Saturday, October 15, 2005

The Test of Service

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The following is from a letter I sent to the Head Office of Fry’s Electronics today: I am blogging in in a chronicle of the store’s response, and as a warning to anyone considering buying appliances from Fry’s, who has a national chain of stores.

“There are literally hundreds of stores in the Houston area which offer appliances for sale, all of them boasting about their prices and selection. In the end, the largest difference between them is determined by the service of their staff. I am writing to you to let you know about some very bad failures, as well as some very shining successes, in that area, along with the name of an employee who is doing extensive damage to your company name through her deceitful practices and offensive behavior.

My wife and I recently set out to purchased appliances; we took care in selecting appliances to avoid any complications in the quality of their performance, and so set out to get a Maytag washer and drier, and a Maytag refrigerator.

On Tuesday, September 27, 2005, my wife and I visited the Fry’s Electronics store at 11565 Southwest Freeway in Houston. During our visit, we met Josie Ames, a Fry employee in appliances who is a persuasive seller, but as we would learn, not an honest one.

Josie was unable to show us a Maytag washer and dryer we liked (I tend to mistrust the digital display machines, knowing how quickly those can wear out), but told us the Amana washer and dryer were basically the same thing, as they were made by the same company as the Maytag washers and dryers. Josie assured us that Fry’s offered prices as low as anyone else we would find, and since we were asking about delivery on Saturday October 1, Josie said she could “guarantee” we would get delivery between 10 AM and 2 PM that day, of the washer, dryer, and refrigerator if we purchased them on Tuesday night. On those two very specific promises, my wife and I purchased Amana washer and dryer, and a Maytag refrigerator on Tuesday, September 27 (Store #29, Invoice #466315, total $1,558.61 with tax).

On Thursday, September 29th, my wife and I began to move from our old place into our new. As I was leaving my old residence on the 30th, I did not need the refrigerator or washer/dryer until the Saturday promised, and so on the 30th I put our perishable food in some coolers with ice for overnight, and we got ready for the Saturday delivery. I called the store Friday to make sure they had the necessary information for the delivery, and was assured everything was good to go.

On Saturday October 1st, I called around 10 in the morning, to once again make sure the store had the correct instructions for finding our home, as Josie had not asked for directions when she wrote up our sale. At that time, Josie told me (for the first time), that there was a problem; the store could not deliver my refrigerator as promised on Saturday, and did not immediately know when they could deliver it. This created an immediate problem for me, as the ice in the coolers had pretty much melted overnight, and while I was comfortable keeping the perishable food in ice chests overnight, I would not be able to trust food left out of a refrigerator for more than 12 hours. This fact, in addition to her specific promise that the problem she had “guaranteed” would not happen, was happening anyway, did not concern Josie, who now expected either my wife or me to take an extra day off work to be home for the eventual delivery of our missing refrigerator. As for the promised washer and dryer, they did arrive on Saturday, though not in the promised ‘10 AM to 2 PM’ window that Josie “guaranteed”; the truck with those appliances did not arrive until 4:30 PM, further delaying other things we needed to do.

Because of the broken promise by Josie, we had to reschedule for a delivery on Tuesday, October 4th. When I called Tuesday morning to try to get an idea of when the delivery would occur, Josie again said they could not deliver as promised; they did not, in fact, even know where the refrigerator was, even though the day before, Josie had assured me it was on the dock, ready to go. I made a number of attempts to contact the Store Manager, during which time Josie deliberately hung up on me when I reminded her that she had specifically promised this problem would not happen, and therefore she should take responsibility to correct the problem. I eventually spoke with Demond Burfitt, the Department Manager for Appliances. We spoke at about 4:30 PM, and he promised to personally bring out the refrigerator, which he did, showing up at the house around 7:00 PM. I want to stop at this point and highlight the difference between Josie Ames, who does not mind lying to customers or treating them rudely, and who feels no sense of responsibility, and Demond Burfitt, who took up the challenge caused by Josie’s criminal behavior and worked to resolve the problem.

There were, however, two problems caused by the delivery of the refrigerator. First, while personally bringing in the refrigerator, Mr. Burfitt and Joseph Cupidor (whom I was led to believe was the Store Manager) banged the refrigerator into the dishwasher, leaving a dent and scratch in the face of it. Bear in mind please that the dishwasher is brand new. Also, they had trouble attaching the handle to the freezer door, and stripped the door threading while trying. Consequently, while they brought the refrigerator on October 4th, it was necessary to repair additional damage they caused. On Saturday, October 8th, Mr. Cupidor brought a freezer door for the same model, to replace the damaged one; this came from a floor demo model. At this writing, the damage to the dishwasher has not yet been addressed.

Mr. Burfitt, at the time the dishwasher was damaged, promised to get the face replaced. He made a show of getting the make and model information, but as the days passed nothing happened. On Tuesday, October 9th, I came home and found a phone message from Josie Ames (the salesperson who had repeatedly lied to us, and who had hung up on me deliberately when I said I needed to speak to the Store Manager), saying that they needed me to find the model number and call them back before 6 PM. Since I arrived home at 6:45, I could not get that information to them until Thursday morning, which I did. I spoke on Thursday and Friday with Mr. Burfitt and Mr. Cupidor about the matter, and in short, there seems to be a continuing problem getting the damage caused by the Fry’s employees repaired; at this writing I do not know, in specific, how Fry’s intends to repair my dishwasher. On Thursday, Mr. Burfitt said it would be necessary for Fry’s to send out people to take photos of the damage, which would then be addressed by Fry’s insurance company. How long this will take, and why I am required to wait while Fry’s decides what to do, was not answered. When I called Saturday morning to speak to Mr. Cupidor, Josie Ames answered the phone, and when she discovered it was me, immediately hung up on me again. The people scheduled to come take the photos were due between 9 AM and 1 PM, but failed to arrive in that window.

On Saturday, October 15th, I tried repeatedly to speak with either Demond Burfitt or Joseph Cupidor on the matter, without much success. I spoke with Mr. Burfitt by his cell phone, as he was not at the store that day, and he assured me the people coming to take the photos would be there, and that he would call them. I was unable to get through to Mr. Cupidor; despite six calls, I was either put on hold and forgotten until the phone disconnected ten minutes later, or else I was told he was unavailable and would call be back “in a few minutes”. When I called again at 12:30 PM, I discovered from the receptionist, for the first time, that Mr. Cupidor was not in fact the Store Manager but an employee in the Appliances Department. I spoke then with Daniel Torres, who was in charge of Store #29 at the time I called; Mr. Eddie Ashcroft turns out to be the actual Store Manager. He listened to my account of everything which has happened in the past eighteen days, and has promised to set things straight.

So, to sum up the matter: A Fry’s employee, Josie Ames, specifically and deliberately made false statements to me and to my wife regarding the price and delivery of our appliances. I say this, because at this moment Home Depot is running advertisements for a washer and dryer by Maytag which are, in almost every respect, the same as the Amana washer and dryer we purchased at Fry’s, except that Home Depot is offering them for a combined price more than a hundred-fifty dollars less than what Fry’s charged us, plus they offer a $150 Gift Card for any purchase of more than $299. The refrigerator we have is not really the new refrigerator we were promised, as it was damaged during installation and had to be repaired with parts from the demo unit. Damage was done to our kitchen by the installation of the refrigerator, which has not only not been repaired in the eleven days since it happened, but no date or time has been scheduled, even tentatively, for when it will be done. In addition, we have lost food which had to be thrown out because the refrigerator was not available until three days later than “guaranteed”, we have had to take additional time off from work to be home for the later delivery, we have had additional stress from waiting for people who have, in four tries, not yet arrived within the promised time window, I have made over thirty telephone calls trying to resolve these problems in the past two weeks, and have been deliberately hung up on twice, disconnected (possibly by accident) another four times, put on hold more than a dozen times only to be told someone would call me back, which usually has not happened, and still I am left with a situation which is much, much different than the smooth delivery and installation of competitively-priced appliances I was promised back on September 27th. While Mr. Torres has promised to take care of the matter, I still think it is important that your head office should be made aware of the Customer Service conditions and opportunities at your Southwest Freeway store in Houston.

I know from my own experience, that the success or failure of a business share of market segment often depends on the quality of your customer service. That’s more than just answering the phone and smiling a lot; it really comes down to the test of addressing problems and concerns. In short, a successful business has to train and motivate their staff to fix problems and pay attention to them while they are immediate and small; putting someone on hold, telling them to call back later or that someone will call them back at some later time, or worse, neglecting a problem or showing resentment to a customer with a problem, these all make things worse instead of better, and can cause serious damage and a bad reputation that never quite goes away. To be blunt, the Southwest Freeway store has a problem with integrity; one employee at least is lying to customers, the staff makes customers wait for delivery windows that they do not follow through on, and there is a clear sense of not caring when the store creates a problem or fails to keep a promise. That combination will inevitably prove deleterious to a store’s long-term success. How you address it is largely your own concern, but I am sure that you will want to take care of such a serious matter. Speaking for myself, my next actions will be decided by how well the local store’s management deals with their responsibilities.”

Buyer beware, indeed.

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Call


Ahhhhhhhh, Baseball, the first true love of many a man, before he goes through puberty or discovers beer. A sport so truly American, that when the Soviets wanted to groom agents to pass for native Americans, they made them play baseball and learn about all the major league teams. And like so many sports, the tradition includes the obligation to second-guess the calls made by the umpires.

The game in specific I have in mind, is the American League Championship Series Game 2 between the Chicago White Sox and the Angels, whether of Los Angeles of Anaheim depending on your sense of tradition and propriety.

In case you missed it, I am writing about the ninth inning call by Plate Umpire Doug Eddings, when A.J. Pierzynski swung at a low pitch for the third strike with two out and the Angels leading 2-1. Sounds like out three, game over right? Especially since Eddings signaled the third strike and pumped his fist to the side. Knowing that the pitch was low and understanding the rulebook better than many people who would debate the call later, Pierzynski ran for first base, fully expecting the Angels catcher, Josh Paul, to simply throw to first base to confirm the out. But that is not what happened, and the debate begins there.

Paul gloved the ball as it either bounced off the ground at the lip of his glove, or else just as it was about to hit the ground; which it is depends on whom you ask, even with taped replay. Without a doubt, though, Paul’s glove was on the ground and that should have clued the catcher to throw to first and make sure. Instead, Paul believed the game was over and rolled the ball underhand in the general direction of the pitcher’s mound as the Angels began to leave the field. None of the umpires, however, moved from their positions, and none of the umpires called Pierzynski out. By the time the Angels realized that Pierzynski had not been called out, it was too late to make the play. Later in the inning, Joe Crede hit a double that ended up winning the game for the White Sox to even the series.

Angels manager Mike Scoscia, who should know better, claimed “He called him out … When he rings him up with a fist, he’s out.”

Actually, no Mike, that’s not correct. As Major League Baseball VP of umpiring Mike Port explained, “Doug Eddings, all things considered, did nothing wrong.” In explaining why Eddings did not make a call to indicate the ball was in play, Port said “There is no regulation or requirement that they say something”.

As an umpire myself, I think I can help to explain the call. Without getting too fancy, you have two basic types of umpires: The Plate Umpire and the Field Umpires. They have very different roles most of the time. As the years went by and Baseball evolved, umpires learned that yelling things at players tended to make them stop, which was sometimes a very bad thing. For instance, umpires will usually shout “Foul!” when a ball goes foul in addition to signaling the foul with their arms, but will not make a verbal call when the ball is fair, because yelling something like “In Play!” or “Fair!” will be hard to hear clearly, and both runners and fielders have a tendency to stop when they hear something shouted by an umpire; the assumption is that the ump is telling them to stop. That’s why “Balk!” is called out loud, but a delayed dead ball foul is not verbalized. So traditionally, no matter what level of ball you are playing, umpires do not generally make a verbal statement when the ball is in play. When’s the last time you heard the umpire declare that a base hit or a double is in play, after all?

Now, the exact reason why a dropped third-strike is not automatically an out would take a while to explain, but for here I will simply say that except in leagues for very young kids, and unless first base is occupied with less than two outs, if the catcher drops the ball on a third strike, swung at or called, he better plan on throwing to first base or tagging the runner. If the catcher is in any doubt, he’d better make sure he tags the runner or throws to first. This is not unique to the Majors, but is the rule throughout Baseball; that makes it Josh Paul’s job to make sure.

As for the fist? It is true that when a field umpire signals with his fist, the runner is out, but that’s because the field umpire principally makes safe/out calls – notice that if he is asked whether a batter swung, a fist does not mean the batter is out, but that he swung. When addressing strike/ball calls, a closed fist means only that the call is a strike; it is not made as an out call unless the umpire calls “out” verbally. Again, this is nothing unique to the Majors, nor is it a new rule, so Mike Scoscia should really know better than to claim the ump called him out. Eddings did not say anything, and what that means should have been very clear to Scoscia.

Now then, when I am dealing with PONY-age baseball players, I sometimes have to explain to them that if I don’t say anything about someone being out, they should recognize that means the ball is still in play – I can’t call anything until it happens, and they have to be careful not to assume anything. I recall one ridiculous High School JV game some years back, where a player came around third trying to score, and the throw came in to the catcher. Obviously, there was going to be a play at the plate, but as both the runner and catcher looked at me for the call, I had to say nothing for a few seconds. That was because while the catcher had tagged the runner with his glove before he got to the plate, the ball had fallen out of his glove before he tagged the runner. As for the runner, his slide came up short, and when both he and the catcher looked up at me, the ball was a foot or so away from them, and the runner was about 8 inches away from the plate. As seconds ticked away, I heard yelling at me from both dugouts, but I had to wait until the light clicked in the runner’s head, and he reached over and slapped home plate just as the catcher realized he did not have the ball. It took a while to explain it to the coaches, but I had to wait for the tag, either of the plate or with the ball. Josh Paul should have known by the no-out-call that he had to make sure. He made an assumption, and that cost him.

I am a bit bemused by one thing, however. When I worked the plate, I recognized the possibility that I might not see what happened in certain places. So I developed a signal with my first-base ump to tell me with a fist or point-down whether or not a third strike had been dropped. Major League Baseball does not use that signal, and I have to wonder why. A clear signal between the umpires is always a good thing, but that comes down to the umpiring crews, and there lies a whole different reality. But umpiring is a job with a special set of required skills, and when you have to make the call, you have to expect the noise and criticism that comes with it. A lot of people who don’t know what they are talking about will chop at you and gain support from their buddies, even some famous sportscasters will show their ignorance, albeit to general approval from their viewers. It’s a personal irritation of mine, actually. I agree that it makes sense to hire former professional athletes to explain how a player handles a certain situation, and to hire former coaches to explain how plays are developed and training done. But for some reason, when they discuss the calls made by officials, the television guys still to back to the ex-players and coaches, rather than asking former officials. But then, asking the guys who really know what’s going on, has not been the popular thing to do.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The President


A lot has been said about Harriet Miers, and for the moment at least, no more can be said which builds the picture effectively. She either is or is not qualified to be a Supreme Court Justice, but she is the nominee, and that’s not going to change. If you know anything at all about Dubya, you know he sticks by his people, and from what I have learned about Harriet Miers, I do not expect her to quail in the face of idealogical rage, even from the very people who ordinarily would caution the nation to take their time and learn the facts before building gallows. So, it will come down to the Confirmation Hearings before the Senate, where, as fate and the writers of the Constitution would have it, the decision to approve or deny Harriet Miers will be made by the men and women whose elected office includes that duty. The sniping celebrities who deride Miers simply because they wanted someone else, will find themselves left on the sidelines, where in this case they belong.

The decision to approve a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court lies, as it always has, with the members of the Senate. Some take this responsibility seriously, some patently do not. Their voters will have to live with this, as this quality of person was in most cases apparent at the time of their election, and the self-adoration of American Senators is a well-known proclivity. And certainly everyone should know by now, the character and temperment of George W. Bush. Sixty-two million people made their statement in favor of Bush last November, and that vote they cannot withdraw now. Granted, the alternative of John “Hero” Kerry is enough to have driven quite a few to the Right side. But Dubs has not been anything but what he promised he would be, like it or not. So why are some Conservatives unhappy with him, albeit mainly the ones with large bank accounts and personalities to polish?

I’m 45, and so I have seen that same strange popularity quirk before with Presidents. The fact is, every President has a flaw in his policies and person somewhere, or rather I should say that he will fail to please everyone all the time, even in his own party. The myth of the monolithic GOP was always amusing to us on the Right, especially as more people from a variety of backgrounds shared the same party ID. The Democrats never seemed to grasp that Republicans were more than one or two points of view, even on some very important issues. We just happen to be, dare I say it, usually more mature in our discussions and debates than the Liberals/Democrats. Even in the midst of the Miers debate, most Republicans have been able to respect dissenting opinions, with the unfortunate exception of a few who take their right to criticize a decision, and have tried to coerce their own choice in place.

The President has a lot of power, but it comes with real limits. Some of those limits are Constitutional, but some are simply points of reality. In the case of the Miers nomination, that reality includes the fact that most Republicans in the Senate would not confirm to the President that they would stand for an all-out fight with the Democrats. So, submitting a Luttig or a Brown, assuming for the moment that they are as advertised, would risk an outright defeat in the Senate, killing momentum for a number of important initiatives, and hurting the chances for the next nominee as well. Further, strange as it may sound, the President has always shown a preference for the known over the unknown. He chose Cheney over many other VP candidates suggested (including, thank God, John McCain), and while that was controversial, it worked out fine in terms of actual job performance. He chose Rumsfeld for SecDef over many other expected possibilities, and this has also proven to be the smart choice. When Powell (who served in reasonable fashion in getting Democrats to vote for the Iraq War) stepped down, Dubya went with Condi Rice, whom he knew very well from her work as NSA. More than a few people complained at the time, but Rice has proven admirably competent. The assumption that Bush chose Harriet Miers simply because he knows her work and character, is an insult not only to Miers and Bush, but shows that some on the Right have bought into the 'Chimpy McHitler' caricature the Left has sold all these years; it’s simply foolhardy to ignore Bush’s record of picks. It’s simply laughable, to claim that President Bush made the choice without considering what was required for the job, without thinking in the long term, or that he refused to listen to anyone else. It wasn’t true in 2001, and it is still not true.

The problem in the party camps is this sense that “He owes us”. Ultimately, that seems to be the basis for some much of the griping, that Bush somehow made promises he is not keeping. The funny thing is, the Democrats said the same thing about Clinton, even when he was doing things the Right detested and the Left should have loved. Both Right and Left chewed George H.W. Bush, sometimes rightly but sometimes out of sheer political hatred. I remember in the late 1980s how many Conservatives complained Reagan was “selling out” in his second term. As the years went by, that view mellowed out on the Right but at the time, it was just as fashionable for a “good” Conservative to whine and moan about Reagan, as it is now to pick away at Bush.

At some point, the truth will sink in, and it won’t make the extremists and the big egos happy. President Bush will, short of going completely insane, never face serious opposition in the Congress. That isn’t to say he will get what he wants, even most of the time. I mean to say, that over the remaining three years of his term President Bush will either convince the leadership in Congress to go along with his proposals, or he will find Congress doing as it pleases while putting up the face of cooperation, as is a very common historical condition. Bush has nothing on the line in terms of his career; he’s going back to Crawford in 2009, so he couldn’t care less whether this guy or that approves of his decisions. As always, Dubya will meet the challenge as he sees fit, and we will receive the results as a party and nation. On the whole, the GOP and certainly the United States are well ahead of where they were in 2000, but that fact will only become apparent as time passes, and as eventually it will have to happen, another Democrat claims the White House. For now, it seems appropriate to observe the powers and limits of the Presidency, which are contained in the Constitution of the United States, and in within the limits of the Beltway around Washington D.C. The President is a man, in this case a dedicated and intelligent man, who often turns his opponents' own pride and arrogance against them, but just a man for all of that. Expecting him to solve all your problems is not realistic. And disrespecting him on the basis of a decision which value and consequence you have nothing but assumption, shows how thin the layer of consensus our party has built thus far, and so verifies the President’s own caution.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Make Good Decisions


Over the past week, I have received a lot of mail on my posts concerning the nomination of Harriet Miers to the United States Supreme Court. Some of them have used language I find regrettable from people who claim to be open-minded and rational, but others have asked legitimate questions and voiced reasonable concerns. A great many have asked if I could manage to answer in less than a thousand words, so here goes.

[] No, it's not just accepting "trust me" from President Bush, to say we should consider his nomination of Miers in the light of his past picks. We do the same thing when we consider our legal and medical advice, or when we consider the input from a co-worker. Bush has a good solid record, and it just makes sense to count it now.

[] EVERY source is biased; the only question is how to measure the extent of it and see whether it's overboard. The simple fact is, if we look long enough we can find flaws in any candidate, and it should be noted that while it is entirely reasonable to ask how Harriet Miers is qualified, it is unconscionable to spread rumors or assume she is unqualified, simply because she is not what you expected.

[] Republicans overwhelming supported President Clinton's right to present his own nominees. No reasonable person can now claim Bush deserves less.

[] For many years, Republicans fought to make sure candidates were qualified, not to measure them on the basis of idealogy. We will put a dagger into Liberal hands if we abandon that sound practice now.

[] There will be hearings for Miers. The very purpose of these hearings is for the Senate to decide where they will stand on her. Premature verdicts are foolish verdicts.

Choose wisely. This is about far more than one pick at one time.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Know Your Enemy


In all the noise of the past week, with various individuals and groups saying regrettable things in a unfortunate ways, there has been a misconception created, that Conservatives are just the same as Liberals when it comes to emotional instability. But I think there are still significant differences, and so it is appropriate to re-examine a major figurehead of the Liberal movement, a man who holds considerable sway among the Left, and whose total lack of either candor or consistent principles makes it a chilling thought indeed, to consider that he very nearly came to claim the White House.

The following comments were made in a prepared speech to The Media Center’s “We Media” conference last Wednesday in New York City. The speaker was Al Gore, former Vice President of the United States, and present co-owner of a small independent television network, and celebrated speaker for both the Democratic Party and the “Progressive” political movement.

“Are we still routinely torturing helpless prisoners, and if so, does it feel right that we as American citizens are not outraged by the practice? And does it feel right to have no ongoing discussion of whether or not this abhorrent, medieval behavior is being carried out in the name of the American people?”

Just in case you ever wondered whether Al Gore and Michael Moore have experimented with the Mind Meld, I present this exhibit in hysteria and rumor-mongering.

“In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there was - at least for a short time - a quality of vividness and clarity of focus in our public discourse that reminded some Americans - including some journalists - that vividness and clarity used to be more common in the way we talk with one another about the problems and choices that we face. But then, like a passing summer storm, the moment faded.”

A telling comment. The moment Gore seems to prize so highly, was when Mayor Nagin predicted 10,000 dead in New Orleans, and was screaming obscenities on a radio show at the President. It seems Gore is fondly reminiscing about the unbalanced Cindy Sheehan yelling about New Orleans being “occupied”. In those few days, the MSM picked up on that hysteria and began to parrot false rumors and harangue the President for not somehow foreseeing the disaster. Once it became obvious that the rescue and relief efforts were effective, and that casualties were far below predictions, and that local and state officials were far more culpable for the conditions creating the chaos and delay, then as Mr. Gore said, ”the moment faded”. Leave it to Al Gore to miss a mob frenzy.

“Our founders knew all about the Roman Forum and the Agora in ancient Athens. They also understood quite well that in America, our public forum would be an ongoing conversation about democracy in which individual citizens would participate not only by speaking directly in the presence of others -- but more commonly by communicating with their fellow citizens over great distances by means of the printed word. Thus they not only protected Freedom of Assembly as a basic right, they made a special point - in the First Amendment - of protecting the freedom of the printing press.”

This is a great irony. Since newspapers and television networks broadcast to the public but do not allow for effective feedback and true communication from the public, this statement effectively proves that the Internet is the true great hope for democratic speech. Yet somehow Gore misses that obvious truth, and instead tries to build this statement into support for the chattering hairpieces of the television networks.

“Newspapers are hemorrhaging readers and, for the most part, resisting the temptation to inflate their circulation numbers. Reading itself is in sharp decline, not only in our country but in most of the world. The Republic of Letters has been invaded and occupied by television.”

Note that Gore makes no attempt to discover the reason why newspapers are losing readership. He simply assumes that the problem is with the public, rather than the bias of the newspapers. Note also that while Gore takes a distinct dislike to the syndicates and conglomerates of some cable and radio networks, he pays no attention at all to the growing monopoly of newspaper syndicates, who tightly control content and allowed opinion in their papers.

“Television first overtook newsprint to become the dominant source of information in America in 1963. But for the next two decades, the television networks mimicked the nation's leading newspapers by faithfully following the standards of the journalism profession. Indeed, men like Edward R. Murrow led the profession in raising the bar.”

Only a Liberal could possibly believe that the television news of the 1970s and later was, in any way, honorable or observant of a professional standard.

“It was universally understood that the ultimate check and balance for American government was its accountability to the people. And the public forum was the place where the people held the government accountable. That is why it was so important that the marketplace of ideas operated independent from and beyond the authority of government.”

A distinctly ironic statement. That statement is completely true, and proves the need and virtue of the blogosphere. Yet Gore uses this statement not to support the New Media, but to try and defend the Old media oligarchy, as we saw for so many years under the Rather, Jennings, and Brokaw regimes.

“Instead of the easy and free access individuals had to participate in the national conversation by means of the printed word, the world of television makes it virtually impossible for individuals to take part in what passes for a national conversation today.”

Again ironic. That statement, taken by itself, is very true, and would be a valuable caution to network executives and television managing editors. Instead, Mr. Gore misses the fact that the “world of television” which has so cut people off from the information and discourse they need is largely comprised of and controlled by the likes of CBS, CNN, and the Mainstream Media.

“Inexpensive metal printing presses were almost everywhere in America. They were easily accessible and operated by printers eager to typeset essays, pamphlets, books or flyers. Television stations and networks, by contrast, are almost completely inaccessible to individual citizens and almost always uninterested in ideas contributed by individual citizens. Ironically, television programming is actually more accessible to more people than any source of information has ever been in all of history. But here is the crucial distinction: it is accessible in only one direction; there is no true interactivity, and certainly no conversation.”

In that statement Mister Gore has, however accidentally, touched on the value and importance of blogs. Though the word “blog” never once escaped Gore’s lips, nor could the man who thought so much of himself that he implied he played a leading role in making the Internet a reality, bring himself to acknowledge the New Media and the effect of citizen journalists. So it is, that every salient point made by Mr. Gore is established by accident rather than intent.

“ Rush Limbaugh and other hate-mongers began to fill the airwaves.”

Personally, I find Rush Limbaugh a bit of a pompous sort, and more than once he has handled himself in a manner I found unhumorous. That said however, I have heard Limbaugh’s show enough times to know that the man takes pride in open debate on most days, even keeping Fridays open to the topic of the audience’s choice. His callers regularly include Liberals and opponents to Limbaugh’s position, who are invited (“head of the line”, promises Rush) to express themselves and who are never insulted, degraded, or cut off so long as they can remain civil. Comparing Rush’s show to others like Larry King or Al Franken, I maintain that it is a particularly false claim to say that Rush Limbaugh has ever been an advocate of Hate, nor tolerant of hate speech; Rush has always maintained an atmosphere of tolerance and open speech, and far more than any show on the Left with a comparable audience . While his opinions are strong and he will mock the Left for contradictions and hypocrisy, not once has Limbaugh been guilty of the kind of violence advocated by Alec Baldwin in 1999, nor the race baiting advocated by Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton, nor the outright lies promoted regularly by Moore and Sheehan. In no sense can Mr. Gore’s charge be said to stand up to inspection, nor has Gore properly acknowledged the extreme hatred voiced so often by the Left.

And for Talk Radio in general, it truly speaks volumes that where he ought to be praising the first truly interactive current-events forum in media, both for its commercial success, accessibility and even field for participation, Mr. Gore instead derides the entire venue. Note further that Gore does not dare to suggest what he would put in its place, knowing that the sheer idiocy of specifically advocating the return of the monolith of Big Media Networks would be too much for even him to pursue with a straight face.

“The present executive branch has made it a practice to try and control and intimidate news organizations: from PBS to CBS to Newsweek. They placed a former male escort in the White House press pool to pose as a reporter - and then called upon him to give the president a hand at crucial moments. They paid actors to make phony video press releases and paid cash to some reporters who were willing to take it in return for positive stories. And every day they unleash squadrons of digital brownshirts to harass and hector any journalist who is critical of the President”.

That statement right there, I submit, is prima facia evidence that Al Gore has indeed gone over the edge. Not only are the charges baseless and without evidence, the irony of complaining about the blogs’ style of commentary by comparing them to Nazis is priceless. Never mind that blogs have nothing of the sort of resources of the major networks or the political parties, or that there are easily hundreds of blogs, on both the Right and Left which regularly criticize the President, his policies and his nominations. Mr. Gore has managed to indict his own positions, even as he attempts to slander the myriad individuals who write their own blogs without direction or organized control. The blogs are the sole independent reporters and analysts in the modern media, and Mr. Gore tacitly admits as much by his attempt to slam them all with the same vitriolic tantrum.

“ As recently stated by Dan Rather - who was, of course, forced out of his anchor job after angering the White House - television news has been "dumbed down and tarted up."

Only a CBS executive or leading Democrat could now believe that Rather was anything but a criminal who got caught in his own fraud. Fascinating though, that in a speech about the responsibilities of the media, that Mr. Gore never once saw fit to acknowledge the multiple attempts by a major television network to influence a federal election.

“And it really matters because the subjugation of news by entertainment seriously harms our democracy: it leads to dysfunctional journalism that fails to inform the people. And when the people are not informed, they cannot hold government accountable when it is incompetent, corrupt, or both.”

Does anyone else here find it a strange thing that Al Gore, who once used a Buddhist Temple to launder his campaign funds from offshore contributors when he was Vice-President, and who was in all likelihood well aware of the goings-on at the Rose Law Firm and the various “special” arrangements made for the Clinton’s real estate deals, has the temerity to bring up the spectre of corrupt government? Does anyone else here, aware that the Clinton-Gore Administration was responsible for preventing the capture or killing of Osama bin Laden in 1997, and for creating the wall of bureaucracy between the CIA and FBI that prevented cooperation which could have allowed the Able Danger information to prevent the 9/11 attacks, find Mr. Gore’s statement just a bit disingenuous?

“We must ensure by all means possible that this medium of democracy's future develops in the mold of the open and free marketplace of ideas that our Founders knew was essential to the health and survival of freedom.”

In the end, people must choose for themselves what information they desire, and by what means they wish to acquire it. Al Gore is as arrogant as he ever was, to presume that a handful of elites should decide what the public will be allowed to choose, or to pronounce actual participation by the public in news analysis as unhealthy, even as he attempts to paint Dan Rather and similar frauds as courageous defenders of the First Amendment. Blogs and Talk Radio and Cable Television were not imposed on anyone, but thrive because there is a market, a hunger, for them. People like being able to express their own opinions, they prefer being able to sort through the information and make their own decisions. And I am merely exercising my own First Amendment rights to clearly state that Al Gore is very wrong in his assertion that our democracy is “hollow”; on the contrary, our democracy is very sound and growing, and it is vain, hollow men like Al Gore who fear its strength and vitality. But as long as men like Gore can find a ready audience in the Old Media, and sponsors to support their destructive agenda in a campaign against the rights of ordinary people, we must make sure we know the ways and mind of our enemies, and for the good of the nation we must stand together in defense of our common rights, for our common hope.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Too Stubborn


Some years back, I used to be a baseball umpire. If you love the game as I do, there is no better place to see a great game, than to work it as an official. While you must never let the game play distract you from your responsibilities on the field, later you can review the game in your memory, and truly savor the best plays made at close range. I have been able to see plays that those in the stands never see in detail, because I am as close as the players themselves.

Along the way of being an official, however, I have also encountered that breed of athlete who thinks that because he has a strong will, he is entitled to use whenever and however he likes. I recall a football player who punched a team-mate for what he considered a stupid play; I had to drag over a line coach and tell him what happened, explaining that I would prefer to not have to flag a player for fighting someone on his own side. I recall a team captain who cost his team even before the kickoff: During the hand-shake before the coin toss in a key district game, he looked his opponent in the eye and clearly said, “I'm gonna f--- you up”, and so set his team back 15 yards before they ever touched the ball. But far and away, the most common attitude problem I saw was with pitchers.

Being an umpire, I love catchers. They not only work (in my opinion) the toughest position on the field, they also keep us Blues from getting hit by wild pitches (mostly), and even have stopped foul balls from winging into our heads. An umpire will never deliberately give an edge to one team over another, but we do appreciate a smart catcher. And that means sometimes we tell the catcher where the pitch is, so he can signal the pitcher to correct his aim. Problem is, sometimes the pitcher doesn’t like the strike zone we set up, and expects us to change our zone to suit him. That does not happen, but some of the younger and brasher pitchers take a while to figure that out.

I recall an early game in Kingwood, where the Varsity was trying out a pretty young hand in a tournament game against Bay City. The pitcher was great at putting the ball where he wanted. The only thing was, he was consistently putting it 2 inches outside the plate. And I mean outside. None of the ball was catching the “black”, that rubber outline of the plate which most umps use to mark the outside edge of the strike zone, so I could not call them strikes, because as consistent as they were, they were not in the zone. I mentioned to the catcher, after the count reached 3-0 on the exact same pitch to the first batter, that the pitcher needed to bring them in just a bit, and the catcher sent a signal to the pitcher, but the pitcher made a face, and kept putting them in the same spot. After he walked the second batter on the eighth straight ball in the exact same place, the catcher set up inside to sway the pitcher to pitch closer to the plate, but no joy; before it was over, the pitcher had walked in two runs on six straight walks, and 24 balls out of 27 pitches (three times batters had swung at the pitches). The head coach called time finally, and before he could reach me, boiling at the situation, the catcher had jumped up and run over to explain what was going on. The coach shook his head, and had to actually tell the pitcher he had to choose between staying in the game and changing his aim to something in the zone, or sitting his butt down. The kid actually took a relatively long time making up his mind. In the end, the pitcher starting listening to his catcher and had a pretty good game after that, but the damage he did by his stubbornness sure dug a hole for his team. By the bottom of the first inning, they were down 4-0, just because he wouldn’t listen.

Politics can be a lot like Baseball, as the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court shows. The funny thing here is, there seems to be a lot of confusion about whom, in this situation, is the pitcher and just whom is the umpire.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Anything Is Possible

Eighteen Innings
Five hours, fifty minutes
Thirteen pitchers
Two Grand Slams

Astros 7, Braves 6

Astros 3 games, Braves 1 game, Astros take NL Division Series

Go 'Stros!

George W. Bush : No Supersuit, But No Kryptonite, Either


I will start by stating the obvious - we do not need or want Activist judges. I throw that out here, because it illustrates a frustrating difference between the Left and Right on the matter of judicial activism. Liberals see what they consider injustice, and want to use the Courts to remedy that injustice. They are quite willing to change the meaning and intent of the Constitution to support their actions. Constructionists, on the other hand, are compelled to obey the Constitution, and will not act outside the powers granted by it. So, when a Constructionist court comes to power, while they may wish to immediately undo the damage done by the Activist court before them, they cannot do so without support from the Constitution. These limits can be infuriating, but they are the rules by which Conservatives operate. People forget them sometimes, and demand things from their elected leaders which go outside the lines.

Hurricane Katrina was a particularly ludicrous example of how people often expect the absurd from the government. President Bush was expected to personally anticipate every twist in the course of the storm, hand-hold the local and state officials through all their responsibilities, and if necessary abrogate his responsibilities to get federal troops into New Orleans to take control. Naturally, if President Bush had actually done any of those excesses, we should hear how he was usurping his powers, but never mind. The point is, that millions of Americans act as if the President is a Superhero, who must rush to the need wherever it is, taking on the evil-doers with suitable sound effects and appropriate levels of cartoon violence.

And that crowd demanding that Dubya put on the Supersuit includes Conservatives. They see a potential fight between Liberals and Conservatives, frame it as the final battle between the Powers of Good and Donkey, and demand a political Armageddon, in large part because they are so sure they will win. When that comes to appointing Supreme Court justices, simply naming a competent and honorable person will not do; they demand a "known" Constructionist (even though History shows us that judges very often rule differently on the High Court than they did at the lower level), and eagerly anticipate a bloody and decisive battle, to the end of crushing the evil forces of Liberalism. The possibility that such conflicts may carry other costs they have not considered, or that they might lose by demanding such an all-out offensive, is rejected out of hand. And, having chosen an immature demand, they naturally pursue it with an immature rationale, insulting anyone who questions or criticizes their method, or who suggests that they might be overlooking other salient aspects to the matter.

President Bush is well aware of the "Six Roads" I noted earlier in the week. He understands that he must consider the needs of the House of Representatives, and even the needs of those vain puff pieces in the Senate. He understands that a necessary confrontation is one thing, but that going after a fight that risks long-term goals for small gains is simply unwise. He understands that there are likely more vacancies to fill soon on the High Court, but not if he appears to be looking only for extremist justices. Ginsberg, Stevens, and Souter may all choose to retire soon, or they may hang on until after 2008, when they will see their seats filled by a different President. Dubya needs to convince them that he will be at least as reasonable as the person who will be elected in 2008. Dubya understands that if he appears to be catering to the Hard Right in his selections, this will hurt the Republican Party in states where they are still thought of as extremists, places like Florida and Pennsylvania and California, where high stakes remain for not only Senate and Congressional elections, but also for support for Conservatives in the 2008 election. This does not mean that Bush will not support true Conservatives, but he will not seek to display his choices in a way which will inspire useless conflict with Media or with the Lobbyists, who have no direct power but can still damage a careless President by wearing away support from his initiatives and programs. For all the talk about the President, Bush has done a very respectable job overall, not least because he keeps his priorities straight.

I never got into "Superman" much, because for all his strength and special powers, he was not very wise or inclined to consider his actions in terms of consequences ahead of time, or to weigh his options in a broad context of cumulative effect. Flashy yes, but not really effective for what he had to work with. President Bush, on the other hand, lacks the appearance of omnipotence, and so steps aside from the gunfighter scenario, but he still retains his full authority and every weapon at his disposal. No supersuit, but no kryptonite, either.