February 18, 2006

Sprint = annoying

Three times since the beginning of the year, our preferred long distance company (Working Assets) has called us to ask us why we left and what they could do to lure us back. The first time our response was "huh?", the second time it was "not again!" and the third time isn't appropriate to a semi-family-friendly blog.

Each time Sprint had slammed us (changed our long distance service without our knowledge). The second time I talked to our phone company and they said they had locked our selection so they couldn't do it again. The third time I hadn't gotten around to calling them back when we got a bill from Sprint. A bill for over $100. For service that would have cost us about $30 with Working Assets.

I was almost more angry when I discovered that there was a smoothly streamlined process for cancelling the charges when I called Sprint. They're slamming people intentionally, then they're making it easy for the people who notice to get out of it in the hopes they won't file complaints. Guess who just filed a complaint? Guess who's never ever buying any Sprint product?

Posted by jeffy at 10:16 PM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2005

Cheryl Pflug's selective communication

I'm on an increasing number of mailing lists for organizations which alert me when legislation of interest to me is in need of a push to make it through the process. Back on March 10, I got email from Priorities for a Healthy Washington, a coalition of dozens of groups concerned with environmental issues in Washington state. The issue of interest that day was a bill in our state senate and they gave this background info:

In the U.S., buildings use one-third of our total energy, two-thirds of our electricity, and one-eighth of our water. Our buildings have a significant impact on our natural environment, so building them better can help protect salmon, clean air, and forests.

Senate Bill 5509 requires state agency, higher education, and K-12 school buildings to be built to a national standard for high performance green building, ensuring that these buildings perform better for the people who use them and for the environment.

The bill passed out of the House on a 78 to 18 vote, but faces a tougher fight in the Senate. Many Senators are undecided or wavering. Your email will help generate the "yes" votes we need to pass the bill.

I used their contact tools to send a note to my state senator (Issaquah is in the Fifth Legislative District, so that's Cheryl Pflug). I need to start saving a copy of the messages I send with these tools. I didn't on this one so I can't tell now exactly what my message said. I didn't have much hope that Senator Pflug would pay any attention to me on this issue since her past actions have shown she's not exactly an environmentalist.

Yesterday I got a letter on gold-embossed paper from Senator Pflug. Here's what she said:

April 7, 2005

Dear Jeff:

Thank you for contacting me regarding Senate Bill 5509 which would require public buildings to use high performance standards. I appreciate learning of your support.

You'll be happy to learn that SB 5509 has received the necessary approval in the Senate and House and has been sent to the Governor for her consideration.

Please do not hesitate to contact my office should you have any further questions or concerns. It is an honor and privilege to serve on your behalf.

Sincerely,
[machine-printed signature]
Senator Cheryl Pflug
5th Legislative District

For a minute I entertained the possibility that Senator Pflug actually listened to my comment! Then I read what she wrote. Notice what's missing?

She tells me the bill passed out of the Senate, but she says nothing about how she voted. Hmm. Easy question to answer. She voted against it.

I have a hard time interpreting this letter any way other than that Senator Pflug wants me to think that she listened to my input and supported the bill I wrote about. Now I don't expect my representatives to always vote the way I want them to. But when I ask for their support I think they should give me an honest accounting of whether they were able to vote my way, and if not, then why not?

If Senator Pflug had added a paragraph to the letter above stating "I was unable to support SB 5509 for the following reasons..." I would have shrugged my shoulders and gone on with my life. She might have even changed my mind about the issue.

All she did with this lie of omission was make me angry.

Posted by jeffy at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2004

We're not blue, they're not red

I was going to put together a post showcasing all the various and sundry maps that people have been putting together to visualize the results of the presidential election, but then I found this excellent page that covers the ground better than I could have. But also look at this cartogram where areas of 50/50 split are colored white, and areas with a majority for one candidate or the other are tinted red or blue with the saturation indicating how far they swung.

In my opinion, the only people who benefit from painting half the country red and the other half blue are the politicians who want to keep us afraid. They want us afraid of terrorists, of criminals, of people from the other part of the country from us, of each other. They want us afraid because when we're afraid we don't think clearly. When we're afraid all they have to do is shout "boo" and we'll jump.

Look at the maps. Red/Blue is a myth.

And even if it weren't, all the colors mean is that a majority voted one way or the other for president. This is an opinion poll with only one question. It doesn't tell us very much about each other even with choices as seemingly opposite as Bush and Kerry. Pick an issue and a side, any issue and side, and there will be people with that view who voted for Bush and people with that same view who voted for Kerry.

The thing we need to do in this country (and probably the world) is shake off the artificial divisions that keep getting foisted upon us, and build a movement that's based in what we agree on. What is that? I'm not sure, but it's what I think we need to talk about instead of whether the Blue (or Red) states are going to let the Red (or Blue) states secede from the union. That garbage just distracts us from what's really important.

Posted by jeffy at 11:48 PM | Comments (1)

November 02, 2004

Vote

I started a couple of different posts about the election, but I haven't been able to get either to a sufficient level of polish for publication. So...

Vote. Just vote. Please.

Posted by jeffy at 03:06 PM | Comments (1)

October 24, 2004

Immortality

Over on Seedlings & Sprouts, Julie talks about driving by the site where a 16-year-old girl was killed in a car crash earlier this year on Bainbridge Island. Julie points to some articles that bemoan the fact that the tragedy doesn't seem to have affected the level of self-destructive behavior in the teen community.

I grew up in a kind of island community. It wasn't surrounded by water, but the nearest town of any size was over an hour away. Not only that, the town where I lived was so sprawled that my nearest friends were three miles away, and some were as far as twenty! You couldn't be part of the teen social world in my town until you could drive or had friends who did.

I remember dozens of times riding with friends or driving them myself when we took life-threatening risks. Sliding around corners on twisty mountain roads, ignoring the center line, ignoring hundred-foot cliffs with no guardrail, ignoring ice patches, ignoring the effect of a couple of beers. It's amazing how few mishaps we actually suffered.

When I was a senior in high school, a girl I'd known since 1st grade died in a car crash on her way to school. She looked away from the road to adjust her stereo and hit another vehicle head on. I remember that morning at school hearing about the accident and being shocked that someone my own age was gone. I remember people crying and a subdued atmosphere around the school that day (and probably longer).

What I don't remember is whether we acted any differently afterwards. I sincerely doubt it.

I remember how my brain worked when I was that age (partly because I haven't matured all that much since then ;-) It's not so much that I actively thought of myself as invincible, it's more that the possibility of my mortality was completely inconceivable. I can't imagine any evidence to the contrary that would have convinced me otherwise. It's my theory that this cluelessness is hardwired in the human psyche. I think this behavior has been selected for in millions of years of evolution. You can see how the ability to act without thinking in dangerous situations would be useful to the survival of the species.

But I think there's something more insidious going on here as well. The way we talk about death-by-car (and, actually, the way we talk about all the negative effects of the automobile on our society, but that's another rant) encourage us to think of car crashes as being fault-free events. We call them "car accidents". Articles about crashes always talk about the car taking actions "the car crossed the center line", "the car struck the pedestrian" as if the car were in charge, the person behind the wheel just an unwitting accomplice. It's another layer of unreality on an already unbelievable situation. Why should I change my behavior when crashes just happen?

Here in Issaquah there have been at least four teen traffic fatalities (see the euphemisms we use to distance ourselves from these things?) in the last few months. It seems like more than usual. It makes me wonder if the current state of the world is a factor as well. Kids see terrorists spending lives recklessly for indeterminate messages. They hear about over 1000 young men and women not much older than themselves dying in a country that it turns out could not have harmed us if it wanted to. I have to wonder if their recklessness is partly bred from seeing such a rampant disregard for young life in their elders. Or is it acting out in response to the fear of how uncertain their futures must seem. "We may die tomorrow, so why worry about dying today?"

Maybe the only way we can hope to get kids to take their mortality seriously is to, as Gandhi said, "Be the change you want to see in the world." If we caused our government to place a higher value on the lives of our young people, maybe they would follow suit.

Posted by jeffy at 01:24 PM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2004

Voter info

I put together a web site with links to lots of info about everything on our September 14th primary ballot. I'd hoped to get it ready in time for the start of absentee voting, but better late than never.

http://tomecat.com/vote/

For the partisan portion of the ballot I only covered the Democrat candidates, so if you plan to vote as a Libertarian or Republican you'll have to hunt your own links for those offices. I've got links for all the candidates in the non-partisan offices. Even though it says it's specific to our precinct, the most specific things on the ballot are our WA 5th legislative district candidates. Almost everything else is state-wide.

Let me know if you find it useful. Let me know too of any other sites you'd find useful. I plan to update it for the general election (November 2nd) once the primary is resolved.

Posted by jeffy at 04:59 PM | Comments (1)

August 31, 2004

Fun with politics

bushhat.jpgSamantha and Jeff are auctioning off a dorky little Republican donor tchotchke and sending the proceeds to MoveOn.org.

Please outbid me so I don't have to have this thing in my house!

Posted by jeffy at 09:16 PM | Comments (1)

Barb de Michele

Back on the 23rd, we had a "coffee hour" for one of our local candidates. Barbara de Michele is running for Washington State House of Representatives here in the 5th district. I met Barb when she was acting as treasurer for a group raising money for an artwork to be placed in the new Issaquah Library in memory of local education hero Kateri Brow. Barb is a great candidate with solid background in two of the most important issues in the 5th: Education and Transportation.

We volunteered to host a gathering in our house back when Barb announced her candidacy. We solicited the help of some of the neighbors we met at the Caucuses back in February and as a group we invited nearly 60 people to end up with a gathering of 23 people in our little house!

It was exhilarating to help bring our neighbors and friends together with a candidate. People asked lots of questions. There was even some healthy dissent. And when Barb goes to Olympia next year we'll all know our representative and what she stands for.

BarbMeet.jpg

Posted by jeffy at 08:50 PM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2004

Mistakes were made

The pundits made a big deal about Bush hemming and hawing in a press conference a couple of weeks ago where he was asked to name a mistake he had made in his tenure in the oval office.

It is a little boggling that he didn't come prepared for one of the most overused questions in the history of job interviews. But then he probably hasn't ever had to interview for a job.

Anyway, the Center for American Progress has provided a handy crib sheet for Mr. Bush in case he has to answer that question in the future.

100 Mistakes for the President to Choose From

You can hardly be president of the United States without making some mistakes, I'll grant that, but this list is pretty damning. And none of them is trivial. There's no "shouldn't have slept with that intern" minor transgressions here, instead these are all botched decisions with real costs for the American people.

The folks who came up with the list might not have had too many job interviews either because none of these could be construed as the positive negative that is the ideal answer to the "what are your weaknesses" question. Bush will have to come up with one of those on his own.

Posted by jeffy at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2004

Caucus II

Today we went to the legislative district caucus for the 5th district.

I was a Dean delegate from the precinct caucuses, and Becky was an alternate (though she ended up being promoted to full delegate status along with all the other alternates since there were a lot of delegate no-shows).

Despite having fair warning this time that there would be a bunch of people at the caucus, the game was still pretty sadly disorganized. There was hit-or-miss adherence to parliamentary procedure or Robert's Rules of Order or both or neither. There were some parts of the process (especially the balloting and election of delegates to the state convention) that didn't scale well. Despite the fact that it was obvious that 90% of the delegates had never been to a caucus before, there was virtually no effort to explain the process. It felt like the party members had become completely accustomed to performing the caucus exercise as a low-key social meeting with the same couple of dozen participants for years and just couldn't quite figure out what to do with the 500 people who showed up today.

But while it was disorganized, everyone's heart was clearly in the right place. With only a few exceptions everyone was pretty patient with the day's program which ended up running from 9am until a little after 2pm.

The 5th district is having a big election year. In addition to the presidential race, we'll be electing a new governor, a new attorney general, a new congressional rep, a new state senator, and two new state representatives. And we heard stump speeches from hopefuls for all those offices.

Christine Gregoire spoke about her gubernatorial campaign and promptly scampered off presumably to talk to other groups.

Heidi Behrens-Benedict who's running for Jennifer Dunn's soon-to-be-vacated House seat gave a brief speech.

Mark Sidran gave a rousing speech in support of his campaign for state Attorney General.

We also heard from the three candidates for the 5th's three state legislative seats: Kathy Huckabay, Jeff Griffin, and Barb DeMichele.

After initial delegate counting, the only two candidates with the necessary 15% to send delegates on to the state convention were Kerry and Dean.

There seemed to be a lot of confusion about why anyone would still be supporting other candidates than John Kerry now that his nomination is a foregone conclusion. The answer lies in the fact that the purpose of the caucuses and conventions is two-fold. The most visible purpose is to elect delegates to the next level of convention and eventually to annoint the party's candidate for president, but the caucuses are also the venue in which the issues that are to become part of the Democratic Party platform are presented and argued. By electing delegates who support a candidate who is no longer viable, the hope is that the issues and ideas supported by the defunct candidate will find their way into the party platform, changing the nature of the party going forward.

After the initial delegate counts, when delegates for candidates with less than 15% found out that their candidate would not be represented at the next level, everyone had an opportunity to switch allegiance, and representatives of the different candidates gave speeches to try to convince the switchers to choose their candidate. The first couple such speeches were forgettable, but then Kayne McGladrey got up and gave a rousing speech singing Dr. Dean's praises, charging up the crowd, and, in the end, netting Dean another delegate. Nice job, Kayne! You can read the speech on Kayne's blog, Pleasing To Remember.

It took another couple hours to elect delegates to the state convention with most of that time taken up by one-minute speeches from all the hopefuls.

The day was tedious at times, and the school gymnasium was not the most comfortable place to debate politics, but it was great to see so many people getting involved in the process and it was great to be one of those people.

The next opportunity to be involved is the King County Convention on May 8th at which the county platform is to be hammered out. I hope I can make it to that meeting.

Posted by jeffy at 10:13 PM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2004

Utopian party

After hearing us talk about our experiences at the Democratic caucus last Saturday, Becky's sister said "I thought you were Socialists."

Well, yeah, but... that's not a very practical party affiliation in this country at this time. And actually what we really are is Utopians.

Here's my version of the Utopian party platform (there is no Utopian party, I'm making it up):

Everyone is guaranteed the following staples of life:

  • Clean air to breathe
  • Pure water to drink
  • Wholesome food to eat
  • Basic clothing
  • A safe warm place to sleep
  • Sanitary facilities
  • Needful medical treatment
  • All the education you can sponge up

Those who are able should spend some portion of their time working directly to provide these necessities for themselves and their neighbors (not earning money to pay for them, but working directly to produce one or more of the staples).

The collective effort required to provide the staples should leave copious time for other pursuits on the part of the citizenry. Those other pursuits are unrestricted, with the exception that they cannot directly or indirectly cause harm to other citizens or their current or future health and well-being.

Yeah, it sounds like oversimplified lunacy, but think what we could do if we didn't all have to individually scratch and claw our way to having those necessities for ourselves.

Would war become impossible?

What would be a crime and who would be moved to commit it?

What sorts of activities could meet the "do no harm" requirement?

Posted by jeffy at 03:22 PM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2004

Caucus

Today was the first time that Becky and I have participated in the caucus system in Washington state (or anywhere else, for that matter). This is a long rambling discussion of how it went. Won't be offended if you skip all this text ;-)

This year, turnout was expected to be much higher than usual. There are a couple of reasons for this. One is that this year the caucuses are the only way that Washington voters are being allowed input to the Democratic nominations. As I understand it there's usually a split between primary and caucus here where some delegates are selected via a popular vote and some are by caucus. This year the election was cancelled. The reason I've heard for this is that it would cost the state too much money to run a general election. I wonder if there wasn't some worry on the part of the party that the Republican faction in the state would take advantage of the open primary to vote for a spoiler candidate. In any event, the caucus was the only game for any Democrats who wanted to have a voice in the nomination.

Oh, the other reason they expected big turnout for this year's caucus? Bush.

Normally, I guess the caucuses for each precinct happen in locations within the precinct, in someone's basement or living room. This year in response to the threat of major attendance, they instead combined a bunch of precincts in our area into the common room at Issaquah High School.

We got to the school at about 9:45 and got our first taste of how disorganized the event was going to be. We walked in the door and found a clump of people trying to figure out what to do. There were some Dean supporters handing out literature and stickers, and over to the right there was a table with the word "membership" on it (that turned out to be for joining the 5th District Democrats), then down a few steps on the main floor was a big crowd of people. Finally we figured out that we were supposed to sign in at some tables at the edge of the big milling crowd on sheets by precinct. When we signed in we had to specify our preference for nominee (with uncommitted a valid option). There were three people signed in for our precinct ahead of us, two Clarks and an uncommitted. Beck and I both signed in for Dean.

We walked around and talked to some of the people we know, then went to the table set aside for our precinct. Before the caucus I had tried to determine the bounds of our precinct. I had the number from my voter registration card (ISS 05-0546), but I couldn't find a map anywhere to show who's in with us. At the end of today's meeting I found a map on the wall that showed the precinct boundaries. It's south of I-90, north of Sunset Way, and east of 2nd Avenue (yes, it's basically triangular). We introduced ourselves to the folks at the table and found out that one of them lives in the condos right across the street from us! When everyone had arrived and the caucus got underway there were eleven (11) people from our precinct at the table.

Kathleen Drew, our former state senator called the assembly to order with a megaphone the full extent of the PA system. She read the rules for who could participate and what the order of business would be. I was glad that we read some things about how the caucus is supposed to operate before we came because it was hard to hear and there were no visual aids at all. No one at our table had been to the caucus before.

When we were set loose to tally our first vote at 10:30, it stood at 5 for dean, 3 for clark, and 3 uncommitted. We had three delegates to allocate from our precinct, so there was one vote up for grabs with the undecideds. We set in to discussing the merits of the candidates and the tactics we could follow. The Dean and Clark contingents were both committed to holding their position. The undecideds had the option of pushing either of those to two out of three delegates, or pooling their three votes for another candidate altogether. The most vocal Clark supporter was actually an employee of his state campaign organization and was pretty persuasive in pushing the viewpoint that keeping Clark in the race would make him a more viable option for the VP slot down the road when Kerry or Dean (or whoever) finally secures the nomination. I think just about everyone at the table voiced a soft spot for Dean as their early favorite, but the undecided and Clark supporters were worried about his viability as a nation-wide candidate against the Bush/Rove machine.

The undecideds finally put their heads together and decided to form a block pushing the final tally to Clark 6, Dean 5 so we ended up sending two Clark delegates and one Dean. I'm the Dean delegate and Becky is the alternate ;-) We had some trouble picking who would be the delegates because no one knew when the district caucus was to be held. Someone went and asked and found out it will be May 1st.

By this point, the organizers of the event (if you can call them that) had completely lost control. Kathleen Drew was still making announcements on the bullhorn, but we couldn't hear what she was saying. Each precinct was busy talking among themselves. Once the nominating votes were tallied, the next order of business was to be proposals for statements to be included in the Democratic party platform. At our table we didn't know how this was supposed to work so we considered it among ourselves. There were two proposals included in the packets at the tables, so we voted on those (actually only one of them because we didn't really comprehend the other), then we talked about other possibilities. I had printed off a page-long proposal that had been written up by a group of IRV (instant run-off voting) supporters. We talked about it a bit and all but a couple of people were in support of the concept (though we didn't look at the details of the language).

With the voting completed, people started to head for the door. When most of them had left, there was finally an intelligible announcement indicating that the platform portion of the meeting would take place as a joint session facilitated by Brian Derdowski (former King County Councilman (back when he was a Republican)).

At its peak, there were over 350 people in the room. There were less than 50 left when the platform resolution portion started. Here again, the only method of communication was the bullhorn. Not even an overhead projector. Brian did a reasonably good job of using Robert's Rules to keep things moving along and making sure that everyone was heard. The sheet of paper I brought with the pre-packaged resolution in support of IRV was turned in with our voting results so I wasn't able to present it to this group. And I probably wouldn't have even if I had still had it because a whole page of text doesn't play very well when the only way you can put it in front of the group is by reading it aloud. They would have run me out of the room on a rail and rightly so. At this level what I needed was a brief punchy statement of support for IRV coupled with a slightly longer list of talking points about the benefits to the Democratic party of adopting it (yes, there really are some!) Next time I'll have a better idea what's needed.

Overall, it was an interesting exercise. It was neat to be able to meet with our neighbors and talk about the neighborhood as it fits into the larger political picture (and to get lots of sympathy about the ugly duplex that sprouted up next door to us last year). It will be good to see what the next level is like at the beginning of May especially since by that point we'll have a good idea who the actual candidate will be... It'll be strange to be still deciding when the conclusion is mostly foregone.

Going into it I thought that we'd be better off with an open primary election where everyone can voice their opinion at the polls. After going through the caucus I'm a little more sympathetic to the concept for the value in neighbor to neighbor connections, and the potential for bringing more people actively into the political process. At our table we exchanged phone numbers and email addresses so that we can get in touch with each other in the future if need be (and to organize a carpool to the district caucus in May!)

Here's the overall delegate count from our caucus location:

39Kerry
28Dean
14Edwards
5Clark
5Kucinich
Posted by jeffy at 01:54 PM | Comments (1)

December 18, 2003

Candidate selector

SelectSmart builds surveys for making decisions. They have one up for selecting a presidential candidate for 2004. They seem to base the questions on the constellation of answers available among the various options. They give you a ranking of the available choices based on how closely their stated opinions coincide with your answers to the questions.

Here's mine:

1. Your ideal theoretical candidate. (100%)
2. Green Party Candidate (92%)
3. Socialist Candidate (83%)
4. Sharpton, Reverend Al - Democrat (81%)
5. Dean, Gov. Howard, VT - Democrat (80%)
6. Clark, Retired General Wesley K., AR - Democrat (75%)
7. Kucinich, Rep. Dennis, OH - Democrat (70%)
8. Moseley-Braun, Former Senator Carol, IL - Democrat (67%)
9. Edwards, Senator John, NC - Democrat (65%)
10. Kerry, Senator John, MA - Democrat (60%)
11. Gephardt, Rep. Dick, MO - Democrat (57%)
12. LaRouche, Lyndon H. Jr. - Democrat (50%)
13. Lieberman, Senator Joe, CT - Democrat (47%)
14. Libertarian Candidate (37%)
15. Hagelin, Dr. John - Natural Law (11%)
16. Bush, President George W. - Republican (6%)
17. Phillips, Howard - Constitution (5%)

Interesting.

They don't have any questions about Transportation or Energy policy and the only Environmental policy question is whether you agree with the League of Conservation Voters.

It's interesting to see how their rankings change as you adjust your answers. By trying really hard I was able to get Bush up to 84%. I'd be interested in seeing what kind of ranking an actual conservative would get.

It's tempting to use the correlations of the candidates to my answers to make assumptions about their correlations to each other, but that wouldn't make sense.

Posted by jeffy at 04:46 PM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2003

Life in our republic

Congressman Sherrod Brown of Ohio tells the tale of how the recent Medicare bill was passed in the House.

It's not the sort of image that comes to mind when you think of a vote being conducted by grown-ups.

(via Electrolite's Sidelights)

Posted by jeffy at 07:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2003

Dino Rossi for Governor

NOT!

Pleasing to Remember is holding Senator Rossi's record up to the light, and it's not a pretty sight.

Prior posts at Pleasing to Remember detail possible positive outcomes of the Dino Rossi for Governor campaign and evidence of the caliber of Rossi's political capabilities.

Rossi would be an ineffectual governor at best. I don't want to contemplate the worst that he could be. The challenge is for the democrats to show what a worthless choice he is and field a candidate that offers a reasonable alternative.

Posted by jeffy at 02:48 PM | Comments (3)

October 24, 2003

Support the troops

Except when they die.

Electrolite has the story.

Posted by jeffy at 04:11 PM | Comments (0)

August 26, 2003

Dean in Seattle

Peace Tree Farm gives an eyewitness account of the Howard Dean appearance in Seattle last Sunday.

Impressive trait observed in this candidate: ability to graciously accept a correction when he is shown to be in error. Wouldn't that be refreshing?

Update: Kayne at Pleasing To Remember was there and wrote about it too.

Update: Jake at Mental Ground Zero was there with a friend and some cool signs. He's got a link to an (12meg) mp3 of the speech too.

Posted by jeffy at 01:53 PM | Comments (3)

August 06, 2003

Language counts

WashTech, a technology worker's union from Washington State has received an audio file of a recent IBM-internal presentation about their plans to move many jobs offshore.

The gist of the presentation is: It's cheaper to use people overseas. Other companies are doing it. We have to as well (despite "significant employee relations concerns").

One thing that struck me as I was listening didn't have anything to do with offshore oursourcing, but instead with the decline of computer customer support service.

The suit in the audio repeatedly refers to "call center" functions.

If management's view of this function is, as this language implies, that it boils down to answering the phone, it's no wonder that getting someone to actually help you solve a problem via a customer support hotline is so hard.

I think this is the same phenomenon we've seen with the advent of the term "IT" (Information Technology) to describe what used to be system administration and user support.

When it looks like all an employee does is answer the phone or technologize information (whatever that was supposed to mean ;-), it becomes easy for some pointy-haired twit in his rosewood-panelled office to say "hey looka! those suckers over there will do that stuff for a third the money we're paying these whiners over here!"

I mean no disrespect for the workers in India and other locales who are picking up all this work. They're smart folks. They have good skills. But the other thing that's going to happen is that people who've been doing their jobs here for years will be asked to train their replacements in days. How much domain experience is going to get thrown out in this process? I expect to see the companies using these tactics churning around internally reinventing their product lines. You're going to see old problems coming back into products and new problems that would have been easily avoided by people who understood the application domain.

I'm not just making this up. Over on Joel On Software, Joel recently did a piece on finding real estate for his company in NYC. In that very interesting article, Joel talks about an exodus of companies moving from NYC out to the suburbs of Connecticut in the 50s and 60s studied by William Whyte [link to Joel's Amazon store -jy] who, in Joel's words:

...showed that these companies all tanked after the relocation. With, I believe, but one exception, companies that left New York City to be closer to the CEO's house in Connecticut or Westchester had dismal stock performance compared to companies that stayed in Manhattan.

The dismal stock performance probably came from the fact that when you relocate more than a couple of miles, some employees' lives would be too disrupted to make the move, so you lose a lot of employees, and all the institutional knowledge, skill, and experience that comes with those employees. While I was working at Viacom one of their companies, Blockbuster, decided to move from Florida to Texas after they hired a new CEO who lived in ó Texas! What a coincidence! Only a small portion of the employees made the move. For years and years the business press watched agog as Blockbuster made mistake after inexcusable mistake, re-trying all kinds of ideas that had failed only two years earlier.

Now would be a fabulous time for someone with deep pockets who's actually interested in producing useful products and giving gainful employment to smart people to hire up all this brain power that's being thrown away by the big dumb behemoth companies and get some products in the pipe that will be ready to pick up the slack when the IBMs and Microsofts start faltering in the wake of this miscalculation.

Posted by jeffy at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

July 30, 2003

Short-term thinking

Kayne McGladrey over on Pleasing to Remember has some comments on a recent prediction that ten percent of tech jobs will go offshore in 2004.

I work for a company that's in the process of making that prediction a reality. (And in my position, I get to build the infrastructure so that the work my friends were doing before they were laid off can be done by less expensive engineers in India. This state of affairs is hard on my conscience, but that's another post for another time.)

I don't understand this selfish approach to business.

Companies pay people to make products which they then sell to other people. They make money by selling the products for more money than the sum of the material cost and the creation cost (labor, overhead, r&d). So to increase profits a company must lower their costs, increase their volume, or raise their prices. I get all that. (There's also all the illegal tactics, but again, that's another rant for another time)

So we see all the stuff that makes it so fun to live in these times. Incessant corporate cost-cutting which makes the news mostly in the form of reductions in force. Ubiquitous advertising seeking to woo consumers to purchase specific products. Increasing prices on products that shouldn't cost any more to produce.

Mr. McGladrey points out just the problem with this complex of tactics:

Moving US jobs overseas is not a way to encourage long-term financial stability in the global economy. Every job lost represents another family that has reduced purchasing power. Reducing Americans' purchasing power removes their ability to buy goods or services sold by American businesses. Prices are not going to fall, even if those businesses are predominantly staffed by overseas employees. Therefore, moving one in ten IT jobs offshore may create a short-term cost savings but a long-term crisis for American technology businesses. Once those jobs are gone, it's unlikely that they will return.

Constant grubbing after ever greater profit for shareholders who do no one any good except by loaning out their money at cutthroat rates is the root of all these evils.

In my utopian naivete, I picture corporations as mechanisms for providing two services to society: useful products to the general public and gainful, satisfying employment to their workers. A small profit for investors could be a reasonable part of this picture, but no one seems to be satisfied with a small profit. Or even a sustainable profit.

I haven't taken the time to work out at what point my utopian fantasy becomes the dystopia that all utopian visions seem to mask. Intuitively, I suspect that its fatal flaw is two-pronged. There are too many humans in the world and all our requirements for truly useful products are too limited to keep us all busy without an artificial inflation of desires and production.

Hidden inside this conflict is another utopian idea: if we collectively limited our labors to just those required to provide for the reasonable needs of all people, what could we do with the vast surplus of human time and energy that would result?

I'm afraid human nature would quickly provide my answer, but it's nice to dream about.

Posted by jeffy at 05:17 PM | Comments (2)

June 30, 2003

political contribution

The Federal Election Commission has a reasonably readable guide to the rules surrounding contributions in federal election campaigns. Should you wish to get involved in the electoral processes in this way...

It is appalling how much emphasis is placed on the fundraising acumen of our political candidates, but it's also a fact of life in our current system as much as the pointlessness of third-party candidates in federal elections is.

I don't like it, but I either have to work within the system to change the system or start planning the next revolution. For now, I think the system can still be changed.

Posted by jeffy at 03:42 PM | Comments (1)

May 30, 2003

Time to tune in

I know that I'm not the only one who has somewhat tuned out of the daily depression-inducer that is the news as we know it. As the race warms up for the 2004 presidential elections, I think it's our duty to tune back in and do whatever we can to ensure that 2005 brings us a president who is more likely to support the America we love rather than strip mining its resources to feed the appetites of his rich buddies.

Toward that end, MoveOn.org is hosting a straw poll to see who among the Democratic candidates are most supported by MoveOn members so they can involve those candidates in their agenda setting activities.

I find that I don't know enough about these candidates to make a fully informed decision in the poll so I'm going to be doing a little research. At this point what I'm mostly interested in is what the candidates say they stand for, so I'm going to do my research by examining their individual campaign web sites. This post is here mostly to serve as a starting point, but also as impetus through commitment: if I say I'm going to do this right here in front of God and everybody, I'll be more likely to follow through.

Here's the field as we know it (web site addresses found using google for "first last president". The number in square brackets indicates how far down in the search results I had to go to find the candidate's campaign site):

Stay tuned for my condensations of their positions.

Posted by jeffy at 11:35 PM | Comments (0)

April 17, 2003

This war is a disaster

And I doubt anyone will more eloquently point out the reasons why than Teresa Nielsen Hayden has over on her must-read blog, Making Light. Of especial interest is her catalogue of the ever-changing array of reasons the administration has advanced for why this war is necessary. With rebuttals. It's long, but read it anyway.

Posted by jeffy at 07:00 PM | Comments (0)

March 27, 2003

Evil

Over on Le PrÍtre Noir, Fr. Bo talks about the difficulty of preaching the gospel to a pro-war congregation. He points out that the true evil that besets us is the division that is being sown in our midst, and that the solution to that is for every one of us to try hard to love our neighbors, and from that love, find ways to understand and bridge our differences.

We were watching some of the documentary content on the extended Fellowship of the Ring DVD last night. Tolkien repeatedly denied that LotR was written about the war, and I believe that he believed that. But, in this time, it's easy to read the Ring as a symbol of violent conflict. Reading Fr. Bo just now I flashed on the scene at the Council of Elrond where the ring is before the council and they have begun to argue about what is to be done. They don't yet recognize that the real enemy is their hunger for the supposed quick fix of power and destruction.

Posted by jeffy at 06:53 PM | Comments (0)

Is it him?

The Guardian wonders whether recent appearances by George W. Bush are really him or a trained double.

[some say he's the real deal, pointing to his usual strange phrasings]

Other experts disagree, pointing out that these consistencies originate with speech writers rather then the president himself, and that Bush's main vocal technique - the bewildered pause - is only too easy to imitate.

(via Making Light's comment section)

Posted by jeffy at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

March 21, 2003

How did they know?

The Onion, that bastion of internet irony, read between the lines more truly than they knew way back in January of 2001 before George W. became our president.

Bush: 'Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity Is Finally Over'

The only thing I see that they didn't get right is that the Bush administration hasn't managed to authorize oil drilling in the ANWR. Yet.

(via Electrolite)

Posted by jeffy at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 20, 2003

War

I spent a lot of time last night trying to figure out what response I could make as someone who was against this war.

I still think this war is misguided. Before it started, I could hold out some hope that the weight of world public opinion might stop or delay military action. Now that we are committed, I can't conceive of the Bush administration ending these hostilities without having something they can call a victory.

So my hopes are now that the war will be resolved quickly with minimal casualties on either side.

My energies, I now direct towards reforming my government which has somehow come to believe that it is the final arbiter of where and when military force should be applied in the world.

The best statement I've been able to find so far is MoveOn.org's Citizen's Declaration which reads:

A CITIZENS' DECLARATION

As a US-led invasion of Iraq begins,we, the undersigned citizens of many countries, reaffirm our commitment to addressing international conflicts through the rule of law and the United Nations.

By joining together across countries and continents, we have emerged as a new force for peace. As we grieve for the victims of this war, we pledge to redouble our efforts to put an end to the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emptive attack and the reckless use of military power.

Follow the link above to add your name.

Posted by jeffy at 03:16 PM | Comments (0)

March 18, 2003

Arrogant Empire

Very interesting article from Newsweek of all places about the place of America as the sole super power.

Posted by jeffy at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

March 14, 2003

Another way

Here's a faith-based initiative I can get behind.

A group of US and UK church leaders have proposed an alternative plan with respect to Iraq. They have 6 points.

  1. UN to form an international tribunal to indict Hussein
  2. Weapons inspections to be continued and intensified with military support
  3. Foster a new democratic Iraqi government
  4. Organize a massive humanitarian effort NOW for the people of Iraq
  5. Commit to facilitating a settlement between the Palestinians and the Israelis
  6. Continue and reassert measures to combat terrorism

At least on its surface, this sounds like the sort of law-based and multi-national approach that could reasonably counter the unilateral and largely illegal plan of the Bush administration.

Full Description at Sojourners

Posted by jeffy at 03:51 PM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2003

Trouble sleeping

Over on Easily Distracted, Timothy Burke is having trouble sleeping. He says:

What grips me is the sense that an extraordinary compound mistake is about to be made, the kind that shifts the forward motion of history onto a new track. It is like being a passenger in a car driven too quickly and erratically by someone who wonít listen to anyone else in the car. Even when you want to get to the same destination as the driver, you canít help but feel that thereís a way to go there which doesnít carry the same risk of flying through the guardrails and off a cliff.

I am not a pacifist. I am not anti-American. I could support a military conflict with Iraq designed to remove Saddam Hussein from power.

I am convinced that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle are exactly the wrong people at the right time to execute that mission. I am convinced that John Ashcroft is exactly the wrong man to be in charge of law, order and the security of American liberty at this time.

The rest of that post is worth reading, he's got a very calm, rational voice. And that's something I can't quite muster at the moment. The America that I love does not wage war preemptively. The America I love does not imprison suspects without due process. The America I love does not torture prisoners. The America I love does not suspend civil liberties in the name of fictional security.

Burke's mad taxi driver is an apt metaphor. I want to cover my eyes and stop watching, but in this taxi, it's the responsibility of the passengers to take over from the driver if he doesn't follow the rules of the road, so I feel I have to watch. Taking over the wheel is a little harder.

Posted by jeffy at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

March 12, 2003

Evil in the White House

Lest we think that the insanity of the Bush administration began recently, the Wage Slave Journal has a Scorecard of Evil showing his record on significant issues back to the beginning of his reign.

Posted by jeffy at 03:46 PM | Comments (0)

March 10, 2003

Bush speaks

No, not George W. This is George Sr. in a speech at Tufts University. Reported in the Times Online

The article says in part:

Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations.

Looking at some of the other reporting on the event, it appears that taking this statement alone and trying to turn it into evidence that Bush is a dove would be foolhardy.

In response to a group of loud protestors being removed from the lecture by police, Bush Sr. said "We've now found another real good reason to use duct tape.''

(Via Boing Boing)

Posted by jeffy at 06:48 PM | Comments (0)

Support our troops?

I keep seeing signs that say "Support our troops".

At a time when we are not currently at war, I don't understand what people mean by these signs.

Are our troops bored and we need to start a war so they will have something to do?

I would think that the best way to support the troops would be to pursue every reasonable method of preventing a war from starting.

In what way would invading Iraq be supporting our troops?

Posted by jeffy at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)