What's All This Then?

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Saturday, December 31, 2011

It’s coming down to the end of another Gregorian calendar year - just a matter of hours before people will be raising their champagne glasses to greet the arrival of 2012. And of course pundits and news people and philosophers and bloggers will be looking back and recording their thoughts and making their observations about the major events of the year. As I sit and write these words, I too am looking back over the past year, but unlike the ruminations of others, I am looking at a NON event. Once again, a full 365 days have passed and they have not come. "They" being superior beings from some other world. And despite my claim of alien origin for myself and Rod Blagojevich (just Google "IKSKOBAR) - no other aliens made their presence known this year.

Readers of this blog know this has been a recurring theme, beginning in 2003 - asking, every once in a while, why "they" don’t come Of course we have no direct evidence that "they" exist, but it’s hard to believe that in this vast universe with its billions of suns and unfathomable numbers of planets - that intelligent life exists only on earth. So if they do exist, where are they and why don’t they come? The first part of that question can’t be answered, at least not yet - but there is more than one answer to the "why" that I’ve asked many times here.

Distance of course is an obvious problem. Even if the nearest inhabited planet is next door in galactic terms - say one or two thousand light years away - it would take that many years to get here , assuming that our alien visitors could travel at the speed of light. On the other hand, it may be that superior beings have found a way to make quantum leaps through space - to get from point a to point be faster than light rays can travel - much faster. And perhaps they are as capable of getting from their planet to ours as easily as our astronauts have traveled from the earth to the moon. But weather or not they’ve discovered the secrets of faster than light travel - the other reason why they don’t come here and introduce themselves is a lot easier to understand.

Back in 2003. When I first posed the question, I asked if space travelers from earth would be anxious to reveal themselves to a planetary population of 191 different nation states speaking 6800 different languages, of which 2261 had written systems, and with a history of people within those states murdering each other by the thousands annually, internally and through armed conflict with other states. I know the thought of such a planet would scare the pants off of me. But that’s where you and I live - heaven help us.

The world that existed when I started this blog in 2003 is not that much different from that of today. There are still millions of us living in abject poverty while others enjoy lives of luxury. There are still millions of us living under systems of primitive laws rooted in past centuries while millions of others live under rationally devised laws. . There are still billions of us who believe in a deity, but divided in those beliefs about the nature of that deity and often killing each other because of those differences in beliefs .

I know if I was an extraterrestrial from a world where such things as war, hunger, homelessness or hatred of others because of there religion, race or sexual orientation did not exist, observing this planet from a safe distance, monitoring our broadcast signals, able to tap into our Internet and telephonic communication devices and watching the crazed things that go on here, I don’t think it would take much time to conclude that this is a world in chaos and far from ready to be introduced to other, civilized planetary societies. I wouldn’t even have to make observations beyond this world’s leading democratic nation state - particularly if I was observing at a time when the selection process for its leaders was underway. What other evidence of the insanity of this planets inhabitants would I need?

There are people who believe that extra terrestrials have already visited this planet - that many ancient myths and religious beliefs sprang from such visits. There are even those who believe that modern man descended from such visitors - or that we were moved along in our evolutionary progress through their intervention. If that’s true, they did a lousy job and maybe are ashamed to come back and show their faces.

But whether they’ve been here before or not, it surprises me not one bit that another year has passed without a visit from another race of beings - beings that evolved perhaps billions of years before our earth was even formed. Sometimes I think that only intervention from a superior race of beings can save us from ourselves. But if you were a galactic explorer from a planet of superior beings populated by one people, speaking one language and ruled by a single panel of wise men in white flowing robes, would you want to pay a visit to the third planet from our sun in its present state - or give it a pass, maybe making a note to come back in a few thousand years to see if any order has arisen out of chaos?

I think the latter. Which is why another year has passed without them coming, other than - as I observed back in 2003 - the obligatory stop off to visit with Billy Joe Bob on the river banks of the Okefenokee river in Arkantexolina of course…..

But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep looking up at the night sky. As the line says in "Send in the Clowns" - maybe next year.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

I don’t normally make new year’s resolutions and this year is no exception - but a few weeks ago I made a decision that in the future, I would make every possible effort to buy products and services only from companies that do not have their customer service or technical help departments in the Philippines or the Caribbean or anywhere in India. I would like to have made the decision to only buy American made products - but at the moment, it would be next to impossible to avoid buying a needed product that was made somewhere else. In this global economy, it may be next to impossible to find companies that don’t have their customer service people ensconced in some foreign location, but if I can find any, they will be the people I’ll be doing business with from now on.

A few words of explanation. I’ve been putting up with bad phone connections and difficult to understand accents for years when trying to get information about products I own or services I use. It has after all become the "American way." And like millions of my fellow Americans I’ve learned, reluctantly, to live with it. But two recent incidents prodded me to make this non resolution. One was an attempt to get information from Hewlett Packard when my HP laptop decided it didn’t want to work anymore. As I recall, there was a message on the screen that said, in effect, I have died let me lie in peace. It simply wouldn’t start. But upon seeking help and advice from HP’s customer service department as to the meaning of the strange message of death, someone in a remote corner of this globe assured me that he had the ability to remotely resurrect my deceased machine as soon as I signed up and agreed to pay the cost of a continuing warrantee or guarantee or whatever they call " no money, no information" - a variation of the old "no tickee, no washie" phrase with the same meaning. Fortunately, after I had hung up in anger on this broken English speaking "technical advisor" - the laptop mysteriously resurrected itself, going through a series of on screen machinations that I had never seen before.

That event alone probably wouldn’t have pushed me over the edge. Annoying and frustrating as it was, It was little different from many I’d experienced in the past. But shortly after, along came the Tribune. As in the Chicago Tribune, my home town newspaper. Without notice, they raised the rates for home delivery. Seeing a strange sum while checking my credit card account on line, I first asked what it represented by email and getting a strangely worded unsatisfactory answer, followed up with a phone call , making the mistake of using the customer service 800 number. The call was answered but the responses to my questions were as unsatisfactory as the e-mail response - and after a few moments of conversation, the horror of why dawned on me. . I wasn’t talking to someone in the Tribune Tower in downtown Chicago. It was someone somewhere in the Caribbean. Here I was thinking that the Tribune was conducting itself as a truly equal opportunity employer by employing new arrivals to the USA , not yet fluent in English - but instead I was dealing with yet another company that had exported jobs overseas. The Chicago Tribune!! An all American institution - hiring people in third world countries at slave labor wages to talk to a subscriber just a few miles north of their Chicago headquarters. The implication of the situation boggles the mind - at least my mind.

If the Chicago Tribune has people in the Caribbean answering telephone calls from subscribers in Chicago and surrounding towns and villages - what else is going on or could be going on in the future? Are there phone banks in New Delhi answering calls from New York Times subscribers or a switchboard in Manila handling calls from people who read Time or Newsweek ? And how about the electronic media? Will callers to radio talk shows be talking to screeners or producers sitting in a closet in some third world country who’ll decide whether or not to put them on the air? Or are they already doing that? The only clues we have that we are talking to someone not locally based when we call one of these numbers is the less than perfect English of the responder or an unfamiliar patois.

As I’ve indicated, millions of us have learned to live with the knowledge that the people providing us with telephonic "customer service" are not U.S. based - but typically our inquiries have been about products and services that could never be thought of as having anything to do with American media. We are used to and put up with having to talk to foreigners about problems with our PC’s and Laptops - or our dishwashers and refrigerators. But our Newspapers? Maybe our radio and television stations? If that is indeed the case then I say enough is enough. Time for resolve if not for resolutions.

I can’t drop the Tribune because of their hiring practices. It’s the paper that I’ve read for years and want to continue to read. But I can do little things. I can refuse to deal with their overseas hires which I am now doing by calling their local switchboard number and only talking to people at the Tribune Tower on Michigan Avenue. But the Tribune is an exception. As of now, I am resolved to only buy goods or services from companies that provide customer support by people whose native language is English and who are working in a location that is somewhere in the United States of America. I don’t expect it to be easy. In fact, I expect it to be tedious, tracking down names and email or snail mail addresses for the people who can tell me where their customer service people are housed and who will be willing to confirm to me in writing that I can rely on being helped with problems and questions be people working in the United States if I buy their products or services.

It’s not as dramatic an effort as vowing to buy only wholly American made goods. That I know would be more difficult than what I’m going to try to do. But absent some emergency, I can take my time finding the manufacturer of my next PC or car or refrigerator or other product that does not outsource its customer service work to people in remote corners of third world countries. I know we are engaged in a world economy directed by multinational companies and I applaud every sale an American company makes abroad - even if they make the product abroad. But from now on, when I buy a product or service here, I plan - wherever possible - to buy only from companies that have their customer service people living - if not a few miles south of my house in Evanston, Illinois - at least in the same country

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

I must admit that I haven’t watched any of the Republican debates but from reading newspaper coverage and watching and hearing snippets on news and comedy programs, I am aware that they have been replete with a high degree of silliness. Certainly, Mitt Romney’s ten grand challenge to Rick Perry qualifies as a moment of silliness. It’s the sort of thing you do when you’re arguing with someone who won’t shut up - and more importantly is saying something that you know isn’t true. In such a case, the bet could be a million dollars - as Romney himself pointed out in a post debate damage control session. The fact that he had to do it at all is ridiculous and says more about political pundits than it does about the candidate.

I’m no fan of Romney. I agree with those who have dubbed him a serial flip-flopper But to say that he is "out of touch" with average Americans and to spend time on television with elaborate graphics showing what ten grand means to different people to make the point that Mitt is out of touch, simply misses the point. Not for a moment did I think that Romney was throwing his dollar weight around. It was a joke more than a real offer to bet.. It was meant to call Rick Perry’s bluff - to shut him up. And from the clip that I saw of the incident, it worked. Perry’s weak response that he wasn’t in the betting business confirmed that he had been making a false accusation - whether his bank account could cover such a bet or not. If he knew that he was right, he would have called Romney’s bluff and maybe suggested raising the wager to a hundred grand or more. . It was a moment of theater and while neither of the players earned a curtain call or even a bow, from this critic’s point of view, Romney’s performance was better than Perry’s.

Romney needs to be taken to task for his pandering to the interests of different voter groups and for other faults, but carping on and on ad nauseum on television and radio and in newspaper columns about how he’s so "out of touch" because he made a ten thousand dollar "bet" that was never a bet, makes the pundits look more "out of touch" than the candidate. I’d be willing to bet - there’s that word again - that some of the critics have, at one time or another, engaged in an argument where they’ve said something along the lines of "I’ll bet you a million bucks that you’re wrong." I know I have. It’s a way of telling someone to put up or shut up, which is what I wish the pundits and the comedians would do and move on to something more serious and funnier.


Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I just heard that Blago spoke for twenty minutes today and actually confessed to committing crimes and apologized - more than once. Maybe the 14 years that he got was less that Zabel had in mind because he humbled himself as the system demands of a convicted felon seeking mercy. 14 years of which 12 must be served. What a merciful judge!!

Monday, December 05, 2011

Tomorrow, Judge James Zabel will begin a TWO DAY sentencing "hearing" as the final chapter of ex Governor Rob Blagojevich’s two trials and multiple convictions for a variety of crimes that I won’t bother to try to list here. Anyone interested can find them easily on line. Why there has to be a "hearing" and why it should take two days to sentence Blago to a lengthy jail term is beyond me. I would bet what I have left of my eye teeth that Zabel has long since decided how much time he is going to dish out and that his sentencing speech has long been written with all of the "i’s" dotted and all the "t’s" crossed. From what I’ve heard about the procedure, it’s going to be a two day circus because Blago has decided to make a statement.

Since the conviction, Blago’s lawyers have filed appeals - among other things accusing Zabel of being prejudiced against their client - in effect acting like an extension of the prosecuting team. I got the same impression of the judge just reading about his rulings. But the appeal was presented to the same judge who was being accused of being less than fair - and surprise, surprise, Mr. Zabel disagreed . He gave Blago every possible chance to prove his innocence. Like allowing his lawyers to ask some questions but not ones that I, as a layman, might have asked. Like letting the prosecution play as many taped phone conversations as they wanted to but not allowing Blago to play any that might have made him look good - or at least not criminal. Not relevant said the judge And now Blago wants to make a statement - presumably to try to persuade Zabel to give him a break - to sentence him to something less that a multiple of the ten years that Blago and Obama’s friend and supporter Tony Rezko got from another judge just days ago. But having watched the ex-Governor perform in public since his indictment and on the stand at his second trial, there is no way that he is going to stand before Zabel and admit guilt and accept responsibility - which the pundits are telling us would be the only way he could hope to get a year or two knocked off what Zabel has decided to give him. It’s not in his nature. But there is something that he could say that might help him without admitting guilt. His lawyers may not be advising him to say what I think he could say - but if they had more common sense that they have displayed so far in their defense of Blago, they’d follow my idea of what to say. Something along the lines of the following.

"Your honor, I stand here convicted of 18 criminal counts for which I take full responsibility. No one else was responsible for my actions as Governor of the State of Illinois. But your honor, I want you and all who may hear or read what I say here today that in my mind and in my heart, I am not a criminal. A jury of my peers has determined that I committed crimes while in office, but I say to you and to those good jurors that never did I believe that the activities alleged as crimes in my indictment were criminal activities. I am guilty of being vane - of being overly ambitious - of trying to cut corners to obtain political advantages - of indulging in flights of fancy about what I might be able to achieve - and above all for talking too much about too many things. But never did I believe that I was committing crimes, whether it was in the area of fund raising or in discussing - again too much - the appointment of someone to fill President Obama’s Senate seat for the unfinished portion of his term. I guess I was schooled in the rough and tumble of what is now looked upon as "old time" politics and it was my mistake not to recognize that that time has passed.

Because of that lack of understanding, I stand here today a ruined man. I have been disgraced before my colleagues, the people of this state and this country. I acquired no wealth from the matters for which I was convicted. I am virtually penniless. I have lost my license to practice law. My wife and small children are about to lose our home and if I am incarcerated, they will have no visible means of support. I implore you take these matters into consideration in your sentence and to show mercy."

Short and to the point. I would be shocked beyond belief if Blago would take so little time to say whatever he plans to say. Again, it’s not in his nature. But today he will likely suffer because of a ridiculous concept that a convicted felon must admit guilt and express contrition in order to be considered for a lesser sentence or for parole from a jail term. There are people serving time who are innocent. There are people who, rightly or wrongly are convicted but who believe they did nothing wrong. But under out system of justice, none of this matters. Guilty or innocent or belief of innocence - none of it matters. To be shown any mercy, admission of guilt and expression of remorse is required of the applicant. There is no way that Blagho will admit guilt and express remorse. The closest he might come would be to say something like what I’ve written above. But as I’ve said, it’s not in his nature.

Bye bye Blago.