By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

In the shadowy world of organized crime, a peculiar breed of criminals has emerged: South American Theft Groups. They are burglars often referred to as “crime tourists” because they enter the U.S. legally under the Visa Waiver Program that has been in place with Chile since 2014.  The Chilean waiver is the only one issued to a South American country. It allows Chileans to be in the U.S. for 90 days for either personal or business reasons.  The problem is that for some, their “business” is robbing Americans.  This problem has existed for around five years (with a short break due to Covid travel restrictions) and has recently emerged in the greater Phoenix area.  Since December there have been 111 burglaries netting more than $3 million…and counting!  They almost always hit during the early evening when people are out to dinner, thus earning them the nickname of “The Dinner Time Burglars”.  This group is a growing problem nationally – in the past month there has been a rash of burglaries in Philadelphia, New York, Miami, Edina, MN, Los Angeles, San Diego, Detroit, Ashville NC and Indianapolis, just to name a few.  Their method of operation is consistent:  they enter the backyard of a home either through open space or a golf course, they smash through a glass door or window (thus not breaking the seal on a home alarm sensor), they upend everything in the primary bedroom and bath, and take jewelry, cash, expensive handbags, and other small items.  The average time from beginning to end of their caper is 5-8 minutes.

            The 3 Phoenix Burglars

So… why have they been so successful in eluding capture?  First, there are a LOT of them.  Last week three police officers held a meeting for our homeowner’s group to discuss the overall problem and they said they are seeing an increase in the number of burglary cells because of the ease with which they can obtain visas or enter through the southern border. The detective said that the Chilean crime syndicate has established training camps where the burglars learn how to surveil properties, break through doors and windows, and evade security cameras.  The trainees who are the fastest are the ones sent to the U.S.  When they arrive here they generally rent a high-end car so as not to look out of place when they’re scouting high-end neighborhoods, and they rent homes through Airbnb or VRBO, so they aren’t observed in hotel lobbies or parking lots.  As unnerving as this all is, you would think just setting an alarm and operating security cameras would provide adequate protection.  You would be wrong. A woman across the road from me had jewelry and cash stolen.  She said that her Ring alarm/camera system was on, but it didn’t capture the burglars who entered her home.  And there’s a good reason for that.  The latest tool in their bag of tricks is a Wi-Fi and cellular frequency jammer, that disables security systems and cell phone transmissions.  Last weekend the technology expert, Kim Komando, was exposed to this group when they tried to rob several houses on her street in Phoenix.  Because she recently designed and built her house (and she is a technology expert) her home has a hard-wired security system.  Fortunately for her the burglars moved on from her house but she was able to capture the 22 SWAT team members who swarmed her back yard looking for evidence.  They found several jammers strewn around the area.  Neighbors reported losing their Wi-Fi/phone connectivity, but assumed it was a simple internet outage.  The truth was obviously far scarier.  In that incident the police were able to capture three of the burglars as they tried to escape. According to court records, all three suspects were of Chilean descent, overstayed their visas, and were carrying bogus ID cards from Spain, with fake names and birth dates. 

      A New Friend for Dash?

Over the past three weeks we have had two attempted burglaries in my community.  In the first one the owner came home from walking her dog and surprised the burglars.  The second incident last week involved them shattering a bedroom slider, but they were scared off when they realized the owners were home in another part of the house.  I don’t want to get into a discussion about continuing the visa program or our southern border.  But piggybacking on Bob’s post from last week, it may be time to throw out ALL of our politicians and find some who can find some solutions. For now, all I know is that in twenty-four years of living in this house I have rarely turned on the alarm system.  Now, it’s on all the time.  I have installed more security and have taken extra precautions for my personal security.  I’m thinking of getting Dash the Wonder Dog a friend.  One who bites.  I never thought I would live like this.

Are You Waiting for the Day When Politicians Vote Themselves Out of Office?

by Bob Sparrow

Is this the answer?

I have come to hate election years, where politicians turn into junior high adolescents telling us in a 30-second television commercial, how corrupt and incapable their opponents are, while bragging about the pork barrel appropriation that they got though last year.  I have found that I am not alone.  Approval ratings for our politicians are abysmal.  Congressional approval hasn’t been above 40% since 2005. For about half of the time since 2005, it has been below 20%. Yet, even with such low public opinion, congressional incumbents enjoy a reelection rate that rarely falls below 90%.  Put in simpler terms, we don’t like the job our politicians are doing, but we keep re-electing them. What is wrong with us?!

The divide in our country is visually on parade as I hear about the corrupt Republican politicians on CNN and the corrupt Democrat politicians on Fox.  I know I’m not alone in believing that our system, in its current state, is broken. California’s debt is about $32 Billion, our national debt is north of $34 Trillion, if we were to run our personal lives like our politicians run our states and country, we’d be sleeping in the streets.  But, our politicians are more interested in keeping their jobs and thus blaming all the failures of the country on those on the other side of the aisle.

Best government money can buy

We Americans like to believe that we lead the world in almost everything, but we are not even in the Top 10 of ‘Best Governments in the World’, and we seems to be moving in the wrong direction.   While our government may not rank high in the world standings, we can honestly brag that we have the best politicians that money can buy.  To wit, in 2020, 88% of House races and 71% of Senate races were won by the top spender.  The amount of money spent on Congressional campaigns almost quadrupled over the last 20 years, to $8.7 billion in 2020, and it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.

So, what’s the solution?  Many believe that it’s term limits.  Proponents say that term limits would bring in a wave of new ideas and passionate citizens ready to serve their country for a time and then return home. Civility would be the new norm as members of Congress begin to see themselves as fellow Americans and not threats to their own careers.  I have read a number of articles both for and against term limits, both have an arguement, so I asked ChatGPT to weigh in on the subject; here’s what it gave me:

“Term limits for elected officials have been a subject of ongoing debate in political circles around the world. Advocates argue that term limits bring fresh perspectives, prevent the entrenchment of power, and encourage a more dynamic political landscape. On the other hand, opponents contend that term limits can undermine experienced leadership, disrupt continuity, and limit the ability of effective leaders to stay in office.

Indeed, there are some definite advantages and disadvantages to term limits, so perhaps there is a middle ground way to:

  • Eliminate career politicians. For me, this can be likened to professional sports; I loved watching Michael Jordan play basketball, but there was a time, with age, that his skills diminished, at which point, HE decided that he could not compete at that level anymore.  Politicians rarely, if ever, see that their skills have diminished.
  • Make it a good paying job instead of a great paying job. It’s hard to find a politician who has not become a multi-millionaire in office.
  • Find ways to have representation of the American people rather than special interest groups with lots of money

You got yourself into this, I can’t get you out!!!

I do know that it is unlikely that today’s politicians would vote themselves out of their cushy jobs.   I wish I knew how these things could be accomplished without a real ‘peoples’ revolution’, so I would hope that there are people smarter than me that can figure this out.

I’ll give ChatGPT the final word on this as it is definitely smarter than me:

“As societies grapple with these trade-offs, it is essential to consider alternative measures, such as robust checks and balances, to ensure effective governance while respecting democratic principles.”   

I’m Bob Sparrow and I approve this message



By Suzanne Sparrow Watson

     The lovely blanket

On Christmas Day, as I arrived home from a wonderful celebration with family, I noticed a large box on my doorstep.  I had just been with everyone who might possibly send me a gift, so my first thought was that once again I had ordered something from Amazon and completely forgotten about it.  But no, the return address was Nordstrom Rack.  I opened the box to find the most squishy, soft blanket, in colors that exactly match my decor.  The only problem was there was no gift card.  I perused the label looking for a clue and literally tore the box apart looking for a gift insert.  Nope.  Nothing.  I decided to call Nordstrom Rack to see if they could help.  After all, Nordstrom is known for their outstanding customer service.  I called the customer service number for Nordstrom Rack and was immediately connected to someone in the far reaches of Southeast Asia.  I explained my situation, told him the order number on the label, and asked if he could provide me with the name of the sender.  “Oh, no, madam”, he says, “you would need to give me the name and email address of the person who sent the gift in order for us to provide that information.”  Okay, maybe we had a language problem here.  I explained again that if I had the name and the email address of the person who sent it, I wouldn’t be calling him.  Again, he said that if I couldn’t provide that information, he couldn’t provide me with the name of the sender.  Privacy issues, he stated.  I tried another tack – I asked if he could provide me with the zip code of the sender.  I thought at least that would narrow it down.  Well, apparently the zip code request is the equivalent to the nuclear bomb codes and is not in the manual.  He had to put me on hold to find a supervisor.  When he came back on the line, he once again told me that for privacy reasons, I would need to give him the name and email address of the sender.  I hung up … and gave up.  The blanket is still intact, I feel too guilty to use it without having thanked whoever sent it.

The whole experience got me thinking about the state of customer service, or more accurately, the lack of customer service.  Granted, there are still great examples of it out there.  I recently had two unfortunate experiences with tires, and the good people at Discount Tire could not have been more helpful or kind.  But generally, good customer service is an anomaly.  I’m not alone in thinking this.  I found a wonderful interview by Amas Tenumah, who wrote the book, Waiting for Service: An Insider’s Account of Why Customer Service is Broken and Tips to Avoid Bad Service.  His research shows that Americans are incredibly gracious when they start out with customer support: on a scale of 1 to 10, he says most people start with expectations at nine or nine and a half.  He describes how it goes downhill from there:

People start with a positive outlook about resolving a problem. But then they are met with an automated system — press one, press two — or a voice-recognition machine that asks the customer to state their name, account number, nature of the problem, etc.  But oftentimes, the voice-recognition machine isn’t so good at voice recognition, or they are directed to a chatbot on a website.  Once they’ve offered up all of their personal information (again) they might be connected to a human, and the human asks them to repeat the information. The goodwill at the beginning of the interaction that started at a nine, is now down to a four, and then, God forbid, the human says they need to transfer the call to another department.

Tenumah says there are a number of reasons why customer service may feel worse – a shortage in workers in some industries, the proliferation of tech as a part of the process, and a lack of incentive for companies without competition. As he accurately points out – have you ever tried to contact your internet provider about anything? His suggestion is that we need to change the social contract and not think of customer service reps as “low skill workers.”  As he points out, by the time an issue reaches a human being they are usually complicated requests. If the problem was an easy one, a bot or a machine could have handled it.

I’m not sure it’s “we” who need to change the social contract as much as it is corporate America.  I’m convinced this issue will not change in my lifetime, so I’ve learned to set my expectations low and reserve my DefCon 1 outbursts for truly egregious situations.  All I know at this point is that due to Nordstrom Rack and their customer service policies, someone out there thinks I’m an ungrateful oaf who doesn’t know how to send a note of thanks.



A 49er Faithful Forever

by Bob Sparrow

Super Bowl Champs

I am thrilled that the San Francisco Forty-Niners will be playing in the Super Bowl this Sunday.  My allegiance to this team has been unwavering, since . . . oh, since about somewhere in the early 50s.

I was probably about 10-11 years old when I attended my first 49er game, played in Kezar Stadium in beautiful, Golden Gate Park – that was when teams actually played in the city of their name; today, the ‘Niners play 45 miles south of San Francisco, in Santa Clara.  I remember that first game, they played the Chicago Bears, and lost.  But, my brother and I not only became life-long 49er fans, but were inspired to play the game that paid for our college education.

‘Million Dollar Backfield’

It was in 1954 that the 49ers had the best backfield in the NFL, it was dubbed ‘The Million Dollar Backfield’.  It was a ‘T-formation’ backfield, meaning there was a quarterback under center, and behind the quarterback, was a fullback and to both the fullback’s right and left were the halfbacks.  The players were, Y.A. Tittle at quarterback,  Joe Perry at fullback and Hugh McElhenny and John Henry Johnson at halfback.  There is a misconception that they got their ‘Million Dollar’ name from the fact that they had a million-dollar salary – combined!  The reality is, despite the name, not even when combined did the players’ salaries approach the million-dollar figure! In fact, at the time, many professional football players had to have a second job to supplement their income!  All four of these players have been inducted into pro football’s Hall of Fame, but despite this ‘Million Dollar Backfield’, the 49ers’ poor defense kept them from winning a championship.

Throughout the ‘60s the Niners hovered around the 50%-win mark.  A personal side note in this era was that my brother, Jack, a college quarterback, got a try out with the 49ers, but due to an injury to his neck in college, the Niners didn’t want to take a chance on a re-injury, so they let him go.

George Siefert & Bill Walsh

In the ‘70s the Niners upped their game and had some excellent win-loss records, but still no championships.  And then came Bill Walsh.  He was born in Los Angeles, but raised and schooled in northern California; he was the head coach at Stanford, before taking the 49er job in 1979.  He created the ‘West Coast Offense’ and won three Super Bowls with quarterbacks, Joe Montana and Steve Young and NFL greats, Jerry Rice, Ronnie Lott, Randy Moss and Deion Sanders, to name just a few of the 29 49ers in the Hall of Fame.

Siefert and his ‘worst’ quarterback #9

In 1989 Walsh was replaced by assistant coach, George Siefert, who was also a Walsh assistant at Standford.  Siefert coached the Niners for eight seasons, winning two Super Bowls.  Another personal side note, is that Siefert was my college coach at Westminster College in Salt Lake City.  At a Westminster reunion serveral years ago, Siefert spoke and mentioned that he coached Joe Montana and Steve Young, but, as a head coach, I was his first quarterback.  Although, I’m not sure I heard it correctly, he may have said that I was his ‘worst’ quarterback!  Both are probably correct.

So, here the 49ers are again, in the Super Bowl with one of the most overall talented teams in the league, led by ‘Mr. Irrelevant’, quarterback, Brock Purdy.  But they face the reining Super Bowl champs, the Kansas City Chiefs, with arguably the best quarterback in the league in Patrick Mahomes AND a fan base made up of all those ‘Swifties’.  It should be a good game!

Win or lose – a 49er Faithful Forever!