Thursday, February 26, 2009

Comic relief

I have been doing taxes. This is not fun. It will give me a break to pass along something funny. (HT Esteemed husband)

If you want to read a normal and serious blog post on a (very) serious subject from me, here is my most recent post at W4.

But now for something completely different. I thought the appeal of this might depend on one's being of a (ahem) age to have heard it a bit closer to its original time period, but evidently not. All three of the young McGrews, even the one who usually thinks jokes are "weird," have been going around singing this and laughing their heads off. So I guess it has age-transcending humor value.

Poor elf. I hope someone can help him out.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

How to get hold of a person

Among the many vital life skills I'm going to have to convey to my poor children before sending them off to live on their own, one that I have had to hammer out for myself (it not having been necessary when I was twenty years old) is this: How do you get past the determination of government agencies and big companies not to let you speak to a real human being?

It's getting ridiculous. I'm going to a conference next summer which requires a passport. I picked up the form at the post office, looked it over, and had a bunch of questions. Like, "When it says 'mother's place of birth,' is state enough, or do I have to know the city?" These are not going to be found in a pre-recorded message. So I call my local post office and get a recorded message saying, "If you need information on passports, hang up and dial ________." So I hang up and dial the number, where I get a recorded phone tree, one branch of which is "information on passports." I (stupidly--I should know better by this time) press that button and get recorded information which is obviously not going to answer my seventeen detailed questions about the application form. So I hang up and try again. This time I refuse to press any of the phone tree options. The phone tree, by the way, is run by a perky-voiced computer. The only way, I discover, to get it to give you a human being is to say something the perky lady computer can't understand. When I say, "Other information," the computer says, "Okay, state briefly what you are calling about." When I say, "I have some questions about how to fill out a passport application form," the computer says, "You want passport information, is that right?" I say, "Not if you're just going to send me back to that pre-recorded message." "I'm sorry," says the computer, "I couldn't tell if you answered yes or no." I yell, "I want to speak to a human being!" The computer says, "I'm sorry, I couldn't understand you." After a little while of this back and forth, it transfers me to a human being. I state my purpose in calling. The human representative says, in a bored voice, "If you want information about passports, you have to call the National Passport Information service." After expressing a little outrage, I ask for that phone number, hang up, and dial it.

At the Passport Information Service I encounter another phone tree. But this time I'm canny. I resist the temptation to press 3 for information on applying for a passport, because I know it will be a recorded message rather than anything that will answer my questions. I sit on my hands and grit my teeth, even when we get to the end of all the options and none is given for speaking to a representative. (The National Passport Information Service doesn't have a chatty computer.) But magically, when I just sit there for about five full, long, seconds, it says, "Hold on while I transfer you to a customer service representative." It worked! This final person has a very heavy Asian accent and is barely understandable, and she has trouble understanding some of my questions, but she answers most of them. Phew! Mission accomplished.

It's getting ridiculous. And more seriously, if I weren't already used to this problem, it could sometimes be scary. I cannot count the number of times that I have wondered if it would ever be possible to get hold of a person to answer a specific question and what I would do if it turned out to be impossible to reach anyone. Companies and government bureaus have stopped even offering you the human representative option. It's a game: Can you figure out how to get to talk to a human? So here are my tips, when "speak to a customer service representative" is not a given option.

1) Say something the talking computer can't understand. I've used this successfully with JC Penney now as well as the Post Office.

2) Press zero. This has worked many times even when the computer didn't list zero as an option in the phone tree. It usually doesn't do any harm to try it, but wait until after all the options in the phone tree have been listed. I seem to recall using it successfully with banks.

(Either 1 or 2 is necessary for sending a package from your house using Federal Express, but I can't remember now which it is.)

3) Wait until all options have been given and then sit tight. Count to ten, at least, to see if it rings you over to a human representative.

4) Hang up, call back, and see if you responded to the phone tree too early. There may have been an earlier point in the process where one of the above options would have worked if you hadn't chosen a numbered option.

5) Most importantly, if you have a specific question, never fall for the invitation to press a number for "information," even if the description of the information corresponds to the area you want to ask about. It's almost always a long-winded recorded message that won't answer your question. And such messages are a dead-end road on the phone tree. There is never an option given to speak to a representative after you patiently listen to the recorded information. It's just a waste of time.

There is something mildly alarming about the fact that we even have to talk about this stuff. But I'm quite serious about telling my kids how to do it. With humor, but I'll certainly tell them. I can imagine some young person newly out of the nest and trying desperately to get his electrical service connected, unable to get hold of a human being.

The world shouldn't be like this.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The liberal refusal to face implacable evil

On What's Wrong with the World I have a very brief post connecting part of the quotation below to Britain's refusal to admit Geert Wilders to the UK. The quotation fits very well in that context, but here I am giving it in full. It is a short capsule review by Lawrence Auster of a book by Ruth Wisse called If I am Not for Myself: The Liberal Betrayal of the Jews. Here is Auster's summary:

In this lucidly written, devastating anatomy of the liberal mind, Ruth Wisse shows how Jewish liberalism has weakened Jewish resolve in the face of Arab rejectionism and has unwittingly given anti-Semitism a new lease on life. Liberals cannot admit the existence of real evil, of an enemy beyond the reach of reason, of an unappeasable Other. The result is a fatal collusion "between the aggressor, who wants to conceal his intention in order to execute it effectively, and the liberal fundamentalist, who has to deny aggression so that he can continue to believe that humans were created in his image." Thus liberals, grown weary of opposing an unrelenting and unreasoning Arab rejectionism, have concluded that the cause of anti-Semitism must be Israel's own behavior. Beyond its immediate focus on the Jews, the larger interest of this book lies in what it has to say about liberalism--namely about the inability of liberals to oppose the forces of evil that would destroy the nations of the West.

I've not read the Wisse book, but it makes me want to go right out and do so. What I do not say in the W4 post (because I was making a different connection) is that this same problem bedevils Israel itself. The reason Israel is so infuriating for her hawkish supporters, like me, is because there are all too many Israelis who have this very problem: Despite the overwhelming evidence of the existence of an "unappeasable Other" in the form of the "Palestinians," not enough Israelis are willing to give up the sham of the "peace process." Partly this is America's fault, as President after President, including (shamefully) President Bush, insists on the continued pretense that there is some point to "negotiations" and that the former PLO (of all things) is a "peace partner" for Israel. This dangerous and suicidal rubbish never ends, and because Israel is too dependent on the good will of the U.S., they never tell us to go jump in the lake. But make no mistake: They have their own internal liberals who meet the above description to a T and who hate the truth-speaking Right in their own country.

And Western nations do something similar with respect to their immigrant Muslim population.

Milton Friedman on Capitalism: Donahue gets more than he bargained for

This is great. Friedman makes some excellent points. Donahue's loaded questions are posed as if there is some actual alternative polity under consideration that directly encourages virtue and is based on high-minded ideals. Friedman exposes Donahue's assumptions by going on the attack rather than playing defense. And he never misses a beat. Even the audience, likely inclined to favor Donahue, cannot help laughing.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

And now for some shmaltz

Or is that "schmaltz"? I'm too lazy to go look it up. The one and only Julie Andrews and "Our Love is Here To Stay."

Monday, February 02, 2009

Audio of me on the radio

The audio is now up of my interview last night (Feb. 1) on the James Allen Show in Phoenix. Go here and choose the top item in the audio archives. I come in at about 4 minutes, I'm told. The commercials are still in there, so you can try to slide through those.

Bill Luse points out to me that I should have mentioned that my writing on the subject of religion in the public square is best exemplified by my article in The Christendom Review. That was in fact why I suggested the topic to James Allen when he made contact with me about being on. He's quite right. I should have put it into my notes for the interview.

Editor of What's Wrong with the World Paul Cella has absolved me for mispronouncing his name. The C is soft rather than Italianate.

James Allen did an excellent job as an interviewer. I had a lot of fun doing the interview, and if you have some time, you may enjoy listening to it.