Exchange BP gift cards for Arco

BP gift cards used to work at Arco, but in some areas, a system upgrade now prompts users for a PIN when they try to use a BP gift card at an Arco gas station, and these cards do not come with PINs. Here’s how to exchange your BP gift cards for Arco gift cards.

  1. Call the number on the back of the BP gift card: 1-800-519-3560.
  2. Follow the menu prompts to get to an operator. Tell the operator you have BP gift cards which no longer work at your local Arco stations, and you would like to exchange them for Arco gift cards. They will ask for a name, phone number, email address, and mailing address. Then they’ll instruct you to do the following:
  3. Email sservices@alorica.com (no, that’s not a typo, it is “sservices”) with:
    • your name
    • a copy of the original receipt (when you purchased the BP gift card(s))
    • picture of the front of the gift card(s)
    • picture of the back of the gift card(s)

That’s it! According to customer service, you should receive a response/replacement within 7-10 business days.

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Shaun King: unwitting tool of white supremacy

Shaun King is a black lives matter activist. I follow him because it’s good to see what points others have, especially if I don’t agree with them. He claims to stand against all injustice, but a quick review of his social media posts reveals that he heavily favors painting whites as evil and blacks as innocent victims. He often leaves out relevant facts or neglects to correct previous misstatements if doing so makes the story less enraging.* He also paints incidents as racist when there’s no evidence of racist motivation.** As a result, his followers stay at a low simmer of rage and frequently comment in favor of starting a race war or getting weapons and protecting themselves [against the police].

How does his work benefit white supremacists? They can point to Shaun King’s poorly informed followers (mostly black) and generalize about the ignorance of black Americans. His followers are angry and comment on nearly every post in favor of starting a race war. This fuels the narrative that blacks are hostile, threatening, dangerous, and need to be shot before they can hurt others. Psychology research shows that feeling annoyed, feeling you’re the victim of injustice, makes you more likely to commit antisocial acts. This creates a vicious cycle of law enforcement treating blacks as a larger threat, blacks feeling this is unjustified, and subsequently behaving in antisocial ways that make cops see them as even more dangerous. Relatedly, feeling the world is targeting them makes them commit more criminal acts, also raising the rate of incarceration and contributing to violent crime stats which white supremacists can point at in support of the idea of segregation. they can say “it’s not about racism, it’s about safety.”

An activist truly concerned with improving the lot of black folks wouldn’t focus so heavily on police violence or interracial violence because it’s a relatively small portion of all violence visited upon the black community. Sure, it’s injustice, but isn’t all violence a form of injustice? Shaun King’s work may punish individuals for acts perceived as racist, like Permit Patty, but his activism does more harm than good if he’s helping perpetuate white supremacist stereotypes about black people being ignorant and violent with his deliberately inflammatory and one-sided reporting.

*examples where Shaun King presents stories without all of the facts, in a way that maximizes outrage:

  • He initially reported Antwon Rose‘s age as 13, never corrected this mistake
  • He never reported that Rose and another passenger were suspected shooters in an earlier incident, and that the car had ballistic damage that matched the shooter’s car.
  • Markeis McGlockton‘s girlfriend was parked in handicapped spot and was confronted about this — he presents it as a man threatening someone over “a parking spot,” making the man sound crazy.
  • He says McGlockton was “defending his girl and his kids” without mentioning that he escalated to physical violence first by shoving the man to the ground.
  •  He never mentioned Permit Patty‘s claims that she tried to talk to the girl and her mother to have them be quieter, but the mother cursed her out instead of cooperating, which led to the cops being called.

** examples where Shaun King claims racist motivation without evidence

  • Nia Wilson: “Investigators are still trying to determine what led to the attack. Rojas says they have no information it was racially motivated, but they are not discarding that as a possible motive.
  • Donesha Gowdy: He claims this would never have happened “to a white girl” — implying racism. In the comments, some claimed the cop was also black, further complicating matters.
  • Chicago bait trucks: He calls this “fundamentally racist” — which is not true unless it’s his contention that blacks are less able to avoid committing theft than people of other races.

Being frugal is for everyone

Everyone smart, that is. I read an article claiming that being frugal is for the rich, and I wanted to use it to point out a common fallacy: that because there may be larger societal-level factors at play, it doesn’t matter what the individual does. This simply isn’t true. Sure, making coffee at home instead of buying Starbucks daily won’t make you a billionaire, but it also can’t hurt your finances!

In general, there’s too much of this type of argument. “Look there! A Big Societal Reason that explains the unfortunate situation you find yourself in. See? Not your fault. All you have to do is continue to call it out.” In other words, we are taking from people perhaps the last thing they have: their agency. Even worse: we’re taking any sense of control they have over their own life outcomes. Is it ever useful to have individuals with little power focus on the larger scheme of things that may take generations to fix? Especially to focus on those factors as an excuse to ignore very simple choices that they can make for themselves every day?

I find that there’s no contradiction in saying that the U.S. health care system is one of the most inefficient in the world and also that personal expenses should be cut where possible. The latter won’t fix the former, but I think everyone can agree that a financial setback hurts less when there’s a savings/investment cushion to fall back on. And such a cushion can be built, at least in part, by frugality. Put another way, the fact that you’re saving money by going to clothing swaps rather than J.Crew in no way detracts from whatever work you do towards getting single payer health care enacted. You can do both. What’s harmful is saying “there are problems much larger than my shopping habits” and using that as an excuse to do nothing to reign in unnecessary spending.

The author brings up financial savvy and either growing up with wealth, or having high income as factors which are “glossed over and not given the weight they deserve.” While I agree that it would be useless to take advice on financial independence from a wealthy heiress like Paris Hilton (who has a situation that few could hope to replicate in their own lives) the popularity of bloggers like the Frugalwoods or Millenial Money Man comes from their situations having the feel of replicability. Financial independence blogs generally share that critical piece that not everyone was raised with: information. They take the form of “I did this, and so can you. Here’s how.”

What is the complaint really? That the masses are being deceived into thinking that being frugal like Warren Buffett will make them billionaires like Warren Buffett? That really it isn’t frugality that leads to financial independence, but starting with a high-paying job and parents who taught you about finances? That mitigate, on an the individual level, the harms from the less than stellar economic prospects we’ve inherited from previous generations absolves them of the bad decisions that put us here? I don’t think any of these are true, but even if they were, I wouldn’t take any of them as an excuse to throw aside the useful tool of frugality in favor of complaining about what a sad financial situation we were born into. We can acknowledge a bad system without ignoring the things we can do to make our own lives better.

Discontinued Amazon Dash buttons

Once upon a time, if you bought an Amazon dash button, you could get a $4.99 credit loaded to your account which could be used to purchase anything shipped from and sold by Amazon.com. Then, a few days before Christmas last year, that all ended.

Some folks had bought dozens, even hundreds of dash buttons and never got around to activating them to get the general $4.99 credit. Loophole closed, the credits now apply to only items you buy when pressing a dash button. What to do with all those?

Discontinued dash buttons

Until a few days ago, there was a list of all discontinued dash buttons. Now it appears to be a blank page, but maybe it’s being updated. Discontinued means that the dash button will no longer be associated with any products you can order. When setting up your dash button, you’ll know it’s discontinued if instead of products to choose from, you get the message “There are currently no products available. Please try again later.” If you never activated a dash button and it has been discontinued, you can contact Amazon support and request your $4.99 credit, saying that you were unable to get this credit upon first use of dash button because you are unable to associate the dash button with an item to purchase. Your credit will be granted as a courtesy credit which is good for anything shipped and sold by Amazon. This is even better than before because it isn’t added to your orders $4.99 at a time like dash button credits originally were. So you can use all of your credits on one order if you want!

Use the credits

For the buttons you have left over that still work for ordering products, you can get the credit and then use them on any item ordered via physical dash button. Meaning, if you have a Nerf dash button, you can add that credit to your account and then use it to buy Goldfish crackers if you want to. Here is a list of all items you can order via physical dash button, sorted by price. Ordering by dash button means you can also get around the add-on shipping minimum. So if you have 50 dash button credits you still need to use, you can get 50 boxes of chocolate chip cookie dough Lärabar (if you have the Lärabar dash button).

Good luck. Hope you didn’t procrastinate like me.

Am I a typical MoviePass user?

I know that the analysts are all down on MoviePass, saying it’ll die by the end of summer. I know the stock of its parent company HMNY has tanked and investors are having trouble finding enough shares to short. But I love MoviePass, and I wonder how many other users are like me.

Before MoviePass, I would see maybe 1 movie a year in theaters. A blockbuster like the latest Bond film. I never ever bought concessions because the ticket price was already over $10. I only watched big-budget films with action scenes that would make it “worth it” to watch in a theater.

Now, I see movies 3-4 times a week. I buy popcorn about half the time because the ticket was “free.” And I’ll watch anything, even indie films I’m not sure I’ll like.

AMC has “no intention” of sharing profits with MoviePass. If all large theater chains decide the same, the analysts will probably be right about MoviePass dying soon. But AMC would be making a mistake. Even if they give up 20% of ticket sales and concessions to MoviePass, they’re still making 80% on my activities. Let’s make a conservative estimate that I go to AMC theaters twice a week and buy a large popcorn every other time with MoviePass. Then over the course of a year, they’re making about $1600 (80% of $2000) from my activities. Versus my previous habits, where they’d be making about $15 a year (100% of $15). That’s more than 2 orders of magnitude.

If MoviePass goes bankrupt, it will have been a good run. But theater chains shouldn’t fantasize that customers like me will continue going to movies several times a week and buying the same amount of concessions without MoviePass. It won’t happen. I’ll go back to my old habits without MoviePass because movie ticket prices are a poor value proposition for me.

I can’t be all that rare. MoviePass only had about 20,000 subscribers before its price drop from $30/month to $9.95/month. Now it’s on track to get over 3 million by August. How many new users are like me? If there are enough of us, maybe we can make the case to AMC and other chains that they want to work with MoviePass before it’s too late!

“How can I help” is a stupid question

This post was inspired by the comic “You should have asked” which addresses division of labor in the household. The problem isn’t unwillingness to help: it’s not even noticing that things need to be done.

Now, saying “what can I do?” is is absolutely acceptable in the workplace when you’ve finished all your assignments. Or, it should be, because the person you pose that question to is your boss. And your boss gets paid more than you do to think about what you should be doing and when. Asking this of a spouse or significant other implies it’s their job to know all the household tasks and their priorities. Do they get paid more than you for housework? No. No one except the outside help gets paid for that. So it’s equally your responsibility to not only do the work, but to figure out what needs to be done, and when. Funny thing is, it seems that often, people who are blind to basic household details like “the compost needs to be taken out” are actually quite good about being proactive at work.

Anecdote time! I knew a guy who constantly checked his phone for alerts from work. He even did this when out at dinner with his girlfriend. His girlfriend asked him whether he would be constantly checking his phone for texts from her if he were out to dinner with his boss or CEO. He said “no.” She told him “Then don’t do that when you’re out with me.” His response? “Do you pay me?”

Maybe that’s the solution to this problem of “emotional labor” that often falls more on the woman’s shoulders. It seems that men are usually good about being proactive at work. Because they spend time thinking about what needs to be done. They spend time figuring out what is important to keep track of. They notice changes and they know what should be done in response to those changes. They should treat their home life as a job. No, not because their wives or girlfriends pay them, but because it is as much their responsibility as anyone else’s to clean the toilet or pack sunblock and swimsuits for a beach day.

Here’s an example: menu planning. It may seem that the spouse who says “I’m cool with whatever, I won’t complain about whatever you make, I’ll eat anything” is already great. However, think about the person who says that in a planning meeting at work. “I don’t care what I work on. I have no ideas. I’ll do whatever.” Is that acceptable? As I said, it should be more acceptable at work because there is someone at a higher pay grade whose job it is to think about tasks and delegation. But at home, that’s not the case. Most of those who shrug off this responsibility at home would say that you can’t go into a work meeting and give a response like that because it shows you don’t care about your job and you’re slacking. Or worse — that you are a weak team member who doesn’t even understand what your job entails.

The fundamental issue at play is that many men still do not consider their home life as being as critical or important as their work life. So they ignore it and dedicate very little time to thinking about what needs to be done to keep the home running smoothly. This may be fine, if the division of labor is agreed to and accepted by both parties. But if there’s tension or stress at home, a good starting point can be to think of domestic duties as a second job that’s just as important.

Tale of two rides

SF Muni

Yesterday I took the bus downtown. At first, there weren’t many other passengers. A teenaged white girl sat with her feet on the seat next to her, facing the back of the bus where I was sitting and had a phone conversation that I could hear every word of. A family of French tourists boarded. They also didn’t stop chatting.

Then a young black man got on with a grey pit bull: an muscular, overgrown puppy who he could barely control. This dog hadn’t been fixed, and was trying to mount the laps of other passengers or root around under their legs. To get the dog under control, the man yanked the leash and raised his hand suddenly, making a warning sound. The dog flinched and behaved for a few minutes. Then started trying to mount passengers again. The man whipped the dog with his leash to get control. This replayed throughout the ride. The man also started talking on his phone, recounting his adventures in shoplifting. He was annoyed that a sales clerk at a clothing store kept checking on him and asking him how things fit when all he wanted was to be left in peace so he could pop the security tags off the clothes. He also said “I got a watch and an iPhone 8 from the Apple store yesterday. It was so easy, like, someone just left them lying around. I’m about to go back to there.” Ironically, he also said he finally got called back to interview for a security guard job at Stonestown. While talking on the phone, he played tug-of-war with the dog and its leash. When the dog got overly enthusiastic and pulled to hard, the man would hit the dog on his nose. The French family looked on in horror. To exit the bus, I had to step over the dog and avoid its curious nose.

Total duration: ~1hr

Uber ride

N and I walked 1 block and waited a few minutes for our Uber Express pool. Inside, there was already another passenger, but he had considerately taken the front seat. He and the driver were debating the Trump tax cuts, and the driver was insisting he just heard that middle class married couples would be paying thousands more. The man in the front said “I doubt that, I’ll look it up.” He and I ended up reading the same Fox news article saying the New York Times had to print an embarrassing retraction on their tax cut analysis. We laughed about that. He told us he was on his lunch break that day when a homeless man shouted “Faggot!” at him. His response? “10 points for accuracy!” We also laughed about this. Our ride was done in no time. The driver declared “5 stars for you!” as we got out.

Total duration ~ 25 minutes

For 2 riders, the two rides cost about the same. The latter took half the time and is much less likely to force me to be in close proximity with the sort of person who considers shoplifting to be his god-given right (or at least something that makes him feel proud enough to brag about). Not to mention the animal abuse. I actually don’t mind the extra time or walking that public transit takes. What makes Uber worthwhile for me is the people I can exclude from my commute. If SF Muni wants to be competitive, they can rescind the all door boarding policy and make sure everyone pays. After all, Mr. Animal Abuser/iPhone Thief probably wouldn’t bother with the bus if he weren’t stealing service.