Random Thoughts

The web is wonderful.  I absolutely need it almost constantly for so many purposes these days.  There are online news, videos, googled information, wikipedia, reading/writing e-mail, blogging, social networking of all kinds (especially Facebooking and Twittering); however, this morning, all this goodness and functionality that had appeared as glittering stardust temporarily turned, figuratively, into very dirty, nasty dust for me.  I discovered that we had been web-scammed!  There, on my charge card bill was an extra fee from an unfamiliar source.  Although the fee was only $12, I have the habit of leaving no figure unchecked and no unknown charge unchallenged.

Speeding to the finish line of this sordid story, I can reveal that a popup box on the web site of Continental Airlines (no less!) had led the user to inadvertent and completely unintended membership in an outfit called RESERVATION REWARDS, which charged a monthly fee automatically for the privilege of whatever it proposed to offer in the way of discounts in hotels, air travel, movies, restaurants, etc.  All the innocent user had to do was click on the link thinking he/she was going to the next part of the airline site to make a legitimate reservation.

Googling helped me locate 30 screens of customer complaints about this company, most people not having noticed the extra charge until many months had gone by.   A quick call to the credit card company revealed that now we must obtain new credit cards with different numbers, a decided annoyance in most active people’s lives, entailing numerous explanatory phone calls and follow-up calls when the new cards come.  Another quick call ensued to the actual questionable company in question, where their automatic message declared that the caller could push “1” to quit membership (they were very prepared for a multitude of such requests, apparently) and a subsequent real live (I think) operator coolly and cheerfully offered to refund all fees (closing with “and is there anything else we can do for you today?”)

To me, the fascinating feature of this web-scam is that it is not illegal–immoral and unethical perhaps, but not illegal. Oh yes, it is slithery and slimy, but the clever way this con game is perpetrated enables it to survive unscathed, despite the blogs that cover many screens condemning it.

Our e-portfolio guru Karen Dickinson, by virtue of her patient and encouraging nature, gently inspired us (several colleagues from other parts of the university, in addition to me) to tease out several of our workplace accomplishments that we could sculpt and produce in readable form online. These turned out to be our artifacts. Looking back, I think that doing this activity was a bit of an accomplishment in itself, sometimes one that was a pleasant surprise, as we realized that what we had done was more important than it seemed at the time and in effect was well worth doing.

As Karen explained, the e-portfolio can be used for a horizontal change in jobs within the University, or  when applying for a new position elsewhere. It can also be put to use by a completely different person from the one who produced it, a new employee perhaps, or even an individual seeking to find out whether the particular position in question might be desirable and suitable for him/her to apply for.

I had learned directly from Laurita Thomas, Vice President, Human Resource Officer at UM, when I was a member of the Voices of the Staff: Benefits, Health and Wellness, that the University of Michigan expects to lose an inordinate number of employees in the next few years, both through retirement and moving to take positions at other institutions; therefore, it is hoped that the e-portfolios will serve as a basis for continuity of effort in many instances.

I don’t actually SWIM at the Y.  People in other lanes do, I am happy to report: they kick their feet, stick their heads under water and up again to breathe at appropriate and necessary intervals, splash a little or a lot, frequently make wonderfully mysterious underwater turns, and usually move back and forth from one end of the pool to the other quite rapidly.

I, on the other hand, am there in the pool for quite a different purpose.  I keep my head above water at all times, the better to see and observe everything that is happening or that might potentially happen.  My eyes are sharp, my ears are clear, my senses are alert.  If, as occasionally happens, there is a pleasant lifeguard who is willing to converse while guarding, we chat a bit now and then as I do my languorous breast stroke.  If not, I sort of float along in a casual way, eventually reaching the wall and gracefully turning in a semi-circle to head back the other way.  Because there are no cell phones to ring for my attention, no little domestic tasks to nag at me, no computer nor other writing materials readily available to tempt me, and because it is so relaxing in the tepid water and I have half an hour to spend, I actually find myself thinking of  things that I might act on later on.  These ideas seem to bubble up readily only when I am in the pool and in no other place.  If I were keeping track systematically (which I am not), I would say that I have probably emerged from the water with a count of at least two ideas per swim.  I would be foolish to delude myself into thinking that each and every one of these ideas actually developed into a viable plan.  Sometimes they diminish in value or even dissipate completely by the time I have showered and dressed for the day, but somehow they all seem like epiphanies during my time in the pool.

It took me a few months, but I finally found a (fatal?) flaw in Facebook.  Up to now I have been somewhat awestricken by how smoothly and efficiently the system functions.  Earlier today, however, a member of our UM Council for Disability Concerns pointed out that the Council’s Facebook site was closed to all except UM affiliates.  We are a welcoming group, eager to have community members join us, so obviously this could not stand; consequently, I volunteered immediately to look into the situation.

Here is what I discovered:  “Facebook does not allow you to change network-specific groups into global groups. In order for a group to be open to all networks, you must specify that its network is “Global” when you first create it. Unfortunately, if you currently have a group that you would like to make global, it will have to be recreated. We apologize for any inconvenience.”

There were 32 screens full of protests about this situation, but no indication of any promise to remedy it.

So starting all over and creating a group that is global, even with our small membership of 26 does not seem like something that would be a priority right now. There should be a better way.

Dr. Kafi Kumasi, of the Library and Information Science Department at Indiana University, recently spoke to a UM SI/MIX audience in an expansion of her dissertation “Seeing White in Black,” a narrative of 10 African-American participants (14-16 years old) in the Circle of Voices Book Club at the Monroe, Indiana, Public Library. The major points of the discussion involved Whiteness Theory and Double Consciousness Theory. Tension and challenges were employed as integral, constructive components of these racially-centered book discussions to tease out social and cultural emotions and impressions.  As the library “hook”, Dr. Kumasi quoted Audre Lord (librarian/poet/activist) who believed that librarianship should be part of social and cultural perspectives.
Using Dr. Kumasi’s thoughts and presentation as a jumping off point, it occurs to me to hypothesize that the Whiteness Theory may be used as an allegory for other ethnic marginalized groups. This theory encompasses the concept that whites hold privileges automatically that they don’t even realize they have and, further, that whites are not considered a race but are defined by their not being included in one of the marginalized races that are subordinate to them. This theory, by another name, can, I think, readily be applied to other groups as well. For example, we might propose: “Seeing Christianity in Judaism.” This would work perfectly well on several levels: sociologically, psychologically, and biblically.

The theory of double-consciousness is similarly fungible. As an example, the Germans and Italians of Jewish ancestry in their own countries often did not think of themselves primarily as Jews until they were so defined dictatorially by Hitler and Mussolini, respectively. They identified themselves by their citizenship in the first place and by their culture only in the second place.   However, when the “Racial Laws” took hold, there was the sense of being both a citizen of one’s native country and a member of a subordinate special group, in effect fitting the theory of a double consciousness.  Identification with country was then superseded by designation of members of the group as a cultural subset with, as history tells us, subsequent catastrophic effects.

I think that both these two theories might also be applicable to various other populations with which I am much less familiar—the Hutus and the Tutsis, perhaps, or the Bosnians and the Serbians, as well as to most other marginalized and therefore disadvantaged ethnic groups  As is often said in the concluding lines in papers of scientific research, these theories may well bear further scrutiny.

I heard yesterday from some neighbors, a group of UM Dental students, that on a previous occasion when the Dental School had offered free dental checkups and fillings for the public, there were only about three patients who showed up to take advantage of it. With so much demand for health care and so many people who cannot afford it, I see this situation as a sad mismatch between excellent intentions and the failure to reach the appropriate audience to let them know about the opportunity to take advantage of the offer. I know that when I personally was trying to raise interest in our “Opening Doors” event, I visited churches, wrote to schools, asked numerous friends and acquaintances, generally racked my brain for possible ways to tap into the appropriate interested individuals, and worked for hours and hours trying to publicize the upcoming project. At the occasion itself, we had an adequate crowd, but, frankly, I was expecting more people, considering the amount of time and effort that had been expended in trying to spread the word about an excellent presentation that could possibly impact students’ future in the health professions. In conclusion, with the UM Dental School’s “Give Kids a Smile” Day offering free dental care for children aged 5 to 12, coming up soon, and since I know from experience how hard it is to publicize similar events, I am trying to help out by jumping into the attempt to spread the word.

I was having a little conversation with someone at lunch today about health care costs, and after a while our talk meandered over to a very specific local site–the University of Michigan. I happen to be familiar with the fact, from being on various internal committees, that health insurance costs here are on an upward trend of 10%/year, which, although all costs are going up everywhere nationwide, is higher than it should be. The UM is self-insured. As a result, the keepers of the funds at UM are worried; however, I am happy to say, they are very reluctant to have to cut benefits for their employees; therefore, they are trying mightily to reduce costs. We see their attempts in the various MHealthy preventive programs–the exercise promotion with fun and financial incentives; the health assessment with $2,000,000 worth of incentives; and the Wellness Champions for various units, who are supposed to provide psychological incentives. From both a personal and an institutional point of view, I wish that more people in the UM community understood this and would willingly and enthusiastically take responsibility for their own health. It is not such a difficult thing to do, and it might have positive results both individually and with respect to the common good.

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