“Dear Seattle Times….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:20 am


My name is Andrew, and I recently (mid-2019) underwent a kidney transplant at Swedish Medical Center’s Seattle hospital, with the aid and coordination of their Organ Transplant Center. My recovery has progressed steadily and by the numbers. My experience with Swedish was the best I could possibly imagine under the circumstances, and I owe my life—literally owe my life—to the skilled and dedicated staff. From the folks who run the desks and phones, the patient coordinators, the lab technicians, up to the on-staff nephrologists Drs. Vadivel and Reddy, and the surgeon (shout out to Dr. Precht and his team) who performed the procedure. And of course and especially, the countless nurses, caregivers and other medical support staff who are the indispensable front-line infantry of any medical center.

As with everyone on Swedish’s medical staff, they deserve my eternal gratitude; mine and countless others. They also deserve a living wage and decent working conditions.

We seem to be on a terrible downhill slide in our healthcare system….in truth, in so many aspects of our modern day-to-day existence. We have chosen to allow our most crucial public services to be commodified, letting the Invisible Hand of the marketplace determine the quality and capacity of these institutions. Suppressing the workforce in the name of efficiency and rock-bottom prices isn’t even a good idea if you’re selling McNuggets. Applying such practices to a system intended to keep body and soul together in times of crisis is a recipe for disaster.

People should be aware that so much of what the union is asking for comes down to patient safety. Chronic understaffing of hospitals should not be SOP. Permanent “Crunch Time” is not even acceptable in the video game industry. Why should it be boilerplate practice for a Critical Care nurse? How does that make any sense?

The employees of Swedish Seattle aren’t asking for much; in fact, Providence Health Systems (the entity that owns Swedish as well as their own eponymous facilities) offers their Portland employees a package that essentially mirrors what our Seattle workers are asking for. This is not a financial issue for Providence. This not-for-profit group earns approximately $700 million annually. They pay their top 16 executives approximately $40 million a year. They have cash reserves of around $11 billion-with-a-b dollars, some of which they are undoubtedly dipping into to import and pay non-union staff during the strike, along with bonuses, housing allowances and travel costs. Or perhaps it’s being covered by their strike insurance, if such a thing exists.

I would be very worried if I were slated for a procedure during the strike period. Not that out-of-town workers are necessarily not highly qualified, but they are unfamiliar with the facilities and culture in which they now find themselves operating. That would give me pause.

The sole purpose of Providence’s refusal to bargain in good faith seems fairly obvious under the circumstances: they would like to break this union. In the eyes of senior management, the most sensible strategy is to spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars to pull the SEIU’s teeth, so that next contract they can more efficiently push their employees a little further—or a lot further—down that slide I mentioned earlier, on the dizzying race to the bottom. Where, in their market-driven Utopia, nurses are as interchangeable as Subway Sandwich Artists and health care is doled out at the exact rate and level of quality that keeps money spent on lawsuits lower than annual revenue.

I would hate to think where I would be had we already reached that point. Probably in an urn on my wife’s bedside table.

Thanks for reading,



Dear Teddy’s Old Fashioned Root Beer

Filed under: @ 1:28 pm

In 1992 or so I discovered the hard way that I’m allergic to almost every artificial sweetener except sucralose and saccharine. A sip or two of a soda sweetened with aspartame is enough to make my lips go numb and, if I don’t promptly stuff myself to the eyebrows with migraine medication, within a few minutes I’ll have flashing blue lights in my peripheral vision, sound and light sensitivity, and a headache you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. Acesulfame potassium skips the numb lips and enhances the blue flashes. It’s really neat!

I have gotten into the habit of reading labels pretty carefully. Anything with a label on it that says “Phenylketonurics: Contains phenylalanine.” gets dropped like it was hot (for those not in the know one of the metabolites of aspartame is a compound called phenylalanine which causes significant problems to those people who are subject to phenylketonuria). If a package says “DIET” I don’t come near it. If it reads “NATURALLY AND ARTIFICALLY SWEETENED” I don’t come near it. If it reads “LOW CALORIE” I don’t come near it.
So when I recently drank part of a bottle of Teddy’s Old Fashioned Root Beer and it didn’t have any of those labels on it, I figured I was okay.

I can understand the urge to put out a product that is partially sweetened with no-calorie sweeteners. It’s a good product and it’s lower in calories than you’d expect. Win-win situation, right?

And yes, I accept the fact that I bear some responsibility here. With my sensitivities, and especially after having been burned by Wrigley’s gum while on a trip to Scotland, you think I’d be in the habit of reading the whole label of anything I haven’t tried before. I am in the habit of doing do and I do generally read the whole label. In this case though it wasn’t I that picked up the bottle of Teddy’s. My husband offered to share his soda with me and since it wasn’t labeled as “diet” “low calorie” or “artificially sweetened” he figured it was safe for me to drink.

I submit that any product which has high fructose corn syrup as the second ingredient should be more clearly labeled if it also includes artificial sweeteners. I don’t pretend to know a lot about people, but I’m pretty confident in saying that I think someone who is concerned enough about their calorie intake to seek out something that is artificially sweetened isn’t going to be real enthusiastic about a product that is loaded with high fructose corn syrup. And those of us who are on the natural sweetener bandwagon are going to be intensely grateful to not have to worry about gotchas in our sodas.

It was a good root beer though.



Here’s my take on it.

Filed under: @ 12:45 pm

This morning the Susan G. Komen Foundation reversed their decision to stop making grants to Planned Parenthood for breast health screening for low income and uninsured women.


Glad of it.

But the fact that they made the original decision to stop the grants — and would have made good on it if they hadn’t had such an outcry from the public — shows me that they’re not an organization with an awful lot of integrity.

The Komen Foundation was willing to bow to political pressure from the conservative members of congress who have their knickers in a twist about Planned Parenthood regardless of the fact that the Komen Foundation’s grants were made to support breast cancer screening and didn’t have ANYTHING to do with Planned Parenthood’s support of contraception, abortion, or other reproductive counseling. And then the Komen Foundation was willing to bow to pressure from the public and from the rest of congress to reverse their decision.

While I am, as I said, glad that they did reverse the original decision, the fact that they’re willing to flip-flop so readily makes me really think hard about whether or not I want to support them anymore.
And it’s made me sad that I now have to justify my decision that I am still going to walk this summer.

It’s taken me nearly four hours to put down in words what I feel about the whole situation and to explain, to myself if to no one else, what my position is going to be in the upcoming months.

This is what I sent to the Komen Foundation this morning.

Dear Komen Foundation

In the last week I’ve had to think hard about whether or not I am going to participate in this year’s 3-Day. The original decision to stop the grants to Planned Parenthood for breast screening for low income and uninsured women, had it stood, would have kept me from walking. And while I am glad for the fact that the Komen Foundation was willing to reverse the decision the whole episode has left such a bad taste in my mouth that it will keep me from walking again after this year.

Here is the e-mail that I originally had planned to send:

When I first started investigating the Komen Foundation before signing up for my first 3-Day I read about how Nancy Brinker had promised her dying sister to end breast cancer in our lifetime. And I read about how 80 plus percent of the funds raised by 3-Day walkers would go to breast cancer screening and research. I even managed to convince some skeptical donors to sponsor me that year because I was so proud of what the Komen Foundation was doing.
And I walked that year.
This year was to be my fifth breast cancer 3-Day. I was looking forward to it. As stupid as it sounds, I’ve found that walking for three days straight and pounding my feet to pulp is a lot of fun. And I made a promise to my niece who would have been walking for the first time this summer.

But now I can’t.

I don’t remember seeing anything anywhere in Nancy and Susan’s heartwarming story about how Nancy promised to end breast cancer “unless you’re a low-income or uninsured woman who can’t afford breast screening anywhere else than the subsidized screening that is offered at Planned Parenthood”.
I don’t remember seeing the footnote to “Everyone Deserves a Lifetime” that reads “unless you have your mammograms done at Planned Parenthood in which case you’re out of luck”.
I don’t remember hearing the disclaimer at the end of the television ads that state “A woman dies of breast cancer every 74 seconds. The Susan G. Komen Foundation wants to change that.” that mutters at an almost supersonic speed “unless you are a low income woman in which case we don’t care because Planned Parenthood also offers other reproductive health services that we don’t support because someone in Congress doesn’t support them”.

For shame! Shame on you!

By canceling your grants to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening you have said to a large number of American women “We don’t care about your breasts. You don’t make enough money to afford your own insurance, or you’re a student, or you’re unemployed. Since you have to go to Planned Parenthood for your breast health care, you don’t matter to us!”

I am a doctor and a scientist. Medicine and science should never, NEVER be at the whim of political pressure.

The Komen Foundation would have gained many thousands more dollars from me and my sponsors over the next years. But your lack of integrity has shown me what sort of organization you really want to be.

And I can’t support that.


Margaret Hammond

But, as I said above, I did decide to walk again this summer.

The nonsense that has gone on over the last week will make it very difficult for me to raise the sponsorship that is required to walk, but I think I can still do it. I will face a lot of pressure from my sponsors, but I’m willing to stand up to that and explain why I am still going to walk.

I’m going to walk for three reasons.
The first being that I made a promise. I said above I made a promise to my niece who will, if things turn out right, be walking for the first time this summer under my chaperonage and my sponsorship. I want to walk with her this summer because she is looking forward to it and because I want her to know what sort of a difference a group of strong, determined women can make in this world. I keep my promises.
The second reason is that I made a promise. One of my cousins died last November of metastatic breast cancer. I made a promise to myself, and I made a promise to her spirit, that this year I’d walk for her. The effort and the pain are my sacrifice to honor her memory. I keep my promises.
The third reason is that I made a promise. When I signed up for my first 3-Day -god, was it really 10 years ago?- I said in my sponsorship letters that I considered myself very lucky. None in my family had had breast cancer and I wanted more girls and young women to grow up in a world like that. While I know now that breast cancer has struck my family and probably will again, I still want more girls and young women to reach their mid-thirties (my age when I did my first 3-Day) without knowing the pain of breast cancer. As it is, I have two young second cousins who will grow up without knowing their mother which is heartbreaking. A friend gave me a copy of Melissa Etheridge’s “I Run For Life” off of “The Road Less Traveled” when I was in training for my third 3-Day. The lyric line “And if you ask me why I am still running/I’ll tell you I run for us all” has been my promise to my sex. I keep my promises. I walk for us all.

So I’ll walk this summer to keep my promises to the tough, brave women to whom I’ve made promises.

But next year all of my charitable efforts, both financial and physical, will go to Planned Parenthood.


Margaret Hammond


“Dear KIRO TV….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 5:06 pm

Some background is necessary for this one.

About two years ago, I was walking out of a local grocery store when I was approached by a volunteer from an organization called Restoration House Ministries. They were soliciting donations of food, clothing and money to provide shelter for homeless families.

I told the woman who had approached me that I did not give money to folks soliciting in public unless I recognized their organization, and that I would have to go home and check them out online. I then asked her if Restoration House might have need for an older computer or two, as I had lots of friends and relatives who probably had outdated but serviceable computers they would be willing to donate. She said she thought that would be appreciated.

A month or so later I found myself with an older Dell computer that a friend had donated to the cause, and called the number from the flier that the volunteer had given me. I received a call back from the director, Herman Akins, who delightedly agreed to come and pick up the machine that evening.

Herman was good as his word, and arrived later that evening to pick up the computer on the way to another fundraising event. When I saw the look in Herman’s eyes—the pleasure and the gratitude—as he looked at what I had offered to him, I felt a mixture of gratification and shame. Gratification that I had done something to make someone else so happy, shame to know that we lived in a society where the director of a homeless outreach program could be so overwhelmed by the gift of a cast-off POS computer that nobody else wanted.

Since then I have provided Herman, his wife Delores, and their two organizations—Restoration House Ministries and Project Reach—with 5 or 6 computers, donated by friends, family members and neighbors and refurbished by me. Most of these are being used by volunteers for clerical work, both at the Akins’ home and at the Freedom Church in White Center. Our long-term goal is to create a small community computer center at the church, where local folks can come and learn to use word processors, send and receive email, surf the Web, print job listings or résumés….opportunities that are often in short supply in that area. In a middle-to-upper-class neighborhood like ours, it seems as though every third house has an old Pentium 4 PC in the garage or in an unused spare bedroom, just gathering dust because the owner doesn’t know how or where to get rid of it. Folks are very happy to know that their outdated PCs are going to a worthy cause.

Fast-forward—or would that be backward?—to the Saturday before last. While installing another PC out at the church, Herman took me aside and told me that someone from KIRO 7 Eyewitness News had contacted him, inviting him to come in for an interview to give his side of the story on a report they were putting together. He was obviously a little shaken by the prospect. I told him that I would be happy to provide a character reference if he thought that would help, perhaps in the form of a letter. He gratefully accepted my offer.

Later that week, I was contacted by Amy Clancy, Consumer Investigative Reporter for KIRO TV. She asked me a few questions about the letter I wrote, and invited me to add anything I felt might be relevant to the report. Not being at all certain what the focus of the report would be, I didn’t have a lot to add. She also asked for permission to post my letter online, which I gave. She then invited me to watch the report on the Monday edition of Eyewitness News, after which we exchanged some pleasantries and hung up.

I watched the report online Tuesday morning, and was not at all pleased at what I saw. Here’s a link to the report, Victims May Never See Donations Gathered by Local ‘Charity’. If you have not yet seen the report, and plan on reading further, you should probably go take a look at it; I’ll wait.

After I watched the report, I watched it again. And again. then I sat down and composed the following email. I post it here in the hopes that at least some small portion of the people who saw the initial news report might come across this while Googling Herman Akins, Delores Akins or Project Reach for more information. I think a real injustice has been done to an organization that lives hand-to-mouth, and that probably cannot survive an extended period of unearned ill will in the community.


To: Amy Clancy
KIRO 7 Eyewitness News

Hello Ms. Clancy,

I wanted to offer some input on your piece about Project Reach, This is Andrew, by the way; I wrote the letter in support of Herman and Delores that mentioned computers.

I was rather disappointed with your report on KIRO 7 Eyewitness News about Project Reach. It struck me as pretty solidly biased against Herman and Delores Akins and their work. For a report two years in the making, there didn’t appear to be a lot of actual fact-based evidence against the Akinses or Project Reach. Instead, the report seemed mostly to use the medium of television to concatenate a scandal out of a vapor of innuendo and hearsay.

Some points, in order of their appearance:

  • From the lead-in: “Many of the area’s best-known non-profits believe donations gathered by an organization called Project Reach don’t necessarily go towards domestic violence victims…” Actually, from what you put on the air, the total number of non-profits that believe this to be the case is two: CADA and DVS. Two organizations that might, in theory, have an axe to grind with Project Reach because of the perception that the latter is encroaching upon their “territory”. Unless you include New Beginnings, whom you did not report as having done anything other than deny a connection between themselves and Project Reach. When did two organizations officially become “many”? Furthermore, how did two organizations from relatively small, outlying communities become “Many of the area’s best-known”? If you have a substantial list of area non-profits that have called the work of Project Reach into question, why didn’t you mention them on the air?
  • My unalloyed sympathy for her aside, there was simply no point whatsoever in showing the anonymous domestic violence victim at the beginning of your report. This woman had not been personally hurt by Project Reach in any way, so her feelings on the subject of their activity in the area were no more or less valid than those of any other Oak Harbor resident you could have interviewed, say, in front of the Wal-Mart where the confrontation between CADA’s Margie Porter and the Project Reach volunteers occurred. But had you done so, you might not have had the opportunity to show that unfortunate woman’s quavering-voiced silhouette. A powerful image—and one that pulls at the heart strings—but not actually relevant to the question of whether Project Reach is misusing the donations it collects, which is after all the presumed focus of the report.
  • Regarding the issue of other organizations’ names listed on Project Reach’s materials: as explained to me by Herman, that list of names was put out to show other organizations that folks could turn to for help. That’s why the paper read “RESOURCES / REFERRALS” across the top. Certainly, if the paper had read “PROUDLY ENODRSED BY THESE ORGANIZATIONS”, I would assume that you would have shown that on the air. To the contrary, at one point you show the piece of paper in its entirety, and at the bottom in large bold letters is a disclaimer plainly stating that the listed agencies and organizations are not affiliated with Project Reach. But one would only be likely to read that part if one paused the video, as I did. Even given what you chose to show on the air, the worst that list of names should have indicated to the viewer would be the crime of bad spelling, and even that could be blamed on rogue spell-check software.
  • The claim made by Porter that, upon being asked if the funds collected by Project Reach at the Oak Harbor Wal-Mart would stay in Oak Harbor, Delores Akins said, “Well if you come back tonight I’ll give you some”. Assuming this actually happened, this statement is, in and of itself, completely neutral. Delores could have easily meant, “we appreciate and value what you do in this community and would be happy to make a donation”. But Porter’s—and by association, KIRO’s—interpretation is, “I’ll cut you in on the scam”. Presumably, had Delores actually said anything of the sort, Porter would have said so, and you would have reported it.
  • Addie Schille’s claim that the person answering the phone at project Reach asked “Where did you get this number?”. I’ll stipulate that “where did you get this number” Might not be the absolute best, cutting-edge-crisis-intervention-theory way to begin a call of this sort, but it is hardly by definition the cynical scam-in-the-making opening line that Schille makes it out to be on camera. I can imagine a lot of good reasons to start such a conversation that way. And certainly, Schille’s report that she heard “the woman” in the background urging the person on the other end of the line to get her phone number would seem a totally reasonable and strategically practical start to a phone call with someone who could be in jeopardy and who might possibly be forced to hang up at any time. But compared to a warm and matronly, “Are you safe?”, stripped of context and without any other data upon which to draw, it paints Project Reach in a bad light with very little in the way of facts to back it up.
  • As does the seemingly gratuitous use of that less-than-complimentary picture of Delores Akins looking up at the photographer outside of the Kennewick Wal-Mart. Perhaps it was necessary to use that photo because it was the only one taken that day that clearly showed Delores’ face. But you used it at least five separate times; I counted. It’s hard to tell the exact number because you dissolved from a medium shot to a closeup on a couple of occasions, but five seems like a decent estimate.
  • The claims by Porter and Abken that members of Project Reach were seen “giving out receipts for tax purposes”. Surely you are aware that many charities that are not tax-exempt 501(c)(3)s give receipts to people furnishing them with donations? Receipts are a typical component of modern transactions in which things of value are exchanged, be they groceries, pedicures or charitable donations. Neither party is reported as saying that they heard anyone from Project Reach actually tell a contributor that the receipt was for a tax deduction. By all appearances, this “fact” was simply inferred. But following the video where Abken makes this inference, you jump to the Charities Program Manager Rebecca Sherrell, asking her what amounts to a hypothetical question about an unsubstantiated claim. Taken in toto, this leaves the viewer with the impression that you have actually caught members of Project Reach breaking state law.
  • For all that this was an in-depth report on the activities of the “alleged ringleader” of a scam, and that said “ringleader” was willing to come down to your studio and speak to you in person, Herman was given, by my count, one minute and forty seconds of video in which to make his case. A great deal of which was given over to earnest and evocative but not particularly meaty prose. Herman may well have been a bit overwhelmed by the circumstances of the interview, and may have not explained himself perfectly, and I attribute some of what you showed in your report to that. Certainly, he did a much better job of elaborating when I spoke to him over the phone than what I saw of him on camera. But I also suspect that your interview was edited to make him appear more confused and evasive, because that better fit the narrative you had already constructed in the preceding eight minutes of video.
  • Finally—and while hardly chief among my issues with the report, this really got my goat—whoever KIRO TV appointed to scan and post my and other community members’ letters in support of Project Reach online did a stupendously unprofessional job of it. The letters were scanned extremely crookedly; they were also scanned in bitmap (black-and-white) mode, with a very high threshold, so that many of the letterheads and logos were lost and, in the case of the hand-written letter, the text was all but unreadable. This made neither the letter writers nor the clerical staff of KIRO TV look very good. We all took the time out of our busy schedules to write letters of endorsement for a cause we believe in; it would seem only fair that KIRO TV take the miniscule amount of time necessary to present our letters in as good a condition as they were provided to you.

While it is obvious that I was not a big fan of your report, I do appreciate you taking the time to contact me the other day prior to its airing, and also your time in reading this letter.


Andrew Lenzer



Filed under: @ 1:17 pm

Like most public radio listeners I look upon the twice-yearly pledge drives as a nuisance. A functional, necessary nuisance, but a nuisance nonetheless. I hate having my daily NPR fix interrupted by the pledge drive and spend much of my time during pledge week shouting at the radio in an attempt to get more people to pledge more money so you can get back to regular programming.

During the last pledge drive, however, I’ve discovered a new love for the constant talk and interruptions.

I work in a veterinary hospital. Usually we have the radio on in our surgical recovery area, both for our sake and because often music is calming to patients recovering from anesthesia. On the Tuesday of the spring pledge drive we had a dog that was howling during her anesthetic recovery. This is normal in some patients, but the consistent and regular howling…..well it starts to get to you after a while.
We discovered that this particular dog would stop howling if we spoke to her. A short conversation would result in a few minutes of very welcome relief. But we couldn’t spare someone from their regular duties to stand in front of the kennel and talk to the dog until she was completely conscious.
So we thought of the pledge drive.
We put the radio in front of the dog’s kennel, turned the volume up a wee bit, and viola!

Auditory anesthesia for the dog, peace and quiet for us. You have our sincerest thanks (and a small addition to my regular spring pledge).




“Dear 60 Minutes….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:36 am

Truly an ensemble performance for the Sunday, December 5 show, gang. One third of the program dedicated to an interview with the chairman of the Federal Reserve about the flagging US economy, the remaining two thirds spent on an interview with the founder of Facebook. Nice to see that CBS News has its priorities straight. 🙄


“Dear Organic Bouquet….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 11:36 am

There is a slight problem with order #XXXXXX, which was delivered to my wife’s office today.

The flowers that shipped were the correct ones, and they arrived in good condition. However, the card that accompanied them was supposed to read,

You are the best, the very best, the absolutely best thing that has ever happened or will ever happen to me. I love you with all my heart, my brain, plus my liver and most of both kidneys. My pancreas, I’m afraid, is a bust.


As is shown in the confirmation email I received. Instead, the card shat shipped with my order read,

Happy Valentine’s Day! I love you, Pam!


You people are damn lucky my wife has a sense of humor, but not as lucky as I am. 😀

Andrew Lenzer


“Dear LuckyVitamin.com….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 10:03 pm

It was with a mixture of amusement and bewilderment that I took delivery of order number xxxxxx when it arrived on my doorstep yesterday afternoon. Everything arrived in a timely manner and in good condition. So far I am more than satisfied with your pricing and your customer service. however, there is one matter that needs addressing.

My order was for forty-eight rolls of Seventh Generation toilet paper, thirty-two rolls of their paper towels, and two gallons of Dr. Bronner’s Citrus Castile Soap. Your prices were very competitive, particularly since UPS Ground shipping was included free of charge. After a brief bout of confusion regarding my billing address—which I regard as a good thing, reflecting as it does your particularly stringent precautions against online fraud—my order was completed.

About a week later, I was working in my home office when I heard the blare of the UPS van’s horn and got up to greet the driver. He met me at the door with my delivery….all seven boxes of it.

I was a bit taken aback. Your packing department had elected to send each twelve-back of toilet paper in its own box. The paper towels were broken down into two shipping containers, one containing three eight-packs and the fourth in a separate box.

Not only that, but each cluster of rolls was tightly secured on all sides by a thick coating of….bubble wrap. As though toilet paper were susceptible to bruises, dents or stress fractures during shipping.

In fact, the only thing that wasn’t rendered immobile in its box by a thick corona of bubble wrap were the only two things that could conceivably have benefited from such treatment, namely the two gallons of liquid soap. They arrived, terrified but none the worse for wear, in a single box with one bottle upright and the other on its side, with a smattering of bubble wrap thrown in as a garnish. Your trust in the power of plastic screw caps is touching.

As a consumer trying to use his buying power to help make small differences in the world, I can tell you that, when I think of helping to reduce conspicuous waste—by, say, purchasing paper products made from recycled materials—the image that comes to mind in no way resembles this:


All this instead of grouping the paper goods into, say, two boxes—one for the TP and one for the paper towels—with a third box for the soap. This would have actually saved you money; I ran the numbers at UPS.com. At standard retail shipping prices, the four separately boxed twelve-packs of toilet paper would have cost at least $14.10 per box to ship to Zone 8 (me) via UPS Ground, for a total of at least $56.40. I say “at least”, because the actual dimension of the boxes you shipped them in was slightly larger than the actual roll packs, which means that an even greater dimensional weight would apply and bump up the cost. By contrast, four twelve-packs shipped in one box via UPS Ground to Zone 8 would run about $52.37 retail. The cost of shipping the paper towels breaks down in a similar way.

Furthermore, I suspect that the Seventh Generation products I purchased are supplied to retailers such as yourselves in “cases”, bulk lots of multiples of four (say, four twelve-packs of toilet paper per case, or four eight-packs of paper towels) and that these cases arrive at your facility already boxed. I can only hope that you were out of those pre-boxed cases at the time the pick list for my order was printed, leaving the packer/shipper with no choice but to scrounge for appropriately-sized boxes to use in the fulfillment of this order. The thought of someone pulling a case of toilet paper off the warehouse shelf, cutting it open, removing the contents and putting them into four individual boxes for shipping is enough to turn my brain to Cheez Whiz.

Actually, I have a pretty good theory as to why my order was shipped the way it was. Two words: “holiday help”. Or perhaps “temp agency”. Someone with little or no experience on the job and not a whole lot of impetus to try to do things in the most efficient and cost-effective manner possible. Or perhaps this is merely a case of someone with r-e-e-e-a-l-y bad spatial-relations skills. Either way, I’m certainly not suggesting that you dismiss this person out of hand. They may have numerous other desirable qualities and qualifications. But you might want to take them off the pick/pack/ship fast track and onto something more their cup of tea….assuming, of course, that they can get their tea to fit in just one cup.


Dear President-Elect Obama….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:58 pm

(Man, I just can’t say that enough!)

Like many Americans, I watched the election returns on November 4th with a mixture of anticipation and dread. When the Presidential race was called for you, both my wife and I had tears in our eyes. We just couldn’t wrap our minds around it. The promise of finally moving away from the suffocating policies of the Bush administration, combined with tangible evidence of an epochal shift in the fabric of our society, was almost too much to bear. We were, to put it mildly, elated.

You have many hard tasks ahead of you, and other less difficult, more pleasurable ones as well. One of the latter will be the planning for your inaugural celebration.

This promises to be a jubilee that will be remembered for years, perhaps generations to come. My wife and I plan to hold a combined inauguration day/birthday party for myself and a few other friends whose birthdays fall on or around January 20 (thanks in advance for the lovely birthday gift; you got me exactly what I wanted!). I’m sure that similar festivities will occur nation- and even worldwide, which accurately reflects the sense of relief and renewed purpose your ascension to the highest office in America brings to so many of your fellow citizens.

However, while it is only meet that those who feel this way gather and celebrate this momentous occasion, I would also like to suggest that your own festivities be carried out with a measure of circumspection and, dare I say it, frugality.

This is a rough moment in the timeline of the United States. We are a nation at war; we suffer from economic hardship that may evolve into a financial cataclysm. The US is divided economically, politically, socially and racially into disparate camps. And while some of this may change drastically by the dawn of 2009—possibly even for the better—there is a good chance that the situation will be markedly similar to what we face today.

In light of this, I would urge you to eschew the lavish hoopla that has been the hallmark of previous inaugural ceremonies of late. I was particularly put off by President Bush’s 2005 celebration, the cost of which topped out at approximately $50 million….in the midst of two wars. Such surfeit in the face of a war debt which at that time totaled over $200 billion was—well, frankly, inexcusable.

Your administration is slated to inherit the chaos, the massive debt and the broken policies of the Bush years. Personally, I think you and your team are up to the task of helping to put America back on track, and I hereby pledge to do my part. But I think it would make a great impression on the citizenry if you were to keep the glitz and spectacle of the inauguration to a minimum.

As my mother-in-law put it as we discussed this over lunch yesterday, “You can have a huge party without racking up a huge bill.”

Your situation is often compared to that of Franklin Roosevelt as he took office in the midst of the Great Depression. I don’t feel competent to measure that comparison, but I would suggest that you instead look to Roosevelt’s 1945 inauguration for inspiration. In the twilight of World War II, amidst economic privation, FDR chose to restrict the festivities to a small party on the balcony of the White House, with a menu of chicken salad and pound cake.

President-Elect Obama (hee hee, that even feels good to type!), I don’t think you need to restrict your celebration to a small garden party on the White House lawn. Your election is a seminal event in the history of the United States, and everyone who has a mind to should feel free to whoop it up as much as they want. Maybe the difference between your inaugural merrymaking and those of previous presidents could take the form of, say, refusing to attend or acknowledge any parties sponsored by large corporations. In 2005, dozens of companies donated the legal maximum of $250,000 each to sponsor parties and gala events for the week of the inauguration. Perhaps you could make a public request that the companies lined up to do the same for you keep their donations, and urge same to save their money for more important things. Like job retention, for instance, or employee health insurance.

I think such a gesture from you would set exactly the right tone for the start of your term(s) in office. It would show the scornful and the mistrustful that you are prepared to walk your talk. And it would help to galvanize the resolve of those of us who look to you for real change, further confirming that you mean what you say, and that we all ought to follow your example.

Whatever choices you make regarding the inauguration, I offer you my heartfelt congratulations, and wish you all the best in the coming years.

Best Regards,



“Dear Morning Edition….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:45 am

Perhaps it was a surfeit of brie, medical marijuana and gay marriage clogging my liberal ears this morning as I listened to the bottom-of-the-hour news headlines, but I could have sworn I heard NPR News anchor Jean Cochran relay a story about, quote: “Democrat candidate Barack Obama”.

“Democrat” candidate, not “Democratic“.

That sort of omission tends to get my hackles up, particularly in the context of a news program, extra-super-particularly when I’m hearing it on National Public Radio instead of, say, The O’Reilly Factor.

I could have totally misinterpreted this little gaffe, of course. It could have simply been a slip of the tongue. And after all, Obama is a Democrat, and he is a candidate, so the term “Democrat candidate” is not as incorrect or as inflammatory as would be, say, “baby-killing tax-and-spender candidate”.

But it’s hardly state of the art in English language usage, either. Do wellness advocates practice “tantra yoga”? Do heart-attack victims suffer from “ischemia cardiomyopathy”? Did the last Indiana Jones film feature a “formula plotline”?

That little “-ic” conveys a lot of meaning. As, in the case of the word “Democrat”, does its omission.

I realize that the staff of NPR—including the on-air talent—must feel somewhat besieged at times, relentlessly hounded as you are by conservative politicians, commentators, wags and whackos with the totally unfounded charge that you are unbalanced in your reporting and your mission. Truly, I can sympathize with your plight.

However, I don’t think that falling back on a turn of phrase championed by the late Senator Joseph McCarthy and since contemporized by hard-line conservatives and Fox News (“hard-line conservatives and Fox News”….is that being redundant?) is the best way to ingratiate yourself with the bullies of the airwaves.

As all of our mothers once told us, if they’re picking on you, then they’re not your friends.

Like I said, I could have completely misunderstood Jean’s purpose (or lack thereof) in dropping this crucial adjectival ending during the broadcast, in which case, please feel free to ignore this missive, and accept my apologies for taking up some of your time.

But please also be aware that I will be keeping an ear out for any future truncations. And I plan to knock fifty dollars off of our annual contribution to Public Radio for every one I hear….even if it costs me a travel mug or tote bag.


Dear Second Look Project….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:51 am

Dear Second Look Project,

On this, the 35th anniversary of the historic Roe v. Wade decision, I wanted to take a moment to let you know how affected I was by your “Heartbeat” ad, recently aired on my local progressive Talk Radio station, KPTK Seattle.

I’m not normally the kind of person who makes decisions based on a radio campaign, but your message—and in particular, the place you chose to air it—stirred me to action.

As a result, I am sending out two checks today: one to Planned Parenthood of Western Washington, and another to the National Abortion Rights Action League. Furthermore, I am exhorting all of my friends, relatives and coworkers to do the same.

Thanks so much for helping to galvanize my convictions and inspire me to become part of the solution. Keep up the good work!

Warmest Regards,


“The degradation of women functions in every aspect of society
Politics, education, business—
Women’s reproductive rights are no man’s business
The myth of Man protecting life is a bunch of shit. History will verify this
It takes a nation of men to hold you back so take control”

Love, Honor and Respect
from the album The Myth of Rock


Dear Thermos….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 4:30 pm

I thought I would take a moment out of my nonproductive Sunday afternoon to offer up my thoughts about one of your products, the Element 5 Vacuum Insulated Travel Tumbler.

Element 5 Travel Tumbler

Like an appreciable number of First-World denizens with little better to do with their lives, I have devoted considerable time and money in the pursuit of the ultimate coffee mug for travelers. My list of criteria is fairly straightforward. The vessel must hold as much coffee as is practical to consume while on the go (16 to 20 fluid ounces seems to be the sweet spot). It must be insulated using materials with real insulative properties (vacuum, for instance). It must be durable (stainless steel, preferably, with no glass vacuum bottle). It must be easy to drink from while driving (the spout must be accessible without having to use both hands to open it). Lastly, it must fit comfortably in the standard beverage holder on the average car….or at least, in the standard beverage holder in my car.

By these standards, the Element 5 is very nearly the perfect commuter’s coffee mug, but it misses the mark in a couple of significant ways.

First, the good stuff: The Element 5 keeps coffee hot for several hours even without an initial “priming” of hot water, easily as long as any other vacuum bottle I have ever owned, including my half-gallon Stanley. Additionally, this thing has the most ingenious spout design I have ever seen on a travel mug. The seal on the lid is, as far as I can tell, completely leakproof: I regularly clip this thing to my backback and throw it in my car for long journeys without a single thought about my car upholstery.

Element 5 Lid

The 360° drink lid is, hands-down, a stroke of genius. The mug goes from absolutely leakproof to easily drinkable in the space of a quarter-turn of the lid. Even when the lid is set for drinking, an overturned mug will dribble coffee much more slowly than many other designs. If that system was designed in-house, I hope the person who came up with the idea was given a bonus large enough to allow him/her to purchase their own small Tahitian island.

Overall the look and feel of the mug is great; I imagine that you were trying for a precision-machined, ready-for-anything look, sort of like a high-tech snowshoe or something. Mission accomplished! With a capacity of 16 fluid ounces it is within my limits for acceptable capacity as well. The overall circumference of the mug might be a little large for those with smaller hands, in which case they can avail themselves of the model with the handle.

Now for the bad: firstly, despite your obvious need to give the mug a “sturdy” look, I wish with all of my heart that you had elected to make it taller and narrower. The large, clunky hard rubber base will simply not fit into a (read: my) car’s cup holder. That base is one of the mug’s more foolish affectations. Your description of a “Rubberized shock absorbing base with wide stance for stable footing” is, to be charitable, a bit of poetic license. I can’t speak for others, but personally, even if I believed your claims of shock absorbency (which I don’t), I don’t particularly need a “shock absorbing base” for my coffee mug. I may be worried about spilling my coffee, but I’m rarely concerned with the possibility of bruising it. As for its “extra-wide stance”: I think you may have misinterpreted the primary functions which this unit will fulfill with your customer base. I think it is safe to say that very few of your customers will be sipping lattes from their new travel mug while plowing through the chop of the Pacific ocean on a Zodiac, on a mission to harass Russian whaling vessels. If they are carrying the mug during periods of instability at all, they no doubt will be leaving it sealed. Most if not all of your potential customers will be using this product in their cars (where the stability would be greatly enhanced by the ability to fit in a car’s cup holder) or in the home or at the office (where people have survived the imbibing of hot beverages without the intervention of an extra-wide rubberized shock-absorbing base since time immemorial).

Element 5 Travel Tumbler

The second and most important problem with the Element 5 is the size of the internal opening. Ideally, the diameter of the inner opening should be as close to the diameter of the rest of the vessel as is possible to allow the unobstructed flow of the contents. The comparatively tiny diameter of the Element 5’s opening makes it almost impossible to retrieve the last three or four ounces of liquid from the mug without upending the thing over your head. In a stationary environment like a home or office setting this is an annoying inconvenience; in a moving vehicle this could conceivably be quite dangerous. This design oversight keeps me from using the Element 5 during my regular commute, which is a shame, given all of the unit’s other redeeming qualities.

All in all, the Element 5 is an excellent product with a couple of serious design oversights that keep it from being the ultimate insulated travel mug it was destined to be. As it is, it is merely penultimate, suitable for a number of special-purpose situations but less than ideal for everyday use. It is my fervent hope that you will attend to these design problems and re-engineer the product to overcome them. If you do, I hereby promise that I will buy the new and improved Element 5 for everyone on my gift list. And possibly a few extra for complete strangers.


Dear Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald and King County Executive Ron Sims….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:03 pm

Mr. MacDonald and Mr. Sims,

I am writing to you with a suggestion that may help alleviate the growing problem of motorists running red lights in our state.

I am sure that the two of you, like most Washington residents, have noticed the strange proliferation of this irresponsible and antisocial behavior among Washington drivers. Short of placing a motorcycle cop at every major intersection, the red-light camera would seem to be the only viable deterrent to these people. I applaud King County’s recent pilot program to install these units at a growing number of intersections throughout the area. However, this program would not seem to apply to my neighborhood.

I live in Normandy Park, a suburb just south of Burien and north of Des Moines. It is a small but well-funded community with, among other amenities, its own police department. I recently contacted the Normandy Park PD to ask about the possibility of installing a camera at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Normandy Road, an intersection where this dangerous transgression has become increasingly common. I have witnessed dozens of this sort of violation at this intersection over the last year or so, but I finally reached the breaking point when I witnessed a King County Metro Access Transportation Service vans—the vans that carry elderly, disabled and otherwise physically compromised citizens—accelerate to run a stoplight that had been red for at least one full second. I followed the driver and got the license and vehicle number of the van and reported the incident to King County Metro. I hope to hear back from them soon.

When I spoke to our local police about the best path to pursue in trying to arrange for a camera at this intersection, I was told that, because 1st Avenue South is considered to be State Route 509 at that particular geographic point, it was a State road and therefore under State jurisdiction. This is why I included you in this communication, Mr. MacDonald.

I imagine that many concerned citizens are probably contacting many State, County and Local offices to find out how they might arrange to install such devices at troublesome locations all over the region. I realize that these devices must cost a fair amount of money, and I think I might have come up with an innovative solution for partial or even full funding for their installation: Adopt-A-Camera.

If citizens were to be given the opportunity to directly sponsor the installation of cameras at troublesome stoplights in their area, I can well imagine that you would get more than a few takers. In fact, I will be happy to cast the opening bid: my wife and I will pledge 500 dollars towards the installation of a red-light camera at the intersection of 1st Avenue South and Normandy Road. We will increase our bid to a thousand dollars if we are given sole rights to the wording on a sign or placard placed at the intersection. We were thinking of emblazoning it with the phrase


With the help of a modest public-awareness campaign, I think you would find that many people in a number of communities would be willing to contribute the funds for the extra security of a red-light camera or two in their neighborhood. This is the kind of self-empowerment that resonates well with citizens of both liberal and conservative leanings. And if the initial outlay of funds for the installation can be covered by members of the community, the funds for ongoing maintenance may well be provided courtesy of the violators caught by the system itself. According to a July 19, 2007 article in the Seattle Times, red-light cameras installed at four intersections in town have generated over $900,000 in citations, at $101 per. To be sure, some intersections would result in higher “returns” than others, but if the revenues available for ongoing operating costs were spread out over the entire Adopt-A-Camera system, I imagine that it could break even, perhaps even run a small surplus.

I think that Adopt-A-Camera might be a small but significant part of the solution to this growing problem, and I hope that you will give my suggestion some consideration.

Thanks for your time,

Andrew Lenzer


“Dear US Airways….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 7:17 am


My wife and I traveled on US Airways Flight 672 from Philadelphia to Seattle on July 2 of this year. We were traveling First Class. Some twenty minutes before the first boarding call, it was announced that there would be no food available for purchase on the flight and that customers should purchase their meals in the airport. I assumed that this applied to Coach Class only, but went to the counter to confirm it. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that First Class passengers would not, in fact, be fed on the flight either. We would, like everyone else, need to avail ourselves of the anemic variety of overpriced insta-food being sold in the airport.

This was a very egalitarian gesture on US Airways’ part, but seemingly out of keeping with the hundreds of additional dollars we spent on our tickets compared to Coach Class passengers.

The flight attendants on board seemed aware of this inequity, and attempted to make up for it with stellar service; kudos to them. However, this is simply not sufficient recompense for your oversight. The opportunity to get completely smashed on unlimited free booze—an opportunity I graciously declined—doth neither a proper meal nor a proper First Class air travel experience make.

My parents, who took a United flight out of Philadelphia at roughly the same time, were fed in First Class on both legs of their journey, and fed quite well, from the sound of it. So you apparently do not have the excuse, for instance, that travel-ready food was simply nowhere to be found in the Philadelphia airport. If there existed some other, possibly equally relevant condition or situation that kept you from feeding those of us who paid quite handsomely for a higher level of service on this flight, it was not made apparent to us the passengers. You would think that, had there been a good reason for the absence—a fire in the warehouse that holds the airline meals, a food preparer’s strike, some sort of ancient mummy’s curse—we would have been made aware of it, in an effort to placate us. Even if this were to be true, I think the very least we could have expected from US Airways would have been hefty meal vouchers with which to purchase our in-flight meals on the ground.

This leads me to suspect that there was no particular reason for this omission, that it was most likely a case of “100% full flight – any complimentary food = more money for US Airways”.

I have to say that this experience has left me uninspired by your customer service. This is particularly ironic because I had actually been defending US Airways during my stay in Pennsylvania, countering the horror stories told by some of my relatives with our own quite favorable experience on the outbound trip. I would be interested to know if your company might wish to make some sort of amends for this less-than-First-Class service. I look forward to your reply.


Andrew Lenzer


Dear CBS….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:13 pm

It was with utter delight that I tuned into the premiere of [the American version of] Nick Park’s Creature Comforts. This is easily the best prime-time-ready program to come along since the original Looney Tunes cartoons debuted in the movie theaters in the ’30s.

In a time slot dominated by pap, pugilists and pudenda, this program is as clever as it is hysterical, showcasing the very best of the sense of timing and whimsy that made Aardman Animation such a force for good in entertainment.

Here’s how serious I am about my praise for you in choosing to air this wonderful show. My wife and I DVRed the program, as we do most of what we watch on television. However, we are so determined to reward your excellent judgment–and do our part to keep Creature Comforts on the air–that we specifically sat through the commercials, looking for something we might want to buy from your sponsors. Unfortunately, there weren’t many things advertised during the show that were even in a loose parabolic orbit around our shopping list, not being big aficionados of anti-aging lip cream, fast food or Fantastic Four movies.

It took a while, but we finally found something that we might actually use. I pledge to you here and now, that before the week is out we will own the largest container of Resolve Carpet Cleaner I can find at my local supermarket.

Thank you, thank you for helping to bring this gem of a program to the airwaves. Please give your programming department our heartfelt kudos. And tell Reckitt & Coleman that if they keep advertising during Creature Comforts, I’ll throw an economy-sized can of Brasso into my cart next week.

Most Gratefully,


UPDATE: I am as good as my word.



My Letter to Senator Adam Kline

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:34 pm

If you don’t live ’round these parts, you are not likely to be aware of the kerfuffle regarding Senator Adam Kline’s (D-WA) recent email exchange with a local off-road vehicle organization over his co-sponsorship of Senate Bill 5544 (PDF). The bill would enact further restrictions and penalties for the unlawful or irresponsible use of off-road vehicles such as dirt bikes and ATVs.

When asked why he was co-sponsoring, such a restrictive bill, he replied,

I signed on because I have been annoyed, endangered, and angered one too many times by people riding motorized dirt-bikes and other off-road vehicles that have no damn business anywhere. To me, this bill is narrow–it doesn’t include those “personal watercraft,” seemingly jet-powered little missiles whose only apparent purpose is to risk death and dismemberment for boaters and swimmers, for the amusement of spoiled drunk teenagers.

Yes, I am sure there is the occasional responsible person who rides one of these machines on land or water. And yes, like every human being I have been pleasantly surprized to find my stereotypes broken. But why, why, why, do folks insist on motorized “sports”? Those two words are an oxymoron. There is nothing sporting–athletic, physically demanding–about riding any machine anywhere. And it’s a damned annoyance to folks who see the outdoors as a place to go for quiet and solitude and self-exploration. I would be happy to ban the use of the internal combustion engine off-road, by anyone without a handicapped sticker, subject to a stiff fine. Maybe we could call this an anti-obesity measure.

Please circulate this to all motorized sports enthusiasts, so they can remember never to vote for me.

Adam Kline.

The Senator has been taking a lot of flack in the court of public opinion (and local talk radio in particular) over what was considered a snide response, and in some ways I have to agree with the sentiment. I couldn’t resist sending him a brief note:

From: Andrew
Sent: Tuesday, March 06, 2007 8:55 AM
To: Kline, Sen. Adam
Subject: “That” email

Senator Kline,

While I might tend to question the strategic value of your decision to send the now-infamous email to the WOHVA, I do not in any way question the validity of the opinions contained therein. I agree with you down to the very core of my being, and appreciate that you had the resolve–if perhaps not the political sense in the heat of the moment–to make those feelings known. Good on ya. 😉



To my delight, I received a response this morning:

From: “Kline, Sen. Adam”
Date: Tue, 6 Mar 2007 18:29:48 -0800
To: Andrew
Conversation: “That” email
Subject: RE: “That” email

Aw shucks.

No, this wasn’t just a rash reaction–though it was perhaps that. It was also to let these folks know, especially the few elders or more reasonable folks among them, that it’s not all right to have your fun at the expense of others. There’s something more to civility than simply good table manners. It’s a willingness to forego one’s immediate pleasure in honor of one’s neighbors, the others in one’s community. It requires that one have a sense of community to begin with, and that’s the problem. The erosion of that sense of community is, I feel, the root cause of so many social problems–noise pollution being among the lesser ones.

Thanks for your note.

Adam Kline

I couldn’t agree more. I have often opined—here and elsewhere—that the citizens of our fine state who are most vociferous about defending their “rights” are very often the people who want the freedom to infringe on the rights of others. They protest the tyranny of red-light cameras because they want to be free to run them. They vote to repeal the taxes that fund our state’s mass transit system, taking buses off the roads and ferries off our waterways and dumping more and more cars onto our overcrowded freeways, just because they’d never be caught dead riding a bus. They rail against the most basic gun-control laws because they fear being charged with a crime if their kid’s friend blows his head off with one of their unsecured pistols.

And they move out to the country in droves to escape the crushing regulation and burdensome taxation of the city limits. You know; infrastructure, rules, social compacts, stuff like that. To which I say great, have at, be my guest, mazel tov, for you I’m happy. If you are sanguine with your two-hour commute because it grants you the elbow room you feel you need, who am I to take issue? You are welcome to your peace and solitude along the outskirts. Personally, I prefer my peace and solitude a trifle more, well, peaceful.

Which is exactly why I live in the suburbs: the combination of relative proximity to one’s neighbors, the wounded-but-not-yet-dead concept of the social contract, and a robust police presence combine to help keep everyone conscientious in a way that you don’t often find out in the “pioneer spirit” atmosphere of the tooliedingles. I’m perfectly happy with our quarter-acre near the airport; no amount of trees and deer wandering through my yard would make up for the hunters, the garbage dumpers and refrigerator abandoners, the dirt bikes and the “secret” meth labs of the back country. And if you try very, very hard, you can almost convince yourself that the engine roar of 747s is just the soothing rumble of the ocean. Which, in my opinion, still beats all hell out of the plaintive insectile squall of a team of tricked-out Honda TRX450Rs as they tear through your back yard.


“Dear Morning Edition….”

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 9:54 am

Dear Morning Edition,

I found myself frustrated by your article this morning about a South Dakota company producing genetically-engineered cattle that may be immune to Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE, also known as Mad Cow Disease. (That’s another minor quibble of mine: in the story, reporter Nell Boyce referred to the disease as, “Mad Cow disease, also known as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy, or BSE.” Shouldn’t the established, scientific name of the disease come first, and the common name be included as the “also known as”? But I digress.)

The article provided a quick but informative look at the research being done to genetically strip cows of the brain proteins susceptible to the BSE agent. What you failed to mention—and I feel this is a critical omission—is the method by which cows are typically exposed to the disease in the first place.

Commercial beef and dairy cattle are regularly fed a mixture that includes the remains of other cattle, and it is that material, specifically the nervous tissue, that can contain the prions that cause BSE. If you eliminate rendered animals from their feed, the likelihood of exposure to BSE drops effectively to zero.

Without this key information, the listener may mistakenly conclude that BSE is a ubiquitous factor in the environment of cattle, and that complex and drastic action is required to mitigate the danger. In fact, the solution is quite simple and relatively painless to implement.

Even being the hopeless technophile that I am, I sometimes feel that we strive for overly complex technical solutions to simple problems. The beef industry doesn’t need to irradiate its product to make sure the fecal matter present is free of harmful bacteria; it needs to slow down its production lines so that the mistakes that result in high levels of manure in our hamburgers don’t occur. Likewise, we don’t need to alter the genetic makeup of cattle to resist exposure to BSE; we just need to eliminate the only serious vector of that exposure, namely animal byproducts in their food.

The more widely this sort of information is disseminated, the better informed the public will be. Perhaps then, consumers can bring sufficient pressure to bear against the industry to enact the measures needed to insure the safety of our food supply.


Dear JoAnn Fabrics….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:53 pm

Jo-Ann Store Guest Experience Department
Jo-Ann Fabrics

To Whom It May Concern,

I am not known to frequent fabric stores as a rule; my contact with them over the years has been, at best, sporadic and tertiary. So perhaps my recent experiences are not as unique and noteworthy as I take them to be. However, short of some “Freaky Friday“-type transferral into the body of a Jo-Ann regular, my own perceptions are all I have to go on. So I think I’ll take the plunge and let you know about them.

I have tried three times in the span about about two months to purchase some Velcro at two different Jo-Ann stores, in widely different locales; twice in Olympia, Washington and once at the Tukwila, Washington store. The procurement of bulk Velcro would, at first blush, seem a relatively simple endeavor: 1) locate Velcro; 2) cut Velcro to desired length, and 3) purchase Velcro.

And so it would have been, if not for the Cutting Counter. Alas, it was at The Cutting Counter that my dreams of Velcro acquisition died a slow and unfulfilled death.

Allow me to paint a word picture, to describe the scene I witnessed three separate times at two geographically disparate locations: a massive counter, gleaming like an iceberg in the blinding fluorescent light. Before it, five to ten customers shuffling in place, their furtive movements not unlike waves lapping the Formica shore. Stacks, bales, sheaves of fabric of every conceivable color and pattern rise in precarious towers on the countertop. Behind its white expanse lies a single, exhausted middle-aged woman, who toils with shears and scanning gun, gamely but futilely striving to make headway against the ceaseless tide of humanity.

One. Employee. The single most crucial nexus of customer activity in the entire place, staffed by a single, overburdened worker. There were four times as many people staffing the cash registers—with only two or three customers in line—than were working to break up the logjam at the Cutting Counter. I gave up after twenty minutes the first time, fifteen the next, and by the third I had only to glance in the direction of the Cutting Counter, with its lone matron embroiled in her Sisyphean pursuit, to drop my purchase and head for the door.

I started this missive by admitting that I am not a frequent patron of fabric stores, and I did so for a reason. It may very well be that those more deeply enmeshed in the sewing-and-crafts lifestyle may be attuned to a calmer pace of life than I. In this modern instant-gratification-addicted society of ours, perhaps some of our more enlightened citizens choose to while away a few—say, twenty or thirty—precious moments in quiet reflection in the line at the Cutting Counter. As you travel Life’s aisles, make sure you take time to stop and smell the remaindered paisley ultrasuede for $2.95 a yard, etc. If so, I salute them, for they walk a calmer and more contemplative path than that of which I am currently capable.

As for me, I’m going to order my Velcro online. Even if it ships UPS Ground from Rhode Island, it’ll probably be faster than waiting in line at the Cutting Counter. Who knows, maybe I’ll even order it from you, though I won’t take any pains to do so; it wouldn’t seem right to reward you for short-staffing your retail stores.



Well, I’ll Be Jiggered!

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 1:25 pm

Guess what I just got back from someone at Radio Shack! I almost tossed the note because of the name of the sender, “Anna Lopez”. No insult intended to Ms/Mrs. Lopez, but that’s exactly the kind of name you expect to find on an email containing offers of low-cost Cialis.

Here’s what she had to say:


Hello Mr. Lenzer:

Thank you for taking the time to email us and express your concerns.
Please accept our apologies that the employees of the Burien RadioShack
store did not fully understand the type of product you were searching
for as well as for any lack of assistance you received. Your email was
forwarded to the attention of Dave Swanson, the District Manager
directly responsible for this store so that he can be aware of your
experience. If you would like to discuss this matter further with the
District Manager, you can contact Mr. Swanson at the district office at
(425)820-7744 or you may email him at Dave.Swanson

Anna Lopez
RadioShack Customer Care


Frankly, their response delighted me. Nice to know that someone on the upstream end of this corporate giant actually reads these things. You go, Anna! I’m still never setting foot in the Burien Radio Shack again, but your prompt and helpful reply has earned my respect.

Here’s my reply:



Thanks so much for your email. I am, to be frank, delighted by your reply, first and foremost because you chose to reply at all to what must have seemed like a pretty snarky letter. While everything I relayed in my email is accurate, writing it was more an act of cathartic creative prose than anything, and the fact that a representative of Radio Shack Corporation would take the time to respond to it was more than I expected. Thank you.

As for taking this matter any further on my end, if anyone from Radio Shack would like to discuss my experience in greater detail, they should feel free to contact me. However, unless someone in your corporation feels this would be to their benefit, it is hardly necessary and I am not expecting it. As I said in my original message, this experience has not soured me on Radio Shack as an overall retail establishment. Everyone has branches of their local business franchises that they find more or less to their liking, and I can’t see why your company would be any exception to that rule.

Again, thanks for your response to my email. I really do appreciate you taking the time to do so.


Andrew Lenzer


Dear Radio Shack….

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 8:30 pm

This is from an email I sent out today.

Hey Folks,

I thought I would relay my experiences at two Radio Shack stores in my area on Sunday, December 11. I think they are illustrative of both the strengths and weaknesses of Radio Shack’s current policies and (perceived) corporate strategy.

I was in need of what I knew as a “pin puller”, a tool used to retrieve conductive pins from the Molex connectors used in much of modern electrical/electronic devices and systems. I had mis-wired a component of my hot tub’s filtration system and needed to reconfigure the connector. No amount of jigging with a tiny screwdriver would wrest the pins from their housing. So off to Radio Shack I went.

I first visited the Radio Shack on 148th Street in Burien, Washington. The store was fairly busy, as you can imagine for this time of year. There were perhaps five to ten shoppers crammed into the arterioscelrotic aisles, making their holiday purchases. There were also four salespeople in attendance, which I must say is an admirable employee-to-customer ratio. Kudos to you.

A young woman approached me and asked me if I needed any help. “Yes, thanks,” I said, “I’m looking for a, well, I’m not sure what you call it, but I’ve always known it as a ‘pin puller’. It’s a tool for removing pins from electrical connectors.”

The look on her face said it all. Hmm, that look said, that doesn’t sound like a battery, a cellular phone or a radio-controlled car. What the heck do I do now?

“I don’t think we have any of those,” she replied. Let me check the computer, okay?” She made for the counter.

“Okay, thank you,” I said. I began to wander the aisles.

As I did I noticed what has become a recurring and increasingly pervasive theme at Radio Shack; the ever-dwindling quantity of actual electronic components, versus finished products. Time was that Radio Shack was the place you went for all your hard-core electronics-nerd needs; a slightly dusty hole-in-the-wall joint, staffed by pocket-protectored engineering majors and AV-club wonks. If you didn’t know what you needed, they could probably figure it out for you.

The Radio Shack of today is quite different, and I really can’t fault you for it. I imagine the decision was reached somewhere in your corporosphere that, if your company was to maintain growth, you would have to spiff up both your image and your product line.

That would be about the time your line of in-house products was rebadged, migrating from the brand name “Realistic” over to to the edgier, more Transformer-like “Optimus”.

In addition, you started selling a bunch of stuff heretofore unknown to your display windows. The low-cost audio mixers and LED readouts were replaced by cordless phones and Casio-clone electronic keyboards. A veritable fleet of RC cars moved in, knocking the resistors and EPROMs from their shelves. Finally, cellular phones and satellite TV forced the final dregs of your original stock into a holding action, cowering on a lone shelf, betwixt the multimeters and the wire strippers.

Like I said, I don’t blame you for changing on me, though I wish it hadn’t come to this. Fortunately for myself, I live within the boundaries of a large, technologically-oriented community; the Puget Sound region. There are a half-dozen companies that have picked up your forsaken ball and run with it.

Unfortunately, none of them are open on Sunday.

Eventually the girl helping me came back and told me that they don’t carry a “pin puller”. I knew Radio Shack had to carry the thing, but I had been unable to find it on any of the aisles.

A second employee overheard her and said, “What’s he looking for?”

“I think it’s called a pin puller,” I replied. “You use it to extract pins from electrical connectors. I’m pretty sure you sell them.”

The young man came around the counter and approached me, his short black hair gelled into a billion glistening spikes. “Nah, we don’t sell those”, he said dismissively. “If we did they’d be over there.” He gestured to the tool aisle, home of the wire strippers and multimeters and the last of the (softly whimpering) electronic components.

I wanted to say “Well, which is it; you don’t sell them, or they’re over there?” But I didn’t. I’d pretty much had my fill of this particular Radio Shack, staffed as it was seemingly exclusively by uninspired and/or surly teenagers. They’d probably be just the people to help me if I wanted a new cell phone, but since I actually needed them to step outside the boundaries of their immediate worldview and apply themselves to answering a question that wasn’t intuitively obvious to them, all hope was lost. I might as well have asked the carpet. I headed home.

Of course, Radio Shack does indeed sell such a device; Product SKU#274-233. It’s known in your product literature as a “pin extractor“, not a pin puller. That neither your staff nor your software was capable of looking for a synonym of “pull” I take as an ominous sign.

Fortunately, after consulting your Web site (why I did not do this in the first place is beyond me. I suppose I was thinking that the store would either stock the product and sell it to me, or it wouldn’t, and it wouldn’t. I hadn’t really planned for a situation in which the item I sought would be withheld from me, despite being both an item you sell and in stock at that particular store), I was able to call another local Radio Shack store (23227 Pacific Highway South in Kent) and confirm that a) the pin extractor was in stock, and b) they were willing to actually find the thing for me so I could buy it.

The folks at the Kent store were top-notch, both much older on average than those at the Burien store and much more knowledgeable and service-oriented. Whether these two facts are related to each other is not my place to say.

Perhaps this odd employee dichotomy is also part of your corporate strategy. I can imagine a plane of reality in which it is to Radio Shack’s advantage to staff their stores according to local customer demographics, perhaps corralling the text-messaging teenage hardbodies in the store that serves a younger, less nuts-and-bolts clientele, and reserving the more modest, out-of-the-way stores for those salespeople who know their capacitors from their elbows. If so, I salute your efforts, but you might dedicate some thought to figuring out a way to clue your customers in. Radio Shack versus Radio Shack Lite, perhaps? A color-coding scheme? Forehead tattoos?

All of this is not to say that I now loathe Radio Shack or would never shop there again. I don’t quite know what to make of my experience. I certainly know I’ll never enter the Burien store again, and perhaps this is best for all involved. It may be, as I hypothesized above, that the Burien store is simply—and intentionally—not designed for customers like myself. If this is the case, then all is proceeding exactly as planned. There is demographically-driven retail stratification under the heavens, and the situation is excellent.

If, on the other hand, it is not Radio Shack Corporation’s intention to drive certain types of customers away from specific stores and towards others—or towards your competitors—then you might want to give your general retail-space staffing methodology a little going-over.


Andrew Lenzer

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