Monthly Archives: January 2009

Hello Mister President

Dear President Obama,

Congratulations on your election.

As you take the oath of office, ponder your words carefully. You will swear to protect… Americans? No. American Sovereignty? No. The American Way of life? No. Democracy? No. The Republic? No.

You will swear to uphold and defend the Constitution of the United States of America. The idea and ideal of America.

As you ride the wave of optimism and hope, remember that both your predecessor (“No Nation-building”) and his predecessor (“The most ethical administration in the history of this country”) rode in on similar waves of optimism. And both departed the White House under a cloud.

I would not presume to tell you how to preside, but it would be good to listen to the sage words of others:

Choose your enemies carefully, your enemies will choose you” (Yassir Arafat). America has been historically awful at choosing friends. In the past, we have supported such paragons of Virtue as Idi Amin, Ho Chi Minh, Manual Noriega and Saddam Hussein. More recently, most of the 911 Hijackers came, not from Iraq or Iran, but from our “Good Friend”, Saudi Arabia. Currently, China enjoys “most favored nation” status, though nobody has been able to furnish me with a single good reason why.

But enough from the father of Terrorism. Let’s see what previous occupants of your new office have to say for themselves: Perhaps we should follow Thomas Jefferson’s wise words: “Peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations; entangling alliances with none

There are about 190 countries in the world. American Military personnel are stationed in about 120 of them. They can’t all be necessary for national security. But keep the military strong: “Walk softly and carry a big stick” (Theodore Roosevelt)

Another Democratic President – John F. Kennedy – said “I do not believe in a superstate. I see no magic in tax dollars which are sent to Washington and then returned“. These words from show how much the party has changed in less than half a century. The Department of Education costs the taxpayer billions every year, and it educates nobody. It does, however, buy the “co-operation” of our schools – with grants taken out of our our own dollars.

And what about your hero, Abraham Lincoln? This one might make you chuckle: “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel” That sounds shockingly familiar…

I will end with what George Washington reputedly said to his successor, John Adams, on the latter’s election as President. “I am fairly out and you are fairly in! See which of us will be the happiest!

History beckons, Sir. I wish you well and hope you are up to it.

Goodbye Mister President

Dear President Bush,

When you first came to office eight years ago, you promised us “no nation building”, yet the legacy you leave behind is precisely that.

Seven years after that awful Tuesday, our campaign in Iraq has met with mixed results. Some say that it was a great success, others say that it was a great failure. What  most of us agree on, however, is that it was both prohibitively expensive and, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, largely unnecessary.

I do not blame you for getting us into Iraq – at least not entirely. Much of the blame falls on the Congress that handed you a blank check. And I blame we, the people, for being scared and angry enough to surrender liberty for safety. But that’s another story.

We should have seen the warning signs when we could not come up with a consistent reason for being there in the first place. First it was “Enforcing UN Resolutions“, then it was “Finding the WMDs“, then “Let’s Get Saddam“, then “Combating Terrorism” followed “Stabilizing a Democracy“, then, finally, “Finishing the job“. As if that was not enough, we did not have a fixed objective of leaving, either.

Yes, we should stay and finish the job; we made the mess, we should clean it up. The question is whether or not we should have started it in the first place.

Yes, we got Saddam, but he was never part of 911. Bin Laden, however, remains at large to thumb his nose at us.

I will not presume to judge you, history will do that. But you will have the souls of thousands of soldiers on your conscience. That is worse than any judgement that the world can bestow.

As you depart from the white House for the last time, I hope that  you will do so with a little more style than your predecessor, who, as we all remember, trashed the place, and removed the letter W from all of the computer keyboards (remember that?). Do not descend to his level.

I wish you well.

Machinespeak: A Guide for humans

Over the last hundred years, we have found ourselves dealing with more and more machines. In our daily lives many of us spend more time working with machines than dealing with people.

At the Bank
Twenty years ago your local bank branch had eight to ten tellers. Today they only have three – and they deal with far more customers. How do they do it?

About fifteen years ago they started installing Automated Teller Machines – ATMs for short. These ATMs (please don’t use an apostrophe or call them “ATM Machines”), along with the advent of the Internet, had the effect of allowing customers to do business without having to go into the bank. This allowed the bank to cut their tellers by at least half, while charging their customers for the “convenience” of using the machines.

On the Phone
Once upon a time, you would call up a corporate office and immediately get through to an operator, who would ask you one question and them put you through the person who could help. No more – most corporations have installed Automated attendants, ostensibly to provide better service, but pragmatically to allow them to raise their profits by firing most of their operators. It has gotten so bad that someone actually created a web site to tell you how to get through to a real human. Their chief purposes seem to be:

  1. Identifying revenue-earning customers and connecting them to the sales department.
  2. Identifying those with questions and complaints and giving them the run-around until they go away.
  3. Keeping the public away from live humans at all costs.

Here are the more common phrases that you will here.

  • …our options have changed. Someone got through to a real human last week, so we re-jigged the system to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.
  • That is not a valid entry. GOTCHA! See above.
  • Your call is important to us… …but not important enough for us to actually answer the phone.
  • Due to unexpectedly high call volumes… Call volumes are always “unexpectedly high”…
  • All of our representatives/associates/chimps are serving other customers/guests/gorillas… We don’t have enough representatives/associates/chimps….
  • For quality assurance/training purposes this call may be monitored/recorded. For legal reasons this call may be monitored/recorded
  • For priority Service, please e-mail your request: …and our trained chimpanzee will send a boilerplate reply that does not answer the question and will exhort you to call us by phone between 9 and 5 Bangalore Standard Time.
  • For Sales, press 1. For Support, press 2. 1= an army of immaculately-groomed and articulate sales professionals. 2=some overworked, underpaid guy in a sweatshop in Bangalore who speaks “werry good” English.

In the Store
Over the past couple of years, many of the stores in the area have installed self-scan checkouts. For the merchants, this is a great idea, as it allows them to stretch a single cashier across four or even eight stations. For the customer (I refuse to refer to myself as a “guest”) it makes it easier if you are only picking up a few items. I don’t know about you, but I find some of these contraptions quite aggravating. While they are simple enough to operate, they seem to have a mind of their own. They seem to operate under two assumptions:

  1. No matter how many times you have shopped there, you cannot figure out how to use them,
  2. You are trying to steal something.

They say the strangest things. Here are a few familiar phrases, along my attempts at interpretation:

  • Please put the last item on the scanner and wait. I think you’re trying to steal something.
  • Please place the item in the bagging area. I think you’re trying to steal something.
  • Check your basket for additional items. I think you’re trying to steal something.
  • Please wait for cashier assistance. The Cashier is on break. I think you’re trying to steal something.

Now you know.

Now Reading: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle