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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

You're in Bad Hands with Allstate

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After a heavy heavy rainfall in November, Dane Johnson and Kathy Justin's house cracked and slid off its foundation in Burien. Hundreds of neighbors hand-carried their belongings from the waterfront Burien home to storage in a massive undertaking of neighborhood support.

They bought homeowners' insurance through Allstate, believing that the moniker "you're in good hands" rang true. That Allstate would in fact take care of them. They had paid insurance diligently, on time, every time. They were good homeowners. They knew their house's location placed them at a higher risk, and they paid higher premiums for it.

Now the couple's claim has been denied by their homeowner's insurance agency, Allstate.

Allstate is known for its commercials of "being safe from Mayhem" - a character that slams bricks into windshields, stomps on the brakes to cause rear-end collisions, drops branches and trees on cars, smashes trees into houses, and a host of other dastardly deeds. Allstate's new ad campaign, in essence, is precisely what Johnson and Justin went through.

On November 23rd, a freak stormsurge undercut the basement of Johnson and Justin's house. Allstate didn't send an adjuster until November 30th, and denied the claim almost immediately.

Allstate is denying Johnson and Justin's claim for their destroyed home. Johnson and Justin are core arts community advocates in the Puget Sound region - he works for KUOW, she's a sound and lighting engineer, and both were pivotal to the Burien Art Council formation.

Your company is denying two people who did the right thing, and trusted YOU to do the right thing. They believed you when you said, "You're in good hands with Allstate". They bought your insurance with that in mind. They believed their insurance agents were actually the good guys. They listened to Dennis Haybert calmly explain how Allstate does exactly the right thing, all the time.

And then Allstate denies their claim.

If this does not change, I will personally make it my mission to tell this story to every person I know. I will give this story to people who work for State Farm, for Farmer's Insurance, and GEICO. I will explain to my family and friends and coworkers exactly what Allstate did to people who played exactly by the rules, paid the extra dollars, and still got their claim denied by their insurance agency - who have said routinely that their job is to look out for their clients.

I won't ever buy Allstate insurance of any type; that's certain. However, I would greatly like to notify and report a positive resolution of this story to my contacts within various news agencies, including Lifehacker, Gawker, Gizmodo, the New York Times, CNet, The Seattle Times, The Seattle PI,, The LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Washington Post, and local and national television news media. I'd also like to be able to report the resolution of this issue to my 35,000+ social and professional network.

At this moment in time, that is not going to happen. What -is- going to happen is a description of exactly what Allstate said they would do when selling an insurance policy, and what they did when that insurance policy was desperately needed during the holiday season.

For more information on the house and the incident, see:

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coping with the TSA

The one thing that I've realized out of all of this TSA inspection crap is pretty simple.

Commercial aviation is a privilege, NOT a right.

And damn near everyone's acting like it is.

I must put forth that I used to fly a lot for work, most specifically right after 9/11, when I was working for a company building bullet-resistent cockpit doors and bulkheads. Oh, and the places I flew! I unconfiscated my cartons of American Spirits from the clutches of overzealous stewardesses after citing chapter and verse of the installation manuals of the lavatory smoke detectors, helpfully exploded lumbar support balloons that shoved business class passengers facefirst into the seats in front of them after failing to deflate, or rather, after failing to stop inflating by using a dual-government approved and jointly-issued icepick. I helped explain to a room of very well-dressed, very insistent men in long, flowing robes why the sultan could NOT have a hot tub on his personal 777 without a serious amount of work in the weight balance and hydrodynamic equipment departments, and knew the passcodes to most of the flight deck doors for at least three major domestic American airlines.

And I got dogged in Heathrow, patted down in Dubai, politely wanded in Tokyo and aggressively detained in Beijing (where I learned if you want to write a college article in 1995 about a repressive government smacking an ethnic minority down, it's best to not do it where PRC agents might copy and see it and add it to your permanent record). I even had an interesting conversation with a couple of Israeli security agents. The ones who point the big guns not -directly- at you, but close enough that it makes your toes curl up to avoid being blown off by cheerful 19-year old soldiers who are happy to in an airport and not, say, getting rocks hurled at their heads by Palestinian kids.

And this is with me carrying identification authorizing me to fiddle around with the innards of Very Important Federal Aircraft.

But that's all completely unrelated to the issues at hand. Because it doesn't matter. Flying is not a RIGHT. It's a privilege. A luxury. Like the ubiquitous iPod, something we've cheerfully adopted as part of our pack of Essentials.

While it's true that as a member of a privileged class of people (IE, people who can afford to plunk down a couple of hundred to travel at insane speed across the sky), I can also state that I've been on many, many, MANY flights where I was sitting smack dab in the minority of skin color and economic class. Think about an albino at the Apollo theater, or Bill Gates in the middle of South Central.

I don't exactly BLEND as an expertly unoppressed class-structure privileged 6'5" freckled white boy with giant knobby knees, and on my flights to and from Dubai, this was indeed the case. Air India was also a lesson in excitement and "WOW, you have FRECKLES!". Had I dropped in painted bright green and wearing alien horns, I might have made a slightly more impressive entrance. Having to stoop to avoid bonking my head on the cabin ceiling was probably enough.

It was pretty awesome for the first two hours. The next eighteen, not so much.

So please, let's not turn this into an elder version of "One of these things is not like the others!" Sesame Street song; in any class structure or system, yes, the poor will probably not be able to afford air travel, but then again the desperately poor are probably less concerned about flying and more about not losing their health benefits because Wal-Mart screwed them over again for the holidays. If the patriarch of the family of eight Dalits (whom I kept poking in the shoulder when he kept trying to explain why they were traditionally called "Untouchables") could afford to travel from London to Delhi for Holi every year, then Joe The Wal-Mart employee can shell out some savings for a flight. It's a matter of choices made.

Nobody is bloody ENTITLED to an iPod. Nobody is bloody entitled to a seat on a vehicle traveling at 650 mph, either.

If I can't afford to be in a bar, then who CARES if I don't have the dollars to get righteously shit-faced while not being able to smoke? I can't afford to smoke or to drink in bars, so is that the problem of the people who are affluent enough to both smoke and go to bars? Should I feel guilty as I drink my $3 PBR that someone out there can't afford to come in and drink crappy beer and smoke a fifty-cent cigarette with me while huddled 25 feet from the door? No, because hopefully that person's disposable income will be going to other things.

The point (or rather, an academic's relentlessly academic race/class/gender argumentative point about poor people and people of color historically not being able to have their rights infringed like everyone else being a major cause of Social Justice) has merit, and the concept is akin to the question of the 90s of "How many slums will be bulldozed to make way for the Information Superhighway?" (namely, that the impoverished will not be able to see the benefits or have the opportunity to have their personal freedom infringed upon because they can't afford to go to the airport to have their junk groped), is not only demonstratably false and misleading, it's also a complete red herring for the issue.

I'll also admit that every time the white guilt argument comes out, I get a wee cranky, because White Guilt is sloppily applied at best and reminiscent of growing up Catholic at worst. It's the more educated cousin of "There's starving children in Africa, so you should eat your lentils", which I could figure out at the age of six to be an utter load of shite. For one thing, if those starving Children In Africa were really THAT hungry I'd happily ship my lentils to them, but I was pretty sure they wouldn't want to eat the damn things either, especially after two weeks of transportation.

But hey, it was a good straw man argument to help muddle up the argument which, namely, was "I hate lentils and don't want to eat them. And frankly, I don't give a shit about those starving kids in Africa, because at least if they die, then they wouldn't have to eat the lentils. If it were a choice between styrofoam packing peanuts covered in sea urchin entrail sauce and lentils, I'll take the sea urchin-styrofoam*."

This is a similar situation, which is, "I hate people touching my junk and seeing me naked. Seeing me NEKKID is completely different, but I can't run through the TSA counters with a rubber glove on my head and nothing else screaming, "Look! Look! I'm a SQUID**!" without getting arrested, and so I am thusly righteously AROUSED FOR MY RIGHTS."

And the reply here seems to be, "Yeah, but think about all those non-flying poor people! They can't afford to fly! Think about all the starving non-flying children in Africa! THINK OF THE HUNGRY PEOPLE!"

My reply: "No shit. I had a $8 latte and a $20 donut. I'm surprised they don't have a bankruptcy court next to the Hudson News counters."

This is very much like the people crying out that the pat-downs bring back memories of childhood trauma, molestation, WTO protest arrests, PTSD, the shingles, and that one time the Cubbies really almost made the World Series but didn't because that douchewad caught the ball instead of the outfielder. (I'm kidding about the last two. Most Cubs fans have more emotional resilience than a sub-Saharan AIDS orphanage hospice doctor. It's damn near a prerequisite.)

Thus, the cries for social justice have NOTHING to do with the matter at hand. It's just another issue thrown in to protest wildly that it's NOT OKAY AND YOU ARE NOT STANDING FOR THIS!

That's fine! There is a solution to all these problems, and they don't include stripping off in public, having hysterical breakdowns, or flexing your nuts at the TSA agents for "infringing upon your rights" when they're getting paid $13 per hour to deal with irate people who at best tolerate them and at worst want to rip their faces off with their teeth.

It's called "Get out of line, go back outside, hail another taxi, drive home, and unpack your bags."

Which brings me back to my primary point.

Flight is a privilege, not a right. It's like driving. You don't have a RIGHT to a driver's license. You have an opportunity, but if you don't pass the test, have crap vision, consider the rules of the road to be more "suggestion" than actual rules, prefer to drive tipsy and fast, consider insurance a tool of the Illuminati and oil changes to be so much frippery, then you might not get to drive. You are not guaranteed a Ford Focus as a right of being a citizen of the United States.

Likewise, flight is a private enterprise, and most certainly not included in the Constitution of the United State of America. There are NO public airplane transportation services in America. (Nope, as much as American Airlines likes to front, they are not the American airline. Air China, however, most definitively IS a government-owned airline. So a few points for autocracy there. But surprisingly they don't seem to care too much whether they're invading your personal space when they give you a pat-down.)

Airplanes are tubes of hyperpressurized air that are propelled by giant engines fueled by the fossilized remains of dinosaurs with over a quarter of a million moving, straining, expanding, and exploding parts. Any one of those systems can go wrong at any moment. If strict maintenance schedules are not adhered to, then those tubes slowly disintegrate. Making sure you do not have anything in your bag that would interfere with the miracle of shoving that tube of hyperpressurized air from Seattle to Los Angeles (a distance of over fifteen hundred miles in less time than it takes to watch a back-to-back episode of CSI: Miami) and forcing you to spend another fifteen minutes patiently waiting to get checked out seems to be a bit overblown. Hundreds of thousands of people do this every day, and it is so unremarkable that now different airlines advertise on how much suck other airlines have compared to their own experience, when ultimately, the experience remains the same - packing at least a hundred people into an aluminum tube with giant engines strapped to thin pieces of aluminum and hurling it with insane precision across the sky.

Air travel is standardized insanity, straight up, served on a platter of physical impossibility broken apart by science, physics, and a lot of dead guys in jumpsuits.

So pardon my cavalier attitude towards getting my junk checked out before I fly.

Quite possibly, my lack of modesty has something to do with this, but anyone who has to look their doctor in the eye after hearing him say "Turn your head and cough" should probably not worry overmuch about the shame of someone seeing you on a body scanner. Nobody accuses their gynecologist of enjoying their work; why the hell are we putting THAT drama on all of the TSA agents? Sure, there's a whole bunch of troglodytic TSA employees out there who get off on the petty power of making people with more money and mobility than they do go through a song-and-dance and cop a random feel, but after the first four hundred lawsuits the processes are going to get highly refined, and those douchemonkeys will get kicked to the curb, preferably with a black mark on a federal job record, a hefty fine, and a gross misdemeanor.

For the rest of them, it's like working at a strip club, a bank, a brewery or a porn store - after a while all of the stuff you're working with just becomes stuff. Yeah yeah, that's a naked chick. Yeah, yeah, that's a 60-year old bottle of scotch. Woo. Fucking. Hoo, four hundred thousand dollars. Can I get back to work now?

As for the people who decry how invasive the new process is, and point to the egregious examples of inspection: I'm positive that the guy whose urine bag broke and soaked him had a rough time of it, but come ON, people, ever hear of the Boy Scouts? If you've got a bag of pee attached to your hip, who DOESN'T carry wet wipes, a bag of spare medical kit, a spare pair of pants and a couple of gallon-sized ziploc bag with them? Hell, I took care of my cousin with severe cerebral palsy in a wheelchair for a month. After a while, you simply don't leave the house without certain things, including a spare innertube for the wheelchair and lots of baby wipes.

People, most of us air travelers are NOT on the Amazing Race. Ten more minutes to get through the line means you have ten more minutes to think about whatever you think about when you're standing in line. It does not mean the Communists have invaded, it most definitely does not mean the Founding Fathers are spinning in their graves, and a few swipes around the groinal region from someone else who would really rather not be doing what they're doing isn't a massive infringement on your "rights".

Because, as stated previously, air travel is not a "right". It is a privilege. It's our OWN personal responsibilities and choices to fly or NOT to fly, to take a cab or to drive, to ride a train, a bus, or take a ship.

Cheap and efficient air travel has become so ubiquitous (like iPods) that it's all too easy to believe that because you happen to be living in a society that has made it so easy and cheap to book a 20 hour flight halfway around the world that not a century ago would have taken a full month of travel ($781 one-way to Tokyo's Naruta airport leaving at 11PM tonight, found in about the same amount of time it took you to read this entire SENTENCE) we are somehow entitled to the convenience, and bitch relentlessly when our travel times are extended by an hour or more due to a problem found in the hydraulic system of the aircraft.

And, in some cases, to cry out, "Think of all the flightless children in Africa!" Or "Think of all the pee-bag carriers!" Or, "Think of all the people who have to conquer their personal demons in order just to be able to get on the plane!"

Really? Really. Personal demons, huh?

I'm fucking terrified of flying. Each time I step on a plane I nearly crap my pants in terror.

Surprised? So was my nearly-wife when I nearly crushed her hand on our first flight together. It's a testament to her gentle nature, good will, and grace that after the cast came off and she allowed me to buy her a metal-framed brace to squeeze, she still continued to both A) date me and B) fly seated next to me. Before flying with her, I tended to go through a lot of scotch, anti-anxiety medication and warm milk in airports and marked a LOT of airplane seat hand rests. Now I just hold her hand and tremble. Being schnockered helped press down the sheer panic to the point where my former passport collected enough stamps to raise eyebrows at the immigration counter, but it did lend a certain aroma to my clothing and person while in flight. Small children would be moved two seats back due to the possibility of getting intoxication merely by proximity. (And may explain why I kept poking my friend Tim from North London in the shoulder every time he said "Untouchable".)

So my response to the TSA bruhahaha, therefore, is usually "Learn. To. Fucking. Cope." There's a lot scarier things in the world than a bored government official running their hands around your body and looking at an anonymized image of you on a computer screen, and the rules are in place to make those scary things not happen.

Believe me, having an aggressively intent German shepherd nosing your crotch with two paramilitary guys with clean British public school accents holding automatic weapons pointed near your feet while you are politely but firmly requested not to move until he finishes his inspection, because we're afraid, really, old chap, that he smells plastic explosives in your tighty-whiteys, and you fit the profile of most American-based IRA supporters tends to color all of your future flight inspections in a different light. Not only because you don't want to move, AT ALL, but also because you have to wonder at the utter lack of perspicacity of someone who would carry plastic explosives that close to the bangers and mash, with the codicil that THESE guys, the ones with the hefty, fully-loaded automatic weapons with the safety off and the really big scary dog with sharp pointy teeth nosing around in your nether regions, have actually dealt with those people, and are probably not at home to clever jokes about how we saved their asses in World War II or the one about Queen Vicky and the donkey in Tijuana.

If you got all the way down to the end here, here's the short version: If you want to fly without getting a pat down, go buy a Cessna and learn how to fly it, pay for the gas, get your pilot's license, and use that to fly yourself around. If, however, you want to fly on a commercial airline, shut up and follow the rules, regardless of how intrusive you find the inspections. They're not there for your personal comfort and joy; they're there to keep your bitchy ass from getting blown up. If you don't like it, don't buy a ticket, and DON'T make a spectacle out of yourself to prove that you're not a fan of the new regulations. It's ultimately pointless and does nothing but keep people from doing what they are legally required to do (and legally means "by law" - IE, if they don't do their job, they can get arrested.)

The other one thing I find immensely bemusing and amusing, is that so many people don't realize that they have at least one other option. Prior to 1939, people did it all the time.

Ride the train. No pat-downs and you can move about the cabin all you like.

*Mom still doesn't understand why I like sushi.

**More fun than it sounds like. Trust me on this one; you'll probably get arrested otherwise.

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