Sunday, March 30, 2008

Do you have your form 27B-6?

If you haven’t seen the Terry Gilliam film, Brazil, you should. If you have, you need to see it again. Even though it was made in 1985, it comes frighteningly close to the terrorism-fearing run amuck bureaucracy neo-dictatorship that this country is quietly slipping into. In the Brazilian-future world, everyone is a terrorist, Christmas is celebrated four months of the year and nothing, and I mean NOTHING, can be done without the proper paperwork being completed, approved and stamped.

But I am going to take government off the hook for a moment and relate how even private business is not immune from bureaucratic paralysis. Case in point, my recent brief interaction with the shipping company, FedEx (Federal Express).

Our tenants moved out from one of our rental house recently. Arriving at the empty house to ready it for a new tenant one day, we noticed a package from the Dish Network “hidden” on the front porch. The FedEx delivery people do this often, leave a package on the front porch placing door mat over it, which I guess, they figure will camouflage it from any passer-by who might steal it. Now hiding a key or an envelope under the door mat might be a successful strategy… but a large cardboard package? Ok, whatever; we put the box in the garage and continued working on our rental house.

A few days later, FedEx delivered another identical package and, again, hid this one under the door mat also. We put that one in the garage too. Both boxes were labeled for delivery to our now moved former tenant.

Well, assuming that FedEx or Dish Network would want to know that their customer’s package did not reach the recipient, and being the nice guy that I am, I thought FedEx would appreciate my returning the packages to the local FedEx shipping facility just a short drive from our house.

I arrived at the FedEx building and carried the two boxes up to the small shipping counter. The woman clerk was helping another customer but turned and asked if she could help me. “No”, I said, “but I can probably help you”. I then explained that these boxes had been delivered to a property I own but where the intended recipient no longer lives. I fully expected a smile and a gracious “Thank you” from the customer service clerk for returning the packages to their care. Good deed done, I would be on my way.

But this is how it actually went down:
Woman FedEx clerk: Pointing at the label, “These are Home Delivery, we don’t handle these here.”

Me: “Well, I don’t really know how they are delivered but they were delivered to an empty house.”

Woman FedEx clerk: Using an unpleasant tone, “You are going to have to call Home Delivery”, we don’t handle these here, we handle air shipments only.”

By now, my mind is picturing the classic scene from Brazil: “This is Information Retrieval, we don’t give out information. You need to contact Information Disbursal”.

Me: thinking I don’t need to call anyone I’m neither the shipper nor the recipient! “Uh, this IS FedEx, right?”

Woman FedEx drone: “You have to call Home Delivery; we don’t handle Home Delivery here.”

Me: thinking now I should have just tossed these packages into a dumpster! “Look, lady, these aren’t from me, for me, I don’t have anything to do with these. They say FedEx... this is a FedEx office... do whatever you want with them.”

Leaving the packages on the counter, as I walk out the door, she yells at me: “YOU’RE LEAVING THEM IN THE WRONG PLACE”.

Driving away I wonder if I should have completed a form 27B/6! FedEx - Central Services: No difference!

There is clearly is no place for a Good Samaritan in a bureaucracy.
-- Just for laughs, The
Fedex Mission Statement. Enjoy.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Why Plead Ignorance?

Over a decade ago, 1992 to be exact, Donald Bartlett and James Steele published the book, “America, What Went Wrong”. The book is a treatise on the virtual gutting of our democracy by unrestrained corporate greed exercised through the exploitation of our political system.

The book catalogs how, over the previous decade, the salaries of those earning $200,000 to $1 million increased 697%, those earning over $1 million increased 2,184%, while the salaries of the working schmucks increased only 44%. That was in 1992 – what are that chances that things have improved, as we stare into the gaping maw of the 2008 recession?

This book, and others like it, hardly made a ripple in the public consciousness. They try to document, for an increasingly illiterate and disinterested population, the dismantling of our pension system, the skyrocketing increase in the medically uninsured and the systematic deconstruction of the American Middle Class.

We now live in an America where (1) over 41% of our population believes (still) that Saddam Hussein is responsible for the 9/11 attack on New York and Washington and almost half believe that (2) Biological Evolution is false because it contradicts the literal interpretation of the Bible.

This America, this great experiment in democracy as it was considered by our founding fathers, is poised on the brink of eminent failure. A do-nothing citizenry has opted out of participating in its destiny, instead blithely handing over our future to anyone who will do our thinking for us. To politicians and businessmen (frequently the same thing) who we will blindly follow as long as they continue to tell us what we want to hear: That everything’s alright and will be better tomorrow. We, the People, so desperately want to believe the lie.

I am a Baby Boomer, a child of the 1950’s. I grew up in a time of hope and progress. It was a time when we matured into an America that we thought could do better. We ended a war that our fathers started, sending their children to death in Viet Nam, based on a lie. We put a stop to the degradation of a part of our population denied full privilege of the American Dream because of the color of their skin. We freed sexuality from the darkness of myth and false morality and found a new way to love.

But the powers that spin this globe have become out of our control. Some of us lost our way and are part of the forces that now threaten to end our Great Experiment. Most of us are simply too busy trying to survive to see the bigger picture; we hang on, white-knuckled least we lose our grip and swept by the current into bankruptcy and poverty.

I believe that our generation, the Baby Boomers, will have been witness to the best time America has ever had, or ever will again, during its short history on this planet. But we Boomers are the lucky ones, we will be “checking out” about the time things get really bad. We are sad, for our kids and our grandkids. We don’t know if they will have the strength to pick up the pieces of America when it finally breaks.