The Bank of America story is making me a conspiracy theorist

There is more to this story that makes me a conspiracy theorist. I think Bank of America may indeed be up to no good. I also think this latest wrinkle that Diana happened to notice was a recent innovation of the bank designed to suck more money from us. Unfortunately, I have to wait until later this afternoon to write about it.

Dear Bank of America: Why do you do this? — Updated

Some of you with a financial or accounting bent might be able to answer this question I pose to Bank of America. I sent this letter email today. When the bank responds, I will post it here. There is no tragedy here in our case, but I believe the bank is finding a tricky way to profit more from our account than if it just figured out a way to prevent the problem in the first place. Feel free to weigh in if you think you know why the bank would choose to act this way.

Dear Bank of America,

How are things in North Carolina? I hope things are back to normal for you after Irene stopped by. I know she left a mess, and I understand if you take a while to respond to this petty, though sincere, question.

I am curious why you did something on my account. In the end it works out better for us, but if $21 was enough to bust our budget it would have been a real problem for us, one that seems to me to be unnecessary, you being a big company and all that attracts a loan from a guy who had $5 billion available to lend you.

We have a credit card with you that had a balance of $967.38 in July. We have automatic electronic payments going your way, so we are never late. Or so we thought. On our July statement we saw you charged us a $21 late fee and were planning to take $42 from us in August.

I called to ask how we could be late when we had set up automatic withdrawals to prevent such an event. An extremely nice customer service agent explained that because the due date fell on a Saturday, the money would not show up in our account with you until Monday, two days later. The bank’s system would see that as late. But, we would ultimately not be penalized for this, because the bank would then credit our account the next month and we would not see our interest rate increase on a bank mistake.

True enough. That’s exactly what happened. We were credited the $21. In fact it was credited to the principle, so our balance now is much lower than it would have been. That’s all fine.

I have a question, though. Why would a bank, which has been around longer than I have, which is one of the marquis names in banking, which is big enough to own a football stadium, need to do this?

If a bank is as sophisticated as yours to recognize after the fact that we had not, in fact, been late with our payment, is it not sophisticated enough to recognize that the payment due date is going to fall on a Saturday and that perhaps there should either be a payment pulled on Friday or at least strike the late fee before it happens?

Excuse me for being cynical, but I don’t believe you don’t have programmers smart enough to create a program to do just that. As I said, I’m glad our balance is lower, but you took twice as much from our account as we had budgeted, which for some people could have caused a real struggle. We’re not far from there, I might point out.

My hunch is you have found a way to make money from the mistake. You get to hang on to our $21 for a while and invest it somewhere else until you credit our account. This says to me that you love it when due dates fall on Saturdays or Sundays, because it gives you a chance to play around with some money we were not expecting you would have.

Bear in mind, I recognize that we borrowed money from you. That’s why we have a balance in the first place. The interest rate on this debt is not terrible and I generally have no other complaints.

This, though, seems silly. So silly, in fact, that I have a hard time believing that you are not profiting from it somehow, enough that you’re willing to pay the $21 to our principle, which means we will be paying less interest to you now and in the long run.

Thank you in advance for your response.

Bank of America responded:

Dear Steven Gardner,

Thank you for your inquiry dated 08/30/2011 regarding weekend payments. We are happy to assist you with your Premium Visa.

Please allow us to inform you that all payments take 1 to 3 business days to fully process. Since, our systems only process and verify payments on business days, all payment processed on the weekend must be completed the following business days. We understand that this may seem like an unnecessary process; however, all bank transactions are only processed during business days.

Thank you for taking the time to submit your comments and suggestions concerning our payment process. As a valued customer, your comments help us provide the best banking experience possible. We appreciate your patience as we continue to develop and enhance the ease, convenience and functionality of our products and services. If we can be of any further assistance, please contact us again.

We appreciate the opportunity to assist you online. Should you have any further inquiries, please e-mail us again. Thank you for choosing Bank of America. We value your business and look forward to serving your banking needs. We hope you have a nice day.

Regards,
Luis Rivas, Bank of America

And so I responded:

Luis,

I understand these things take one to three days to process and have to be on business days. I have no problem with that. My problem is with the fact that you have a system set up that recognizes when you have charged a late fee that you should not have, but you do not have a system that would avoid that mistake in the first place. In the long run we don’t lose anything, but in the short run we were out $21 we were not planning on.

Steven

At this point I am guessing the next response will be similar to the first one.

ELEW rocks the Groban concert

A challenge to any storyteller/performer/artist is to find a way to be unique without being a freak. Those who excel at it are considered geniuses. Those who don’t are left to wonder why they didn’t connect.

On Saturday I experienced genius, in fact one more than I paid for.

For Diana’s birthday I bought her tickets to the Josh Groban concert in Seattle, which was this past Saturday (Aug. 27). I like him just fine, but don’t follow him. She likes him, too, and followed him some. Honestly, if Rufus Wainwright would have been scheduled to come I would have bought those tickets instead, but this was the best available at the time.

There is much to bemoan about the music industry. Artists used to make a lot of money selling albums and then would go on tour to generate record sales. Now it’s reversed. Recordings don’t generate a ton of money, but concerts do. The downside is that artists don’t do the eight-day shows they used to in one city and the ticket prices are obscene. They can make a bunch coming to town for one night and they end up having to travel less while still making a killing.

I haven’t read any data to support this, but I would guess that because the ticket prices are so much higher now that artists feel some obligation to improve the concerts they provide. In the 1970s a guy like Josh Groban might have traveled with a couple of other musicians, in part because he can drum and play the piano himself. Instead he’s got a few strings, some horns, two percussionists and two guitar players. He had a secret stage set up in the center of the arena that caught me by surprise. The giant wall depicting some sort of ruin had to be spendy and the light show was amazing. And props to him. He acknowledged that we paid up the “wazoo” (I think he said “wazoo”) for tickets so he was going to sing his ass off. (That part I know he said.)

That his show was top notch didn’t surprise me, though I am always amazed at just how good musicians are, and I include the strings and horns and drummers and guitarists in that compliment. His sound engineer even got up and played. Groban has been blessed with an amazing voice that he worked hard to refine. His show really is impressive. In particular he was singing a song about how someone he’s in a relationship with is “a machine,” and the arena lights would focus on the lights above the stage as they would rotate as though part of some huge industry. That was eerie, and really effective.

The real surprise of the night was the warm-up act, a lone man with a piano. Using a technique he calls “RockJazz,” ELEW played the heck out of cover tunes like “Smells Like Teen Spirt,” “Clocks” and “Sweet Home Alabama.” His style was so inventive I got to wondering about some of the back story behind his gift, about how he arrived at the style he chose. There is a story he is telling as he plays. Lo and behold, the guy was on “America’s Got Talent” and you get to hear some of inspired him to play like he does.

Watch the video to get a glimpse of what I’m talking about. Groban’s North American tour ends Tuesday, I believe, but ELEW will surely be around again somehow.

As an aside, ELEW apparently dropped out of the TV competition America’s Got Talent. Groban saw him on YouTube and asked him to join him. These days this is how legends are found.

First eBook on its Way

In 1994 I finished a novel. Five years later I got it published, after turning it from third-person to first person and on the advice of the publisher making it a more fast-paced book. In the end I didn’t love the finished product. People who read it gave it mostly good reviews on Amazon. It sold a handful of copies. I did not make much from it. The publisher sold its entire stable of books to another publisher, who didn’t want to carry mine. Since eBooks have become easy to publish I’ve toyed with the idea of reproducing it on that format.

The other day I found a copy of the first draft, read the first few pages and realized that’s the version I want to publish. I’m getting it scanned, after which I’ll give it a good editing, probably another one and then release it out there for those of you with Kindles, Nooks or other eBook readers.

The book, titled “Going Too Far,” (It’s not erotica.) is a pretty good reflection of where I was at that point in my life. I was 32 when I finished the first draft, trying to figure out how to make a relationship work and also what I was supposed to do with my life as a career. The characters reflect people I’ve known and I suppose I’m in there, too, but no one is an exact match. Only one character, in fact, comes close to reflecting an actual person. The main character doesn’t, but he does have some of the same wishes I had at that point in my life.

This will be my first venture with eBook publishing, so I can’t say for sure when the book will be out, but it will be a matter of weeks, not months. And not that many weeks at that.

I will keep you posted.

On Facebook I won’t have you to kick around anymore

It is a sad day here at the Field of Steve and The Narrative Arts home, because Facebook has announced changes that will soon make it nearly impossible for me to have the fun I have had with photos.

The social network would have seen millions upon millions of hits on the “don’t like” button if the site offered one, all because of some privacy issues. Just a couple of weeks ago I found out nearly everyone of my friends’ cell phone numbers were freely available to me. (If you got a call from someone trying to sell books and tapes about fertilizer, it wasn’t me, I promise.)

Now the company has announced improvements to its privacy settings, among them being one that says I can’t randomly tag my friends in photos, like the one you see above. I had a blast assigning names to photos that may or may not have resembled the people I tagged. My friend Laree was once a lamp.

Apparently some people didn’t think it was funny, because they removed their names. Poor sports, I say. Instead of getting offended, get even. One guy had me riding a bagel.

Now it seems the names will soon be on hold before the world sees them. It makes me sad that one of my favorite ways to abuse people may soon be gone. I’ll have to go back to filing frivolous lawsuits.

Dodger bidder begins effort to acquire team

When The Narrative Arts reaches a point in which it’s close to being worth about $2 billion, I will personally begin the effort to acquire the Los Angeles Dodgers. I thought it fair that my earlier listeners/readers/gawkers should know this. I’m all about full disclosure.

The asking price will not be near that $2 billion figure, but I am guessing the asking price will be high enough that I need enough of a cushion to account for my vanity. That is, after all, the whole point of owning the Dodgers, to respond to my vanity and to guarantee me great seats at each game and access to the clubhouse, where I can pat bare behinds or rant like a spoiled Major League Baseball team owner.

To be clear, this is not a business decision. All of my business decisions will be designed to ensure that I can afford the Dodgers. According to Malcolm Gladwell, that’s the way it should be.

Fans should know what’s in store for them when I take over the team from the McCourts or some other interim owner.

My team and I go over plans for Dodgerville, a theme park that used to be part of the parking lot.

First, don’t expect changes to Dodger Stadium, except for the major ones. I won’t change the stadium itself all that much, because it is one of the few symmetrical stadiums left, those having become passe in favor of artificially odd ballpark configurations. The baby blue will continue to be the predominant stadium color, the hot dogs will still be grilled and I won’t put seats on top of the pavilion roofs.

There will be major changes to the parking lot, as in most of the lot will be sold off. There will be a West Coast Baseball Hall of Fame on part of the land sold off, a Dodger Museum and some restaurants where people can gawk from outside at celebrities dining inside. Proceeds, some of them anyway, will go to descendants of the former residents of Chavez Ravine, and I’m not talking about Steve Garvey, Sax, Yeagar or Howe.

In return we’ll get more shuttles and maybe even trains running to the stadium, so your cars can be vandalized at home or at some mall parking lot rather than in our expanse of pavement. People who insist on driving will pay big time, the money from which will be set aside specifically for squandering on free agents.

I’ll get a television contract that broadcasts the games everywhere, including on the Jumbotron during Lakers, Clippers and Kings games, because I suspect when I own the team watching a game on the big screen at a basketball or hockey game will be a consolation prize for not being able to make it out to the ballpark.

In fact, I think at least one night a year we should host an outdoor Lakers’ game.

Finally, we’ll have fireworks after every night game, because man I love those things.

Unfortunately I can’t promise that when I get my $2 billion that I’ll be the team buyer. First I have to run this idea by the wife.

TheNarrativeArts.com is Alive!

I estimated it would take until the end of August to make the changes I wanted to make before continuing with the podcasts. I was right on! I’m ahead of schedule, not over budget but under revenue. That Demand Media thing was a hit to the pocketbook, but not fatal.

In fact, financial viability was one of the reasons I wanted the break. I love doing the podcasts and I have book projects on my schedule, but if possible I would like it to be more than a hobby. So I put ads on every page of the website.

With the first few podcasts I had developed a few hits, but if I had done any that were hugely successful, I would have been completely at the mercy of donations to see any money from it.

At any rate, the site (TheNarrativeArts.com) is now live. The first podcast comes out on Sept. 2. It is nice to be at this point and to be well prepared for the relaunch as well. I should have at least two podcasts ready to go by that date and another in the works.

My first new book will be published in 2012. Another author, one very close to me, should be making her book available before the new year. I’ll explain that when we get closer to launch date. I think it’s pretty cool what she’s doing.

I wrote a novel in 1999. I can’t say I’m in love with it. There is a pretty long backstory to how that book was published and why I wasn’t ultimately thrilled with the end result. But the people who read it liked it. I believe I’ll be making a Kindle version available on that.

These are interesting times we live in, but I find myself optimistic. Perhaps that is because I am enjoying so much participating in an art that thrives in good times or bad. I don’t mean it always thrives financially, but when times are tough or when they’re sailing people appreciate storytelling to serve whatever purpose it does. Whether it’s a conversation around a campfire or a major movie, we dig our stories.

Sneak Preview

Go to www.thenarrativearts.com to see a preview of the new website. I’m still working on some glitches. I’m getting the feed from the podcast page, but when you click on the links you don’t get the actual episodes. Yeah, that can’t continue.

This site will continue to carry the Field of Steve name but will be hosted elsewhere. It will look different but the content will be the same. I’m looking to have the site live for real by Sept. 1, but that just means I’ve set a deadline for myself. You can keep checking back to see whatever changes have been made.

The first new podcast will be Friday, Sept. 2.

Demand Media Studios renders its ‘justice’ and boots me from the program

“In fairness, this is an incredibly complex topic and maybe it cannot be adequately covered within the confines of DMS editorial guidelines.” — Demand Media Studios editor

Demand Media Studios offers writers a chance to write short pieces of between 400-500 words and get paid $15 a pop. Of the content farms out there it was probably the best paying gig, based on what limited research I have done. I wrote 47 pieces for the site, most of them appearing on eHow, before I had a single article rejected. Then I had three rejected in a row.

Within a couple of weeks I and a boatload of other writers were placed in a writer evaluation program. It seemed the company was weeding out some of us. I checked the site’s bulletin boards and there were tales of some who survived it and some who did not.

The entire time my attitude was that Demand Studios gave me a chance to earn some money and write some quick pieces that a lot of times were fun. I picked articles about things that I generally thought it would be fun to know about if I didn’t know about them already. I learned why there are dots on peoples’ mailboxes, including mine.

During the probation each writer was able to pick three stories to write. If any were rejected, the company would execute zero tolerance and 86 the writer. My first and third pieces went through without any rewrites requested. The second one, a task of defining the difference between justice and infinite justice, was held for a pretty significant rewrite. My first version, I believe, addressed the issue. You want a very short answer? “Justice” is what man attempts to dish out or receive. “Infinite justice” can only be provided by God. (Now, wax on for 400-500 words.) What my first version did not do, however, was provide a compare and contrast in each section. Instead, I broke out “justice” into its own sections, then dealt with “inifinite justice.” The editor came back and said I should, more or less, try take the whole article and compare and contrast.

So, knowing my Demand Studios privileges were on the line, I went to my task. In the end it wasn’t enough for the editor. Here’s the response I received:

“I appreciate the time and effort that you put into creating and revising this article. I struggled with this article because I thought that it did present some useful information about the topic. Ultimately, though, it seemed to me that the article still does not adequately compare and contrast these two conceptions of justic. I get the sense that the article has too many bits and pieces taken from a variety of sources and that in some instances, the information has been oversimplified or presented out of context. For example, the definition of justice in Section 2 attributed to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is not quite what the dictionary says. The section appears to cite the first defintion provided which is: “the maintenance or administration of what is just especially by the impartial adjustment of conflicting claims or the assignment of merited rewards or punishments.” As I read what the dictionary says, what is written in Section 2 is an oversimplication. I am also not sure what is the source of many of the assertions made in this article. In the future, provide intext citations in parenthesis to guide the copy editor to where, precisely, that you found the information you are presenting. The CE can remove those in the editing process. In particular, I would like to be able to verify the assertion made in the introduction about the role that infinite justice plays in Christianity. Related to that, I urge you to be more precise in your attributions. For example, in what passage of the Bible does the phrase about blessed are the meak appear? Likewise, show where in the Quran that the quoted passage appears. Section 1 also makes references to infinite justice being infinite punishment being a source of some discussion in Christianity. What is the source of that?”

I also still do not get a good sense in this article of what infinite justice is. In fairness, this is an incredibly complex topic and maybe it cannot be adequately covered within the confines of DMS editorial guidelines. (Emphasis mine.) It is just that in this article I get a sense that there is a lack of a sharp enough focus. The article touches upon a number of facets of the complexity of the meaning of the concept of justice and I am not sure that infinite justic fairly compares with such things as economic justice.

Under normal circumstances I could appeal. But the company has already spiked my writing privileges. They won’t even let me post on the bulletin board anymore. I had heard there was some limited time in which they would still allow it, but they moved quickly to nix my presence.

Bear in mind that some of the comments the editor made above may be legitimate. But at least in a few instances I formatted the story the way I did in response to editing I received in the past. Where in other stories I put the attribution in the text, as I would in my news writing, I had more than one editor pull the attribution from my stories to just rely on the source list. I disagree that the definitions I provided from the dictionary don’t reflect what’s in there. I paraphrase, but it’s an accurate reflection.

If I still had writing privileges at Demand I would likely appeal the rejection. But I am out. On this story (and based on a grading system that had me qualified for the dumper pile anyway) I got booted. So I can’t appeal it and I get booted on a story that maybe “cannot be adequately covered within the confines of DMS editorial guidelines.”

It’s a bit of a sad day for me. It came at a bad time. The first payment on the new computer is going to be quite a chunk of money that I had hoped to raise by writing about mailboxes and the like. Instead I get ousted on a story that maybe “cannot be adequately covered within the confines of DMS editorial guidelines.”

Somehow that doesn’t seem just. Maybe in the infinite sense it is.

You can read my treatise on the difference between justice and infinite justice in what follows. Since I no longer work for Demand Studios, I don’t feel any guilt about posting it here.

One bulletin board member said writing for DS was like eating potato chips. There are more substantive meals to be had, but eating chips satisfies the hunger for a while. Pretty soon you’re no longer hungry and you miss out on the real nutrition. I’m going to see it that way, I suppose. Instead of writing more meaningful pieces I’ve been eating chips.

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I send a message to technical difficulties

Less than a week ago the motherboard crashed on the computer I was doing the podcasts. The files will likely all survive, but this week I can’t edit them. A new computer is on the way, one that will be an upgrade from what I was using. We had planned reruns anyway, it’s just that I would have like to have been able to record a new intro, one that correctly asserts that these podcasts will be Narrative Arts again. Oh well, enjoy the rerun, the work in progress. It’s another from The Wonder Years collection. You know, stories about me in my childhood.

I send a message to 1969

To hear the Dead in 30 Days song “80 Pills” go to archive.org.

You can listen to Chriss Onac’s album “Saines Pensées” at Jamendo.com