I Fought Junk Mail and Won (One Battle)

One of my more satisfying accomplishments in 2016 was defeating a junk mailer who had repeatedly violated my credit reporting opt-out. The first part of this post comes from a draft letter I wrote, but never sent, to the three mail credit reporting agencies. It summarizes what happened between February 2015 and May 2016: at least five “pre-qualified” automobile loans sent to me in the mail, despite the fact I have never had a drivers license.

Here’s the story:

In February 2015 I received a notice in the mail that I was “prequalified” for an automobile loan by [Name Redacted] Auto, [Address Redacted].

This was a surprise, as I have never in my life had a drivers license. I called the telephone number on the letter and attempted to explain that they were wasting their time and mine, but was put on hold, transferred to voicemail, transferred to a number that rang but was never answered, and generally ignored. So later that day I called the “Prescreen Opt Out” number on the back of the notice and opted out of such notices.

A few weeks later I received another notice from the same company. Not sure if my opt out hadn’t yet “percolated” through the system or if I had not completed the process correctly on the phone, I again opted out using the Internet address provided. This time I received an on-screen confirmation, so I knew it had been completed correctly.

Continue reading

Advertisements

Forced from Home

All four of my grandparents were immigrants. They arrived in New York City in the 1920s, in their late teens or early twenties, seeking better jobs, adventure, or true love. (Or so my grandmother thought, until she met and married somebody other than her brother’s best friend.) They all wanted lives that were better than what they experienced between the World Wars in their native countries.

Yet things weren’t all that terrible back home. Difficult, yes; but not life threatening.

Today we see the largest number of displaced people since the Second World War: 60 to 65 million (depending on which statistics you read) people fleeing war, oppression, even genocide. They risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean in rickety boats, or travel long distances on foot. In their eyes the risk is worth it, because to stay where they are is even greater risk of death.

figuresataglance-16jun2016
Credit: UNHCR website, http://www.UNHCR.org/en-us/figures-at-a-glance.html

Continue reading

They Swarmed Us: What Would Happen if the Wealthy Rebelled?

A remarkable thing happened recently. The Oxfam Action Corps in New York City hosted a Hunger Banquet and things didn’t go according to plan.

That’s a good thing.

Spoiler alert: The best way to understand a Hunger Banquet is to actually attend one, no expectations. It’s a participatory event to make issues of hunger and poverty real, and words can’t do it justice. So if you’re planning to attend one in the near future, I recommend you wait to read this after the event. But if you’ve attended a Hunger Banquet before, of if you’re not sure where or when you might be able to, read on!

We had a good turn-out at St. Lydia’s in Brooklyn on October 14, about 50 people in a venue that supposedly holds 70, but still it seemed crowded.

As guests enter a Hunger Banquet they are asked to pick a ticket from a basket. Those tickets describe hypothetical people all around the world, divided into the high-income group (about 15-20% of the total), the middle-income group (about 30% of the total), and the low-income group (about half the participants). These represent the global demographics of rich, middle and poor. Continue reading

Space, Snails & Quanta: Getting My Geek on at the World Science Festival

I spent theWorld Science Festival 2015 last week of May doing something very cool: volunteering at the World Science Festival. And by “cool” I mean getting up close and personal with squid guts.

First up was a lecture by Ellen Stofan, NASA Chief Scientist. Did you know that the Chief Scientist at NASA is a woman? Neither did I. In one way I think that’s terrific; in another way I hope we’re getting past the “oh my gosh it’s a woman” phase and can just focus on her long fascination with space and science.

We have something in common, Dr. Stofan and me: we inherited our interest in science from our parents. In Stofan’s case it was her father, who worked for NASA during its early days; in my case it was my Mom, who was fascinated by the space program and watched every liftoff and splashdown on TV. To me it was as natural as watching a favorite TV series or sports team.

Poster for Dr. Ellen Stofan's talk at #WSF15
Poster for Dr. Ellen Stofan’s talk at #WSF15

In third grade our teacher thought it would be a good idea to watch an early (pre-moon landing) Apollo liftoff during class time. When a boy in my class expressed amazement at watching a liftoff for the first time, I replied, “But they’re on all the time!” In my house, they were; not everyone had the same experience.

So, really, it’s because of Mom that I was sitting in a cafe at the New School, watching the live stream of Dr. Stofan’s talk from the packed auditorium nearby. The audience was an invited group of high school and middle school students from around New York City whom we’d checked in as they arrived. (I particularly remember a Summer program called “Mathematical Problem Solving”–because that’s so much better than solving problems with guess-work and wishful thinking?)

Continue reading