Coffee heat rising

Changes: After the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

So by now you’ve probably read this morning’s rumination, which reflected on the ambiguities of the drastic changes already foisted on us by the covid-19 pandemic, and the potentially positive changes that seem to be forthcoming. Depending on your point of view.

For each of these possibilities — and make no mistake, the covid epidemic presents as many possibilities as it does roadblocks — there’s a flip side, and that is why it is so important to think through these coming changes carefully.

Among the many disruptions in our economy, our neighborhoods, our families, and our lives, very probably the foremost is the question of what we will do about the continuing education of our young people.

Distance learning is now most popularly effected by a program called Zoom, which allows groups of people to see each other and interact online. Led by a talented and computer-savvy instructor, this approach can certainly be as effective and maybe even superior to face-to-face classroom time. However…

Yes, the ever-present HOWEVER…

I created the first online course in liberal arts at the Great Desert University’s westside campus. I had to build the course’s shell with existing software available online, because of course at that time there were no IT experts in online learning, there was no expensive and elaborate program available to universities, colleges, and high schools, and no one had a clue how to make this stuff work. Or even if it could work. So…I know whereof I speak.

Here is the issue — the big Roof Rat in the Room — when it comes to presenting content and organizing participation in online teaching for public schools: inequity.

Social and economic inequity. Not all kids have access to the same electronic assets.

Some have none at all. Some can access them only through their schools, or at a friend’s house, or at a local library. Not all kids have access to a library, or would know what to do there during the relatively few hours that Phoenix-area libraries are open.

To use a coffee shop’s wireless access, a kid would need to have a portable computer. And if you are a poor kid, yeah, you might have a cheap cell phone…but you’re unlikely to have the kind of hardware and software needed to work effectively on classroom learning. The kid would also have to be able to buy a cup of coffee or tea or a glass of soda to persuade the proprietor to allow an hour or two of yakking on the computer in the coffee shop. Restaurant owners are, after all, not in the charity business.

Even if a grade-school or high-school kid can obtain access to the hardware and connectivity needed to accomplish a day’s worth of schoolwork, she or he may not know how to make that happen. The kid needs to have not only the gadgetry but also the know-how and sophistication to use it. As we old folks know, this is not so hard for young pups who can get their own computers. But if a kid does not have access to a computer and online connectivity — and have it for several hours a day — that kid’s online education isn’t going far.

It’s easy for us to say that the taxpayer will magically make computers available to hordes of hungry little kids (and many of them are hungry: in the Phoenix area large numbers of grade-school kids get their only full meal of the day at their public school). But how do we propose to do that? Where?

If we give each of them  a notebook or a laptop to take home…well.

Have you spent any time in some of lovely Phoenix’s finest slums? A kid who took a computer to an apartment across Conduit of Blight, right next to the ‘Hood, would see that thing gone in a matter of days: stolen by neighbors, family members, or random thieves either for their own use or sold to support drug habits. A child whose parents earn minimum wage (or less, often enough) cannot trot over to the nearest Best Buy or Apple store and pick up another computer.

The only workable solution to that would be to bring low-income kids together in computer classrooms. And that obviates the whole point of keeping the schools closed until a vaccine can be developed and mandated for school-aged kids.

What moving education online will do is further fracture America’s economy and society along racial and income faults. Parents of poor kids will not be able to afford to band together to hire a licensed freelance teacher to coach their children through each day’s schoolwork. In the US, a hefty portion of children living in poverty are minority children: African American and Latina/o. This means the pandemic will push these children even further into disadvantage than they already are…which is quite far enough.

I’m not suggesting here that the changes I described in my earlier post will not happen, or even that they should not happen. Nor am I suggesting that such changes, if implemented well, could not be highly successful.

What I am suggesting is that if we don’t want to set off a social time bomb, every kid will need to have access to the technology, know how to use it, AND be physically safe in using it.

And that, my friends, will be a far bigger order than just sending a building full of kids home to do their schoolwork online.

Probably the pandemic has already set in motion changes that cannot be reversed. If it goes on much longer, that almost certainly will be so. Some of these will be constructive changes, some not.

Some covid changes will be good for certain people but decidedly bad for others. If we don’t want to see the social unrest that will result from that plain fact, we need to address it now, before it happens. Not later.

 

There’ll be some changes made…

TODAYYYY….and tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow…  So many changes are emitting from the covid-19 crisis, we can’t keep track of them. We can’t even keep count of the ones we already know about or anticipate.

This morning the pooch and I passed one of the affable gay gents who live at the corner of Feeder Street EW and Feeder NW, also walking his dogs. Small talk was exchanged, largely about the startling switch in weather, which dropped in a day from the 100s to the 80s. I remarked that people are already putting up their Hallowe’en decorations — and that Hallowe’en is my favorite holiday.

“Mine, too,” said he. But…as though we were on the same record groove, we just about sang in unison, “But I don’t think we’ll be participating this year.”

“Nope,” he added, “we’re not opening the door to whatever anyone on the other side is carrying.”

Hallowe’en devolves into a gigantic block party here. Everybody in the more threadbare neighborhoods surrounding the gentrifying ‘Hood trucks in their kids (no kidding: trucks, busses, vans, pickups!) and swoops up and down the streets, while the locals greet them from tables set up in the driveways. A great deal of eating, drinking, and costume-admiring takes place, and much fun is had by all.

If any of that happens this year, though, pretty clearly it won’t be much…

There’s been some talk around the’Hood about setting up tables in the park and just letting people come and take whatever they want. Not, possibly, the greatest idea…and it’s hard to see how that would eliminate the possibility of spreading the disease around.

So I think we’re all afraid that Hallowe’en, a cherished tradition, is about to be a thing of the past.

All across the country, people remark on how little traffic they see on the roads, even during rush hour.

Yesterday morning there were more drivers on the road than the last time I was out at that hour, but for 8:30 or so, it was far from normal rush-hour traffic. Inside the parking garage for the high-rise where the dentist resides, there were no more than half a dozen cars on the first floor. The place was effectively empty, most office types presumably working from home.

Then we have the disappearing restaurants…

Most restaurants that have managed to cling to life here are fast-food joints (where people drive through to pick up food) and places that have converted their sit-down business to pick-up or delivery. Many popular joints have just shut down. The venerable Carlos O’Brien’s, a favorite dispenser of gringo-Mexican chow (it’s white folks’ food — not the real stuff), is now a bull-dozed plot of dirt. We’re told a damnable QT will be stuck on that lot. QT’s, if you haven’t had the delight to find them in your parts, are like 7-11’s on steroids: overpriced gas pumps, junk food, and a corporate tradition of hosting every vagrant for miles around.

The loss of Carlos O’Brien’s is a huge setback for light commerce in the North Central area, where it has long been a favorite for business lunches and tourist dinners. Replacing it with a grungy QT is a disaster. LOL! Count up another 2 dozen families in the vicinity of that intersection, moving to Scottsdale! Or lovely Gilbert.

Assuming any of them can get jobs that pay enough to allow them to move someplace else…

In a more constructive vein, though, the whole Amazon/pick-up at the store parking lot/Instacart phenomenon sure changes my thinking about shopping. Why trudge to a series of grocery stores, burning gas every inch along the way, when you can post a list and have some marginally employed wretch deliver the stuff right to your door? The sole drawback to delivery services is that most Americans don’t eat fresh produce, so the poor flunkies who hire out for $7/hour + tips have NO clue how to pick out fresh vegetables, salad makin’s, and fruit.

That issue is solved, however, with a Sprouts right around the corner. If it were safe to do so, I could walk to that store. But even so…I’ve refilled the car’s gas tank a grand total of three times since the covid fiasco launched on April 1, and just now the tank is still half-full. At two bucks a gallon, by limiting grocery trips to fresh produce, I can order an awful lot of Instacart deliveries for the $90 a month I was shelling out B.F. (Before Fiasco).

Considering that my time, when I’m actually working, is worth $60 to $120/hour, why on earth would I want to spend that time driving around the city to Safeway, Costco, AJ’s, Sprouts, Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart, and the various other grungy venues? I mean, c’mon: ONE HOUR of converting Chinese math to English will pay for a month’s worth foisting the grocery shopping onto Instacart shoppers.

We’re going to see major changes in the way people live: not just in the way they work but also in their home lives, shopping habits, and family planning. Yesterday the dentist’s excellent young hygienist and I were chatting. By coincidence, she happens to live here in the ’Hood, making her one of the Gentrifiers. She and her husband have a couple of young kids. They’ve teamed up with other parents to hire someone to come in and supervise a half-a-dozen kids in online learning. You know…if this works and middle-class working parents discover that it can work…well…why would you send your kids to a public school when for a fraction of the cost you can get all the advantages of a private school and none of the frightful disadvantages of public schools???? 

Some of these young parents are gonna figure that out, and when they do, the discovery will spread. Public schools will become more frankly what they already are: day-care centers. But when middle- and upper-income parents tumble to the fact that they can get far better, private school-level education by homeschooling under the supervision of a certified teacher, whatever remains of the public schools will become more frankly what those schools already, de facto, are: day-care for the working poor. And the nonworking poor.

Cost to parents? Well, consider. Hereabouts a public school teacher earns around 40 grand a year — or less, if we’re talking about the lower grades. Let’s say we have three sets of parents, who band together to hire someone tutor a total of five kids for nine months, shepherding them through the online learning process. If each family paid a hired teacher $10,000 per child, that’s a WHOLE lot less than they would pay, per kid, for private or parochial school, and the teacher would be paid more than s/he would earn in private or public schools. Children could get socialization through community athletic teams, churches, clubs, music lessons, art classes, drama clubs, Scouting, volunteer activities of all kinds. How would this be worse than warehousing them in a prison-like school all day? Might it not be significantly better? And, when you take into account the cost of clothing, school supplies, transportation, meals, and all the other expenses incidental on public education — including the breathtaking property taxes on your home, which in these parts go mostly to support public schools — would it really cost that much more?

Another change: thinking once, twice, three times about whether you really need to do X, Y, or Z. Do you have to run that errand now — seriously? — or can you fold it in with another trip and do them both tomorrow? And can you manage your time better by limiting the number of shopping junkets and errands, by making them all happen together, by organizing time and tasks at home and at the office before venturing forth?

Case in point: It’s time, at last, to pull out the heat-fricasseed, dead potted plants, run up to Lowe’s or HD, and get some new seeds and plants to spiff up the gardens. So there I am along about 9 a.m., about to get up from the computer and thinking, reflex-style: “I need to go to Home Depot.”

But then another thought strikes: Do I?

Do I really need to jump in the car, burn a gallon of gas to schlep to Home Depot, Lowe’s, and waypoints…right now? Suppose  instead I were to pull out the dead foliage, sweep up the dead leaves and debris, and haul all that stuff out to the trash or the compost heap now?

If I put off the Home Depot trip for another day, could I combine that junket with a trip to the Walmart supermarket that’s on the way toward the HD? That way I get to tedious errands out of the way in one foray through the traffic. The yard and plants are already cleaned up and ready to receive their new plants. And I have a whole extra day in which to think about lay out the new plants and pots. You know…actually plan? What a unique idea!

Planning: for trips, for shopping expeditions, for projects that require retail purchases… It’ll be good for you and me, but not so great for our retail friends. By noon I got one helluvalot more done around the yard than I would have if I’d charged out of the house and made for Home Depot and Lowe’s, and tomorrow the shopping trip to one or both of those fine emporia will be far more organized, far less catch-as-catch-can than it would’ve been today.

What it means is that I’ll buy a whole lot less on that gardening expedition than I would have today, because now I know how much space is really available for new plantings, how much of the existing plants I may be able to revive, and even — lo! — which pots I’m tired of and will put away until next year.

Meanwhile, we have the work environment, fast merging with the residential environment:

My son is now pretty certain that his employer will NOT reopen its fancy new digs in Tempe, but will continue to do business in the work-from-home mode. They are, however, keeping him on as a manager. This means that he has to ride herd on the underlings, some of whom are about as bright as freshman comp students, and he has to do it remotely. If that doesn’t sound like a bitch of a job, I don’t know what does. Frankly, riding herd on a bunch of Herefords would be a lot less mind-numbing and infinitely less annoying.

I tried to elicit some hint as to whether this means he will consider moving to his dream Tiny House in the middle of 60 acres in southeastern Utah…didn’t get far with that. He probably suspects (rightly) that if he sets up an outpost in the boondocks, his mutther won’t be far behind: a prospect guaranteed to induce cardiac arrest in an adult man.

If M’hijito decamps to Utah or some such, why in the name of God would I stay here in the unholy, crime-ridden realms of L.A. East? Why would anyone do so, if they could carry on their jobs online from some scenic plateau in Colorado, and if they could educate their children from home?

Think of the sheer number of the changes we’re looking at here, to say nothing of the seismic social alterations they imply.

Anyone who can do any job that does not require them to be at a worksite five to seven days a week could, in theory, live wherever they please. How many of us regard “wherever we please” as an eave-to-eave tract of stick-and-styrofoam shacks with a fine commute in to a miserable office? As a far-flung suburb where we must live to put our kids in a decent public school, with an hour-long commute to and from the office? As a crowded city where the kids can’t be allowed to play in the front yard without a housekeeper or a parent watching over their shoulder every moment, lest they be approached by a child molester? Where everyone has a big dog not because they so love German shepherds and pit bulls but because they need an animated, fully armed burglar alarm to alert them to intruders?

Consider what life would be like if…

  • You could do your job and do it well wherever you happened to be, with no need to visit the home office more than once every two weeks to a month…
  • You could get about everything you need to carry on a comfortable life delivered to your home via Amazon, Instacart, USPS, FedEx, and UPS…
  • You could provide your children with the kind of education they would get from an upper-middle-class public school or a fancy private school for a fraction of the cost, anywhere you choose to live…
  • You could do those things from any venue that you desire: an elegant San Francisco-style city, a homey small town, a desert island, the back of an RV, a sailboat tricked out as a yacht, a ranch in the middle of nowhere, a perennial college campus…as you wish, with few or no restrictions on where you choose to live…

Think of how much less gasoline you’d use…just you alone, to say nothing of entire nations of Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans…and whatnot.

You would have a choice over how your child is educated, and you could oversee the quality of their education.

Your kids could spend their days in a quiet small town, suburb, or countryside.

Bullying would not be a daily issue that they would have to learn to cope with.

Neither would widespread use of drugs.

Neither would easy-come, easy-go sex.

Because you would spend so much less on gasoline, so much less on real estate, so much less on local and county taxes, so much less on work and school clothes, so much less on cars to accommodate at least two working family members, so much less on impulse buying, you could live a whole lot better on a whole lot less money. You could travel more and save more for retirement. You could save up enough to send your kids through college, without saddling them with a lifetime of debt.

Mmm hmmm…. There’ll be some changes coming from the covid disaster, that’s for sure. But…what if they’re not all as bad as we fear?

Martha McSally: A Grand Republican Fob-Off

So here’s what happens when you write to your Congressional representative to protest Mr. Trump’s strategy to assassinate the U.S. Postal Service in time to put the eefus on mail-in ballots. Here is today’s reply from Martha McSally, my district’s Trumpeting excuse for an elected representative. Let me highlight for you, in boldface, the empty boilerplate that appears in this squib:

August 13, 2020

Dear Victoria,

Thank you for contacting me regarding your support for the United States Postal Service (USPS) and postal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic. I appreciate your thoughts on this important issue.

Veterans, seniors, and people across Arizona rely on the USPS to deliver their mail quickly and reliably. The USPS is especially important for rural Arizonans to be able to receive mail and packages at an affordable rate. I have recognized the importance of USPS facilities during my time in Congress. During my time in the House of Representatives, I successfully fought to prevent the closure of the Cherrybell postal processing facility in Tucson. More recently, I have worked with members of Arizona’s House delegation to support the effort for a new post office in Prescott.

As Americans practice social distancing to fight COVID-19, they still need to receive their mail and packages. The USPS and postal workers who still go to work during this pandemic are critical to ensure that individuals can continue to communicate and receive vital supplies. However, like so many businesses across the country, the USPS is experiencing substantially decreased revenue from a slowed economy, which leads to difficulty maintaining regular operations. As Congress debates the best way to help healthcare workers, businesses, local governments, and more in a future COVID-19 relief package, I will keep your support for USPS assistance funds in mind.

As the 116th Congress addresses the many challenges facing our nation, I hope you will continue to share your thoughts and concerns. To keep up with my work in Congress, you can follow me on Twitter and Facebook, or visit my website at mcsally.senate.gov where you can sign up to receive my e-newsletter. Again, thank you for sharing your concerns. Please continue contacting my office regarding issues that you feel are important to you and Arizona.

Sincerely,

Martha McSally
U.S. Senator

Notice that NOWHERE IN THIS PUFF OF HOT AIR does Ms. McSally state, specifically, what she intends to do about Mr. Trump’s craven attack on the United States Postal Service.

It’s all empty fluff and bullshit. She, of course, never read my letter, nor does she care to. This thing was no doubt written by a paid public relations flunky and dispatched to the unwashed constituents by some clerk or student intern.

This is the kind of responsiveness that you get from a Republican elected “representative.” She represents nothing and no one but the party line.

Let me urge you, my friends: VOTE THE RASCALS OUT!

Gasoline-o-Wow!!!

The dermatologist has summoned me to revisit her redoubt tomorrow morning — on the far side of the universe: south of Sun City, west of terrifying Maryvale. This entails driving driving driving…and guzzling of gallons of gasoline.

The tank was about a third full, which probably would have sufficed to get there and back. But I didn’t want to take a chance, so decided that when I took my mail-in ballot up to the post office today, I would buy some overpriced gasoline at the QT. And while out, run by the Leslie’s Pools store to pick up a replacement for a cracked pump pot basket.

Y’know…the last time I filled the gas tank on that car was May 14. That was two months ago. So that suggests the car used only a third of a tank of gas a month, under the Quarantine Regime.

The amount I pumped this morning — to replace two months’ worth of fuel — came to $20.30.

Now consider this: On April 1, when the present covid imprisonment began, my gasoline budget was ninety dollars a month! And yes, that is how much I regularly spent on gas then.

What has done this trick is ordering groceries, household supplies, and gardening products through Instacart and Amazon. For eight bucks, Instacart will make a run on whatever crazy place you please. And Total Wine, BTW, will deliver for “free.” At eight bucks a trip, two carefully calculated grocery-store or Costco runs per month cost you all of $16. Okay…$20.30 plus $16 will set you back all of 36 bucks…a far cry from $90 worth of gasoline.

What’s racking up that 90 bucks? Running around town to buy this, that, and the other at Costco, Walmart, Albertson’s, Safeway, Home Depot, and waypoints, whenever you happen to think of it. If instead you’re budgeting your car rides — by sending runners to pick up items from those stores and then using your car to travel to local destinations only when you absolutely have to — you could cut your gasoline costs alone by 50% to 66%.

But of course a car’s costs include far more than just gas. There are, for example, the oil changes, the new batteries, the tires, the smog tests, the insurance, the registration fee…and that’s only for newer cars that are relatively trouble-free. And it assumes you’ve paid for the damn thing and are not coughing up anything from $300 to $600 a month for a car loan.

What this suggests is that replacing your car with delivery services, Amazon (which also is essentially a delivery service), and ride services like Uber and Lyft could save you shitloads of money. Even if you kept your car, budgeting your rides to go only to places where you have to show up in person — the doctor, the dentist, the vet, the hair salon, the movie theater — would cut the cost of car ownership drastically.

It might even allow you to get rid of the car altogether. When you really need a car to haul something or go on a vacation, rent one. Otherwise…why pay to park one in your garage 365 days a year?

If you had a redundant two-car garage, what would you use it for?

The Wine Stash gambit

Okay, tell me what you think of this.

It may be crazy. Hevvin only knows, I am crazy. But what heaven really does know, I personally know not. Soo…tell me if this sounds sane to you, or like yet another variety of madness.

I like a glass (or two) of wine with dinner. Indeed, I like that so much that I ain’t a-doin’ without it.

However, Costco, where I usually supply my stash, has decreed that delivery services such as the beloved Instacart may no longer purchase alcoholic beverages for delivery to customers. I was able to snag a couple bottles and a box of KiltLifter (presently the preferred brew) from Total Wine, but frankly, having to order this, that and the other product from this, that, and the other retailer is what we call a damn nuisance.

It occurs to me that if I’d had a decently stocked wine cellar (or stash, since this house has no cellar… 🙂 ), the bar services would present much less of a problem.

It being never too late to start…here’s my plan:

1. From Total Wine, I order up one box (12 bottles, I believe) of my favorite cheap red and one box of my favorite cheap white.

Note that at this point I now have a lifetime supply of booze. Two crates of wine would, if never replenished, last me a good three or four months.

2. Each time I consume a bottle of this priceless hoard, I order or (one day, I hope, purchase in person) a new bottle, only in a finer vintage than the $8 specials I favor.

3. Keep drinking the cheap stuff, unless guests are here. After a period, all of the plonk will be consumed, and it will all be replaced better wines!

Et voilà! A stash of fancy wines!

My life is improved. The wine industry is supported. And when the next catastrophe hits, I will never feel deprived.

Is that or is that not a brilliant scheme? And what positive changes has the covid bug brought about in your life?

Amazon Reviews: Take ’em with a grain of salt

A few weeks ago, I ordered up a handsomely reviewed mosquito zapper from Amazon. Even though lovely Arizona has relatively few little biters, they do come up in the spring, a nuisance when you often have the doors and windows open to take advantage of the lovely weather. A squadron of the little F-16s had taken up residence in the family room, where I like to lounge in comfort to work on client projects.

So I bought this gadget that’s supposed to electrocute the little ladies by luring them into its trap with a blue light. Must work, because all those reviewers said so, right ?

Soon as the thing arrives, I plug it into a socket in Mosquito Central and await, with delicious anticipation, the wholesale slaughter of the marauders.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait….

Nary a zap. Left the thing on all day and into the night. Got another few bites. But no zapped skeeters.

Having over-anticipated the delights of this device, I’d thrown out the package, so returning it to Amazon was not an option. But I did post a one-star review describing this buggy débâcle. Tossed the thing in the trash. And didn’t think much more about it.

Until… Along came this communiqué from one Paul Bernthal, regarding “Compensation 21,71+20$ for your Bug Zapper Amazon Order!”:

Hello, Victoria. I’m Paul. I heard that our Bug Zapper didn’t work out for you.

We want to get you a compensation for a few minutes of your time:

1) I send you a Full Refund: 21,71$ via Amazon and kindly ask you to Delete your review.
2) I can send you a Full Refund + 20$ Amazon Gift Card, for changing your review to 5 Star Rating.

No need to change the Text. We don’t have a problem with objective opinions of our customers.

Our problem lies in the system of rating on Amazon, so I’m asking for your help

We’re trying to improve our product. But my main task is to get in touch with you and smooth out the “lemon product” situation, at least by providing a nice customer service

Please, choose one of the options and let me know. We can nail it really fast without wasting your time!

Your Review if you’d like to help us: https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/RRLPRWYTCDYI1/ref=cm_cr_getr_d_rvw_ttl?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0855SVWS2

Hmm… Suspicions confirmed, eh? If you’ve ever wondered if some of those rave reviews on Amazon are bought & paid for, this shoos away any cloud of doubt, no?

Well, no: Not for love nor money would I recommend this useless piece of junk to any other hopeful mosquito assassins. I ignored this message and went on about my business.

But this guy was not to be put off. Couple days later, a follow-up hits the in-box

Hello, Victoria. Need help with changing or can we propose a better deal?🙂

And he pastes in his original offer.

Persistent little bug, isn’t he?

My reply?

Sorry. My ethics are not for sale.

Well. Explains all the rave reviews for the piece of junk, anyway.

Though this is the first incontrovertible proof I’ve seen that Amazon reviews are bought and paid for behind the scenes, it’s something I’ve quietly assumed to be the case. And therein lies the reason that I always start with the one-star reviews when considering what product to buy from that worthy monopolist.

First step in evaluating Amazon reviews is to look at the proportion of positive and negative reviews, as compared with the total number. There will always be complainers, malcontents, and whiners, and so you have to take what they say with the proverbial grain. I figure about 6 percent  negative is normal in the “can’t please all the customers all the time” department. If much more than 6 percent of shoppers have posted one-star reviews, that’s a red flag. Anything less than 6 percent? meh!

Next I look at the five-star and sometimes the four-star reviews, trying to discern what people claim to like about the thing. I tend to take these raves with a large grain of salt. Obviously, it has to be pretty easy to acquire positive reviews — you probably can hire people on Fiverr to write them for you, if you’re too embarrassed to put your friends up to it. Finally I go to the three-star reviews. Here, I expect to find honest remarks that haven’t been bought and paid for, and that are not influenced by excessive delight or by frustration and annoyance.

It was one thing for this guy to email me an offer of a bribe. But to keep pestering me was  beyond the pale. I tried to forward his email to Amazon but found a) it’s now impossible to reach a human there (didn’t use to be!) and b) Amazon’s management apparently doesn’t give a damn.

So the message here is what you always knew, of course: a fair number of the reviews you see on Amazon are fake. Buyer beware.