Thursday, July 26, 2012

Aurora: Who Can Make Sense of the Senseless?

I’ve been obsessed with the Aurora theater shootings.  Possibly even more than the fact that the shooting occurred was that in the reporting on it, I learned about at least two other mass shootings that I never even heard about.  One of those was at Eaton Center in Toronto.  Eaton Center is next door to the hotel I stayed at a couple years ago when I went to my cousin’s daughter’s Bat Mitzvah.  I gave her and her sister gift cards to that mall as presents.

I’m not even paying attention to the debates and lack thereof over gun control.  It’s obvious that the fact that it’s so easy to get guns and ammunition increases the likelihood of incidents like this.  It’s also obvious that we are not going to get meaningful gun control any time soon.  So let’s just move on to the deeper question:  Why are these incidents so prevalent in our society?  What enables so many men to throw away all possibility for happiness in exchange for a few moments’ unbridled rage?  When I say “so many,” I realize that in fact it’s very very few, a microscopic percentage of the men in our society.  But given their impact on our collective well-being, one would be far too many, and 20 so far this year is a shocking number.

I went looking for something to explain it to my satisfaction.  I didn’t find anything – I guess it would be surprising if I had.  But I did find some pieces with useful information.  Here are the best: 

Colorado shooting: how James Holmes fits into the history of rampage killers
(Harry J. Enten)

It remains unclear why mass shootings remain at high levels while the overall murder rate is at its lowest level in decades

Interesting statistics about murders and rampage killings, challenges some of our beliefs, such as:
“If your memory is like mine, you might have thought that most mass killings were carried out by young people, such as James Holmes. That's actually a misconception. The plurality of all murders, 36.6%, are committed by men between the ages of 18-24, like the 24 year-old Holmes, but most rampage killings are not.”

The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide
(Erika Christakis)

Why aren't we talking about the one thing mass murderers have in common?
“Imagine for a moment if a deadly disease disproportionately affected men. Not a disease like prostate cancer that can only affect men, but a condition prevalent in the general population that was vastly more likely to strike men. Violence is such a condition: men are nine to 10 times more likely to commit homicide and more likely to be its victims.”

What James Holmes and the Colorado Movie Massacre Tell UsAbout White (Male) Privilege
(Chauncey DeVega)

“It is unlikely that the aftermath of the Colorado shooting rampage will be a moment when we as a country reflect upon the relationship between masculinity and violence. There most certainly will not be a "beer summit" about how accused shooter James Holmes is one more entry in a long list of mass killers who are white, male, and young….As folks have worked through many times before in the common "what if?" game of race in America, if James Holmes were black or brown this would be one more signal to the existence of a "pathological culture" among said group.”

No Anodyne

“Today, go read or listen to or watch the hundreds of stories in mainstream, liberal, conservative (or any other politically-oriented) media. Look for the hand-wringing about male violence. You won’t find it.
You will find articles about the “gunman” or “shooter” or those using any of a number of other catchwords that set this man apart from all other men with guns who kill and mutilate other humans.
We live in a time where it is considered normal for men to kill people and destroy bodies and lives out of wounded pride, a damaged ego, and other entitled emotions.”

Don’t Jump to Conclusions About the Killer
(Dave Cullen)

“I spent 10 years studying Columbine, and we all know what happened there, right? Two outcast loners exacted revenge against the jocks for relentlessly bullying them
Not one bit of that turned out to be true. …
Psychologists describe depression as anger turned inward. When that anger is somehow turned around, and projected outward, watch out.
…A vast majority of depressives are a danger only to themselves. But it is equally true that of the tiny fraction of people who commit mass murder, most are not psychopaths like Eric Harris or deeply mentally ill like Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech. Far more often, they are suicidal and deeply depressed….


Okay, it’s by the Secret Service.  It’s still worth looking at.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

If It's "Increasing Personal Effectiveness", Why Am I Doing It at Work?

I spent the  last two days in an Increasing Personal Effectiveness training at work.

I am generally pretty skeptical about such things, especially in the workplace.  First, they reek of “quality of work life circles” and other “team-building” activities that historically have been used to get workers to accept more work for no more money (“flexible work schedules”), cuts in benefits (Paid Time Off, rather than vacation and sick leave), less actual autonomy in the name of “team” decision-making.  Second, I try to keep a pretty sharp divide between my work life and my personal life, since pretty much nothing I do in my personal life is anything I can afford to discuss widely at work.  That doesn’t mean I never talk about my political work, writing or radio show at my job, but I’m pretty selective about whom I discuss it with and when.  Although I didn’t know exactly what the IPE training would involve, I knew that analyzing your personal style and values was going to be part of it, and that always seems like a potential minefield for me.

The other reason I am always suspicious about trainings like IPE is that my work is pretty straightforward and my coworkers and I are pretty darned good at it.  I’m the lead operator in a small (very small – four operators) word processing department at a big law firm.  I’ve worked there, more or less, for twenty years with a two-year break I spent in Palestine.  (No, they did not hold the job for me, though they’ve been generous with shorter leaves – I quit and luckily for me, when I was ready to come back, there happened to be an opening.)  When I returned after my break, the department didn’t have a good reputation.  That was probably partly deserved and partly not.  The workers were demoralized and felt embattled, though they’re all top flight operators.

I immediately saw some things that I could fix quickly.  The first day, I noticed that the scanner didn’t create a good enough image to send out.  I asked my coworker about it and he said IT had told them there was nothing they could do.  I said, “That’s ridiculous.”  I called IT.  Within half an hour, one of our genius IT guys had fixed it.  This was in 2005 and we were still using totally antiquated and labor-intensive methods (pens! paper!) for logging in and tracking jobs.  I created an Access database that eliminated hours of annoying work for all of us, having to teach myself some VBA programming in the process.  When my then-boss saw our database, she said, “I want one,” so I made one for her, which required learning a lot more programming, and I’ve since done development projects for several other people, including one that the Firm’s highly-paid Developer said couldn’t be done.

While my coworkers are not as adventurous as I am, they’re good troubleshooters.  If they’re asked to do something they don’t know how to do, they’ll try hard to learn it and usually succeed.  We now have a very good reputation in the firm.  At the IPE training, someone asked what Word Processing does, and one of the secretaries present said, “They’re miracle workers.”

So when I agreed to go to the IPE training, it was basically because one, my boss wanted me to, two, it would be more fun than sitting at my desk all day, and three, I always enjoy getting to know other people and learning about myself.

The training covered basically three things: personal work styles, communication styles and conflict resolution.  This was the second training in our office, so it was mostly paralegals, case assistants, administrative staff, secretaries and a few managers.  There were 32 of us, and most were people I didn’t know at all.  The core of it is something called “DISC” (actually, DiSC PPSI) which is a personality profiling system first developed in 1928 by a psychologist named William Marston.  It’s one of the best-selling behavioral assessment instruments on the market (second only to the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) , and the trainer claimed it’s about 99.7% accurate in typing people into one of the following categories:

D = Dominant, Direct, Decisive, Driven
I = Inspirational, Innovative, Intuitive, Interactive
S = Steady, Sensitive, Supportive, Sympathetic
C = Conscientious, Clear, Cautious, Correct

This profile belongs to someone named
"Guy"but it could almost be mine
You answer 24 questions online and the computer spits out a profile.  Not surprisingly, I was a Ds – D with a fair amount of S, a little I and almost no C.  The vast majority of people in the group were C, most with a secondary “s”.  That’s pretty logical for a law firm.  And most of those C people seemed very C to me.  They were also the most suspicious of and resistant to the categorization – which is very C, because these categorizations are general rather than absolute, and Cs want everything to be crystal clear.  They were also the only ones who were worried about “Who has this data and what might be done with it?” and were unpersuaded by the assurances of the trainer and someone in HR that it was not going in anyone’s file.  I was sitting there thinking, “Why do you care?  What’s wrong with being a C, it seems very appropriate for a law firm worker, and anyway, you’re the huge majority so if you’re going to get fired for being a C, so is 80% of the firm.”  But Cs don’t think that way.  They think, “What possible repercussions will this have for me?” and they need to be absolutely sure that a move is a good move for them.  The more they argued, the more C-ish they appeared.

Most people in other groups seemed to think D was not a good thing to be, and the famous people the trainer mentioned who have that dominant persona were – well, not people I admire.  Hillary Clinton, Margaret Thatcher, Saddam Hussein, Hitler, Meg Whitman.  (She lumped Fidel Castro in with Hussein and Hitler.)  I kept begging for people who weren’t mass murderers.  “Madeleine Albright,” she suggested.  I shook my head.  Finally she offered Martin Luther King, Jr. (Di) and Nelson Mandela (Ds).  She mentioned that when presidents are not D, their wives are – Nancy Reagan, Hillary Clinton, Barbara Bush, Michele Obama (though something I saw says Barbara is an S).

In our “D” group, which included no mass murderers, we were all quite happy to be Ds.  We worked well together.  We were high energy but willing to listen to each other and didn’t have any trouble making group decisions.  One guy really had a slightly higher C than D, but she put him in the D group because there were so many Cs and few Ds.  He’s a very soft-spoken Asian guy; a manager and he kept mentioning that he didn’t think he was really a D, he felt more like a C, but when the trainer asked if anyone wanted to switch groups, he didn’t.  I asked about it.  He said he felt comfortable in our group, and we instinctively chose him for our spokesperson in the first exercise.  Another guy switched from S to D on the second day, because he said he told his wife about it and she said, “No, you’re a D.”  I’ve known him for years and wouldn’t have picked him for a D, but English is not his first language.  In Korean, he says he’s definitely a D.

One of the exercises was to “sell” an idea to one of the other groups.  The D group was paired with the S group: we sold to them and they to us.  Because I also have a high S quotient, I was selected to be our spokesperson.  I said, “Okay, but I’m going to speak briefly and then open it to all of you, because S-es value a team approach.  They don’t want to hear one person speaking a lot.”  When asked to give feedback on our presentation, the first thing someone said was, “I really liked that everyone on the team contributed something.”  (Our idea was casual Friday every day – I hope we can really put it to management!)

Tools like this, are of course, just that – tools.  They’re hardly be-all and end-all.  A lot of people I know have done Meyers-Briggs, which is better known and more complicated.  Some of the Cs were saying that they felt it was more accurate, and a C would of course care about that.  The trainer said part of why she uses this one is because it’s so fast to do and easy to understand.  That means that it loses some nuance, but the profile it generated for me was surprisingly accurate most of the time.  It said that I tend to be hard-working, fast-paced, get annoyed when others don’t work as fast as I do, that I’m inclined to be introverted and my more extroverted side often comes out when I’m frustrated or angry.

It said one thing that at first seemed wrong, but then I realized it’s right:  “You tend to judge the success of a project by the accomplishments, rather than by how many people were on board with getting it done.”  My first thought about that was in terms of activism, and being too results-oriented in activism is something I try to avoid.  I at least want to see myself as someone who values the process at least as much as the outcome and is inclusive rather than dominating.  I did answer the questions in terms of how I am at work and not in my personal – i.e., activist – life, and I think in activist circles, I probably show more of my “I” side.  But I also realized that while my ideal is to be part of a large or medium-sized group that works well together, when that doesn’t seem to have traction – as it often doesn’t – I’m more likely to go and do a postering project with a small group of friends than keep trying to build mass organizations that don’t show a good probability of doing something.  It’s not that I think putting up posters is going to change the world without a mass movement.  It’s just that I don’t see myself as having the skills or personality that can draw a lot of people in and keep them involved – that extreme “I”-ness of maybe a Cesar Chavez or Cheri Honkala (for the record, I don't know if either Chavez or Honkala ever took the DISC test or how they scored).  I feel like I’m better able to help a movement get where it wants to go than to get it going, and while it’s not going, I want to see some results for my efforts.  When I see a poster on the wall, a blog on the internet or hear a radio show on air, I feel like I did something, even as I know it would have been better if four or four hundred others had done it with me.

In a work context, I realized that my closest coworker is very likely a High C.  He likes everything to be clear clear clear.  He feels insecure when instructions are unclear – which they very often are – because he feels like he can’t do the job properly without knowing what the person wants, and he’s afraid he’s going to be held responsible for not doing it right.  My habit has been to point out that people rarely complain about what they get from us – it’s been at least two years since I was called in by management to respond to a complaint from a user – and that people just want to see something down on paper.

“What’s the big deal, just take your best guess and don’t agonize over it,” I’ll say.

Now I understand why that doesn’t help him to do the work more easily.  I’ve been trying to change his nature to be more like mine.  What I need to do instead – I’m not a supervisor, and I’ve always been clear that I don’t want to be, but my job is to keep the department running smoothly – is help him feel more secure about doing the job.  I’ve instinctively understood that, so sometimes I’ll offer to call the person to clarify what they want, because that’s part of my job.  At times, though, I’ve hesitated to do that because it seems disempowering; if he has a question, I should let him ask it.  Now I see that maybe that’s anxiety-producing for him because the person might judge him as not being smart enough to figure it out.  For me, who really don’t tend to worry that people don’t think I’m smart, it’s an opportunity for a pleasant interaction with someone who will appreciate being asked what they want.  I think all communication seems fraught with possible misunderstanding for him, and he can make it worse by over-communicating, writing long emails that can be perceived as pedantic and condescending, when he’s just trying to cover all bases.

There are times when someone has sent something in and it’s not clear what they want, we can’t reach them and we don’t have time to wait until we can.  I’ve tended to say, “Either do it or don’t do it, but don’t agonize over it,” and if he keeps fretting over it, I’ll go to, “If you don’t feel comfortable doing it, I will.”  Then I’ll do the job and fume silently, and I imagine he is too, because he didn’t really want me to take the job over, he wanted me to give him a solution so he didn’t have to feel like he might be making a mistake.

The challenge for me is to figure out how to encourage my coworkers to take initiative without making them feel like I’m either being condescending or demanding they do things that aren’t part of their jobs.  In the past I’ve said, “Look at this cool thing I’ve learned, maybe you should try it.”  Generally people ignore me, and I think, “Okay, they don’t want to learn anything new, fine.”  Now I think maybe I’m just being too loose and assuming other people are self-learners because I am.  Maybe I should say, “I’ve learned this cool thing; if I organized a class, would you all be interested in learning it?”

So in retrospect, I feel like the last two days were well spent.  I got to meet some coworkers I didn’t know – including one who turns out to live on my block and another who lives two blocks away – and got to know some others better.  I found out someone I’ve always liked but didn’t know well is a professionally trained clarinetist and we made tentative plans to get together and play music. I also got some insights into why I have a lot of conflict with one of my non-work friends, who I would guess is an Sc or even a Cs.

Yet I still have a nagging question about whether this kind of training represents unnecessary incursions by our bosses into our internal and personal lives.

What do you all think?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Israel, Palestine and the meaning of "complexity"

A few years ago, some friends and I were working on a series of posters to hang in San Francisco buses.  The project faltered for a number of reasons, but one of them was that we couldn’t agree on the design.

The one I liked best was this one:

A public relations consultant we talked to nixed anything using maps.  She said they were too dry.  She recommended using pictures of people, especially women and kids, and the women should not wear head coverings.

As I said, we dropped the project, and I started doing more freestyle postering with other friends.  But a couple years ago, Friends of Sabeel, a Christian-based group working for a just peace, started running a series of ads in Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) stations.  The main message of the Sabeel ads is “End U.S. Military Aid to Israel” and that’s supported by pictures of Palestinians and Israelis saying, “Be On Our Side.”  Some of the pictures include kids and most are of women.  Most of the women are not wearing head-coverings.

The whole idea of putting ads in transit came about because a group called BlueStar PR had several years ago purchased a series of ads in BART stations and trains promoting various versions of the familiar message that Israel’s the only liberal democracy in the Middle East.  When the Sabeel ads began to appear, the Zionist publicity machine reacted as if it was unprecedented and condemned BART for allowing them.  BlueStar’s more aggressive cousin, Stand With Us, countered with a new campaign of their own.  The first design, which showed two “hate-filled eyes” peering out of a kaffiyye, was criticized for being racist imagery.  BART agreed to take those down and told SWU that they needed to come up with a design that didn’t use cultural symbols in offensive ways.

Now a group in New York, who apparently did not listen to any PR consultants, has posted ads in several northern subway stations. 

The Jewish-Zionist establishment is trying to get those ads censored.  Reports a local Gannett newspaper:
Provocative poster advertisements showing shrinking Palestinian land in Israel that are on display at Metro-North Railroad platforms have alarmed leaders in the Jewish community who are concerned they could lead to acts of hate.
“This is anti-Semitic because when people think of Jews they think of the Jewish state,” said Dovid Efune, editor of the Manhattan-based Jewish newspaper The Algemeiner. “Jews have seen this happen so many times. It always starts with messaging that says Jews are committing a crime.”
The ads, which show a succession of shrinking Palestinian territory in four maps and contain a headline saying that 4.7 million Palestinians are classified as refugees by the United Nations, were paid for by an 84-year-old ex-Wall Street financier who lives in Connecticut.
“If the facts are inflammatory, then they are inflammatory,” said Henry Clifford, chairman of a 10-member group called the Committee for Peace in Israel and Palestine.

Well said, Mr. Clifford.  I always find it incredible that the people who work so hard to create the association between Israel and Jewishness then want to claim that you can’t criticize Israel because people associate it with Jews.  It’s not like people are showing pictures of Bugsy Siegel (though interestingly, I don’t remember any pickets of Warren Beatty’s house).

If you don’t want people to think Jews steal land, stop supporting the people who are stealing it.
But it’s interesting that ads featuring smiling Palestinians and Israelis produce counter-narratives, and the dry ones with the map are the ones they want to censor.  Maybe because you can’t argue with a map.  Not that people don’t try.

“‘It’s a deception, because what was marked as Palestine was inhabited by Jews for the past thousands of years,’ said Klein, a Somers internist.”  

 This is nearly identical to discussions I had with family friends during my recent visit to Richmond.  Now that’s true.  No one is disputing that the area was “inhabited by Jews.”  But the implication is that it was inhabited primarily or solely by Jews, and that’s obviously false.  The population numbers, 600,000 Jews and 1.2 million Palestinian Arabs at the time of the UN Partition, are not disputed, though Zionists conveniently don’t recall or acknowledge that the large majority of those 600,000 Jews immigrated to Palestine after 1930 – in 1914, the Jewish population was 60,000, 7.5% of the total population of nearly 800,000.

An article in Jewish Week quotes Ron Meier, New York regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, as saying, “The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is extremely complex and cannot be summarized in a series of four maps.”

A couple months ago, I watched Connie Field’s extraordinary five-part documentary, “Have You Heard From Johannesburg,” on public television.  (The series is actually seven parts, but only five were selected for broadcast and those were shortened to fit the one-hour format.)  A man who was high up in the South African government was interviewed extensively.  He was responsible for coming up with a plan to counter the growing international consensus against apartheid and the international boycott.  He concluded that what he needed to do was convince people how “complex” the situation was.  To further this goal, the South African government bought controlling shares in U.S. media and arranged to bring white businesspeople from the U.S. and Europe on junkets to South Africa.

The Jewish Community Relations Council has for years been running “Beyond the headlines” tours of Israel for U.S. local politicians and community leaders.
“They’re in-depth study tours,” said JCRC associate director Abby Michelson Porth, who co-led a trip in March. “[They] expose ... opinion leaders to Israel beyond the headlines, with all the nuances and complexities. We expose them to their professional counterparts and to the issues they care most about.” 
When talking to the cameras, at a remove of more than twenty years, this South African ex-official drawled out the word “complex” with a big smile.  Ultimately, the international community realized that the situation wasn’t all that complex.  Discrimination was discrimination, and if we didn’t support it at home – or claimed we didn’t – we couldn’t tolerate it there.

Some day the U.S. public will not be misled by claims about how “complex” the map of Palestine is either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


“Thank you for choosing Comcast.”

I will be hearing that phrase in my sleep for a long time; I’ve heard it at least 20 times in the last week, because it’s the cheery closing of every call.

It’s a bitter irony, because I did not choose Comcast.

My mom recently concluded that it was time to move out of the house she’s lived in for 46 years to an apartment without stairs.  She found a nice two-bedroom two blocks away from the house in Richmond, VA and my sister arranged for it to be renovated to her specs.  I went back two weeks ago to help with the final packing and organizing and help get her settled in the new place.

A week before leaving California, after doing some research, I decided that she should give up her Comcast cable and MCI long distance in favor of a Verizon triple-play – phone, internet and Direct TV. 

My mom doesn’t use the internet; in fact, she refuses to look at a computer, but my sister and I decided that it’s essentially free to add it to the other services and it would be good for us and for others who come to help Mom to have it in the apartment.  We are also plotting to get her a computer, which she probably won’t look at but again, others can use it to get schedules and information from the groups she belongs to and we can use it to send her photos and letters and articles that others can print out for her.  In fact, the computer we’ve ordered, which is called the Telikin, is designed for seniors who are not tech-savvy and one of the features I’m excited about is the ability to remote in to her hard drive.  So if it works the way it is supposed to, we can go in and print something out for her and all she’ll have to do is go into the spare bedroom/den/office and get it.

Of course, Comcast also offers an internet-phone-TV bundle.  I chose Verizon for two reasons:  she could keep the phone number she’s had for all these years, and it was quite a bit cheaper.  So I ordered the triple play, only to learn the next day that the building doesn’t have Direct TV, only Comcast.  So I went back to the drawing board.  I kept the phone and internet with Verizon and arranged to transfer her existing Comcast service to her new address.

On moving day, the Comcast guy showed up and hooked up the cable in the apartment, or said he did.  But when the boxes were cleared and the paintings hung and I connected the TV in front of her favorite chair in the living room, it didn’t work.  We got the program guide but no picture.  I called the company and they said they could not get a signal through to the box.  They thought it could be a bad box.  Seemed suspicious since it had worked fine on Wednesday.  The first appointment they could give me for someone to come back out and get it working was Tuesday – this was Thursday.  Moreover, I was planning to leave on Tuesday and wanted to make sure everything was working before I left.

So on Friday, I went to the Comcast office and picked up two new boxes – a big one just like the old one we had moved from our old house, and a little one called a DTA – digital transport adapter for the new flat screen TV I had installed in the bedroom.  She doesn’t watch TV in the bedroom – couldn’t since the TV she had in there hasn’t worked in years – but I figured it would be good to have one in case at some point she has to spend more time in bed.  I got home and hooked up the two boxes.  The adapter seemed to work fine.  The other one, which I now know is called a digital receiver, got some of the channels but not all, and most annoyingly, two of the channels it did not get were the two she watches nonstop: MSNBC and CNBC.  We are bonded over Rachel Maddow and Melissa Harris Perry.  Before I could call and ask why I was only getting half the channels, the receiver stopped working at all.  Back to the situation I had been in the day before – I could see the channel guide but no programming.

My mom was completely mystified and couldn’t figure out what was happening.  She’s just not techy, as you’ve probably already guessed.  She kept pressing Channel 28 (MSNBC) on the remote over and over and over, even when I told her the box was disconnected (one of my ideas to try to reset it).

I called the company and again they tried and failed to send a signal to the box.  They still couldn’t give me an appointment before Tuesday.  I took the adapter box from the bedroom and hooked it up in the living room, so she could watch the shows she wanted to watch.  That helped, but the adapter doesn’t have a display, so she couldn’t see which channel she was on, and it doesn’t get the program guide, so she couldn’t see what was coming up.  She just wanted everything to be the way she was used to.  Who doesn’t?  And she’s 87 and just moved to a new place and you can’t blame her for wanting a little continuity.

On Friday night there was a huge storm all over the east coast, including in Richmond, where we were.  A lot of people lost power for hours, days or even weeks.  My sister, whose power was only out for twelve hours or so, has a freezerful of other people’s food.  We were lucky and only lost it for a few minutes.  Saturday morning, I went out in the muggy thousand degree heat to get some things for the house (bath mats, ironing board cover – I am pretty sure the one on the old wooden ironing board had been there for 50 years, soap dishes, trash cans).  There was a Comcast van in the parking lot, and the driver was in the van.  I walked up to it and said, “I know this is probably a screwy question, but since you’re here, is there any way you can pop up and look at my mom’s cable?”  He was very nice but said that he had a list and wasn’t allowed to deviate from it.

“Especially today,” he said, “because we have so many calls because of the storm.”

I thanked him and walked away, thinking, “Well the people whose service went out from the storm obviously just called today, and we called on Thursday.  So how come they can get service now and I can’t get it until Tuesday?”

Tuesday morning the guy showed up right when he was supposed to.  Great.  He worked on the cable for about 45 minutes and announced, “You’re good.”  He turned to leave.

“Wait,” I said.  I picked up the remote and pressed 28.  It went to 30.  I checked the channel guide.  It went 21, 22, 24, 27, 30.  I showed him that we were not getting all the channels.

“She’s supposed to get every channel, right?”

“Oh, yes.”

“Well we’re not.”

“You will in a little while.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said.  “This is just what happened last week, and then it stopped working completely.  I’m sorry, but I need you to stay until we’re getting all the channels we’re supposed to get.”
He looked unhappy, but mumbled “Okay.”  A minute later, he walked out, saying, “I’ll be right back.”

He never came back.

An hour later, I called the company to ask where he was.  The woman I spoke to said that he had marked the job completed, so she could only put in a new ticket and give us an appointment for the next day.  I said no, that was unacceptable, I was supposed to leave today, my mom can’t explain to the guy what needs to be done, we’ve waited almost a week, the guy walked off the job, I need it done today.”

I made six calls to Comcast that day.  I talked to the Operations Manager for the Beltway area, who was in Texas.  I asked to speak with the Area Manager (my job at a law firm happens to have brought me into contact with a lot of Comcast organization charts).  Steve Sanchez, the Operations Manager, said that the Area Manager was not in the office but he would have him call me.  Steve also promised to call me back within an hour to let me know when the technician would come back to finish the work.  Neither of those calls came.

I asked my sister, who was home in Maryland, to call because I just couldn’t do it any more.  She said okay.  Then the phone rang and it was Comcast.  They told my mom they needed to verify some information because her daughter was on the phone.  They asked for the last four digits of her Social Security number.  She gave them.  They said that wasn’t what they had on the account.  She took out her Medicare card and read them the entire number.  They said it wasn’t right.  They didn’t want to let my sister talk to anyone because they didn’t believe she was really my mom’s daughter, even though they had called the number on the account and reached my mom and my sister has the same last name.  They told my sister she has to take my mom to a Comcast office and have her show them her photo ID and Social Security card.  I was told the same thing when I took the phone back.  Is there some law that says you have to even have a Social Security card to order cable TV?

I called back.  The hold time was 20 minutes.  I put it on the speaker phone and read a book and waited.  Finally a young woman came on the line who was very sweet.  She said she had elderly parents too, and she understood.  She was going to find the technician and make him come back.  She gave me a ticket number, which had never happened before, and promised someone would call me back within 20 minutes to let me know when they would be coming back.

In 40 minutes, I called again.  This time I got a young man who was also very nice.  I gave him the ticket number.  He called it up.  He said he still couldn’t find the tech.  I asked for his supervisor.  He said she was on another call, so he didn’t know how long she would be, but he would have her call me as soon as she got off the phone.  He gave me another ticket number.

No call from the supervisor.  No call from the technician.  No technician showed up.  I took my mom to the doctor.  We had to wait a long time, because it was the day before a holiday.  When we got home, I called Comcast again.  I gave both ticket numbers.  The woman I spoke to said, “Those tickets are unresolved.”

“I know that,” I couldn’t help saying.  “That’s why I’m calling.”

My sarcasm got me nowhere, but of course, being sweet had also gotten me nowhere.  I insisted that someone had to come the next day to finish the work that had not been completed.  She said, “That would be hard.  Tomorrow’s a holiday.”  I said I knew people would be working, because they had previously offered me an appointment for Wednesday, and we should be at the top of the list because we had been waiting since last Thursday.

“I had to change my flight because of you all,” I said.

“I can give you an appointment on Sunday,” she said.  I demanded to talk to her supervisor.  The supervisor said he would try to get someone out on Wednesday, but at the least, he would schedule it for Sunday.  I said that they need to comp us the month because we are not getting what we’re paying for and I’ve spent the equivalent of a week’s work talking to them about it.  He said, “I’m not sure we can do that.  We will certainly credit you for the time you’ve been without service.”  I said they had to do more than that.  Friends of mine got a huge discount and a bunch of extra stuff for free because they had connected their own modem wrong.  He said he would see what promotions were available.

My sister called at 6:00 am on Wednesday and talked to someone in Costa Rica.  She was promised that someone would come that day, probably before 1:00 pm.  I called at 8:00.  I was told we had an appointment for Sunday.  I said my sister had been told someone would come that day.  They said they could see that we had been given priority, but that didn’t mean someone would actually come.

Okay, so this much angst over cable TV seems kind of absurd.  At least 26 people have died from the heat or the storm.  But Comcast doesn’t provide emergency food aid or cooling shelters.  They’re a cable company.  They actually don’t have anything more important to do than get people’s cable working right, and my mom’s still doesn’t.

Her building is supposed to be wired for FIOS in August.  If her Comcast is working by then, am I going to dare to start over with someone else?