Monday, July 11, 2011

Should nations behave in a "moral fashion", or are they, By their nature, amoral

I wanted to share some thoughts and get your response on the subject of "Is the state a moral entity, or by its nature, amoral", that was brought up at the last Platypus meeting.

 I will use Tom Hanks in "The Castaway" as my model.

 Societies, by their very nature must be moral. Tom is alone on the island and entitled (by God?) to utilize everything there for his purposes. All the food, shelter, water and firewood, for example, is his.  It is a condition of Natural Law that it be so.

The minute "Joe", a newcomer, floats to the island, all bets are off.  Tom is no longer entitled to everything as he now belongs to a "society".  He has the immoral option of rejecting the society by killing Joe, but should he choose not to do that then he has willingly created a "state". A paradigm of societal standards, rules that govern how he and Joe behave.

This new state, "The Republic of Tom and Joe" has an implied equality standard within it. It is immoral for Tom to take 80% of the water for his own use, but if he is the stronger of the two, he may take it and create a "Republic  of Tom and Joe" law that says he is entitled to 80% of the water. But it will be an immoral law because it abrogates equality. Not "equal opportunity", mind you, for that is a fallacy. Joe can never have equal opportunity.  He came later, doesn't yet know where the spring is, etc. One of the great fallacies of America is that we have "equal opportunity", sheer nonsense.

Fast forward to the nation -states of today where inequality is rampant and even prized by those who are successful.  I am smarter, bigger stronger than you so I am entitled to more. All the way to the Libertarian nonsense of "I own the work of myself". So if I get rich enough to  buy the seafront of California, you can't swim at the Beach.

Nation -states, due to their complexity, pass all kinds of laws to avoid chaos.  And despite the Republican position of "If its legal it is moral", we know this to be untrue.

At the root core of every Democratic or near democratic nation-state, from the Republic of Tom and Joe to the USA, is the attempt to maximize benefit the citizenry. While dictatorships may have the goal of benefitting the person in power, that is not the case with democracies. If you wish now to make the case that the USA is a dictatorship of the elite and powerful, I could not disagree.

But politics aside for the moment, if a nation-state seeks "immoral" largess as the Republicans seem to be doing now, more for the rich and less for the poor,  or as might have been during the time of Louis XIV, for example ("let them eat cake"), where those in power take an uneven share of the state's production, what happens? Revolution.......ALWAYS....revolution.  Sometimes by force of arms and sometimes, as in China today, economic revolution which forces the state into a more democratic posture,  A more "Moral" posture. 

In short, nation-states MUST function in a moral manner or they won't last long. Is their morality perfect?  Certainly not!  But they must address their actions in a moral manner or risk chaos.

Now as to the position that nations are amoral when it comes to other nations, I would strongly disagree. The logical extension of this argument is strong nations should dominate weak nations since there is no moral imperative preventing them from doing that.  Why don't we invade Mexico and add ten states to the American union? It is better for everyone. The cost of doing it-minor, just threaten them with nuclear annihilation: Illegal immigration-solved:  the fate of the inhabitants-improved:  the standard of living- raised:  the opportunities- endless: the judicial system-improved: The drug cartels-prosecuted, etc. Why not? t is better for them and better for us.  We get cheap labor and they get the benefits of the USA.

The only answer is it is immoral for us to do that. Would we be afraid of Europe declaring war on us? Probably not, no sane nation would pursue that course first.  There would be protest, negotiation, but in the end the world would probably comply probably because the population of Mexico would welcome the improvements. But it is immoral to do so.

No nation can long pursue immoral ideals. Witness Nazi Germany, Communist Russia or China, 17th century France and many more....collapsed by their immorality. By their unfair treatment of the citizenry and other nations.

Now I grant you that the United States is moving ever closer to an immoral state, a state in which the rich get richer and the poor poorer and ignored. But we will not be able to sustain that forever.  The poor will rise up. Similarly, if we act imperially as we are doing in Iraq, maybe Afghanistan, and Libya, other nations and peoples will begin to decry us and no longer see us as moral. There was mention of how the Egyptians and Jordanians popular belief was  the "second Bush" election may have been stolen in Florida, and thus our government was just as corrupt as theirs and therefore they lost all respect for us.  We did not act in a sufficiently moral manner.

I want to further this conversation and await your response.

Let us deal with "corporate morality" later.

Friday, June 24, 2011

June 24, 2011

Chairman, CEO and President


208 S. Akard St.

Dallas, TX 75202

Dear Mr. Chairman,
I would like you to regale you with a short story about AT&T that I am sure will amuse you.

We have been AT&T wireless customers for over ten years and Robb Hall at our local store, Wireless One In Bella Vista Arkansas,  is one of the best customer service people out there. He has helped us for more than ten years.

But my tale  began June 3 when I decided to take advantage of AT&T's offer to upgrade my system, (479) 531-xxxx and xxx2 with a new two year contract and new phones for my wife and I, several months before our contract expired.  What a nice offer!
We went to the AT&T Corporate store, 20 miles away in Rogers, Arkansas, to look at selection and features for the phones. We concluded a nice Motorola Atrix 4G would be just what the doctor ordered for $99.00 apiece.  But I thought I'd better check online first!  Lo and behold, online offered  a refurbished Atrix 4G phone at 49.99 each!  Such a deal!  We ordered them and they duly arrived several days later. Unfortunately we couldn't turn them on nor unlock them, no doubt due to our decrepit age.  We are both 70 after all.

So, we sent the phones back and asked for working ones.  Your nice customer service representatives  agreed to Fed Ex them to us, and we received the working replacements within a couple of days.  You then received the non- working originals back on 6-20-11.

The new phones were magnificent! We could get e-mail! Text! Go on Facebook and twitter! Check our minutes! Navigate and track our positions on the earth with a GPS! Magnificent!  Unfortunately, what we could not do was to figure out how to answer the phone, transfer our contacts, set up a speed dial system, or make a call. We are old. And we figured the problem was ours, so we took it to our local phone store in Bella Vista, AR,  where one of the aforementioned best customer service reps, Robb Hall, works.  Since we had ordered online Robb couldn't do much but took the time to educate us in how some of it worked. 

Robb patiently explained we were not educationally challenged and showed us where to go to download the manual, which we did.

We could make calls! Even receive them! Great.

But, in about two weeks it became apparent that a Motorola Atrix 4G was much too much phone for us. We don't text. We don't need to go online and tweet or twit or facebook or SOCIALLY NETWORK WITH ANYONE! We are apparently both Luddites and challenged in the social department. It is a major effort to text with arthritis of the thumbs, not to mention other decaying body parts. We need a phone to make calls!  Despite the fact that our children no longer communicate by any means other than text we keep attempting to call them.  Perhaps you could explain what "B4 C:md ph I" means.

Now the fun began. I called your online customer service center on Jun 23rd to say the phones were too much for us and we would like to exchange them. 

Endless wait for the disembodied voice to get me to a option for that.  I could buy a new phone, check my bill online or amend my service plan but I could NOT, under any circumstance, talk to a human. I persevered.  Three redials,  a broken fingernail a few verbal mortal sins and several missed options later I got my human.  Whose response was "No problem!  Simply return the old phones to us using the USPS return sticker we provided and go to the AT&T store, decide which replacement phones you would like, then call us back, give us the model and we will send you the new one's". Oh Joy, Oh Rapture! Sounded fair to me! So we sent the old one's back and kept the tracking number.

I picked my wife up at work over lunch, and we drove the twenty miles to the "Corporate" store. We found a basic phone, a Pantech Breeze II, which my wife liked,  but the salesperson said we would have to wait until the old phones were received by AT&T to get the new one's......Otherwise $119.00 per phone.

"What?",  I asked, somewhat bemused. "We have to go without phones for two weeks or so while the mail system handles the return?", I asked rather stupidly. "Yes" was the reply. "Why then did your customer service people  tell me to return the phones which I did this morning and they are now in the hands of the USPS, an organization I would rather not mess with".

"I am sorry sir, whomever told you that online (someone named Doria at God knows what location) exceeded her authority." 
"What do we do now", I asked, descending into a state of existential angst to rival Kafka on his best day.  "I have no phone."

"Perhaps if you go back online they can fix the problem", was the response. I was entirely too addled to see the irony in the statement. I drove wife back to work, drove home and proceeded to go online, and then recalled the Customer Service Center, a process similar to Dante's descent into the fifth circle of hell.

I began the process at 8:47AM, lunch and the visit to the AT&T corporate store was about noon and I was finished about 5:35PM. In that interim I talked to 7 people, three of whom attempted to help me.  Ruthie Bingham in Huntsville, Alabama gave it a good shot. "I've corrected the records and you should have no problem now.  I have noted the file that you are to get the new phones at the upgrade rate."

So I returned to the Corporate store 20 miles away and spoke to Darlene who showed me the phones and said, "no, the records have not yet been altered and you must wait until AT&T receives the old phones....COMPANY POLICY!"  There it was, that dreaded word that strikes fear in the heart of every customer....Company Policy"...the decree from the great beyond. So I went home.

Back online, this time to two men, one who transferred me to a "supervisor",  who in the final analysis after more than thirty minutes online, told me there was nothing he could do....COMPANY POLICY...

I pointed out I had already paid for the old phones which were in the mail. Couldn't they just give me new ones at the upgrade price and if it turned out I was mistaken about returning the old ones, simply bill me for the new ones at the NON-UPGRADE price. 

Apparently not, "Because, (according to your Customer Service Supervisor)how do I know if you are telling the truth that you returned them." A rather interesting twist.  Imply the customer is lying and probably cheating you. Great customer service!
I said:
1) Here is the USPS tracking number. They have had it since 10:57:48 AM and it is now 3:20.

2) What difference does it make if I am lying you will simply bill me later.

3) Why must you receive the old phone, I have the SIM card, the old phone is useless.

4) Where did you hone your customer service skills..... Dachau?

I am sorry for that last comment, it was most ungracious and unreasonable.

He replied, I am sorry sir...COMPANY POLICY.

I hung up and fixed myself a beer and a plate of chocolate not knowing whether inebriation or a sugar high would be preferable.  So I did both.

After I simmered awhile and took a short catnap, I called again to the now achingly familiar Customer Service Center to say I felt it unreasonable I should go without phones for two weeks since we have no land line.

Lo and behold Randi W. of the Longview, TX service center agreed with me! (Don't you agree there is just something about those Texas women. )

She looked into the matter and discovered dear Ruthie Binghaman had simply failed to get supervisor approval for the exchange. Within about thirty minutes of holding, my upgrade had been cancelled and received supervisor approval and I could go into any store and upgrade my service to a Luddite phone at the "upgrade price" ! WOW! Thanks Randi!
So I called the AT&T "Corporate" store in Rogers. Perhaps, under the circumstances,  a bit of whimsy on my part...or possibly a grim fascination with Dante. Seven redials later ("We are sorry we are very busy helping other customers")

In frustration I called my wife in the Home Office of Wal-Mart to cry and moan a little. She said I'll call Darlene!

Four minutes later I received a call from Darlene. "Your wife called from the Wal-Mart Home office and asked me to call you."  The words "Wal-Mart Home Office" has apparently mystical properties rivaling the Minotaur or Sphinx in inscrutability.

"Darlene, my sweet, will you check to see if the records are cleared so I can get the new phones you showed me earlier today?"

Of, not yet I have spoken with my supervisor and COMPANY POLICY......

I sank into a fit of despair rivaling Van Gogh before the ear cutting. "Why great God in heaven have you abandoned me to this cruel fate?"
Redial Randi...unbelievable trouble to find the same person in the same call center.

"Yes it has been changed Mr. Middleton as I told you.  The store person didn't check closely enough. We have completely cancelled your upgrade and you are free to go in any store and upgrade to the phone of your choice at upgrade prices."

Once again Randi, you have exceeded all expectations and marched directly into the halls of Valhalla trailing a scent of..........well, never mind.

Redial my AT&T corporate store....five, six, no seven times. "Hello Darlene my lurking little cherub would you mind checking the records one more time?"

"Of course Mr. Middleton. Oh, here it is! they've cancelled the upgrade! You are free to come in and pick out any phone at upgrade prices."

Terrific, Darlene, my dappled little pudding, how much is the upgrade price for a Pantech Breeze II"


"But that was the retail price without the upgrade,  right?"
"Right they are the same."
You mean I spent all, no. Surely you jest, mon petit!
"No sir, there is no discount whether upgrade or not."

"So my Motorola Atrix 4G, which cost $99.95 new or $49.95 refurbished, and texts, goes online, has wifi, internet and bluetooth whatchamacallit, has 34 different ringtones and operates by voice command and has been blessed by the Pope and the internet gurus as "the best damn smart phone out there",with, if I am not mistaken an app that will raise the Confederate flag while whistling "Dixie", is cheaper than this little Pantech Breeze II which is just for making calls? It's $119.99?

"Less rebate which comes to you in the form of a credit card.  And the data plan and text plan...."
"I'm talking about the cost OF THE PHONE, Darlene." I checked with my Non-corporate store here and it is $99.95 less rebate according to Robb Hall who is rarely wrong

"Yes sir.  It is more.  I don't know why."

I don't know why either.  It is now 7:45 at night and I am finished with phones today.  I am going to pull out my SIM card, return my neighbor's phone and if I have a heart attack tonight and cannot raise the ambulance I will come back from the dead, move next door to you at 207 S. Akard St. in Dallas and appear throughout the AT&T corporate offices as a dreadful apparition, hovering over cubicles, rattling chains and moaning viscerally throughout the day.

Since I got what I wanted I have few complaints..........I guess. We will see what happens tomorrow.

I may call customer service again just to have a moment of humor.

Very truly yours,  

John P. Middleton, the phoneless