On Corporate Doublespeak

I just received a letter from our internet provider that irritated the crap out of me.

Here are the pertinent parts:

“We hope you’ve been enjoying your special monthly promotional rate {note: in other words, the normal rate we signed up with and have had for one full year}.

Currently, you pay a total of $65.98 per month, which includes your promotion . . . As this promotion is set to end soon, your next bill would reflect the current standard rate of $90.98 per month.

As a thank you for your continued business, we’d like to extend you another special offer on your services.

When your promotional rate comes to an end . . . you’ll keep enjoying the services you love for a total of $75.98 per month — that’s still a savings of $15.00 per month off the standard rate . . .

No action is required — this great new rate will begin automatically with your next bill.”

Ok. There are several things here that are just incredibly irritating:

1. The way corporations now say things like, “Well, the real rate for this is x, but for now we’re going to give you a lower rate” is ridiculous. In reality, everyone is getting the lower rate. But when they start off with this gambit, they think somehow you are fooled into thinking that a rate hike is not a rate hike, but rather a “discount” off the “real rate.”

2. Can’t people just use simple verbs? Instead of saying, “your service will continue” they have to say stuff like, “you’ll keep enjoying the services you love.” Really? I enjoy this service? I love this service? You mean, like, love love?

3. They think that if they call something “bad” by the name “good” enough times, you will believe them. “This great new rate” — really? Sounds like a “higher” rate to me. You’re not fooling anyone with the whole, “Mmmm, rate increases are wonderful! Actually, if you look at this rate increase from a completely asinine point of view, it’s actually a rate decrease!

It’s insulting, not only to a customer’s sensibilities, but also to a customer’s ability to perform basic math. Grumble.

The Death of Illusions

The Illusion isn't always Correct.

The Illusion isn’t always Correct

[Cross-posted in Applied Grace]

Over time, I’ve come to the conclusion that the death of our illusions is one of the hardest kinds of death. And so, even when our stories do not work, we cling to them anyways. We may avoid providing the help to alleviate suffering, because the type of help does not fit neatly enough into our understanding of the world.

I remember years ago, when I lived in New York, there was a pilot program in which welfare recipients were given better supports. They were allowed to go to school, and still collect benefits. They had regular counseling to help them find, interview for, and keep jobs. After they found jobs, they were allowed to keep collecting benefits for a time, to help them with transition costs. They received regular monitoring in all aspects of their lives.

And it worked. The women in this pilot program got off welfare, found decent jobs, and stayed off welfare. While the up-front costs of the program were high, it ended up saving money over the long run, because it was so much more effective than traditional programs which only provided penalties, without help. So it was win-win, right? It worked and it saved money. But when the time came to expand the program, it was axed, because it was politically challenging to justify. In a world which wants black-and-white morality come election season, this investment in the poor could easily be twisted to appear like something else. So a program that worked could not get funding, while programs that don’t work — hello, abstinence-only education — can.

The solutions which work may not be the solutions we’re most comfortable with. At a certain point, our old moral filters only get in the way of real change. Certainty is a comfort, but it is also an illusion. As Dr. Pauline Chen says, “We have yet to deploy what could prove to be the most powerful weapon . . . our own humility.”


OMG! So excited to see that Take 6 is coming to Austin! These guys have such tight vocal harmonies that it defies description.

I’m psyched they’re still touring . . . and after all this time, they’re still Take 6, and they haven’t downsized to Take 5 or Take 4 or Take 3 1/2 or Take Pi.

Cause “Take 3.14126535897” just doesn’t have the same ring.

Here’s Goldmine, just one of their awesome songs.

Madeleine L’Engle: Awesome or Annoying?

I just finished re-reading Meet the Austins by Madeleine L’Engle, and I definitely revisited some of the great, warm-fuzzy moments of L’Engle’s books. Like, there’s the kind, sage grandfather, who lives in a converted stable surrounded by books, with wonderful poems painted onto the walls. And the home life described is wonderfully rich, with Mother cooking something delicious, and Bach playing on the phonograph, and children being terribly interesting, and all of that.

But then, there’s the other side — the side I find hard to bear. At some point in every L’Engle book, one of the characters — usually a child, who is terribly mature, will turn and say, “Isn’t it wonderful that we have such a nice family? And isn’t Mother so wonderful? And how nice, that in our very special family, the young sensitive child is valued, and  we appreciate God and we sing hymns when the power goes out, and everything is so terribly real — not like in other families? Yes, isn’t it nice that we are all so much more cultured, individualistic, close to our humanity and so on than other people who weren’t lucky enough to have this wonderful family?” …and so on.

Yes, it’s that part I find a bit hard to bear. And over the years, I’ve found there’s a bit of a club — the smart girls who devoured L’Engle when they were children, but who just can’t quite like her now. As my friend J. once said of the characters in those books, “Yes, they’re all a bit too…special. A bit too smug.”

That’s it: smug.

You see, children want to feel loved and accepted and appreciated for their own special selves, and as the reader of one of these dramas you are, in effect, the unofficial sibling to all the characters in these books. So when the young children in the books say —  in a way I have never heard any actual child speak ever — “Aren’t we lucky to have this perfect family with pot roast in the oven and singing and a lovely mother who calls me Megatron?” then you, as a child, sigh and say, “Ah yes, I would like that.” Because children really like things to be nice and pleasant and functional, and they’re more attentive about the pot roast, less so about the exact method of pot-roast delivery, as it were.

But for adults, seeing an adult who is so very self-congratulatory about it all — especially if they are self-congratulatory about how very enlightened they are — well, it’s just like nails on a chalkboard.

That said, Madeleine L’Engle books were such a thorough part of my childhood that they’re now, for all intents and purposes, part of my DNA.

And so, in honor of the good things I’ve gotten from them, here is a lovely poem which I first read in the Austin series, and whose phrase, “replete with very Thee” has stuck with me (inaccurately) through the decades.

The internet has some discussion on the proper author, so I am just going to quote the poem:

If thou couldst empty all thyself of self,
Like to a shell dishabited,
Then might He find thee on the Ocean shelf,
And say — “This is not dead,” —
And fill thee with Himself instead.

But thou art all replete with very thou,
And hast such shrewd activity,
That, when He comes, He says — “This is enow
Unto itself — ‘Twere better let it be:
It is so small and full, there is no room for Me.”

Dear Professor: A Letter from Post 9/11 New York

When I was in college, I had this amazing professor named John Stilgoe. Stilgoe’s classes taught you how to look at the world. We examined cities and towns, train stations and shopping malls, billboards and magazines, trolley tracks and cereal boxes. After his class, I looked at everything with new eyes.

Stilgoe often talked about unlikely disaster scenarios. “What would you do if the country shut down, and you had to get back home? What if the roads were closed? What would you do?” At times, he seemed a bit odd. A bit out there.

Then 9/11 happened. So. Not so “out there,” after all.

The following is a letter I wrote to him in early October of 2001.

This September, as we turn to the possibility of yet another Middle Eastern war, my thoughts and prayers are with those still suffering the after-effects of 9/11 . . .

…Which is most of the world.


October 9, 2001

Dear Professor Stilgoe:

How are you? I am fine, if you put fine in quotes (“fine”) and take it to mean, uninjured, without any personal losses. Which I am…

I’ve thought of you a lot these past few weeks — suddenly everyone seems to remember that the interstate highway system facilitates troop movements, and all kinds of infrastructure debates — which never happen in normal times — are on radio and tv and the news. This would certainly be a time I would enjoy sitting in on one of your classes. I think I would hear something different than everything else I hear around me.

Things are completely surreal here, and since every day of news brings with it not a fading into memory but a renewal of anguish and fear, I, like many of my friends, have taken to avoiding “news” (propaganda?), or at most, looking at it guiltily. Every time I look I feel worse, and I berate myself – “Why did I do that?” I knew I would feel worse afterwards!”

On Sep. 11th I saw the second plane crash in, looking from my lovely expansive view up in Brooklyn. Throughout that afternoon came a slow, steady stream of refugees from the financial district, each with their own story to tell and faint white coatings of ash on their shoes and hair. Like they’d had a sitcom-style baking accident. 

In the grocery store I met a man who was a businessman from L.A., and had been staying in the Marriott across from the WTC. I ended up taking him home with me, to my tiny 11 x 18 studio apartment. At the time I felt like I was doing him a favor, but it was really a favor to me, too. We stayed up that night and, too wired to sleep, we played gin rummy till 3:30 in the morning. Then the next day he rented a U-Haul (all the cars were rented), and drove it to St. Louis before finally being able to catch a plane.

But that whole thing, that happened four weeks ago, seems like an epoch ago. Each week is like its own discreet era. Like, “I remember when we didn’t know if bridges were going to be hit next,” or, “I remember when the country was in mourning, but we hadn’t retaliated militarily yet,” etc. I feel like I’ve lived a year for every one of the last four weeks. I guess that makes me 30 now.

I’m writing this at work, but I’ve given up on trying to concentrate for more than 10 or 15 – minute snatches. It really is too hard. And every day I find out someone else I know has been devastated by some unendurable loss. I feel completely at a loss as to what to say, but then . . . 

Well. I’m still making art, poetry and song. This helps. The only drawback is it helps whatever I’m feeling then — and what I’m feeling keeps changing drastically, as world events change.

I hope that you and your family are continuing as well as could be expected, and that the alumni of your classes are unharmed.

I wish you well,

– From New York, where, in the midst of everything, I am surprised to realize that something as mundane as the mail is still functioning normally,

Sofia Echegaray

P.S. it still smells like smoke here.