Sunday, September 23, 2012

Liberals and Conservatives

When I was young and much more naïve I thought of myself as an intellectual liberal (a description, not a label).
I didn’t really consider all the unintended baggage that would attend such a description. To my way of thinking while label-ignorant, an Intellectual Liberal was a thinking person who would consider the entire spectrum of possibilities before taking a position or making a stand.

A Conservative on the other hand was a person who wished to be thought of as a thinking person but who denied the existence of a spectrum having already decided what should be.

Labeling is easier than thinking and demonstrates an absence of rational thought. Just tell me what you THINK. Leave the labeling to the grocery store clerk.

        “If by a ‘Liberal’ they mean someone who looks ahead and not behind,
         someone who welcomes new ideas without rigid reactions,   
         someone who cares about the welfare of the people
        -their health, their housing, their schools, their jobs, their civil rights
         and their civil liberties
        -someone who believes we can break through the stalemate and suspicions
         that grip us in our policies abroad, if that is what they mean by a ‘Liberal‘,
         then I'm proud to say I'm a ‘Liberal.’”

                                                                                    —John F. Kennedy
                                                                                                    Profiles in Courage

Customer Service

The demise of customer service seems an evolutionary stage in the dumbing down of America. From the cash registers programmed to tell a high school dropout cashier how much change is due the customer to the computerized “receptionist” in the Customer Service office which spews forth a menu containing ALL the possible reasons a person might call to discuss.

The register calculates the change due after the amount of cash tendered is entered. The result is in dollars and cents. That’s the way the cashier returns the change to the customer -- first the cash (because that’s what the computer said) then the coins. The cashier now tries to balance 94 cents worth of change on top of flat paper money. Many times the coins go sliding off the pile and hit the drive-thru pavement and roll under the car.

Before computers did the thinking for humans, making change was by the “counting up” method beginning with the coins first, then the bills. The coins nestled comfortably in the cupped palm. The thumb and forefinger were readily able to secure the bills -- no muss, no fuss, no errant coins. These logical computers have interfered with and oftentimes have destroyed human logical thinking.

In customer service call centers where people have been replaced by computers it seems the menus are designed by those who expect only the unenlightened to call. If the caller is one who can formulate a question, the presumptuous list of possibilities in the menu will rarely include the specific reason being called about. One experienced, dedicated human call taker can redirect to the appropriate authority with much greater efficiency than a “guessing” machine. I am reminded of Kathryn Hepburn’s character in Desk Set. She was the “expert“ about to be replaced by efficiency expert Spencer Tracy‘s computer.

I worked, for a short time prior to early retirement, in the AAA Emergency Road Service call center. It was an ideal position for me. A medical difficulty forced me out of the tractor trailer I had been driving into a non-driving job. I brought years of driving experience to AAA along with thorough knowledge of the geographical area. I could “find” motorists with car trouble who themselves didn’t know where they were.

The company decided, however, to computerize the Road Service function and they moved it to another office a prohibitive distance away thus ending my Road Service tenure. Their thinking was that a computer would allow them to employ minimally skilled people who would not need extensive training. Essentially, the Road Service workers would have only to enter the membership number of the motorist-in-distress and a rudimentary location and a service truck would be on its way.

Needless to say the computer could not ask the customer where they began their trip, where they were headed and approximately how long they were driving before they got into trouble so that no educated guess about their location “across the road from a red barn with a couple cows in the field next to it” could be made.

I love computers but they can’t read between the lines. People can.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Theme Music

I grew up in a small town in an era when in-home entertainment was limited to the piano if you had a piano and someone who knew how to make music rather than just sounds, or the radio. Television had not yet migrated from the laboratories into working class living rooms.

Among the favorite radio shows of my elders were The Lone Ranger, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon, and for my mother, The Romance of Helen Trent and Our Gal Sunday. Others usually listened to included  
The FBI in Peace and War, The Green Hornet, Doctor Christian, The Shadow, Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club and a host of others.

During school days I listened with my grandfather to the evening shows, The Lone Ranger, and Sergeant Preston of the Yukon before supper, homework and bed. It was during sick days home from school being nurtured with apricot nectar, apple juice and tasty soft foods that I could enjoy the daytime offerings not the least of which was Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club.

Midday is when my mother’s favorite soaps came on. Captive audience that I was I listened to those, too. I don’t believe the story line grabbed me. I doubt it. I don’t remember. What started getting my attention was the music. Especially the themes. It was over the ensuing lifetime that I started learning what music was being used for which theme -- it became a kind of musical crossword puzzle.
It was not until many years past that time that I finally learned the theme used for The Lone Ranger was not ONLY from Rossini’s William Tell Overture but also from Franz Liszt’s Les Preludes.

Driving across the desert one night in Arizona or New Mexico I  heard a piece of music I remembered from my youth but never knew its name. Now, I know the name. It was the overture from the opera Donna Diana by Emil von Resnicek which was used as the main theme for Sergeant Preston of the Yukon. Not that I had any taxonomic fixation about naming every tune I had ever heard but, more simply, if I want to hear a tune that’s no longer being used as a theme, I can find it whenever I want to now that I know the name.

Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion seems to be a modern day variation on Don McNeil’s Breakfast Club. And the Breakfast Club march around the breakfast table is approximated on WRTI’s, (Temple University Public Radio) Sousalarm at 7:15 A.M. with a tribute to the late great John Phillip Sousa.

The musical crossword was gradually being filled in. Now with more answers than questions I find myself just enjoying the sounds and noting connections here and there.

Thus began my life long association with music. It was only the beginning.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On Glass Half full/Half Empty

The process of filling or emptying a glass or any other container is simply that -- a process. Nothing more. To attempt to impart psychological or philosophical qualities to an inanimate physical process is ridiculous. If the container is being filled and the filler reaches the half-way mark, the container is half full. If the container is being emptied and the level reaches the half-way mark, the container is half empty.

According to the Chemistry Cat: "The optimist sees the glass half full. The pessimist sees the glass half empty. The chemist sees the glass completely full, half in the liquid state and half in the vapor state."