Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Commentary: Uber's Chief Product Officer---Convenient Idealism Perpetuated For The Innocent Masses

A couple of weeks ago on a Thursday, NPR's "Here & Now" radio news magazine aired an interview with Uber's new chief product officer, Jeff Holden.  While sounding like the perfectly nice upper-middle class person he is, he failed to display a true understanding of who and what he is representing, instead inaccurately presenting himself as a kind of technological angel sent down to untangle confused human transportation.  Like the protagonist in Marcel Ayme's (1902-1967) short story, "La Grace" (The State of Grace), who suddenly one morning awakens with a permanent halo, Jeff Holden initial presentation, while seemingly holy, espousing sweetness and light, is a poorly veiled self-serving defense of Uber's "corporate vision," actually stating that safety is their first concern. Ha Ha Ha!  A more seasoned listener like myself understands that, like any newly self- described evangelist, Holden is miming pernicious propaganda disguised as religion, hoping, like a more secular Billy Graham, that you too will swallow that metaphysical poison pill hook, line and sinker, suddenly becoming yet another misguided fish flopping helplessly upon the unyielding wooden pier.

With the well meaning interviewer unwittingly seconding as Holden's friendly "yes-man," Holden told the awaiting (and breathless) radio audience that Uber was saving the world.  Anyone interested in hearing all this yourself can go to "Here & Now's" website and search for their "business" interviews.  Searching Holden's resume on the web says it all, an already privileged man happy to be making big money, crowing his new companies virtues.  That none of Uber's executives will ever share their driver's experience toiling the streets goes without saying, the typical Uber driver little better, from my estimation, than modern indentured servants subject to their Master's whim and that new invisible weapon, the technological whip.

Anyone objecting to that less than savory cultural description should, I suggest, buy a new car and see for themselves.  What will you say when, after just a few days, you discover you have been permanently banned from Uber employment due to unsubstantiated allegations?   "I am innocent!" will be your response.  And what will Uber do?  Nothing, they will do nothing for you, knowing that you are completely expendable and utterly and instantly replaceable, also knowing fully that local municipal officials care as little about you as they do.  Plain and simply, you have been screwed!

Fellow cabbies are telling me that their Uber friends are working 18 hour days due to the low per-mile rates forced upon them.  Next week, after a few hours research, I plan on informing everyone about Uber's insurance situation, transforming rumor and misinformation into actual fact.  I think it is important that Uber's customer's fully understand what they are getting into.  Saturday I discovered that Seattle's venerable bastion of the "One-Percent," the Seattle Yacht Club, has an exclusive Uber contract to serve its members, " In six minutes your car will be here," they are told, all paid by the Seattle Yacht Club itself.  I guess that only makes sense as if any of this makes sense, the "super-wealthy" hobnobbing with the "super-wealthy." utilizing yet another sector of the modern servant-class. 

While not quite dalits, one could view Uber drivers as ever attentive mobile butlers and maids.  I blanch whenever I observe an Uber driver's ingratiating and servile smile.   It is not pretty, finding myself suddenly transported back to early-18th Century deep South Plantation America.  In Seattle the analogy is unfortunately perfect, the drivers all black, and all their passengers, white.  When anyone thinks about that 1930s Hollywood iconic film, "Gone With the Wind,"  does anyone ever remember the negro (African-American) servants?   No, instead it is suave Southern gentility kissing Scarlett O'Hara's lips!  And what is the color painting her lovely waiting lips?  Why, blood-red, of course!

Don't Take Your Passenger's Pre-printed Voucher!

One unfortunate part of taxi is dealing with idiocy, whether it originates from a drunk, a road-rager or your fellow cabbie.  Sunday I picked up a recent kidney transplant at University Hospital going back home to Issaquah, a good $60.00 fare.  The one and very major problem I encountered is that the cabbie driving YC 9 _ _ took the patient's UWMC Social Work Department return transportation voucher in anticipation of having the good fortune of taking him back. 

Two problems with this.  The first is that any experienced cabbie knows that nothing ever goes according to form, in this case the patient staying much longer at the hospital, meaning you can never assume you will ever see that passenger again; and second, you certainly don't take the return voucher because it isn't yours to have until the fare is completed.  Such a rookie and fundamental error should just never happen.  The afflicted patient, still recovering and slightly disoriented from his major surgery, was bewildered.  And of course made to wait longer than necessary. 

Since I didn't have the pre-printed voucher I had to fill out a blank charge-slip, writing in all the pertinent information.  Come Monday when paying my "turn"  I was given a mildly hard time for not having the pre-printed voucher.  How was that my fault?  Upon arrival at the hospital I called both dispatch and the supt's office, informing them of the situation.  I also left a message for the PSD GM.  That still didn't stop me from getting admonished for something completely out of my control.  Typical taxi is all I can say.  Will the Driver of 9 _ _ be held accountable for his actions?  I think I know the answer and you do too!  Does it ever end?  No!

More Police

Saturday morning and afternoon the area around University Hospital was dominated by the opening day of the "boating season" which is how I found out about Uber's exclusive with the SYC.  Getting a call to SYC, I found that SPD had closed the Montlake Bridge and surrounding area.  As far as I know, driving professionals can talk on their cell-phones when conducting business, which I was, trying to figure out how I would reach Linda, the passenger stranded at the yacht club on the other side of the bridge.  A cop saw me talking on the telephone and acted like I was plotting to "blow up the world!"  When I told him I though I was operating correctly within legal parameters, he did not respond favorably.  I plan on checking out the Washington State laws around this but whether I am right or wrong is it necessary to treat me like the nation's biggest criminal?  Where do they get this permission from to suddenly transform into legal monsters?  They can't be taught to act this way at the local police academies.  Why would prospective police officers be told to "over-react first" and "think later?"  I just don't believe it. 

April Fool or Fools?

On April 1st Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and members of the Seattle City Council met with US Secretary Tom Perez in Seattle's Columbia City neighborhood to celebrate Seattle's first step toward an eventual $15.00 minimum wage.  What I am trying to understand, or maybe I do, is why Murray wants to reduce local cabbie's wages DOWN to $15.00 an hour?  For years our hourly gross has been much higher but with his intervention into the council's Uber bill, we are now facing a huge reduction in business.  Is this what is meant by a new minimum wage?  I hope not!

Editorial Note

May 6th 2915:  A friend noted that my "Gone with the Wind" reference might be construed as racist because, I think, I used the term "negro" instead of the now popular or politically-correct term of African-American.  In deference to that sensitivity, I have added African-American to that particular sentence.  I used the word "negro" as to the historically correct context relating to the film.  What do I really think about the movie?  Not much in terms of overall quality, viewing it as a sentimental portrayal of bad and stupid behavior, a kind of Harlequin romance come to the big screen. 

A simple question?  Why are handsome men and beautiful women used as romantic leads?  Hey, you know the answer, I know you do!  Why don't people object to that, saying you should use "average-looking" men and woman instead.  Can you imagine "Gone with the Wind" becoming what it did if the actors had big noses and funny ears?  That is all about I can say about cultural concerns.  Be concerned about all injustice or just shut the hell up, instead of picking what is popular at the moment.  Or maybe everyone thinks it is okay that "good-looking" people get to be rich and famous etc, while those not similarly blessed dig ditches and eat canned pork & beans, drowning  their sorrows drinking beer and watching football.  Go team!

My friend just emailed again, saying it was the description of "servile" smiling that might be misinterpreted as racist.  What I told him in response is that it should be obvious who is racist in this context.  What is happening is that the black Uber drivers are reacting to pressure applied by Uber.  One or two complaints and they are gone.  It is that simple. Don't forget that they now owe $20,000 for those new cars.  Most of these guys are also taxi drivers and I never observe them acting like that when they are in a cab, the sad performance for Uber and Uber only.

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