Of Common Sense and Half Truths

I often wonder what has happened to common sense.  I’d like to think my father emphasized common sense as a key foundational element in my upbringing.  Let’s go with that shall we?  I believe I have some because in a previous position, my good friend Dr. Starr used to say, “common sense isn’t.”  And then he followed that up by making me the VP of Common Sense.  I am far from perfect, as several of you can easily attest, but I think I’m pretty solidly filled with common sense.

As I take BART (aka the train) to and from work each day I’ve learned to both read and give visual clues about  needing to disembark.  People often signal their intentions.  Me, I tend to put my tablet away, put my reading glasses in my pocket and shift my murse (my nieces believe my messenger bad is really a murse, not a European carry-all) and glance toward the seatmate that will need to move.

Today, I went through my routine and the person next to me didn’t ask, they just immediately stood up.  I rarely like to stand up prior to the train stopping but I did a few seconds prior to that shake that pushes people uncomfortably together.  I moved into the aisle and she sat back down.  It was crowded, like a mosh pit at an oversold Foo Fighters show.  There was nowhere to go and the doors did not open.  2 seconds into this slight delay, a big guy pushed past me with a terse, “ ’scuse me!”  As I recovered from his shove, another woman pushed by, pushing me backward (like the mosh pit).  I politely said, “I want to get off too.”  And she cast a fearsome scowl my way.  I think whatever common sense there was lay bleeding at my feet.  30 crowded seconds later the doors opened.

Common sense has been heavy on my mind.  Yesterday as I waited for the train I stopped and wondered, “What are they thinking?”  Lines and queues are governed by common sense.  Much like stopping at a traffic light.  There is a 12 inch strip at the platform you need to stand behind while waiting for the train.  The spot the door opens is clearly marked.  But, there is no written rule of how far to stand behind that strip.  I tend to stand 6 to 12 inches behind the strip.  Keep in mind by the time the train comes there will be 20 or more people in line, curving toward the line for the next door.  Oh, and I go to the last door on the last train.

Sometimes people stay 2 or 3 feet back from other people. 12 inches is really the least you can stand back, respecting personal space and helping to make the line efficient.  Sometimes you see people much further apart as if the person in front of them is an Ebola carrier.  Yesterday, the person at the front the line was a solid 12 feet back from the stip.  And the person behind them another 5. This is a lot like the person at the stoplight who stays more than 2 car lengths behind the care in front of them.  5 or 6 feet is good at a stoplight.  35 is not.  If you need that much personal space, you should probably stay home.  It should be a law.

And then there is a new phenomenon I’ve noticed – people who believe that lines serve no purpose.  The hover around the line then push into it as it moves.  This applies to waiting for a train at commute hour, at the escalators and the turnstiles.  For the record, Chaos may be the state everything devolves to, but it is not helpful.  Common sense people:  pretend you have some.

I was debating things with my father the other night.  This was noteworthy because while it was heated and the volume went from 3 to 6, there was no yelling or name calling.  That never happens with us.  I first recall him yelling at me during the Clinton-Lewinski scandal as I had pimped her out.  I consider myself a semi-enlightened liberal, near the center and he is just to the right of Attila the Hun, parroting everything Rush, O’Reilly and Hannity tells him is true.    As you know, I believe as the good professor Jon Stewart has taught us, Fox News is Bullshit Mountain.  Of course most things those three pundits put forth (or more appropriately, spew) have their basis in fact, but they are rarely completely true.

My father and started debating social change in the US.  He pounded me for wanting to see the rate of change increase.  In his mind there is a natural speed of change and I think everything should change now.  No, I just believe that the rate is increasing and it should continue to increase.  He gets so lost in the hype that common sense gets lost.  This is sad, because I’ve always looked to him as fountain of common sense.

The rate of change in technology keeps increasing.  Why should our understanding of societal issues and civil rights not move as well?  Are we a static society content to keep things as they have been?  Using that logic, we might have prevented the auto industry from taking form to protect the buggy whip business.  We might just now be learning to build factories and decreasing our dependence on the manual loom.  As information grows and we our capacity for learning increases with each new baseline, the rate of change speeds up.  I’m not looking to change the world today.  But I am looking to support the good changes that are taking place and help move the needle forward, not back.

As the topic shifted to racism and police killing blacks unnecessarily in this country, he pulled out what I’m sure came from Bill O’Reilly, “More whites are killed by the police, than blacks.”  Of course I researched it.

Well hell, that’s true.  Or should I say half true; it is totally misleading.  Let’s look at the facts:

  • From 1980 to 2012 44% of people killed by police where white.
  • From 1999 -2011 2,151 whites were killed compared to 1,130 blacks.

Washington Times 4/21/2015

So yes, in gross numbers more whites were killed.  Lies, damn lies and statistics, right? But since the black population of the US is less than one fifth that of the white population, Blacks are almost 4 times more likely to be shot and killed  by police than whites.  Think about that.  That is not a nominal statistical fluctuation; that is a trend!  That, gentle reader,  is racism.   An indicator of the institutional racism that Fox News wants us to believe doesn’t exist.  I disagree.

Now, do I believe all police are racists?  Absolutely not.  Do I believe some are?  Without question.  The issue is how many and what do we do?  We’ve seen too many occasions where the police abuse or use unreasonable force with blacks.  Choking a man for selling cigarettes.  Shooting a man in the back for running from a broken tail light citation.  Everything in Fergusson!   Where are the examples of police abusing white people?  I don’t recall seeing those.  I’m sure it happens, but much more rarely than with minorities.  You may not believe there is a larger problem, but I believe there is.

Part of me is beginning to think that perhaps local law enforcement is beacon to the power hungry, to the racists in our society.  We even see horrid examples of racism in the liberal city of San Francisco.  So when my father asks if I think more than 5% of the police nationally are racists, I immediately answer yes. I hope I’m wrong, but I sincerely doubt it.

As a counterpoint, he immediately points to Baltimore and the riots and looting, while the police were told to stay back and let things happen.  We all saw it on TV, but did we see the same thing?  I saw an oppressed group reacting as the only way they felt they could.  I didn’t like it; I didn’t excuse it.  I understood it.  Common sense sometimes means seeing things from someone else’s point of view.  Seeing that racial oppression has not benefitted this country, is this really where we want to make our stand?  I believe most of us see there is problem in this country.  It is uncomfortable to acknowledge, let alone talk about.  We as society, as a loud single voice need to make sure the needle keeps moving, that change keeps taking place.

I say we have a problem in the country.  We are finally ready as a nation to see it for what it is and, as a country, are ready to acknowledge it.  We need to fix it and it will take a strong majority.  You may disagree, but my common sense says this is needed and is coming.  Why don’t you help be part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the problem? It’s only common sense.

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First World Problems – The Customer Is No Longer King

Sometimes I wonder what other people are thinking.  Or you can hear Jerry Seinfeld ranting “what were they thinking?”  I learned early one that most things have an element of customer service.  I work in IT and while there is a ton of technical details to consider, learn and execute, if you fail on the customer service aspect, you’ve failed completely.  Pretty much everything you do, you are doing for someone.  If they aren’t happy, you aren’t succeeding.  I don’t know about you, but I want to succeed every time.

Of course I realize that many companies put rules in place to manage exactly that their employees can and can’t do which often can result in dissatisfied customers.  This is especially true when the staff are not empowered to use common sense or have avenues to do the right thing.  The corollary to everything is customer service is that it is far cheaper to retain a customer than it is to get a new one.  In this case the cost to retain the customer was $35.  I haven’t made up my mind, but as you will see by this on-line venting, I’m not happy.

Let’s rewind the film to last week.  The hard drive on my satellite dvr/receiver died.  There it was on the screen right before work.  Error 311 I believe.  No NFL AM, no Good Morning America, no Despierta America (ok, that’s a guilty pleasure of dancing and Honey the Chihuahua).  I gathered my wits, went to work and called in the problem to DISHnetwork. Or @dish if you are on twitter.

Issue one, you can’t call in a problem unless you are in front of the TV.  They need way too many numbers to do anything.  Of course I got a call center where they wanted me to reboot the device several times.  Of course I had done this 3 times per the instructions on the error message to no avail.  It was dead as doornail.   This also means no Daily Show or Colbert Report before bed.  How would I get my Fox News?  It made me wonder, why couldn’t the installer have noted which machine was in which room?  Add two pieces of info and the need to specifically identify each device is rendered moot.  Unless they don’t want to.  Hey executives, use this idea for free!

So, here I was at work unable to get this party, I mean process, started.  When I finally got home it was late but I called it in and yet another staffer wanted me to reboot.  I satisfied his inner curiosity and showed him it didn’t work.  As well as you can via the telephone.  So it is Thursday night at 11pm and I finally have  convinced someone to send me a device.  It will cost me $15 in shipping.  Ok.

But of course it will take 2-3 (meaning 3) business days to get to me.  Yep, that means Tuesday, best case.  So of course the device comes at 7:30 PM on Tuesday.  Following the Giants win in World Series game 1, I got to installing the receiver at 10pm.  I can do this.

My first clue something would go wrong was step 6 where the software checks to see if my connected phone line or Ethernet cable is working.  I have had DISH for the better part of 20 years, I have never had a phone cable near where the receiver was.  All that means is that I can’t order pay per view.  Color me crushed.  This is great user interface after it fails that step, it lets me know to try again.  Why not ask me if one is connected?  That’s not an option. So it tries again.  That’s two times at two minutes each.  Remember this.  It will come back like that bad fish from that road house you wish you had avoided.

Then came step 7.  This is the step where it tells you call in to active the receiver.  I call. It knows I want to activate.  So far so good.  It doesn’t like the number I’ve punched in.  I’m reading it off the TV screen.  3 time, no bueno.  I push 0 and hope I get a decent agent.  I do.  She activates it.  Then comes step 7a.  10-20 minutes to set up.  Sigh.

So I say goodnight and watch the status bar move slower than traffic at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza at rush hour. At the 15 minute mark, the screen changes.  That’s right it wants me to call in and activate the receiver, again.  So I call again.  This time there is not activation process, because the system believes it is activated.  I get a nice enough young woman.  Sally as I recall.   She and I had plenty of time to get acquainted.  We were stuck at the activation screen.  She had me  pull the smart card out and that’s when the fun really started.

Pulling the smart card is a hard reset. All sorts of moving parts moved and rumbled.  It was loud.  It was ugly.  It went on for 15 minutes.  And then there was the false ending.  That’s right we were back at the test the phone segment of our show.  FUCK ME.  She suggested I skip this step.  I suggested they put a path for e to skip this step. And we were stuck at the call and activate segment, again.  She sent signals.  I did a rain dance.  I prayed to Cthulhu and the old ones.  No dice.   We pulled the smart card again, and waited 15 more minutes amid the rumbling.

And I’m back at the fucking phone test again.  And the activation screen.  When I’m about to give up and become a Hare Krishna Missionary, it activates.  Of course that means the 20 minute download.  No I’m not letting her off the phone till we are done.  Did I tell you she’s from El Paso and didn’t watch The Bridge? I must have been the only one because she was surprised it was cancelled. She did like Breaking Bad, though.  We bonded watching the status bar do its imitation of paint drying.  I convinced Sally to give me credit on my account, because I had gone 6 days without being able to use that TV.  $7 and change. Woo hoo!

At 23 minutes we discussed the lemon on my dresser and how to replace it.  Then, like Renly’s Ghost on the Blackwater, the TV suddenly went on!  Of course then we waited and bonded for 10 more minutes for the guide any my programming to download.  I hope my mother likes Sally, we’ve become very close  I decided to introduce Sally to the family, as Lambchop slumbered two feet away  ignoring my bonding with the telephone agent.  Finally, I had completed this hideous task.  What should have taken 20 minutes at 9:45 had taken almost 2 hours.  Sally and I parted, my boys would never call her mom.

At 11:45 or so I started watching the repeat of the repeat of the repeat of the World Series Post game.  As the Panda sat down for his interview, the system did hard reset.  That’s right. It was  rumbling and shaking, again making god awful noises.  I was too far into this to quit.  I shut out the light and decided to sleep through it and everything would be good in the light of an October morning.  I should have been thinking mourning.

The third time the system reset and woke me up, I turned off the power to the socket.  Do you think DISH cares that their hell spawned equipment ruined 8 hours of my life?  I don’t think so either. So first thing in the morning, well after a cup of coffee, I called again.  The nice system told me that Sally wasn’t available.  I wondered who the trollop was stepping out on me with.

It didn’t take long to convince the Sally surrogate to send me a new device.  Being reasonable, I asked to have it expedited.  I really didn’t want to wait another 3-4 days because they sent me a lemon.  It would cost $35 dollars to expedite the 3rd receiver.  I suggested as a longtime customer they should waive the fee.  At this point she informs me that because of my less than $8 credit, the expedite fee could not be waived.  I kindly suggested that she reinstate the $7.68 and waive the $35.  She politely informed me she could not.  I suggested she talk to her manager.  He denied me too.  There are rules you see.

Here’s where I got really pissed off.    But first, some background.  I pay DISH in excess of $125 a month.  How much in excess is embarrassing so we’ll skip that.  Let’s just say it has been at that level for about 6 years.  This is the 3rd receiver I’ve had break in 10 years, and I always have 2.  I’m not a high maintenance customer.

They let me know they would waive the $15 standard shipping.  As well they should.  It wasn’t my fault they sent a piece of shit box.  And the kicker?  I was informed if I had paid $8 per month for the protection package, they would have shipped the new receiver overnight FOR FREE!  Let me get this straight, you’d save me $35 if I pay you $96 per year, for the last 4 or 5 years?  I must not be as smart as they think I should be.

DISH is willing to risk a $1500+ per year customer over a $35 charge emanating from their product.  It doesn’t make sense to me either.  Perhaps the customer service VP at DISH is sleeping with the Parking Nazi.  Nothing else really makes sense does it?