Sunday, April 24, 2011

Searching for the truth

According to Wikipedia a lie (also called prevarication, falsehood) is a type of deception in the form of an untruthful statement, especially with the intention to deceive others.

Why am I writing about this?
Last week, liars or those who lie seemed to be the theme of my week:

First, I was filling out an amended form with one of my company’s salesmen when he told me to lie about the reason for the amendment. Our conversation went like this:

“Why would I write that? It isn’t true.”

“It is easier. I tend to do things the easy way.”

Naturally, I refused and we ended up compromising with me just stating the facts: previous form was submitted in error.

Later that day, another salesman asked me why he hadn’t been paid a commission for one of his sales. I spent thirty minutes researching the deal, eventually coming across an email I had sent his manager. (The sale had cost more than the salesman had predicted and I had asked his manager to approve my commission calculation based on the revised cost.) He had done so and I had paid the salesman his commission last month. When I told the salesman he had been paid he admitted he knew that, but wasn’t happy with the amount he’d received. Then why did he tell me he hadn’t been paid? What was his intention? Did he think I would accidentally pay him again?

Both of these scenarios infuriated me. These salesmen have lied to me in the past and I can guarantee I will think twice before I believe anything they say in the future. As my boss says:
When working with a salesman assume they are lying until proven otherwise.*
Which brings me to the story of the week: 60 Minutes and author Jon Krakauer reported Greg Mortenson the co-author of Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time lied about events in his book and may have benefited from donations to his charity to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

My first thought upon hearing about Mortenson was thank goodness I had read Citizen Reader's review of the book and had taken it off my TBR list.  My second thought was that lying scum.  One of the reasons I read non-fiction is to learn the truth. If I can't believe a non-fiction author who can I believe? Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness discussed this topic in her post No, Lies Do Really Matter (Especially in Nonfiction)

Kim gives us her thoughts:
What is not inspirational is nonfiction that plays fast and loose with what has actually happened. It’s laziness to the supreme. Not only has the author been too lazy to research a true story enough to tell it accurately and well, he/she has also not been brave enough to write fiction from what is in his/her heart. Both of those types of writing take more effort than nonfiction filled with lies and distortions, and I don’t want to waste my time as a reader with writing that is lazy.
She asks:

How do you view truth in nonfiction — is alteration of the facts permissible if the story is “inspirational,” if the author admits and explains why, or never at all?
I love Kim’s take:

Nonfiction that plays fast and loose with what has actually happened. It’s laziness to the supreme.
My week culminated with me finishing Matt Taibbi’s book Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America which may be the most eye-opening book about what is going on in this country I've ever read. Griftopia begins with

But in a country where every Joe the Plumber thinks he is one clogged toilet away from being rich himself, we’re all invested in rigging the system for the rich and ends with an expose of Goldman Sachs, perhaps the most unscrupulous player behind the Great Recession, walking away pretty much unscathed and intact.

To answer Kim's question non-fiction needs to be true. In this country where more people can rattle off how many times Lindsay Lohan has been in jail than realize they are being conned by fast talking swindlers and bureaucrats pushing the latest bubble (or charity in Mortenson's case) we don’t need “inspirational” alteration of non-fiction. I can accept some alteration of facts for privacy's sake, but if a story is changed to make it more "inspirational" it is fiction.

*Which reminds me of my golden rule. If we (co-workers) think our salesmen are rude, incompetent, liars, etc., so do our customers.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

That dress looks great on you!

A member of my husband’s family is getting married this summer which means I have to begin the dreaded task of shopping for a new dress. I asked a friend who’s into fashion where she would look for a dress. She said,
“Funny you should ask I just bought a dress for a June wedding at The Limited. I’m not sure about it though. The dress falls above my knee and I hate showing that much leg. The salesgirl assured me I looked great in the dress and suggested I wear tights with it.”
Tights in June!* She was unsure, but the salesclerk was very persuasive and eventually convinced her to buy it. As she was checking out she overheard one of the salesgirls whisper to another, “Go tell Kelly in fitting room two she looks great in that shirt.” What the hell. They say that to everyone.

What terrible customer service. I’ve had salespeople in the past tell me something does not look good on me and I can’t tell you how much I appreciated it. I would return to a store where I trusted the sales staff any day over a store that convinced me to buy something just to make a sale.

p.s. If anyone has any suggestions where a 40-something petite gal should shop for a dress to wear to an afternoon summer wedding followed by a formal reception let me know.

* Apparently nylons are no longer in style.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Book doesn't hold interest; realize I am not a "foodie"

I finally finished reading David Kamp’s book The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation.

Motivation for reading:
The United States of Arugula has been on my reading list for some time. When I heard it was the current selection for the on-line book club called BookClubSandwich hosted by Kim and Andi I decided it was time to read it.

Synopsis from the book's cover:
The wickedly entertaining, hunger-inducing, behind-the-scenes story of the revolution in American food that has made exotic ingredients, celebrity chefs, rarefied cooking tools, and destination restaurants familiar aspects of our everyday lives.

One day we woke up and realized that our “macaroni” had become “pasta,” that our Wonder Bread had been replaced by organic whole wheat, that sushi was fast food, and that our tomatoes were heirlooms. How did all this happen, and who made it happen? The United States of Arugula is the rollicking, revealing chronicle of how gourmet eating in America went from obscure to pervasive, thanks to the contributions of some outsized, opinionated iconoclasts who couldn’t abide the status quo.

My Thoughts:
This book was not what I expected. I thought it was going to be about “the food” behind the “American Food Revolution.” Instead it is about the chefs who created the movement: James Beard, Julia Child and Craig Claiborne and the food figures who came after them. At times, depending on whom Kamp was covering, the book was interesting and engaging. At others, I found myself bored and barely able to keep reading. This is not the fault of David Kamp. His depiction of the characters behind the American food movement is fair and comprehensive. It's just I am not a foodie (a person inordinately obsessed with restaurant going and cooking fashions (Pg. 63) and wasn't overly interested in the subject matter.

I did appreciate Kamp’s honest portrayal of the chefs he wrote about. He points out how James Beard swallowed his principles and learned to love Niblets. (Pg. 62). That Alice Waters who receives all the credit for Chez Panisse’s success was really just the salad girl and the real credit belongs to Chez Panisse’s first real chef Jeremiah Towers.
The presence of Jeremiah is what changed everything. Jeremiah really made the restaurant. (Pg.146).

I also enjoyed the discussions of food. Especially this one:
In the beginning the quality of American ingredients was pretty lousy. Andre Soltner unable to locate chanterelle mushrooms (girolles) had to order them from Germany. They arrived in a half-liter can. Wanting to only cook with fresh ingredients he didn’t do anything with girolles. Then 15 years later a farmer from Oregon came and offered him fresh girolles. Soltner didn’t understand. You’re telling me girolles just started to grow?

No we’ve always had tons and tons of girolles in Oregon. But we had no market. So we had a contract with Germany for tons of girolles. We packed them up and sent them over. The Germans, they were putting them in cans and sending them back to us. (Pg.116).

Then there was Paul Prudhomme who made blackened redfish so popular the redfish population in the Gulf of Mexico became depleted and regulatory action was required to protect the species.

Most importantly Kamp wrote about where we are today. This is my favorite paragraph of the book:
At its current juncture, the story of American food is dominated by two phenomena: the “national eating disorder.” to use a phrase coined by the food writer and UC-Berkeley journalism professor Michael Pollan, that finds many Americans obsessing about being thin while getting still fatter, lurching from one faddist diet to the next (such as the Atkins madness that demonized “carbs”), and eating too many processed foods; and the quantum leap forward in ingredient availability and culinary sophistication that is described in this book. The problem is that these two phenomena have been running on parallel tracks, with some segments of the population depending ever more on fast food, and other segments getting deeper and deeper into foodie connoisseurship and/or organic, biodynamic and “slow” foods. (Pg. 359)
Kamp offers a solution:
The trick, the task America faces, is to get these two parallel tracks to converge. For the solution to the national eating disorder lies in the advances and lessons of the American food revolution. The junk-food and diet-food people need to learn that natural and gourmet foods need not be flavorless, expensive or “elitist”; the foodie sophisticates need to lose their smugness and patronizing tone and embrace capitalist enterprise and engagement with big companies as a good thing, the most effective means of proselytizing on behalf of real, healthful foods. (Pg. 359-360)
In the end despite realizing I am not a foodie, I am glad I read the book. It influenced me to think more about my own food choices and the food choices of others. I plan on writing more about foodies, the American diet and the politics of food in the future.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

How to Avoid Business Scams

My friend Sally retired from her job a couple of years ago. She has enough money to pay her bills each month, but has little left over for extras. She would like to find some sort of part-time work to supplement her retirement income. She was approached by a gentleman from her church offering to help set her up with an on-line store. He has his own store that generates a couple hundred dollars each month with almost no effort by him. She asked if I thought this would be a good idea. She did not know the name of the company she’d be working with, but did know they charged a nominal set-up fee. Here are the tips I gave her:

1. Just because you heard about this from someone who goes to your church doesn’t mean the business is legitimate. Either the gentleman who told you about it is being scammed himself or he may know it is a scam and plans on scamming you as well. Pat Kiley one of the master-minds behind the Ponzi scheme Jacquelyn Mitchard and hundreds of others fell for presented himself as a Christian. Also, it is a known fact many scammers type the words “God Bless” on the bottom of their phishing emails in an attempt to appear legitimate.

2. Do your homework. Find out the name of the company you will be working with. Type the name of this company into a web search engine with the word scam behind it. Type the name again with the word sucks behind it. How many web results come up? For example I typed in “Monavie scam” (which I wrote about here) 413,000 results came up. “Monavie sucks” brought 444,000 results. Read what these posters have to say. This will give you a good idea of the experiences others had working with this company.

3. Find out all the costs involved. I imagine the nominal fee presented to you is a teaser charge and more fees are to come. Also, think about how you are going to market this site. A new website doesn’t magically attract customers. You will be competing with both EBAY and Amazon. What will differentiate your site?

4. Remember my rule of thumb when you are presented with a business idea. If the idea is so good why are they pitching it to you? If the idea really generates hundreds of dollars each month the presenters would be off making gobs of money not selling their idea to you.

5. On a side note, any business venture that instructs you to cash a check and wire a portion of the money via western union is a scam. THIS CHECK IS A COUNTERFEIT AND WILL BOUNCE. The money from the fraudulent check will be removed from your account; you will be charged a penalty plus be out the money you wired.

Earlier this year, my company’s bank account and routing number were stolen. The scammers forged this information along with our company name onto fake checks as part of a mystery shopping scam. Shoppers signing up for this job received a check for $2,500.00. They were instructed to cash the check, use $50 of the money to make a purchase at any local Wal-Mart store and wire $2000 via Western Union. They would then answer a couple of questions about their experience and keep the remaining $200 for their trouble.

Luckily for my company, none of these fake checks cleared our account. We received a call from our bank when the first check was presented alerting us to the scam. Our bank put a stop on all checks being presented on this account. Approximately fifteen checks were presented and cashed. I received a handful of desperate callers who pleaded with me to cover the bounced check. They really needed the money. Sorry, but that's not how it works.  One even threatened a lawsuit against our company.

6. Finally, any business idea that sounds to good to be true probably is. Be careful Sally. You can not afford to be scammed.