity.

The only thing that makes sense is that they are simply unwilling to pay, not unable, and yet, I’m sure the NFL and the local committee will get their volunteers anyway. H.L. Mencken was on to something when he famously said “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people.” The saying of disputed origin “There’s a sucker born every minute” quite possibly applies here as well. (The latter saying has been attributed to P.T. Barnum but was more likely originally said by David Hannum, one of his rivals.)

If you want to volunteer in the Houston area, there are other places to go to find opportunities. Other cities have similar sites and programs. Look before you leap. Don’t give your time away for free to someone who is just looking to make a buck with no charitable purpose.

An extreme case of cosmetic surgery

This is a tricky story to comment on. The reasons why should become apparent as I get into the discussion.

This story in Life & Style from 2016 January shows model Mayra Hills, who goes by the stage name Beshine. Like many other women out there, she got her breasts enlarged surgically. Unlike many other women out there, each of her breasts weigh in at 20 pounds and contain 10,000 cc of saline, and she has an outrageous 32Z bra size. The picture probably says more than I could say in words; her breasts are so big you cannot see her arms in the first picture as taken (which, by the way, is probably as far as you need to go to get the idea even though this was presented as a slideshow of 9 pictures).

My standpoint on body size issues, body modification (tattoos, piercings, cosmetic surgery), and the like has traditionally been supportive of the choice made by the person inside that body. That said, this sort of body modification just doesn’t make any sense, and at least one of the commenters wants to know which surgeon did this “unethical and dangerous” procedure. Another says “They look so painful and unhealthy” (which I am inclined to agree with), another calls it “the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen”.

Continue reading An extreme case of cosmetic surgery