Thursday, January 22, 2009

Caption Contest - Inauguration Edition

For this edition of the caption contest, I challenge my readers to compose the text for President Obama's teleprompter.

I won't use up all the good ones, but I can't resist this:

"It would cost about, it would cost about the same as what we would spend, over the course of 10 years it would cost what it would cost us... ok... all right, ok, we're going to... the - it would cost us about the same as it would cost, for about... hold one second, I can't hear myself... uh, but I'm glad you're fired up though, I'm glad! Heh heh."


Winner gets a trip to Sarah Palin's inauguration in 2013.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Time Machine

I've been re-reading G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy - his testimony of how he came to believe in Christianity - and was reminded of a recent discussion I had with a friend on the fluctuation of moral norms from one era to the next.

Indeed, I've had the same discussion with many people. "What's right for you isn't necessarily right for me," they say. Hogwash. Truth is always True, and no societal, cultural, situational circumstances can ever change it. We must follow after this Truth relentlessly and at the sacrifice of everything else in our lives. This is what drove me to become Catholic, even at the risk of alienating many friends and family.

This passage from Orthodoxy struck me most poignantly. Bear in mind that this book was published exactly 100 years ago:

An imbecile habit has arisen in modern controversy of saying that such and such a creed can be held in one age but cannot be held in another. Some dogma, we are told, was credible in the twelfth century, but is not credible in the twentieth. You might as well say that a certain philosophy can be believed on Mondays, but cannot be believed on Tuesdays. You might as well say of a view of the cosmos that it was suitable to half-past three, but not suitable to half-past four. What a man can believe depends upon his philosophy, not upon the clock or the century.

It's somewhat comforting to know that the lies of today are not actually of today, but are as old as man's rejection of the timeless Truth.

But I got to thinking: if indeed some moral code - such as the one governing sexual ethics, for instance - were indeed different in the 1800s than it is in the 2000s, what would happen were a modern sexual amoralist suddenly and quite accidentally hurled backwards through time? Would he submit to the rigid structure of temporal moral relativity and suddenly become the strictest adherent to chastity, in recognition of the dominant moral code of his new era of residence?

I rather think not. He has lived his whole life according to a certain standard and is not about to change simply because of the date on the calendar. Neither, incidentally, would I ever think of changing my standards simply because it's 2009.

And if you ask this man, trapped in Victorian culture, why he will not submit to Victorian morality, he will eventually confess that he believes that the standard by which he had lived is perfectly fine - and thus timeless.

It is at this point that his argument against Christian sexual purity begins to crumble, for when he acknowledges the existence of any timeless moral code (even his corrupted version of one) to which he must adhere in the face of overwhelming disapproval, he is drawing a line between right and wrong. Should he still retain possession of his sanity, he will insist that he is on the side of the right, and will thus try to win others over to his point of view - both for his own company and for the intrinsic human desire to reveal the known truth to everybody within one's sphere of influence (which is the definition of evangelization).

And if he is truly honest with himself, at some point he will be forced to ask himself why he believes what he believes. He cannot possibly honestly answer that he is following some higher power in his pursuit of loose living. It is then that he will inevitably have to answer, "Because I prefer this belief," or even "Because it is easier for me to adhere to this belief than to a harder belief." That confession reveals himself as the self-declared arbiter of right and wrong, which unpleasantly flies in the face of his recent realization that Truth must be timeless. For if Truth is indeed timeless and does not vary from age to age, how then can we claim that it can vary from person to person? And how can a lone man dare to say to the Truth, "You are inconvenient, and I therefore reject you"?

If, having started down this road of honest self-examination, he refuses to measure his own beliefs against the rule of Truth, he will most certainly go insane. But should his ability to reason remain intact, the process of discerning moral absolutes as revealed by Truth will inevitably lead him straight into the arms of Mother Church and the fullness of Christ.

Or, in the words of our Lord, "Seek, and you will find." My prayer is that all will seek.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Defenders Needed

I know that only a portion of my readers live in or near Winnipeg.

I also know that many of my readers may not support the pro-life cause; in that case you may simply disregard this post and wait for one which does not offend your sensibilities.

For those who remain:

Mark it on your calendar - Lent 2009, from February 25 to April 5, Winnipeg (and Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal) will be hosting 40 Days for Life.

What exactly do we expect you to do?

Two things: Primarily, unite your Lenten sacrifice with this cause; fast and pray for an end to abortion this Lent. This is the single greatest act you can do. In the Divine Math, the fervent prayer of a righteous man accomplishes much (James 5:16).

Second, sign up for an hour of silent vigil outside the abortion clinic in Winnipeg. We will have an easy way to do this shortly, so stand by for that. We will have somebody at vigil 24 hours a day for every day of Lent. Yes, you read that correctly. Be one of them. The Lord calls you.

Stay tuned...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Fun With Credit Card Applications

I got a bit of junk mail today - the old fashioned kind that somebody actually paid $0.52 to send - offering me a credit card.

I know a bad idea when I see one, and had no intention of signing up. I also thought it would be nice to get off the mailing list for that company. So I called the toll-free number on the application form.

Bear in mind, I spent 7 years in a call centre, and know a thing or two about the way things work at the other end of a toll-free number. I know that companies legally have to remove you from their mailing lists if you ask them to. Nonetheless, I fully expected to encounter some bumps along the way to getting my request fulfilled and promised myself that I'd try to enjoy it.

Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I've decided to share it with you.

I was in the process of getting supper ready so I dialed the number using my cordless phone and set it on speakerphone, placing it on the counter so I could keep my hands free.

It rang, there was a brief introduction, and I pressed 1 for English. The disembodied voice said it would transfer me. I waited... silence. The silence lasted for about 60 seconds, and then there was a brief musical interlude. It wasn't hold music; it sounded like company theme music, and only lasted about 3 seconds. Then there was about 60 seconds of silence again, and suddenly it disconnected. The phone shouted "WREH WREH WREH WREH" at me until I hung up.

I smiled, thinking that if I had really wanted to sign up for that credit card that I'd be getting frustrated by now, and dialed again.

This time after I pressed 1 for English and it transferred me, there was legitimate hold music. But what a nasty selection - it sounded like thrash metal, and over speakerphone it sounded even worse than thrash metal. Every now and then a recorded female East Indian voice (she had obviously gone through accent neutralization training) said, "Thank you for your patience. We spend as much time with each customer as possible. Please remain on the line and your call will be answered as soon as possible."

I had to question the wisdom of "spending as much time with each customer as possible" - I think they meant to say "as necessary" but who am I to judge?

This went on - a steady alternation of speakerphone-rattling thrash metal, and barely-accented poor word choice - for about 8 minutes while I chopped salad and popped a lasagne in the oven. Finally my call was routed to a live rep who started to recite his call opening script. I dropped the oven mitts and picked up the cordless, switching it back to regular phone mode. The change in sound must have confused the rep, for he stopped in the middle of his script.

"Hello?" I intoned.

"Hello!" he replied.

"Sorry, I had it on speakerphone and switched it to regular phone when you picked up."

"Oh, OK, no problem. How can I help you?" he asked, in his Indian accent. He, too, had obviously gone through accent neutralization, although the recorded lady's accent was hidden better than his was.

"I got your credit card application in the mail, and I don't want to sign up for it. Could you remove me from your mailing list?"

"OK, do you have a pen and paper available?" he asked.

This caught me off guard; I wasn't sure how writing something down would help me to get less mail. Perhaps it was some sort of magic spell or incantation, or some choice words for the mailman?

I found a pencil, and I had the application right in front of me. "Yes," I answered.

"OK, please write this down..." and he gave me another toll-free number. Was I supposed to shout it at the mailman? He continued, "You'll need to speak to customer service to be removed from the mailing list."

"So you can't do it yourself?"

"No, I work in Registrations."

"All right. Can you transfer me there?"

"Yes, I'll transfer you. I gave you the number in case you get disconnected so you can call them directly."

Smart move. He must have tried calling his own toll-free number at some point and knew that being disconnected was always a risk. But I also detected a hint of the infamous call centre AHT measure - Average Handle Time. The shorter your calls are as an agent, the more calls you can take, and your company becomes more efficient and makes more money. So agents are pressed to do everything they can to reduce the length of their calls. So instead of him explaining that only customer service can do mailing list removals and that I may need to call them directly if I'm disconnected so I should make a note of their number, he has learned just to give people the phone number. This shaves precious seconds off his AHT. But it's a really inhuman way to treat people (that theme being the main reason I got out of the call centre industry).

He transferred me to Customer Service, and happily they had normal hold musak so I put it back on speakerphone. After about 3 minutes, Chelsea picked up the phone. She was not from India, that much was plain; she didn't skip a beat when I thumbed the cordless off speakerphone mode.

"I want to be removed from your mailing list," I explained.

"Sure, I can do that," she replied. "I'll need your name and address." I gave them to her, and asked her where she was based. "Ottawa," she said.

I started my call centre job in Ottawa, so I was curious and asked her, "Do you work at Convergys?"

"At what?"

"It's a call centre."

"Oh. Never heard of it. I work for the bank." She changed the subject. "So it can take up to 90 days to get you off the mailing list entirely." Companies tell you this because they know there's probably another marketing scheme being hatched right then and that your name will already be on the mailing list for that one. Companies also will rarely permanently remove you from their mailing lists, and this one is no exception - she adds, "And your removal will expire after 3 years and 31 days."

"3 years and 31 days?" I repeat.

"Yes sir."

"That's kind of an odd number, don't you think?"

"Yeah, I guess it is."

We ended the call, and I checked the time on my phone - 14 minutes in total. Not bad.

But I'll have to do it all again sometime after February 8, 2012. Nuts.