Coffee heat rising

Qwest redux: How do these companies stay in business?

Oh, God, I hate Qwest!!!!!

How in the name of heaven do these outfits stay in business? I thought the whole idea of breaking the Ma Bell monopoly was to bring us better service! Man. Talk about your unintended consequences.

Well, I do have to admit that Ma Bell’s service was bad. Awful. Though at least a human being answered the phone, it was the biggest pain to have to get on the phone and deal with those people. They were arrogant beyond description, because they didn’t have to treat you decently. You had no recourse. They were the only game in town.

Today you have no recourse, either. I called the Arizona Corporation Commission earlier in the present Qwest fiasco to urge that the company not be granted the rate hike it’s requesting, because the service it provides (or fails to provide) to customers does not justify increasing our bills. I was told that DSL services are completely unregulated. Period. There’s no regulation for DSL! And that, my chickadees, is why you get shafted every time you turn around if you have the temerity to buy in to one of these systems.

Yesterday I opened an envelope from Qworst, expecting the usual monthly statement.

No.

It was a nasty collection letter claiming my bank had bounced a payment for $155.46 (!!!!!) and announcing that Qwest is about to disconnect my phone.

Say what?

In the first place, this charge is incorrect. It includes about $100 for a modem that was never installed but instead was taken back to Qwest by the serviceman whose time was wasted while Qwest was engaged in wasting my time over the DSL flap. One of the endless series of customer disservice people I spoke with over the phone determined that this was an incorrect charge and, after learning that my bill is automatically paid, deleted the $155.46 charge, posted the real amount due (which was $55) to my American Express card, and arranged for regular billing to restart next month. She said no charge was due this month.

In the second place, had Qwest actually billed the credit union, any amount they chose to ask for would have been paid. My account contained $1,600 on the day the monthly charge goes through. Furthermore, because of the late, great PeopleSoft fiasco, in which My Beloved Employer’s newly outsourced payroll contractor took to failing to pay people’s salaries (oops!), I arranged for check-bouncing protection in the amount of a full month’s pay: $3,000. So, Qwest had access to $4,600 on the day its $155 bill was allegedly bounced.

Hm. Considering Qwest’s rampant incompetence, that’s a scary thought, isn’t it?

In the third place, had an automatic charge not gone through, the credit union would have informed me.

The speciousness of Qwest’s statement, then, was even more infuriating than its nasty tone.

So once again I had to get past Qwest’s enraging phone-answering robot, whose “voice” I would very much like NEVER to hear again.

Finally a human answers, a gent who identifies himself as “Brad.”

“Brad” says the bill was cut on the September 16 and I talked with “Amy,” the last Qwest human who deigned to speak with me, on the 23rd. While this may have been true, it skirted the fact that the credit union would have disgorged the $155 automatically had a charge been sent through on the billing date, around October 1. At first he thought maybe they had an incorrect bank routing number, but after some study, he couldn’t see why a bounced transaction notice would have been sent out at all.

He says one of the modems wasn’t credited because John, the dreadlocked but charming repairman, failed to provide a return authorization number. Thus the return didn’t register in the system.

“Brad” finds the $155.46 was deleted on 9/23 and then remarks, about what he’s seeing on the system, “This doesn’t make sense.” He says no late fee should have been issued.

He now adjusts the account and concludes that the account balance is 0 and nothing is owing this month.

I ask if the regular bill would be $86. Amazingly, to figure that out he has to manually add up all the charges. He says the regular bill will now be the same as it was before this time-wasting comedy of errors began.

Dollars to donuts, that isn’t the last we’ll hear of it.

If Qworst paid me for the amount of my time it has wasted, it would owe me about $240. And interestingly, Qworst may not actually be the worst of them all. Go online and check out the reviews of just about any telecom company you choose. Sunday I was at the Sprint store with a friend, where I overheard two women engaged in endless discussion with the staff (one of them had been relegated to a phone—even going in person to the store doesn’t guarantee that you can speak to a human being face to face). Neither of them was getting much satisfaction, though one at least managed to stay calm. The other was furious, and pointed out in barely measured tones that something was wrong with the way Sprint was treating a loyal customer who had paid her bills on time for many a year. As though Sprint gives one thin damn about loyal customers, any more than Qwest does!

We have only our own stupidity to blame for this set of affairs. If “loyal customers” would wise up to the fact that none of us needs a Blackberry or a cell phone or any of this other junk, telecommunication companies would be reduced to having to treat us like human beings to get our business. But because, like the herd of morons telecom executives evidently believe us to be, we stampede to buy every gadget that comes on the market the instant it hits the stores, we get gouged for services and treated like cows.

We should be as ashamed of ourselves as the telecommunications executives and our defanged, castrated government regulators should be.
The Continuing Saga of Qworst
(Notice that this stupid stuff started in August!)

Back again—temporarily?
“We value your business”
Unbundled: Qwest strikes again
What happens when a live Qwest guy shows up
Tune in next week: same time, same place!

Consumer-proof Packaging: A Modest Proposal

Yuk. Still suffering from the diarrhea I picked up at a restaurant last Sunday, I drove over to the local Albertson’s at 5:30 this a.m. to restock the generic Imodium.

Both the brand-name and the Albertson’s knock-off versions come in those damned consumer-proof packages, where each pill is individually sealed, like an insect frozen in amber, between a layer of stiff plastic and a layer of tinfoil-coated cardboard. I no longer have enough strength in my hands to push the pills through either of these substances. Whenever I get pills packaged in child-proof containers, I put them into a bottle or other container that I can get open, since I find the consumer-proof packaging well-nigh impossible to get into when I need the stuff.

You can’t slice these bubble-packs open with a box-cutter. The ditzy little pill bubbles are too small and sealed in too tightly, so that when you take a box-cutter to the flicking packaging you cut up the 25-cent-apiece pills. So you have to take a pair of scissors and cut each and every pill out. One at a time.

But cutting along the sides of the pills doesn’t break into the bubbles. Again, they’re too tightly packaged for a couple of slices to break them fully open. So now you have to get a knife and pick each pill out through the slices you’ve made along the edges of the bubbles.

So to get a couple of pills for your upset belly, you have to break out the following tools

  1. box-cutter
  2. scissors
  3. knife
  4. broken fingernail
  5. cut fingers

Fighting with consumer-proof packaging is the last thing you feel like doing when you’re sick.

Now I realize that many people are too stupid to store pharmaceuticals out of children’s reach (although believe me, a three-year-old could get into these things a lot easier than an old lady with arthritic fingers). And I realize that many people’s children are too dumb to distinguish between pills and candy. But “takes a village” or not, I believe that’s the parent’s problem, not every consumer on the planet’s.

If we must protect parents from their own carelessness or stupidity, how’s about we require manufacturers to market medications in two kinds of packages: child-proof and human-accessible. We could then legislate that if a parent who buys human-accessible meds allows a child to eat the stuff, the parent will be subject to prosecution for manslaughter and child abuse, and prohibited from suing the pharmaceutical manufacturer. That’s easy. Retailers could be required to post a sign to that effect, and manufacturers could be required to put a warning on every pill bottle, just as wine, beer, and liquor makers have to threaten every woman who ventures near an an alcoholic drink.

There’s a limit to how much we should protect people from themselves.

consumerism, consumer safety, packaging, pharmaceuticals, child-proof packaging

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

1 Comment

Mrs. Micah

That makes sense. Like they have those more accessible caps on Advil bottles and the like for seniors. Of course someone could get in trouble for letting a kid near one of those. *hugs*

Wednesday, June 11, 200804:03 PM

Coupons

So I make a run on the Safeway on the way home from work, neatly combining a shopping trip with the commute. As I’m forking over $68 and thinking the prices have gone through the roof since my last visit, several weeks ago, the cashier hands me a coupon book.

Excellent, I think. This will be my introduction to couponing, a feature of my month of (not-quite-)extreme frugality.

Other bloggers sing the praises of coupons and swear you can get out of CVS with free products by combining cents-off coupons with sales. The purse-stuffing little pieces of paper evidently save costs in many stores, such as Safeway. I’ve never made a habit of using them, mostly because I think they’re a nuisance-I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks-and also because I rarely find a coupon for anything I want. To get the cents off, you either have to buy a product you ordinarily would not buy or switch brands. And when I select a brand, it’s usually for a reason.

Home at last, the groceries put away, and a glass of orange juice poured. Let’s take a look at what we have in the coupon book:

  • Spend fifty bucks at Safeway and you get a free reusable, environmentally friendly shopping bag, advertising Safeway. Unclear whether it’s canvas or just heavy-duty paper. If the former, sure; I’d buy $50 worth of groceries at Safeway for the privilege of carrying around its billboard. If the latter: I have enough paper to keep track of, thanks.
  • Two bucks off O Organics salad mix. Okay, I use that stuff and would be happy to…you have to buy a pound of it? Who do they think they are, Costco? If I buy a pound of cut-up lettuce, half of it will spoil before I can eat it. Penny-wise, pound-foolish.
  • Three bucks off a foliage plant. That’s nice. But my house is full of plants. They’re the only part of the clutter I didn’t get rid of during the Late Great Decluttering Campaign, because I can’t bring myself to do in a living thing. So I have enough houseplants to water, thanks.
  • One dollah off two Contessa Green Cuisine Meals. I don’t eat processed, prepackaged food. So this one doesn’t count. Two of them don’t count times two.
  • A dollar off two 12-packs of Diet Pepsi. Ick!!! Wonder if they have a coupon for orange juice?
  • A dollar off a bag of cheddar-flavored or vinegar-flavored potato chips. Uhm…I don’t suppose I could just have the cheddar cheese (real cheddar cheese, OK? not a “flavor”) or a nice bottle of vinegar? I don’t eat potato chips, unless forced to it by famine.
  • Two bucks off Yuban canned coffee. I don’t care for preground canned coffee. They put the cheapest, ickiest, most muddy-tasting coffee beans they can find in that stuff. Moving on…
  • A buck off two SunChips snacks. “Snacks”? No clue what the stuff is, but apparently it’s made at a factory where they use solar energy. There’s a good reason to buy it. Whatever it is, it doesn’t appear to be food.
  • A dollar off Miracle Whip. Ecchhh! What is the appeal of that stuff? I’ve never been able to figure it out.
  • A dollar off Back to Nature Granola. Why? Why would anybody buy granola? I make my own for a tiny fraction of the cost. It tastes better (a lot better), I control the ingredients, and it’s way, way lower in fat.
  • A dollar off four Campbell’s condensed salt licks…oh, sorry, condensed canned soup. Here’s a Warholesque image of a can of tomato soup. Campbell’s soup is another of those processed products that palely imitate real food. And the stuff is absurdly expensive, especially considering that many varieties are little more than “flavored” flour paste. Swanson’s is significantly better and that company offers low-salt chicken and beef broth. It’s mighty easy to make your own tomato soup with a can of tomatoes and half an onion. The stuff tastes ten times better and doesn’t leave your mouth puckered up.
  • Speaking of thirst, you get a buck off two six-packs of Nestle’s bottled water, in The Eco-Shape Bottle. Thirty percent less plastic than the average half-liter. “A little natural does a lot of good.” Haw haw haw haw haw! Funniest darn thing I’ve read in weeks. A plastic bottle is a plastic bottle, dear Nestle’s. Water is water. Most bottled water is tap water. Bottling it in plastic does nothing to improve it. Water sold in any plastic bottles still dumps zillions of unnecessary plastic bottles into the land fills, there to stay for all eternity, until the earth is a frigid cinder circling a burnt-out dwarf star. “A little natural does a lot of good,” eh? A little natural what?
  • Speaking of salt, as we were a moment ago, you can get another dollah off Annie Chun’s Soup Bowl or Noodle Bowl. Yum. To assuage the resulting thirst, pick up a 24-pack of Coca-Cola, rotting your teeth and fattening your belly for a buck off.
  • If you like your sugar intake organic, get yourself two 12-ounce jars of organic fruit “spreads” (and what would that be? we’re not allowed to call it jam or jelly?) or 16 ounces of natural (as opposed to “unnatural”) or organic (as opposed, one figures, to “inorganic”) peanut butter. Could be worse, I suppose. Could be the salted soup or noodle bowls.
  • Buy some “pure goodness”TM for a buck off two packages of Cascadian Farm products. Several strange-looking boxes are pictured, labeled “strawberry,” “oats and honey,” and “organic” somethingorother. Whatever it is, I don’t think I want to put it in my mouth.
  • Fifty-five cents off 64 or more ounces of Silk soymilk. Well, OK, if you think it helps your menopausal symptoms, more power to you. Me, I’ll take a glass of nice, cold water. Tap water. Hold the plastic, please.
  • Fifty cents off Clif, Luna, or Builder’s Bar. “Moving toward Sustainability” is this manufacturer’s motto: we’re told this outfit uses 70% organic ingredients (as opposed to inorganic ingredients), 30% to 50% less fossil fuels than conventional farming (but where does it say here that the company is a farm? it makes candy bars!), 450,000 pounds of shrink-wrap eliminated through redesign of packaging (good, good), 20,000 miles of shipping using bio-diesel fuel (oh, please, please, please smarten up, dear corporate executives!). Bars. It’s bars. Bars of what, we don’t know, but whatever it is, 30% of it ain’t organic. One of them has chocolate chips. Your kids can wash them down with some of that Coke and Pepsi you saved on above.
  • Make your soy Westsoy!” A dollar off four Westsoy, soy, or rice drinks. Urp!

Soylent Green is people!

  • Well, here we have the opiate of the masses: yes, yes, yes!!!!!! FREE (with coupon) BEN & JERRY’S MINI CUP. Yes. Three-point-six ounces of Ben & Jerry’s! I knew these coupons were good for something. We will be dropping by the Safeway on th’way home from work tomorrow.
  • “Organic Herbal Teas for Self Care”” a buck off a couple of ersatz nutraceuticals, teas that allege to sooth your sore throat and stimulate your bowels. For a buck off, you, too, can start a practice as your own snake-oil quack! No nuisancey medical school required!
  • A dollar off two packages of “Nature’s Balance Bath Tissue.” Ah! I used “nature’s balance bath tissue” during that time SDXB and I spent three months sleeping on the ground in the outback of Alaska and Canada. It was called “leaves.” Didn’t cost anything, so we didn’t need to ask for cents off.
  • Fifty cents off a bottle of astronomically expensive Tide high-efficiency detergent. Every penny counts, I guess.
  • A buck off Planet 2x Ultra Laundry Detergent. Take that, Tide!
  • A buck off any Green Works item. Hm. I’ve heard this stuff actually functions. I might try that. Now we have two reasons to go back to Safeway, the Ben & Jerry’s and…waitminit. The stuff is made by Clorox? Clorox is making “natural” cleaners (as though any household cleansers were not unnatural)? Well. No wonder it works. “Made from plant- and mineral-based ingredients.” That explains why it “contains no harsh chemical fumes or residue.” Heaven only knows mineral-based ingredients like petroleum products are gentle, and so are plant-based ingredients like, oh…cocaine.
  • A buck off Purex Natural Elements Liquid Detergent. To their credit, Purex’s ad designers refrain from ridiculous sloganeering, double-talk, and empty phrases.
  • A dollar off All Small & Mighty Laundry Detergent. It’s concentrated. According to the ad copy in the front of the coupon book, concentrated is good. Very good. But I have a lifetime supply of Kirkland out by the washer.
  • Suave has also cooked up a design alleged to use less plastic: 13,863,828 fewer plastic bottles each year! Dang! Could we see the math on that, please? And how do the stockholders feel about your selling that much less shampoo?
  • Method handwash chemical-gel, creamy, or foaming: 75 cents off. Personally, I prefer bar soap. It has less wetting agent, so when you wash your face with ordinary soap, it doesn’t flow right straight into your eyes. Is there a reason we need different products to wash our faces and our hands? What is it?
  • Free box of o.b. tampons. Thank God I’ll never have to use those little gems again.
  • Oh, jeez! FIVE DOLLAH OFF A BRITA PITCHER OR THREE-PACK FILTER! Sold!
  • And finally, two bucks off a package of Duracell rechrgeable batteries, or a charger. Duracell has figured out that “rechargeable” justifies printing the word on the batteries in a green label. Green, rechargeable. Rechargeble, green. What’s inside one of those things, anyway?

Now we have three objects to get on the next shopping trip:

  • 1. 1 free 3.6-ounce container of Ben & Jerry’s (which I would never have thought about without this fine offer)
  • 2. 1 Clorox product, alleged to be, uhm, not unnatural
  • 3. 3 Brita filters. Or maybe a pitcher for the office.

Notice what’s happening here. Though we’ve rejected most of the blandishments, a few of which are come-ons for some truly noxious-sounding (and two or three proven noxious) products, we still propose a trip to the store for three new products, two of which we do not need. One is free. But after the free sample, how many of us will get out of the store without buying a pint (at least!) of Ben & Jerry’s Cookie Dough Ice Cream? Or maybe that double-whammy chocolate stuff? I need the Brita filters, the better to make our tap water potable. But free calories? Another Clorox chemical? In any event, the coupons save six dollars, but I spend whatever the Clorox product costs and whatever the Brita filters cost (plenty, as I recall).

Because you have to buy the Clorox product before May 26 and I already own two gallon bottles of Simple Green, I’m required to buy a product that I don’t need and won’t need for many months…possibly not for a year or two. Come to think of it, three Brita filters are sitting in the kitchen cabinet.

With the exception of a few household products, most of this stuff is junk food or highly processed food “products” that are full of salt, sugar, and weird chemicals. Exactly one item of fresh food appears: prewashed, precut lettuce that a) costs more than a head of lettuce and b) is likely to spoil before one person (moi) can consume it all.

We’ve spent a quarter of an hour leafing through and contemplating this pack of coupons, only one of which really is worth anything. That is, at $30/hour, we’ve spent about $7.50 of my time to save $6 on products that I already have. And…why are these coupons are good for us again?