Sunday, April 21, 2013


First off, let me give a shout-out to all the Russian and German search engines that have decided my blog contains particularly tasty keywords as late. I’m not sure what has drawn them in, but over the last month I’ve gotten all sorts of traffic from those two countries. It’s possible, I suppose, that those hits represents actual people, in which case I’ve probably just offended them badly by dubbing them soulless electronic algorithms. If so, sorry about that. My bad, as the kids say. However, since I can’t even get my own personal circle of friends to read this thing, I’m doubting I’ve caught on like wildfire abroad.

Now, on to Boston…

Beantown joined the unfortunate group of cities that have suffered terrorist attacks when some lunatics planted bombs to give a gory and horrific ending to the Boston Marathon. It didn’t take long for suspects, two brothers, to be identified and found. One of them is already dead. The other, 19-year old Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, is in hospital, suffering from gunshot wounds to the legs and neck. Both had been living normal lives in the US for years, for all intents and purposes normal citizens until recently. Smelling the blood, the political sharks are circling.

On one side, the hawks. They have a “top US interrogation group” ready to question the last living suspect. It’s already been declared they aren’t going to read him his Miranda rights, so no lawyering up. He’s going to be treated as an “enemy combatant” because the most important priority is obtaining information to protect the USA from future attacks just like this.

In the other corner, the doves. They are decrying the removal of Miranda rights as “un-American,” claiming it’s only going to make it harder down the road to obtain a “fair conviction.” They want to understand what has driven these men to do this terrible thing.

Given that the Constitution Project just submitted its final report after two years of review and inquiries, this debate is well-timed. The Project concluded without doubt that the US Government used torture during interrogations in the wake of 9/11. It accuses the government of having lost its “moral compass.” Furthermore, and perhaps most damning, it finds absolutely NO instance where the information gained through torture materially aided investigations into past or future terrorist activities.

In other words, detainees were treated inhumanely, and nothing was gained. You can almost understand using “heightened interrogation techniques” (to use the phrase preferred by hawks) if lives are going to be saved. I think a lot of people, if they were forced into honesty, would support torturing one guy if it had meant the planes that hit the Towers could have been stopped on the runways. But to use torture and get no benefit at all? Only psychotic sadists, people who get their yucks from the pain of others, can support something like that.

Now here we are again. The US has suffered another terrorist attack in a very public place on their own soil. Granted, the body-count is fractional compared to 9/11, but as the Japanese of the 40s could tell you, the US doesn’t generally go “eye-for-an-eye.” They tend to go a little harder than just balancing the scales, tit-for-tat. To steal a phrase from Unforgiven, “Any sumbitch takes a shot at me, I’m not only gonna kill him, but I’m gonna kill his wife, all his friends, and burn his damn house down.”

If the Brothers Tsarnev did this evil deed on their own, unaligned with any nation-state or organization, the US will have no target for its vengeance except for young Dzhokhar. In that case, “heightened interrogation” is the least of what he’s in for.

I’m not saying the Brothers Tsarnev are innocent. Probably they’re as guilty as can be. But how does torturing a teenager, no matter what he’s done, solve anything? The hawks claim they want to prevent future attacks. Well, the truth of the matter is, we live in a world where anyone at all can make explosives with crap you can buy in an afternoon’s casual shopping. You can’t, you simply cannot, keep that world safe through security forces. Your best bet is to make sure the people who live in your own country are happy to be there.

Happy people don’t blow other people up. Happy people don’t take guns to school and cut down their classmates. Happy people don’t join gangs, do drugs, murder, rape, or start riots. Happy people quietly pay their bills and don’t rock the boat. Making people happy is a lot harder than torturing, that’s true, but it pays better dividends in the long run.

Of course, the hawks will see the phrase “making people happy” and immediately start research into ultrasonic mind-control devices and Happy Pills. The doves will just try and get pot legal.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Bad apples behind badges

I don’t trust cops.

No, I’m not in a gang, I’m not writing rap songs, and pretty much the only illegal thing I’m doing these days is forgetting to turn my blinker off after I change lanes, old-man-style. Nevertheless, cops spook me. I see one drive by, and I imagine the cruiser is driven by a hawk-eyed fanatic just waiting to catch me going 52 in a 50 zone, or stopping a foot over the thick white stop-line at a light. He’ll drag me from the car, treat me like Rodney King, and in spite of my protestations over my civil rights (or maybe because of them), I’ll end up the lone nerd in a jail cell filled with Brandon’s worst. (Do you have any idea how long a guy as sarcastic as I am would last in prison? A count of three, I’m thinking.)

Oh, sure, the cop is going to (maybe) be in all manner of trouble over abusing me. He’ll be suspended (with pay, likely - what kind of world do we live in where suspension with pay is considered a punishment, anyway? But that’s another post, frankly.). Maybe up on charges, maybe lose his job, maybe just get passed over for promotion for the rest of his life. Or he might get away with it, defended by his fellows in the “Guys with Badges Club” we read about in the papers. Either way, it doesn’t much matter to me, as I’ve already been beaten, humiliated, abused, and given a half dozen mental scars that will take decades to heal.

They have the power, you see, and that’s what is scary about them. If they take it into their head they don’t much care for the way you’re talking or behaving, they have clubs, guns, pepper spray, and tasers (with batteries that last for WAY too many uses - just what are these stupid things designed for, anyway? Tasing riots?). Childhood experiences taught me that the police services attract a lot of bullies into their ranks, and all the intellectual truth of the average cop being a decent person doesn’t do much to wash away those lessons learned as a kid. Nor does it help when you read about cops covering up crimes for their fellows, or embarking on systematic harassment of their female peers.

Now we have Rehtaeh Parsons. If you’re not familiar with this case, look it up. If you’re too lazy, here’s the tragedy in a nutshell (most of this is “allegedly,” meaning it’s never been proven, but I’m not going to write the word fifty times - consider it inserted wherever it belongs):

At 15, Rehtaeh was raped by four boys during a party. Pictures were taken. She then suffered two years of teasing, harassment, and bullying before finally attempting to kill herself; she died a few days later in hospital on April 7. No charges were filed against her attackers because the police called it a “he said, she said” case and had no compelling evidence.

As you can imagine, there has been something of a justified outcry this week about bullying, police incompetence, violence against women, and how we can best protect our kids. Today Halifax police announced they were reopening the case. “New and credible information has been brought forward” in the last few days, according to them. That may well be the situation, but I don’t buy it for a second.

Don’t misunderstand. The cops should be doing their job here. Catch the rapists, please. There is no justice in a case like this, but when humans do something this wrong, even if they’re kids, there should be life-changing consequences. You don’t have to be over 18 to know that gang-raping a drunk girl is wrong. But what I’m saying is that the cops sat on this thing and did nothing. Maybe they didn’t believe her story, I don’t know. The thing is, pictures of the rape were available on Facebook! Surely the police are familiar with this mystical on-line confession room. And can you honestly tell me if the cops snatched up the four boys involved, put them in separate rooms, and played them against each other, at least one of them wouldn’t crack inside an hour? I’m not talking about pistol whipping interrogation; just get detailed stories, compare them, find the inconsistencies, more questions, find a crack, pursue it… this isn’t rocket science, people. If Rehtaeh was the daughter of the local police chief, you’d better believe the cops would have found the truth. Without the media frenzy, the cops would never have done a damn thing, proven by the fact they sat on this case for TWO FREAKING YEARS!!

What I smell is the same sexist attitude I grew up with: she was drunk, she was asking for it. Why should four good boys suffer for one mistake? Let’s just forget about it and move on.

Not so easy when you’re the victim, I suspect.

The worst part now, in the aftermath, is that the rapists might get punished, but the police officers who let Rehtaeh’s case drop will just get to carry on being assholes.

Still more cops that don’t deserve our trust.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Tick vs The Call Centre

Normally, wading through the red tape of bureaucracy leaves me as angry as a drunk uncle at a wedding, but today, for some reason, I found myself laughing.

Our front-loading washing machine has been a piece of crap. We’ve had five service calls on the bloody thing in less than two years. A broken appliance is frustrating at the best of times, but when you’ve got a baby in the house, a downed washing machine ranks pretty high on the list of First World Problems. After the first two break-downs, I “invested” in the Extended Warranty. It’s been money well-spent, as we’re looking at a cumulative repair total of more than a thousand bucks so far (more than the washer, as it happens). Sadly, for each repair bill that gets shunted off of me and onto the insurance company, I pay a price you can’t measure in dollars: I must phone a customer service centre.


Phone Booth and Cellular would have been a lot scarier if, instead of kidnappers and snipers, the protagonists were forced to deal with a call centre.

The latest successful claim covered the parts but not the labour, in defiance of the extended warranty contract (yes, I’m one of the weirdos who actually READS the contracts in front of him). So not only did this repair mean a call to summon the Magical Repair Man, it would also involve a call to banish the Evil Bill Collector.

I started with Assurant, the insurance company. (What a stupid name. Assurant. It’s like “assurance,” but different, so I’m supposed to feel an instinctive confidence.) After the obligatory “your call is important to us” hold time, I connected with Dennis from Kingston. I explained the problem. After giving me some pointless and unsolicited advice (“Don’t pay the bill, you have an extended warranty!” Well, duh, Dennis), he told me it’s Whirlpool’s issue. They only pay what Whirlpool okays.

Smelling a rat, I called Whirlpool. The courteous lady there informed me that they had no data on the claims details. I didn’t believe her and told her so. Suddenly, after a couple minutes of hold, “no data” became a comprehensive listing of every single dollar authorized and claimed over the last two years. I guess when she said “no data,” she meant currently in front of her face. She forgot, apparently, to hit ‘Page Down.’ This report said that Assurant had entered a ‘0’ in the “pre-authorized labour amount” column. She suspected a clerical error. But guess what? She couldn’t correct it on her end. Assurant would have to do it.

So I went back to Assurant. I listened, bemused, about how my “call is important to them,” and eventually got through. Sadly, I didn’t get Dennis again. I really hoped I’d be able to tell him his obsession with keeping his Average Handle Time down is really hurting his Customer Satisfaction Rating. Instead, I had to be satisfied with telling his female co-worker that he was monumentally unhelpful, and hoped she could do better. Initially, she didn’t. It’s Whirlpool’s problem, she said. Talk to them.

Any other day, I’d have freaked out. This time, I found myself suppressing laughter. You can completely understand why insurance companies show a consistent profit. Dodge, duck, dip, dive, dodge. Deny, deny, deny. Obfuscate, finger-point, and stall. How many claimants just give up rather than suffer through the process?

I have a huge advantage: I’m a stay-at-home dad. In a way, it’s my job to do this kind of garbage so the working women of the house don’t have to. Who the heck wants to work eight hours, get home, and waste an hour talking to phone monkeys? When time is at a premium, you compare your time and your sanity against 140 bucks. The side that wins depends on your stress level at the moment and your yearly salary.

Granted, my sanity erodes during these bureaucratic calls, too, but at least I don’t have to deal with lunatic customers, looming deadlines, arbitrary workloads, and unreasonable bosses. Yay for me! (Bad for you, Wage Slaves.)

(Oh. Regarding my little drama: For those who care, I did badger my way to a supervisor at Assurant, and the problem is solved at my end. Whirlpool and Assurant can finger-point at each other forever; just leave me out of it.)