Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cognitive Dissonance

Taking umbrage at telecommunications providers is all too easy these days. Surveys show that they have long overtaken the likes of drug companies and used car lots as the public's favourite corporate nemesis. The telecoms don't seem to see the dissonance between their messaging and reality - what they crow about doesn't stand comparison with their real world behaviour.

In our household we have two of the three media majors in our lives, Rogers and Bell. Rogers has started running new and expensive adverts promoting something called "Share Everything Plan". This is great because everyone in your group can share 'everything' they have on their devices. Problem is it is only Father Rogers devices and airspace. Most families have a variety of wireless and cable-using equipment and may have more than one service provider. In past years whenever I periodically asked each telecom what they could do to improve cost if we consolidated all our phones onto them as a single provider, the answer was nowt. Now we can pay Rogers to link everything they can sell us but still not get a deal on multiple devices.

Reluctantly Ma Bell is stuck with still owning the phone wires around here. I recently dropped my business phone numbers that, as a retiree, I no longer find I use and this involved Bell shutting off the second line into our house. But for many months we have had a hum on both lines. This annoyance is called 'rural hum', and it is really too bad but that's what you get in the sticks if you use land-lines. But don't we hill-dwelling hicks also have problems with cellphone reception? Yep, but there are not enough of you to justify another tower. Anyway, now you only have one line to hum.

As I missed Bell's monthly billing anniversary by a day when they cut off the line, for another month I have to pay in full and wait for a credit. And if I don't make them what amounts to a month's interest free loan, their billing system will penalize me. So let me get this straight, Bell. Your TV commercials try to get me to buy lightening-fast connectivity and computational gizmos that dazzle, but you can't go into your billing system and set up a credit for me in real time? Heal thyself first, physician!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Governing Well

It seems that even the emperor of the world, Uncle Sam, is coming to believe he has no clothes. The last weekend edition in September of the New York Times newspaper boasted three headlines across the top of its cover page that, when read together, speak volumes about the state of America today. The first article is about their National Security Agency exploring the social networks of US citizens, the second about the gridlock and imminent shutdown of the American Government due to Republican intransigence, and the third on the real toll of childhood death due to accidents with guns.

While many of us offshore also believe that our own governments are not sufficiently accountable for their intrusions into our private lives, the last two crises are solely American and quite disturbing in the context of the USA as the moulder of our sensibilities through its control of most of our media options. We can probably look forward to a spate of potboiler paperbacks, TV dramas and movies centred around the day America went or nearly went bankrupt. However I predict we won't be seeing anything much about kids killing one another with loaded guns; the NRA will make sure of that.

Terror, Crime and Politics

The Somali Islamic terrorists who are perpetrating appalling crimes on neighbouring East African societies (Somali Militants Mixing Business and Terror) remind me of the IRA terrorists of my British youth.  They too were fund-raising from their countrymen in the diaspora and augmenting that with criminal business activities. This went on until quite recently. I love Celtic music and so was delighted when the Eire national folk music tour Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann had a show in nearby Buffalo. What I hadn't bargained for was standing at attention for the IRA 'anthem' in addition to the Irish Republic's national anthem. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so surprised since some denizens of Buffalo in those days sported bumper stickers reading "Don't Buy From the British Bastards".

The IRA is remembered by many of the older generation in Great Britain for, amongst other great atrocities, killing Lord Louis Mountbatten, bombing several military barracks and parades with considerable loss of life, and trying to wipe out the Conservative Party's annual convention in Margaret Thatcher's time. There were however numerous small transgressions and assaults that don't figure in popular memory.  A young Irish lad, his Dublin accent and vocabulary still intact, joined my grammar school class one year. After the school's cadet corps armoury was cleaned out over a weekend, our Irish fellow student was never seen again. My father travelled several times a week up to London by train from our country town location to manage a second company plant. Unusually for such a punctual man he missed his regular train one day, the day the IRA bombed it.

Men with a fixation on major religious or political change proving to be violent criminals has been so common in history that it is puzzling that we continue to be surprised when it happens. In the Middle Ages, despite having once taken vows of chivalry, wandering 'hedge' knights became all too frequently little more than bandits. The Mafia began in Sicily at around the time of the Italian Risorgimento as an association of local businessmen keen to shift power away from the medieval aristocratic hegemony then still prevailing in the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies.  Lenin's Bolsheviks helped overthrow a cruel monarchy but afterwards took sole power, and spawned 'Uncle Joe' Stalin, arguably the greatest mass murderer in history.

All too often these criminals are allowed to morph into mainstream politicians, as with former IRA chieftains as Sinn Fein now holding posts in the current government of Northern Ireland, Irgun and Stern Gang terrorists in the early government of Israel, Yasser Arafat being given a Nobel prize, and former brutal commissars still making up much of the present government of Roumania. Should not these onetime violent zealots atone for their crimes like any other criminal who has been found out?  How is it that a lot of older Russians still regard Stalin's reign with nostalgia as do Chinese for Mao?  We still hunt Holocaust enablers but Japan has not been held to account for much of its savagery during its C20th empire. Murder is murder however much it is clothed in justification or considered as best overlooked. At least Argentina and Bangladesh have made a start at bringing to justice those citizens who in their troubled past murdered innocents, but much of the world continues to turn a blind eye to former killers in its midst.