Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Missive to My Bank

As I consider what words will express my feeling, I get an image of a rampart, built of huge slippery, leg-busting boulders, and coils of tangled wires, rising high over my head. You, the culture of the corporation, and the humanity of the people who work there, are behind that rampart. From your side, it is a smooth building face, with entrances and exits, people coming and going. It keeps everyone "safe", but that safety is isolation. I, the customer, the user, approach the technology, the ramparts, hoping to interact with a person, and discover not a channel to a person or a relationship, but a thing, that demands that I struggle through this knee-cap busting, ensnaring landscape, before I can interact with a person. To meet my human needs, I find myself embroiled in a flawed and complicated technology. This is not good for you, for me, or for the sustainability of the institution. I begin to think about how to find a place to put my money which allows me to interact with real people.

Your system, with ticket numbers, and a phone tree, is apparently designed to use your time efficiently. But my time? Like the baby food flavored to appeal to the mother, how would you know what the problems are and that for me to use the system grinds away at my time? The frequent users, those who learn and adapt, obviously will not report problems, and those too intimidated by the system will just walk away, so you, the corporation, will seldom hear that there are any problems. But how much does technology interfere with communication, where you would hope it would facilitate relationships with your customers?

Phone trees are dangerous to users when the tree does not have an escape value. Get way out on a limb where you don't want to be, and if there is no "go back a level" or "return to root menu", the only choice is to fall out of the tree - hang up - and climb back up to the desired level. Then there is the directory. The system may offer logical alternatives, but I quickly found myself in a menu option I did not want, and then the call was terminated. Which frustration do I want to deal with today? the phone tree or the email?

The ticket system used is different from email anywhere else on the web. Bulletin boards everywhere support cascading threads to keep a conversation on track. But not here. Here, I am expected to realize that I need to copy and paste a criptic "ticket number". Then, if I have made an inquiry, I need to return here to look up my "inbox" everyday, just to see WHETHER someone has responded yet. I feel like you think I have nothing better to do than sit on a bench feeding pidgeons, waiting for someone to visit with me. Moreover, you do not ask for a regular email address, a phone number, or an account number. If you know all this, you didn't use the information when I didn't answer your secret message being posted inside the ramparts, and if you don't know it, How are you supposed to upgrade the conversation to personal?

So I could just call your gateway phone number, and hope to talk to the person who wrote to me. Oh, I remember, I tried that. There was a name, so I made the "directory" selection, but then I failed the techno-competency test and got dropped out of the phone system. OK, call again and select "real person". So, will I be talking with the person who wrote to me? Will I know the ticket number of my in-house-proprietary-secret-email? Will I need to explain, to someone different, from the beginning, what the problem is, each time I call? So which frustration do I want to deal with today? the technology that isolates me from real people, or the human-resource system that turns real human beings into generic computer monkeys? Am I ready, yet, to prefer the inadequacy of the technology that drove me to write in the first place, over the inadequacies of the technology for communication? Insert just one more slippery spot on that boulder I have to climb, and I'll give up. You won't have to deal with me. You won't know I went away. You won't have any idea that despite your emotional readiness to talk to customers and be helpful, the corporation through its technology has passively succeeded to reduce the number of customers that make it to the top of the rampart, and therefore, who demand attention.

Now two months have passed since I last posted a query, and now I am back to re-post the same query, and discover I have been answered and un-answered! I didn't check my secret Inbox, I didn't know I was supposed to (is this what I signed up for?)! Oh, this system runs so smoothly, don't you think? I'm ready for lunch. How about you?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Market Has Failed!

It is with great frustration that I listen to the health care debate, and that the Democrats allow the Republicans to control the terms of the debate without salient, charged rebuttal.

In particular, there is the accusation that any government plan would ration health care. This may be a legitimate concern for people who can afford to buy anything they want, already, if they are afraid that they might be prevented from paying for their extra services. Which seems absurd. But Health care is being rationed now, for the middle and lower class, in at least two ways. First, many people have no care at all, or the care they get is at emergency rooms, which does not provide a full spectrum of care. Second, even those who have health care insurance do not have the security of knowing that their care is guaranteed. Each plan, to start with, is limited in the procedures it will allow, and then, insurance companies may refuse to pay for catastrophic care, for opaque, unpredictable reasons. The patch work of health care provision now available to Americans amounts to being the most rationed system in the industrial world. A public system which does not exclude anyone (Universality), which provides a reasonable and standardized package of services(Completeness), and does not refuse payments capriciously (security), would be less rationed than the current system.

There is also the charge that a government sponsored option would cost the taxpayers, and drain customers away from the existing system. But taxpayers are consumers and consumers of health care services - even those who do not need many - are already paying heavily for services. Why is our system the most expensive in the industrial world, with the lowest quality output? When Republicans charge that the system would cost too much, Democrats must answer, loudly, that the system costs too much NOW, and that when the cost to the private sector is added to the cost to the public sector, the overall cost of health care may be slightly more, and possibly even less, but ALL Americans will have health insurance! This will result in a dramatic improvement in the health of the American workforce and therefore the efficiency of the economy.
And the competition provided by the public program will drive costs down. (Of course if you want efficiency, you need a single-payer system.)

This, for many Republicans, is a cause for complaint. They say, "Competition by the government is unfair". I say "The market has had a chance to prove it can provide services efficiently. It cannot. It is extremely expensive [is not EFFICIENT], it is extremely discriminatory of both persons and services [is
neither UNIVERSAL to persons, nor offering a COMPLETE range of services], and it routinely denies care to those whom it does insure by refusing payment for particular services, or by un-enrolling them entirely, [enrollees have no SECURITY that payment will be made or that they will remain insured], nor does the market provide reasonably-priced insurance THROUGHOUT LIFE. That the market cannot guarantee Efficient, Universal, Complete and Secure health Care services Throughout Life, is dangerous for both citizens and the nation. The Market has failed. The time has come for market advocates to get out of the way and to let the people, through their public institutions, create a system of their own.

The system currently under consideration is not the most efficient possible, nor will it provide Efficient, Universal, Complete and Secure Care Throughout Life [EUCS-CTL]. Trying to get to an EUCS-CTL system via this plan is like trying to get fire wood by splitting knots. It will be painful and difficult, and compromises to meet Republicans half way will result in a system that is everything the Republicans are worried it will be: Expensive and Cumbersome. In effect, a perfect whipping horse. But we have a chance if we meet their arguments with effective salient rhetoric of our own:
1) Health care is being rationed now and a public plan would be would be less rationed than the current system.
2) When the cost of health care to both private and public sectors are added, the new system will not burden the economy more than the current system, and ALL Americans will have health insurance!
3) The Market has failed. The time has come to let the people stand up their own health care system.


I am sure that Democrats generally understand these issues, but I have not heard the vigorous rebuttals to Republican arguments that success in this debate follows. We truly need to answer them. THE MARKET HAS FAILED! COUNT THE WAYS! WE NEED A HEALTH CARE SYSTEM FOR PEOPLE, NOT PROFITS!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Open letter to our leaders: Fight Indefinite Detention.

Every person being held under police powers is either guilty of a crime, or innocent. The Constitution does not contemplate an intermediate state in which due process might be ignored. Every person being held under military powers must have a sovereign state to which he/she answers for participation in a bounded war, or else turned over to police authorities for charge and trial for a crime. International law does not contemplate an intermediate condition, for which the normal procedures of law are suspended.

Indefinite detention contemplates such intermediate conditions.

Under the U.S, Constitution, Indefinite detention violates the fundamental protections against violence by the state against its people. Even used against foreign nationals, Indefinite Detention opens a loop-hole in the law through which crimes against actual citizens might be perpetrated.

Under international law, Indefinite Detention violates the primary notion of sovereign responsibility, that a person is either fighting for a state, or violating the law of a state. It would extend to state-less persons, militants and terrorists the credence of statehood without the accountability of a known sovereignty.

These splitting-the-differences to create Indefinite Detention is dangerous for the rule of law, dangerous for the stability of international law, dangerous for the human rights of others who have committed no crimes, and contrary to the ideal of democracy.

While some persons being held may be dangerous, or know too much about our security systems, their disposition cannot be held in suspension for indefinite periods. Each case must be resolved according to one of the existing categories. The difficulty of doing so is a burden of the state which the state undertakes to protect the freedoms and prosperity of the people of whom it is made.

Mr. Obama, Mr. Representative, and Mr. Senator, please do not capitulate to the Bush/Cheney agenda, whose violations of Americans values and the constitution were so flagrant and despicable. Do not create a third category under the law, of someone who is exempt from the protections of the law. This only invites lawlessness and the collapse of the dream of opportunity and prosperity offered by the rule of law. To create a third category under the law would create a change we cannot believe in.

I urge you to reject any policy or proposal that would deprive individuals of access to a legal process, indefinitely imprisoning them without charge, the chance of a trial, or the protections of the Geneva Convention.

The issues surrounding the closing of Guantánamo are difficult and incredibly complex, but we cannot afford to habituate ourselves to laws that we know would violate our Constitution, or international law. I respectfully ask that you do what is in your power to fight indefinite detention -- It, more than any evil combatant in a criminal conspiracy to terrorize the world, is the true danger to our country, our values, and our Constitution.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Open Letter to Vermont Public Radio's President, Robin Turnau

I told myself that "VPR is my radio station." I would listen. Determined, unhappily, I would listen.

During the hour of the Conversation, I wanted to call. But I wanted to call about being cut off, about being limited to a brief comment with no follow up, and I could not imagine getting my whole point out before - what? - being cut off. If I cannot express myself because the idea is multilayered and too complex to compress into a single short paragraph, if I cannot make my point, because no one asks "Did that answer your concern?", if I cannot make my point because I never get a chance to answer the uncomprehending or evasive response of the radio guest, how am I ever to call the station president in the hour of conversation given to listeners, and make plain the problems with VPR call-in policies? These policies prevent callers from engaging guests in true discussion, in true conversation. And today these policies prevented a listener from challenging these policies. The policies, designed to maximize listener input, today prevented me from raising my objections to these policies. Today I felt shut out of the conversation, and today I felt disenfranchised. VPR has stopped being my radio station. I have stopped believing in VPR, I have stopped trusting that VPR belongs to its listeners.

This year, other listeners complained on related issues. In the past, I wrote to point out the problem -- that the call-in policies insulate the guest from being compelled to give a good, real, meaningful answer; that VPR hosts often do not comprehend the question being asked, or fails to insist on a meaningful answer, and the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from clarifying the question, or correcting the host; that listeners often have excellent, sharp questions that other listeners want to hear the answer to, but the call-in policies prevent the listener-caller from saying "No, that didn't answer the question"; that the call-in policies really prevent any real conversation from happening on VPR - and when I wrote, I proposed alternate ways to handle the problem. But in the 12 or 15 years of these policies and my discontent, no one at VPR has ever answered my concerns, and these policies have not improved.

In the past, I have called and asked for a chance to ask a follow up question, and without any courtesy, was simply locked out of the conversation. Recently, I called with two points to make about the health care debate, and I was literally cut off, razor like between two words, when I was ready to make my second point. The call-in policies used by VPR may maximize the number of listeners who get on the radio, but for the other 999,992 listeners who do not call in, these policies make for radio that is less interesting, less informative, less challenging, less insightful. Since I have written before, since I have suggested alternate ways to handle these problems, and since I have seen no improvement in VPR's quality, I am frustrated, and I despair that VPR will ever address my concerns.

But VPR IS my radio station, is the only radio that brings NPR and BBC and WBUR to Vermont, reliably, anywhere in the state (prettymuch). I can't get this stuff without holing up with my computer! I need VPR and I need VPR to make meaningful improvements to its call-in policies. I need VPR to reduce the padding which insulates it from the messy concourse between listeners and radio station. Please. I need you to at least suspend these policies during the thrice-annual conversation with listeners, so that a listener can call and make his case to the entire listenership.