Man, it's dusty in here. As soon as we clean the cobwebs up and do a little housekeeping, we should be back with a bit of content.
In the meantime, ask yourself why we have no effective response to an Ebola epidemic.



A Study in Bad vs. Good Customer Service

This installment is brought to you by USAA, Enterprise Rent A Car, and Toyota Rental Car.

Today, I sent a letter (a slight variation is published below) to Major General Josue Robles, Jr. USA (Ret.), President and Chief Executive Officer of USAA; Ms. Pamela M. Nicholson, President and Chief Executive Officer of Enterprise Holdings (Parent Company of Enterprise Rent A Car), and Mr. Tony Sanchez, Manager, City Operations of Gulf States Toyota (Parent Company of Toyota Rent A Car).

I am writing to share my experience with a USAA auto insurance claim in the sincere hope that I may serve as an example of how USAA and its partners should NOT EVER treat its customers.  I understand your time is valuable; however I would request that you please indulge me while I provide some background.

I was involved in a minor accident on the 6th of November. I utilized the USAA online claim service; scheduled the repair through Service King in Spring, TX, a USAA authorized shop; and reserved a rental car through Enterprise, USAA's rental partner.  I reserved a SUV through Enterprise, understanding there would be an out of pocket cost on my part. My USAA claim was assigned to Mr. Kenneth Colchin.  He made a prompt call, gathered my recorded statement, and matters were proceeding as one would expect.

The following day, I received a call from an Enterprise representative, informing me that my reservation had been submitted by USAA to an Enterprise Rental Car location approximately 30 minutes from the designated shop, which has an Enterprise location in house, so that the request would be transferred.  She verified my appointment time and stated that my rental was for a standard vehicle; at that time I corrected her and indicated that I had requested a SUV.  She stated that she would make the change and submit the transfer.

Yesterday morning at 8a, I arrived at the Service King for my appointment.  I was processed through Service King promptly and was directed to proceed to the Enterprise desk to retrieve my car.  There was no one at the desk, so I located a place to sit and wait. 

Approximately 20 minutes later, the Service King receptionist approached me and explained that the Enterprise desk is frequently unmanned in the morning, as they're retrieving cars.  She offered to call another rental car company to accommodate me, and that she could have someone else for me in "a few minutes".  I thanked her for her offer and indicated that I would need to contact USAA to ensure that my insurance would cover another rental car company.  I called Mr. Colchin, received his voice mail, hung up and called USAA again for a general customer service representative.  The gentleman on the phone advised that if Enterprise was not available, USAA would cover the alternative rental.   The receptionist at Service King called a representative from Toyota Rent a Car, who arrived in approximately 10 minutes. 

Almost immediately upon the arrival of the Toyota representative, the Enterprise representative arrived.  A little impolite, but not outright rude, the Enterprise representative asked for my information.  After I provided it to him, I asked why the desk was unmanned, as I had an appointment and by now was going to be over an hour late to work.  He replied that they had cars to pick up and not enough drivers.  He was clearly unconcerned.  I suggested that perhaps consideration should be made toward keeping appointments, manning their desk, retrieving one less car, and sending someone on a second trip.  He looked at me as if I was insane, then said flatly, "I don't have a car for you". 

I was stunned.  I reiterated that I had a confirmation number and an appointment.  He replied that the original request was for a standard vehicle, "it was changed to a SUV", Enterprise "didn't have any", and suggested that I "chase the Toyota guy down in the parking lot to see if he could help" me.  So that was exactly what I did.

The gentleman from Toyota, Mr. Al McKenzie, was the only actual professional involved in this transaction.  He assisted me with unloading my car into the vehicle he had driven to Service King (I have a large car seat for my toddler) and we proceeded to his office to complete the rental.  At this point, approximately 45 minutes had passed since my initial arrival at Service King.  Mr. McKenzie and I arrived at his office at a Holiday Inn hotel just north of the Service King.  He entered my information into his system and received an error, stating that it doesn't appear my insurance was going to cover my rental.  He was puzzled in that he had completed a rental for a USAA customer a few days prior. 

I again attempted to contact Mr. Colchin, received his voice mail, hung up, and called USAA for general customer service.  This time, I spoke with a lady who stated that the USAA representative I had conversed with prior had been incorrect in his assertion that USAA would cover the rental from anyone other than Enterprise.  Then she asked me to hold.  I remained on hold over 10 minutes.  Please keep in mind I was on Toyota's business line. 

She returned, surprised that I was still holding, and told me nothing that could be done for me.  I asked for a justification.  She replied that USAA would not approve any rental until the service estimate was received from the shop.  I explained to her how her assertion was illogical.  I would have been required to go to Service King and sit in their shop with no vehicle until Service King sent the estimate to USAA for approval.  That could've been several hours.  Why could I reserve a car through Enterprise, presumably retrieve it, and be gone, but now suddenly I had to await an estimate?  She stated "that's just the way it is" then placed me on hold again.

I was on hold this time over 15 minutes.  During my time on hold, I texted T, who is the USAA member, briefly explained my situation, and asked him to please try to contact Mr. Colchin again to see if I could obtain assistance.  T left a voice mail for Mr. Colchin and called USAA customer service.   He spoke with a lady who contacted Mr. McKenzie directly. 

While Mr. McKenzie was speaking with the USAA representative with whom T was communicating, the USAA representative with whom I was on hold returned to the phone to inform me that she had obtained the estimate and that I could pay for the vehicle up front, maintain my receipts, and seek reimbursement at a later date. She stated that was all she could do for me.   The representative with whom T was speaking, told him that I would need to pay for the car, but that she would transfer the covered amount into my account promptly.  That amount arrived later in the afternoon. 

Almost 3 hours from the time I arrived for my service appointment, I drove my rental car away to work.  My commute to work is an hour.  Shortly after I arrived at work, I received a call from Mr. Colchin, who was extremely apologetic after hearing my story; however, the damage had been done and the matter resolved with no assistance from him.

My story now explained, these are my observations as a result of my experience.

1.  According to Mr. Colchin, USAA has a very extensive contractual relationship with Enterprise.  Enterprise employs incompetent and indifferent staff, lacks the inventory to meet its obligations to its customers, and (pursuant to my past experience with this company) rents substandard equipment.  USAA should terminate its relationship with Enterprise immediately for sufficient cause.   I can imagine Toyota Rent A Car, which seems to be everything Enterprise is not, would value and accommodate the business.

2.      At a minimum, USAA should seek alternative rental car agencies to accommodate USAA members.  Enterprise is evidently unable to do so.  I do not know one individual who has ever had a positive experience with Enterprise.  Enterprise seems to maintain its business model based on direct bill agreements with insurance companies.  Nobody uses Enterprise by choice.

3.      Please provide USAA personnel access to and training with Google Maps.  Why would USAA reserve a rental car with an Enterprise location 30 minutes from a shop with an in-house location?  That is just sloppy, lazy work.    Further, if the individual at USAA has a question regarding the way a customer reserves a rental vehicle, then USAA should contact the customer directly prior to arbitrarily changing the request.  I reserved a SUV, and the USAA representative reserved a standard vehicle.  If the person was concerned that I was unaware of the additional daily charge, I should have received a phone call.

4.    I understand that it is not possible for USAA claims managers to be available at all times; however, perhaps if a claims manager is not available, there should be an alternative contact to accept inquiries and who should be able to reach the actual claims manager in case of an emergency.  My ordeal began yesterday morning at 8a.  I received a call from Mr. Colchin at 11:56a.

5.  USAA customer service staff should receive extensive training regarding what USAA plans actually cover.  I received numerous conflicting stories from multiple representatives, most of which made no logistical sense.

6.      Why was my husband, the USAA member, able to receive better treatment and results by USAA staff than I?  I spent hours on the phone, receiving the "that's all I can do" treatment, while he received a resolution and reimbursement on my behalf in less than 30 minutes.  USAA should certainly understand that most of any family's business is typically conducted by the non-member spouse, and the non-member spouse deserves equal treatment to the USAA member. 

7.      In no universe should a service drop off and rental car retrieval take almost an entire morning.  Everyone's time is valuable and should be treated as such.  I was treated by both USAA and Enterprise as a minor annoyance.

8.      And finally, Mr. Al McKenzie could teach both USAA and Enterprise about the value of good customer service.  If he could share his temperament and demeanor with the world, we would all be better for it.  Mr. McKenzie was my only saving grace yesterday.  He arrived promptly when called with no notice, left quietly and with a smile when I sent him away, then accommodated me with the most excellent level of care and concern after it became apparent that I would need his services after all.  If I ever need a rental again, I guarantee Mr. McKenzie will be my first call.   The Toyota Rental division should be absolutely proud of the work of this fine man.

So there  you have it.  USAA, who has an excellent reputation, craps all over its non-members.  Enterprise is absolutely terrible (I once got a car with puke in the back seat, but hey at least in that case I got a car), and Toyota hires great staff and trains them well.  Now you know from whom to rent your next car.  Call Al McKenzie!


iOS7: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Dislaimer:  I am fairly tech competent, but by no means an Apple "Fan Girl".  I am a PC user who doesn't like Android OS.  I have an iPhone 4S and the newest generation iPad, and I installed iOS7 on both about 24 hours ago.

Now, here's my irrelevant opinion.

The Good:  I think the best upgrade that I've found  so far is that you're no longer limited on how many apps you can stack in the folders. It only displays 9 at a time, but layers them in pages, so that's allowed me to reduce a lot of folders. I also like that you can choose vibrate patterns and can activate LED notifications. That may get old, but I like the flash.  The multitasking feature (double click the home button) is interesting as well. The jury is still out how they've rearranged web browsing.

The Bad:  The upgrade wiped a lot of my pictures so I have to go and get them back. It's also crashed some of my apps and has been a huge battery drain. I did slow the battery drain problem a bit by disabling the parallax, but am torqued off that some juveniles programmed a feature that sucks the life out of my battery for something that only looks marginally cool and serves no real purpose. The calendar is almost unusable and the contacts, are difficult to navigate.

The Ugly:  The appearance...oh how I hate the appearance. It's cartoonish. The white is garish. A 3rd grader with an 8 pack of crayons could do better with the iconography. The apple design legacy apparently died with Steve Jobs.  I don't like what it does when it "color coordinates" with your background, because visibility is poor. There's an option that allows you to reverse the color scheme, so everything becomes white on black.  The appearance of that inverse interface looks pretty sharp, but then all of your photos, games, and web browsing look like X-Rays, so the scheme's not usable, which to me is just more pretty, fluffy, wasted space.

Again, I've not been using it that long, but this is what I have so far.  I'll update as I find more stuff, and check out suggestions and comment.

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Offensive Obama Dog

So the piece of human debris who heads up the pet owner hating HSUS is all bitching and moaning because the Obamas bought themselves a shiny new Portuguese Water Dog, and didn't adopt a dog through a rescue.   Of all the BS to get butthurt about (other than all the other MAJOR Obama scandals), the head of the HSUS focuses on the means by which the Obamas obtain their dog and not even the way they treat their current one.  It is so typical.

As a purebred dog owner who manages a purebred dog rescue and owns both a bred-for-show dog,  a rescue dog, and all of her offspring because she came to us pregnant, I could give a crap whether the Obama family obtained their dog from a rescue or from a reputable breeder.  I believe that the procurement of a family pet is a very personal decision and every family has different needs.

Of course note the term "reputable" up there.  People who advertise their dogs for sale either in print or on the internet, or those who sell pets on the side of the road, are not, as a general course, what I would consider to be reputable.  If they're not screening you and matching you and guaranteeing their puppy's health, then beware.  If they don't have a waiting list, or if they don't work their breeding dogs in some way, whether it be in conformance or other activities, caveat emptor, I say.  See the kennel, meet the breeding stock, get health guarantees.  You're perpetuating a horrid industry if you don't do your due diligence.

But, on the flip side, rescue is not for everyone.  If you're willing to invest some time and love, these animals are grateful and show you a different kind of devotion you never knew was possible.  Unfortunately, most people are really enamored with the "idea" of rescue, but not so much the reality of it.  Almost every rescue dog has some sort of health or behavioral issue that owners have to work through, and some people just aren't suited for it.  And that's OK.

I am, however, stunned that the Obamas, who allegedly intended...but FORGOT...to take their dog on their vacation trip, were allowed by any breeder or rescue to have another dog.  Yeah, they had the means (our taxpayer means) to have transportation to return home and retrieve him...but they FORGOT him.  Whether you're boarding him, having a sitter come stay with him, or taking him with you...HOW IN THE BLOODY HELL DO YOU FORGET YOUR DOG?  To me, this says more about their choices than whether they opted for breeder vs. rescue.

Oh, wait, the Obamas don't care for their dogs themselves.  They have a professional, six figure salaried handler.  These idiots aren't dog owners.  And the fact that they've purchased a second dog to use as a political prop and toss aside when inconvenient is what I find offensive.


Snowflake Activism

So, the Russian government, acting out of a deeply held principle of 'gays are icky', is doing all kinds of things to make the LGBTQQIAAP community upset. Something about the Olympics, and making gay illegal again, and I dunno, frankly. It's not one of my pet issues, so I don't keep up.

First off, let's get real. It's Russia. The Russian government is currently headed up by a guy who used to be an enforcer for the KGB. Expecting them to act like college-educated American liberals think everyone should behave strikes me as borderline retarded. I was also in the military back when we spent a lot of times worrying about the Red Hordes rolling through the Fulda Gap and laying waste to the poor Western Europeans. In general, I'm not conditioned to think of Russians as great defenders of human rights for all, and so far, they've borne this view out.

So, anyways, in an attempt to make the Russian government stop hatin' on the homos, a vocal subset of the American LGBTQQIAAPOMGWTFBBQ community is boycotting all things Russian, including Russian vodka like that made by our good friends* at Stolichnaya. Leaving aside the fact that the Stoli sold here in the States comes out of Latvia, the whole thing is kind of incoherent to me. I'm not sure what the point is.

I mean, they can't seriously expect whoever runs Stoli in Russia to publicly come out against the government, can they? I guess the example of Mikhail Khodorkovsky is lost on these people. If you'd like to live a long happy life unencumbered by little things like prisons, you don't publicly challenge the state in Russia. Expecting other people to go to jail for you is a bit presumptuous, I think, especially since nobody here seems inclined to go to Russia and get arrested over the issue.

Honestly, the whole thing stinks of the current generation of slacktivism. Don't figure out an action or a plan likely to cause the change you want to see in the world, do something easy. In this case, drink Skyy or Absolut or Ketel One when you're out getting hammered instead of Stoli or White Gold. Then you can fool yourself into thinking you're doing something about the problem! You're aware! You're fighting the man!

Truth be told, you're still just sitting in a bar getting drunk. The Russian government doesn't give a shit what you drink, and doesn't really care if whichever conglomerate that currently owns Stoli makes a little less money. So, what exactly have you done but make yourself feel better? I sure don't think you've helped anybody in Russia out.

As a final note, actions like this have a long history of not doing a damn thing to influence governments. If SPI Group was doing something objectionable, a boycott is the perfect way to get SPI Group to change behaviors. But boycotting companies to make a government change? It doesn't work so well. Hell, we've boycotted the entire country of Cuba for longer than I've been alive and guess what? The government there is still a bunch of communists with an atrocious human rights record.

But hey, not drinking Stoli makes people feel better and makes them feel like they're doing something. And I am, after all, a libertarian, so, by all means, encourage it! Get your slacktivism on! Just don't be real surprised when your grand master plan of boycotting Latvian vodka doesn't lead to any substantive change in Russia's halls of power.

An addendum: the way to influence Russia through economics is to fuck with their oil and gas exports or their arms exports. Unless you're in the market for a few million cubic feet of natural gas or a dozen or so Sukhois, you're not in a position to matter.

*We have lots of Stoli at YPS Manor, sweetie darling.

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Dogmatic Slumber

Well, it's been a while since we decided to entertain, inform, and enrage the masses via the tiny soapbox here at YPS. We have been busy. We've been paying lawyers, acquiring children, and once again attempting to find the perfect location for our palatial estate. Real life has interrupted the free content generator, as it so often does.

In any event, the current kerfuffle over what, exactly, the NSA has been doing to everyone with a Verizon account has roused us from our nap. As the scandal widens, and more and more internet traffic appears to run through the servers at the Puzzle Palace, the response has been instructive.

A common thread by serious, no doubt well-intentioned, people has been the old saw about "If you've done nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear." This response, in part because it's so common and so misguided, deserves a little more in-depth discussion than my immediate knee-jerk bitter laugh.

A nice man named Harvey Silverglate wrote a book titled Three Felonies A Day. While I encourage you to read it, the basic thrust is simple. The federal criminal code, and the accompanying federal regulations, has become so overbroad, intrusive, and pervasive that you (and everyone else in America) are in violation multiple times a day. My favorite common example is to ask you to go read the labels on a bottle of Pine-Sol or Lysol and find the simple phrase "It is a violation of federal law to use this product in a manner inconsistent with its labeling." So, if you don't read the label on bottle of Lysol and comply with all of the instructions, you have committed a federal crime. Will you be prosecuted? Probably not, as long as you fly under the radar of the feds.

However, once you have come to the notice of one cog of the machine, you run the risk of being ground up by the various pieces working together. You cannot afford to deal with the multitude of federal agencies, each showing up to enforce their little bit of complex and arcane federal law. They will find something, and you will be subject to civil and/or criminal penalties. This has happened to a number of people, and there is very little that can be done about it. All it takes is a 30 second phone call or chance meeting between personnel from different agencies with the comment "Maybe you should look at this guy..." and another agency can pile on.

So when some well-meaning naïf spouts the idea that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing to fear, there's a glaring fundamental error: we've all of us, everyone, done something. Is it worth the feds time to try to harass you about? If you're Joe Average who only sends his mom baby pictures and lolcats, it probably won't happen. But what about engaging in political advocacy? Maybe you decide to form a 501 organization to oppose some governmental action? Why, it may just be time to take a look at your compliance record with all these laws and rules. If it does become expedient to target you, do you honestly think the NSA data won't find its way into the right hands in a high profile case? You have done something illegal and selective prosecution is now the name of the game.

I leave you with the cautionary tale of Joseph Nacchio. Joseph Nacchio used to be the head of telecommunications firm Qwest Communications. He consulted with his legal department and decided he needed a court order to hand over records to the feds, and at the time was the only CEO of a telecom firm to take this stance. Joseph Nacchio was subsequently convicted of insider trading and sent to jail for 6 years and was fined 19 million dollars. If you honestly think there's no connection whatsoever between these events, then there's really nothing more to say.

Except maybe this.

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Low Speed, High Drag

So apparently some SEAL who went in on the Bin Laden raid can't read and doesn't understand how the system works after 16 years in the military. I find this difficult to believe for a couple of reasons.

Now, I don't know what they teach squids in general and SEALs in specific, so maybe he got told something different. Back was I was but a lowly enlisted trooper in the Army, it was pretty common knowledge that you don't get a pension unless you put in the full 20, disability excepted. It was also common knowledge that getting a disability pension was pretty goddamned hard, and you had to be clearly and obviously fucked up by your term of service.  A tendency to be startled by loud noises didn't make the grade. 

Likewise, the Army had all kinds of classes telling you what kind of transition assistance and benefits were available to you once you got out. I seem to recall they even had guys whose job it was to answer dumb questions about what to do with your life upon ETS. I think they were called 'transition counselors' or some such.  However, nobody was going to bust their ass making sure you went to the classes or talked to the counselors. The classes were provided, it was up to you to go and take notes and read the handouts.

Admittedly, I am relying on two layers of journalism filter here, so the truth may not be what was reported in Esquire or what was reported about what was said there. But from where I'm sitting, some SEAL is asking for special treatment because… well, I don't know, exactly. Thousands of soldiers, sailors, and airmen get out every year, and most of them manage to go on and do something productive with their lives. The fact that you can't perhaps says more about you than the system.

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