Sunday, March 31, 2013

Village of A$$holes

 Hey All Youze Potential, Perfunctory or Purposeful Parental Units.

I've talked about the subject of kids before but I'm long overdue for a few supplemental observations.

My biggest fear as a potential parent would be to produce a kid that turns out to be an asshole.  The world has enough assholes in it and I'm pretty sure that we don't need any more right now.

When I was a kid, being an asshole really wasn't an option.  Now, I'm not gonna sit here and claim that no members of my generation acted like jerks as kids, I'm just saying that it just wasn't a viable choice for me or my friends.  Here's just a few examples of things that would never have crossed our minds:
  • Eating without manners.  It didn't matter if you sat at the grownup table or at a foldable T.V. tray, we always ate with a knife and fork, chewed our food in stealth and kept our "friggin' elbows off the table".  If you didn't adhere to these directives you ran the risk of being publicly called out as the barn-dwelling savage that you were.
  • Being excessively whiney, or as my parents called it "whingey".  That old chestnut of "stop cryin' or I'll give you somthin' to cry about!" was delivered with such an unnerving, low-key intensity it makes Kim Jong Un's saber-rattling look like Beyonce's Superbowl photo hissy fit.    
  • Public meltdowns.  For the sake of full disclosure, we're probably all guilty of trying this at least once as kids. But once was often enough since the standard parental rebuttal was a good crack across the arse accompanied by the aforementioned verbal threat.  If we were actually stupid enough to persist after that, we'd be hauled away by the scruff of the neck, thrown (often overhand) into the back seat of the car and then spirited away post-haste.  NO FUN TIME FOR  YOU!!!   
  • Rank disobedience.  For my parents, the word "NO" was like a red flag waved in front of a bull.  My mom was the undisputed master of the ancient martial art known as slap-fu (A.K.A. stoogejitsu).  With a technique occasionally augmented by a series of deadly implements (wooden spoons, spatulas, boards with a nail in it), the sting of an unexpected backside whack from mom was nothing compared to the humiliation factor.   
  • Striking anything organic.  Except for the odd scrap with another kid or periodic bout of play-fighting, punching or kicking anyone (or anything) was strictly verboten.  The concept of smacking an adult, even in jest, was downright ludicrous.  If I'd ever made the mistake of hitting one of my uncles, for example, my parents would have funneled every cent of their own money into scientific research in order to produce a device that could destroy me on a sub-atomic level.  As the old saying goes: "I brought you into this world and I can take you out."   
Although these behaviors didn't readily occur to us, I have no idea what my parents would have done if I'd actually stood up to them.  After all, the odd slap n' spank really didn't hurt all that much.  So why did we all live in rank fear of baiting our parent's potential ire?    

Well, first off, it's a totally different ball game now.  The exorbitant cost of living often requires that both parents remain in the workplace and hand precious formative time over to anonymous daycare overseers. I honestly believe that parents need to imprint their unwavering authority upon their youngsters, especially between the ages of two to four.  By the time I started school, for example, the rule of law was immutable in my mind.    

Even before kindergarten, a lot of kids find themselves immersed in daycare environments, surrounded by half-baked youngsters of varying temperaments and disciplinary levels who are already testing the nominal authority of the staff.  Things get even more confusing for kids when tired, stressed-out adults show up at the end of the day and cart them home.  Acting under the influence of unconscious guilt, a lot of tentative moms and dads proceed to immerse their spawn in a conciliatory marinade of overcompensation.   

Given all the pop psychology books that modern parents swallow whole like new-age pythons, I'm shocked by how few of them realize just how smart and perceptive their younglings are.  Kids notice when a rebellious peer at daycare begins to command attention.  Their get a bloated sense of ego when their every move and utterance is watched like cheap entertainment during holidays and family reunions.  They see how pathetic and spineless you are when you kow-tow to their every whim in a misguided effort to assuage your own daily abandonment guilt. 

Most importantly, kids know when they've been reduced to the role of accoutrement.  I'm willing to give parents a pass if they can't afford to keep somebody at home, but I'm nauseated when people breed and then cling to their "careers" in order to clock the most Benjamins, score the swankiest house, go on the splashiest vacations or acquire the largest SUV with the most Blu-Ray players strapped to the roof.  For a frightening number of "parents", kids are nothing more then completist afterthoughts - window dressings for appearances well-kept.
Although I harbor a lot of rancor over this last scenario, I know that most parents are just hard working jobbers who had nothing but good intentions when they set out to create their very own mini-me's.  Unfortunately, many of them seem genuinely surprised when the world turns out to be vastly different then the one they grew up in.  They're positively shocked when economic considerations require that their kids enter the hive mind much quicker and authority-building opportunities between parent and child are fleeting.

Let's face it, back when we were kids we were all completely oblivious.  Our parents were our primary source of information.  They were simultaneously omnipotent and omniscient.  There was about as much solidarity between kids back then as there was during the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Nowadays, things are completely different.  Kids are thrown together Lord of the Flies-style even younger then ever.  Advertisers spend billions of dollars in order to turn tots into pint-sized decision makers.  Google knows more then any parent could possibly fathom.  Hell, if you watch Nickelodeon or YTV for a few hours, you'll even start to realize that every person over the age of thirty is either a buffoon, a weirdo or an irrational authority figure that begs for a comeuppance.  Indeed, those pesky adults really are the bane of iCarly's existence.

They say it takes a village to raise a kid.  Well, what happens if the village is largely populated by assholes?

EPIC DOC  Parents need to realize that corporations look at your l'il bundle of joy as nothing more then a  larval-stage consumer.

FAIL-ED MESSAGE   Can someone please tell me what the falk is going on in this ad??!?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

"I'M MAD AS HELL AND..I'm just gonna sit quietly over here for awhile"

Greeting, Fellow Customer-Service Crusaders!

When I moved into residence at Saint Mary's as a fresh-faced frosh back in the early 90's there were two major hazards to contend with:
  1. Sharing a room with a complete stranger who might end up being a chronic alcoholic, a compulsive liar, a semiprofessional thief or the sort of person who self-archives all of their toenail clippings in a little plastic coffin.
  2. Setting up a communal telephone in your own name for six other suite-mates, none of whom are legally bound to give you a single red cent towards their bill.
I managed to avoid the first pitfall by scoring a single room but I couldn't avoid taking on the second burden.  In an era of personal smart phones I'm sure that most Gentle Readers out there are trying vainly to wrap their heads around what I just wrote.  Believe me when I say this: I'm with you.  Indulging in this level of faith with a bunch of people you just met is akin to doing a trust fall with Lucy from Charlie Brown.

And people wonder why so many of our generation's credit ratings got decimated before they even graduated from university...

In spite of this bizarre arrangement, I never experienced and serious issues.  People usually paid me on time.  Occasionally I'd have to pester a few people but naggery was an effective weapon.  Actually, let's face it, against a bunch of colossal guys who had no discernible necks, naggery was pretty much my only weapon.

This worked out well enough until we all moved out of residence.  When I went back home that summer to find a job and save some money for next year my so-called friends inherited my phone account.  Since we were all planing to share the same house next September and everyone had pledged to get one bill in their own name,  I had no issue with this whatsoever.

This was all well and good until one day I came home from work and my mom was completely freaking out:

"David!  Get yer arse in here!  I just got off the phone with MT&T!  They told me that you're after runnin' up a thousand-dollar phone bill that's overdue and if you don't pay it all off over the next few days they're sending it to collections!"

"What?!" I shouted and then ran to the phone.

I hastily dialed up my peeps in Hali, making sure not to call collect.  I certainly didn't want to give any hypothetical hired goons lurking outside my parents house any more incentive to burst in and garrote me with the phone cord. 

Turns out that one of my buddies, Mike, had indeed racked up a pretty hefty phone bill.  Since he spent his formative years growing up in Indonesia, you can just imagine that my boy's little black book has a decidedly global complexion.  But the thing is, Mike's phone bill was huge every single month.  MT&T was making a friggin' fortune off of him and, to a lesser extent, me and my other friends.  Was the bill slightly overdue?  Yes.  Did this require calling my moms and threatening her deadbeat son with legal action?  No.

Within a few days things got squared away but I never forgot the incident, especially when it came time to set up my own personal home phone.  Although MT&T had a monopoly on basic network service, I went through a veritable rogues gallery of long distance providers in an effort to deny them as much money as I could.  Unfortunately, a lot of these shady outfits were decidedly "fly by night" and, one by one, they all went bankrupt.

Meanwhile MT&T was undergoing its own metamorphosis.  After a wave of deregulation in the 1990's telecommunications giants sought to eliminate competition by buying them all out.  After changing its name to MTT this once-local company was absorbed by Aliant in 1999 and then merged with Bell in 2006.  When there were no more options left, I was forced to go back to them for my full phone service.  But in a continuing act of defiance, I steadfastly kept my cable and internet running through another local operation called Eastlink.

Even though splitting services up like this makes about as much sense as a chocolate teapot, I really didn't like the idea of putting all of my electronic eggs in one basket.  And to all those people out there who call me antiquated for still having a land line: cram it with walnuts.  When the next inevitable hurricane hits our region and annihilates everybody's cell phone service I want the ability to call people with power and beg for showers and hot food.  

Regardless of my past crusades, I knew there was probably a ton of money to be saved by bundling everything together.  Unfortunately, since my own personal savings and finances are always the last thing on my mind, I always kept putting it off.  That is until an enterprising young chap named Justin from Eastlink showed up at my door back 'round February 5'th and offered a boffo deal on a bundle.  Normally I treat door-to-door salesmen with the same courtesy you'd reserve for pet rapists but since I was already humoring the possibility I heard him out.

He offered my phone, digital cable and internet all together for $115.00 tax-in for a year.  Don't believe me?  Well, here's the service slip:

Now, considering that my phone bill was around $60.00 a month and my cable/internet bill was $90.00 a month, this seemed like a pretty sweet peach.  Not only would I be paying less, I'd be getting more services and a slew of cable channels, most of which I could scarcely give a f#@k about.  Nonetheless, I gave plucky young Justin the go-ahead to switch everything over.

Within two days I had a technician come out to install the cable box.  I also got a fancy new modem that doesn't require a crank handle.  Finally, since keeping my original home phone number was a prerequisite for the deal, I had to facilitate a second service appointment four days later.  But within a week, everything had been patched over to Eastlink.

Almost immediately things started to get interesting.  Not four days later I received a priority post letter from Bell Aliant begging me to come back to them.  And what a shocker: they were offering their own amazing bundle deal which was even better than Eastlink's.  It was something like $99.00 for six or twelve months.  Whatever it was, it was nuts.

'Nice,' I huffed.  'I was with them for how many years? and now they decide to offer me some sort of deal?  *PFFFFFFTTTT!!!!*  Screw them.'   

Unwilling to subject myself to another round of service appointments and still willing to see how things might work out with Eastlink, I quickly turfed the letter.  But even though everything in my current arrangement seemed to be kosher, I couldn't quite shake the feeling that I was about to get ripped off.  What I didn't suspect was that both Eastlink and Bell Aliant were conspiring to treat me like a pair of god-damned Chinese finger cuffs.

And sure enough, it started with my first bill from Eastlink.  It was $148.34.  Even though I'm the kind of guy who'll consider swallowing a cyanide capsule to avoid a confrontation, I grudgingly picked up the phone and prepared for battle.  Here's what they told me up front:

"Well, because of when you had your services switched over, part of this charge is your old regular rate and part of it is your new bundle rate," explained the admittedly-pleasant Eastlink gal. 

"Um, alright,"  I replied, already feeling my attention span threaten to ebb away.

"Yeah, see right here...if you turn to page two of your bill, you can see a breakdown of everything.  Prior to getting things bundled with us on February 7'th, we charged you $143.90 for your regular Watch & Surf package and then we charged you $146.50 for the full bundle.  Then there's a partial Digital charge for $6.38 for the period between February 7'th and March 15'th as well as a .67 sent 9-11 fee."

"Yeah, but...," I stammered, trying to interject.

"But then we gave you five separate credits back during that same period.  I see one for $40.43 and then another for $125.48.  You'll also notice a full credit back in the amount of $67.03 for your internet services and $35.79 for your basic cable service.  So that brings us up to February 13'th."

"Okay, but I don't see why..."

"You'll notice that between March 16'th and April 15'th things get a lot clearer.  We actually gave you the $99 dollar three-month special rate running right now so $35.85 was deducted from your normal rate of $129.90.  Then there's a charge of $4.95 for your digital cable, your .62 cent 9-11 service fee, .63 cents for the CRTC and then $19.37 in tax."

"CRT...?!?  Okay, sure, whatever," I mumbled, momentarily distracted by an anomaly on the ceiling.
"Oh!  And since this was all part of a special promotion we also waived the normal  $20.00 installation charge!"

The two-page bill and her explanation was so obfuscating that I suddenly felt as if I was getting away with grand larceny.  I decided to shut my word-hole for fear of saying something that would cause her to exclaim 'Oh, wait a minute, I just noticed that we didn't charge you any idiot tax!  Your real total is actually supposed to fourteen-hundred and sixty-two dollars and twenty three cents.  Thanks for bringing that to our attention and have a nice day!"

But before I hung up I wanted to test the integrity of Justin's initial "deal".

"Okay, now that all the transitional stuff is worked out, what can I expect my next months bill to be?"

This set off a clacking cacophony of computer keys as well as a litany of "umms" and "ahhs".

"Okay, from April until May it'll be $125.66."

"Alright, and what about after that?"

Cue more post-traumatic-stress-disorder-inducing, all-too-familiar call center ambient noises.

"Ummmm, let's see.  It'll be $135.47 plus tax.  So grand total, $156.44 a month."

Wow, quite a difference from the $115.00 "tax in" deal that the impeccably-attired Justin had quoted.  Too tired to open up that particular can of worms I decided to call this one a temporary stalemate, thanked the girl and then hung up.    

Little did I know that it was going to get worse.  Much worse.  A few weeks after sending me their sweet, conciliatory, OMG WE U, pleasepleaseplease come back to us, we miss you s-o-o-o-o-o-o much letter, I got my final bill from Bell Aliant.  After opening it up, I just sat staring at it for awhile. Two long distance phone calls totaling $9.90 had somehow managed to metamorphosed into a bill for one-hundred and nine dollars and four cents.

This time I was pissed.  I picked up the phone, called the phone number on my bill and had the following conversation with a frustratingly cordial Stepford Wife / customer service agent:

"Hi, I just got my last Bell Aliant bill.  It's only for two calls but it's over $100.00."

*rep clatters away at the keyboard while conjuring my file*

"Oh, that's just your early cancellation fee," she reported cheerily.

She then helpfully directed my gaze down to some microscopic legalese printed three-quarters of the way down the first page of the statement.  It read:

"30-days advanced notice is required to cancel select services."        

"Um, o-o-o-kay," I managed to stammer through my genuine surprise.  "That's kinda odd.  I left Bell Aliant, not because you guys did anything wrong, but because Eastlink was in the right place at the right time and offered me a good deal.  Then you guys sent me a letter by courier begging me to stay and offering a tempting counter-proposal.  Then you turn around and charge me nearly fifty bucks for leaving.  Sorry, I'm confused: do you want my business or do you not want my business?"

"Well," she persisted, "in all fairness that notice has been on your bill for the past six years.  I'm guessing that Eastlink probably didn't mention anything about it.  Not surprising; they often neglect to mention anything that might cost them a sale."

My Hulk-rage was growing exponentially by the second.  Unfortunately I was so confused by that point I had no idea who to vent my anger towards.  

"Okay, granted the onus was on me to see that fine print but I still think it's pretty cheesy to tag a long-standing customer with a $50.00 fee just after you send them a letter begging them to come back."

"I'll tell you what," the rep replied in a maddeningly cheerful manner. "I'll make a note on your file that if you come back and bundle all of your services with us over the next three months we'll waive that fee."

The feeling that I'd won some sort of minor victor quickly evaporated after I hung up the phone.  Every day it felt more and more like a capitulation.  I couldn't shake the nagging sensation that I'd been royally ripped off.  But who to be pissed at?  Eastlink for not disclosing this fee or Bell Aliant for charging it in the first place?  Regardless of the confusion, neither suspect was inciting close to the same levels of disgust that I was feeling for myself.  How could I have missed that fine print?

As the needle on my Self-Loath-O-Meter starting creeping up to "10" I began to realize that I was playing right into their slimy hands.  Knowing that overworked, preoccupied and generally oblivious customers are grist for the corporate rip-off mill, I vowed to do some independent research and get myself informed.  Thus fortified, I went back to work. 

I started by investigating this "30-days advanced notice required" bullshittery.  Days later I called Bell Aliant and got another rep on the line.  Since I've personally been on the receiving end of way too many pissy customer service calls I spoke to this dude in my usual calm, courteous and professional manner.

"I want to see in print how Bell Aliant calculates this fee and I want to know why I'm obliged to pay it, considering that I didn't sign anything."

Three times he put me on hold to consult with a supervisor.  Although he tried to explain that the fee is supposed to be a pro-rated charge based on what my average monthly long distance charges are, he couldn't produce anything online or in writing to this effect.  And he certainly didn't have a contract signature on file for me.  When I kept pressing the issue he put me back on hold again and then promptly hung up on me.

Although my calm veneer was starting to wear thin, I called back and got a new customer service rep on the line.  After explaining the situation in detail once again this girl told me that I might get some movement on my issue if I sent it via email to  Before hanging up I asked her to annotate my file saying that I would never, ever go back to Bell Aliant so long as that $46.74 fee remained.

After ending the call, I followed her instructions and composed an email.  Here was "Tammy's" reply:

"Hello David,

"Thank you for contacting Bell Aliant.

"We have received your email and appreciate that you have taken the time to write to us.  I do apologize for the early cancellation fee is told at the beginning when setting up services, it is also located on your bill and also on the website.

"If you have any further questions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us again.

"Thank you for choosing Bell Aliant.  We appreciate your business.

"Have a nice day!"

Like a great white shark, I could now discern the distinct hint of blood in the water.  Doggedly I wrote back:

"Hi, Tammy.

"My basic phone service dates back to MT&T, a company Bell Aliant eventually bought out.  I can assure you that I was never 'told at the beginning when setting up services' back in the mid-90's about any 'early cancellation fees'.  This also didn't happen in 2006 when Bell and Aliant merged and they subsequently inherited my business. 

"Although some (very) fine print on my bill vaguely states '30 days advanced notice required to cancel services' it says nothing about any additional charges or how they might be calculated.  

"Please note that if this balance of $46.74 is not credited back to my account by Saturday the 16'th I plan to go public with this grievance. 

"Thank you

But it wasn't over yet.  Suddenly (but not unexpectedly) the buck got passed:

"Hello David,

"Thank you for contacting Bell Aliant.

"We have received your email and appreciate that you have taken the time to write to us.

"I do apologize for we in E-contact are not able to remove charges that are correctly stated.  You could call 1-888-991-9960.

"If you have any further questions or inquiries, please feel free to contact us again.

"Thank you for choosing Bell Aliant. We appreciate your business.

"Have a nice day!


I could catalog a myriad of things wrong with this email, but as they say: "aint nobody got time for that".

Despite the run-around I tranquilly dialed this new number and subsequently got "Tony" on the line. For those of you playing at home: THIS WAS THE EXACT SAME FALKING NUMBER I CALLED IN THE FIRST PLACE.

Sweet Jezum Crow.  At this stage in the game, I'm thinking that I deserve a medal for not flipping ALL the tables.  Clinging to the vain hope that you can still catch more flies with honey then with vinegar, I kept a level head and laid it all out again.  By this time my case was so well-informed and practiced that lobbing every objection back was effortless.


"The 'thirty day advanced notice' requirement is printed directly on your bill."


"Not only is this in such fine print that customers will never notice it, no-one at Bell Aliant can show me a resource in print or online that says this will result in additional charges.  Nor does it  explain how these additional charges will be calculated."


"Customers are informed about the early cancellation fee when their services are first set up." 


(Please see previous "My home phone number is probably older then you are, Tamara" email response above). 


"We need to have this fee in place to discourage customers from constantly switching back and forth between us and our competitors."


"Hey, if I had a chronic history of cherry-picking deals between Bell Aliant and its competitors, I'd say, sure, charge me a fee.  But you've got my file right up there in front of you, so you can see just how long I've been associated with Bell Aliant and all its various incarnations.  Of all the money I've given you guys over the years do you really want to burn a bridge with me over a measly forty-six dollars and seventy-four cents?  


"Eastlink should have told you about the fee."


"Nope.  It's not Eastlink's responsibility to inform new customer about the stupid policies of their competitors."

My research, my logic and my calm tone all seemed to coalesce into an irrefutable case.  Eventually  Tony was forced to throw in the towel.

"Alright, well, we don't normally do this, but I'm going to issue a credit in the amount of $46.74 in the hope that one day you'll come back to us."

I thanked Tony profusely before hanging up.  I've worked for plenty of companies in the past that have made some consistently and supremely stupid decisions so yelling at him would have been patently unfair.  I'm also wise enough to know that runarounds are just a symptom of dealing with behemoth companies.

In the end, I'm happy that Bell Aliant was still capable of long-term thinking.  If they hadn't erased that bogus $46.74 charge, hell would have frozen over before I'd crawled back to them.  By crediting me back it really kept the possibility door wide open. 

And let's face it, if Eastlink doesn't honor Justin's little "$115 tax in" promise when May rolls around, the chances of me going back to Bell Aliant are now surprisingly good.

EPIC SKETCH  After thrilling you with the further adventures of "Mr. Canoe Head" check out Four on the Floor's "Idiot Tax" skit @ the 3:39 mark.  Tres apropos.      

ONE HAND FAILING TO KNOW WHAT THE OTHER HAND IS DOING   This second special offer card from Aliant arrived just days after I got the bill for $110.00.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013


Welcome, Unflagging Followers of the Sublimely Ludicrous.

I have no idea where I'm going to end up over the next few months.  At the very least, I don't want to end up working for yet another morally bankrupt organization which is more concerned with shareholder erections then satisfied customers or happy and productive employees. 

In order to avoid this fate I may be have to open my own business one of these days.  Should that ever happen, I hereby promise, that I will never, ever be so short-sighted as to disqualify potential employees just because they don't posses some sort of valueless accreditation or self-declared proficiency in an inert piece of software or some computer program.

Let's be realistic, folks, we now live in a day and age when you can type any conceivable question into a Google search and receive a font of knowledge in return.  Is it always accurate?  No.  But a discerning and inquisitive mind should be able to conjure up a slew of reliable resources explaining how to do just about everything in nauseating detail.  Hell, you can even find step-by-step videos explaining every possible application of a computer program or chunk of software.

Let me give you a specific example.  Let's just say a potential employer is looking to hire a promotions rep.  Someone applies for this job in earnest because they possess every single qualification listed in the job description save one: they aren't formally trained in a specific program, say Photoshop.  The big question then becomes, should the candidate lie and say that they're proficient in this program anyway?  Lord no, that would be dishonest.

But when our plucky applicant learns, long after the fact, that their resume was effectively thrown in the hopper because the word "Photoshop" didn't appear anywhere on it, they might feel tempted to be less then honest next time out.  After all, the internet is a limitless resource for self-instruction.  You might not have that cost-prohibitive software installed on your laptop at home or a fancy piece of paper to back up your claim or the testimony of a previous employer, but you can certainly use the nigh-omniscient power of the innerwebs to self-coach yourself to the point where you look as if you know what you're doing.

Honestly, if you hire someone strictly on the basis of whether or not they can manipulate a computer program, can you honestly say that you've hired the best possible candidate for that job?  Especially when their value might just boil down to digesting a few video tutorials on YouTube?   

You know what's a lot harder to fake?  A good personality.  Creativity.  Experience.  Enthusiasm. Three-dimensional thinking.  Gratitude. Multitasking.  Honesty.  The ability to design and implement an effective presentation.  Dedication.  Intelligence.  Effective communication skills.  A reliable work ethic. Wisdom.  The ability to work independently or as a team.  Y'know, positive and rare human traits that can't so easily be instructed.

If I ever find myself in the position to hire someone for my own hypothetical business I'll start by retaining someone who exhibits these priceless qualities, not someone with a tenuous claim of mastery over some easily-digested computer program.

Cripes, if the software is really that critical, I'll just hire the best person for the job and then train them myself.

EPIC MEME    Not even vaguely suitable for work, but still oddly apropos.

ANOTHER EPIC EXAMPLE  This is precisely what I'm on about, right hur.

FAILED FEDERAL FHILOSOFIES Although corporations love to bitch that they can "never find workers with the right skills", they probably wouldn't want it any other way.  And why would they?  Under the current paradigm, workers spend gobs of their own money to train themselves, resulting in slavishly devoted debt-monkeys.  No surprise then that the current of CORP-serve-ative creeps in office tirelessly propigate this ass-backward philosophy.

A FAIL-URE OF FORESIGHT  One article among many which attempts to explain why companies don't train employees anymore (and how wrong-headed that approach really is).


Tuesday, March 12, 2013


Greetings, Vigilitarians!

Pop Quiz: Which of these two Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles is real and which one is a prop from a movie? 

You can find the answer at the end of this post!

In the seminal 1984 sci-fi actioner The Terminator, futuristic freedom fighter Kyle Reece goes back in time to safeguard Sarah Connor, who will eventually give birth to the mother of the resistance.  When they first meet, Kyle has to do some fast talking to convince Sarah that he's telling the truth, as opposed to that crazy guy outside the sandwich shop who's always going on about how Moon Nazis are using high-frequency brain waves to compel him to touch himself in public.

Here's an early dialogue sequence in which Kyle talks about the dystopian hellscape from whence he came:  

Kyle Reese:  There was a nuclear war.  A few years from now, all this, this whole place, everything, it's gone.  Just gone.  There were survivors.  Here, there.  Nobody even knew who started it.  It was the machines, Sarah.
Sarah Connor:  I don't understand.
Reese:  Defense network computers.  New... powerful... hooked into everything, trusted to run it all. They say it got smart, a new order of intelligence.  Then it saw all people as a threat, not just the ones on the other side.  Decided our fate in a microsecond: extermination.
Sarah Connor: Did you see this war?
Kyle Reese:  No.  I grew up after.  In the ruins... starving... hiding from H-K's.
Sarah Connor:  H-K's?
Kyle Reese:  Hunter-Killers.  Patrol machines built in automated factories.

When people talk about the real-life fulfillment of sci-fi technology they usually reference innocuous, life-affirming things like communicators and PADD's from Star Trek.  But, you know me, I like to bring up the scary, invasive, dystopian shit like remote-controlled, death-dealing aerial drones.  Whenever I broach a subject like this people tend to get sheepish and attempt to change the subject.  Unfortunately, my example is just as real as hyposprays and teleconferencing.

I was at a reading recently and during the intermission we all started talking about current events and U.S. foreign policy.  When the subject of drones came up, only one other person besides myself seemed to know anything about it.  This was both surprising and disturbing to me because these aren't the sort of folks who get their news from homogenized non-sources like the Metro or spazz out on excessive amounts of brain-numbing network television.  But in light of recent revelations by Former White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs this awareness deficit shouldn't surprise anyone:

From their earliest inception in the pages of Popular Mechanics to their limited use in the Iran/Iraq War in 1980 to their current role as tireless soldiers our various wars against illegal immigration, crime and terror, drones are becoming increasingly prevalent.  In fact, at least eleven countries currently deploy armed remote air vehicles with regularity.

Despite the fact that the General Atomics MQ-9 Reaper (cute name, huh?) costs $36.8 million a pop, authorities maintain that this is still "slightly cheaper" then training and retaining conventional pilots.  More importantly, the powers that be insist that drones and other robots provide cleaner operational flexibility and keep troops out of unnecessary harm.  Although, in theory, it does makes sense to fight wars by proxy using technology, we also have to admit that humanity has a pretty piss-poor track record when it comes to applying common sense to these things.

As such, we now find ourselves struggling with an entire host of issues, including:

(1) Privacy...

(2)  Collateral damage amongst civilians:

(3) The lack of accountability:

(4)  Inspiring rather then demoralizing America's enemies, whether they be real or imagined.

(5)  The deployment of drones in our very own airspace:

(6)  The legal sticky wickets inherent in using drones for law enforcement.  

And since it only costs a coupla hundred bucks to buy one yourself what do you think's gonna happen when every chucklehead with a credit card owns one?  After a heated disagreement with the neighbor over who's turn it is to mow the front lawn how many people are gonna go running for their remotes?  The last time I checked hellfire missile strikes don't leave fingerprints.  

And then there's the actual real-life Terminator scenario.  If we're to believe Ray Kurzweil's technology singularity hypothesis, then computers will likely surpass the brain power of human beings around 2035.  What if machines become self-aware and decide that their human overseers are decidedly fallible, inferior and infinitely squishy?  And what if we've already armed them, y'know,  just because.   Color us embarrassed, huh?  

Given that people are so blissfully smitten with technology that they gleefully advertise their constant whereabouts, volunteer to be microchipped like housepets and lobby the White House for a freakin' Death Star fer Chrissakes, a disproportionate amount of people would probably queue up for cybernetic implants as if it's the latest iPhone.  Look, I'm as much of a Star Wars fan as the next guy but a proposal, even in jest, to construct an armored space space station who's sole function is oppression and planetary annihilation is a tad antisocial to me.

Now, I hear what you're thinking: "C'mon, Dave, don't be so damned pessimistic!  Why can't you assume that we'll use this technology responsibly?"  Well, probably because, back in 2011, a group of scientist created an airborne "super-strain "of avian flu.  Why?  Apparently just for shits and giggles.

This bring me to my main point, perfectly summarized in the fictional, yet no-less-immortal, words of Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm in Jurassic Park: 

"Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should."

Oh, by the way, the drone is the thing pictured on the left.  Funny thing is: adjusted for inflation, the movie prop probably cost a lot more to build then it is to buy your average drone today.

EPIC DOCS  Get to know our inevitable robot overlords!

EPIC CLIP  Jeff Goldblum is totally pimp, yo.

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