So who is having a prejudice problem here?

Link: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/07/24/haberfeld.police/index.html

Did the President of the United States speak out prematurely on a sensitive issue? Where he probably would have done service to himself (and the police, most of the public, etc, etc) by being more cautious? I believe so.

Well, here is the problem. Nobody was there, except Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sgt. James Crowley. They have stories that differ in some critically relevant details. You can never ever get objective and verifiable record of what happened. Those critical differences clearly decide who is at fault.

Usually, in similar disagreements, it turns out that the truth is somewhere in the middle. That is perfectly possible here, too. We just don't know and have no way of knowing. Can it be that Crowley's story is closer to the truth and Gates, being a racially conscious and proud individual overreacted, creating a legitimate circumstance for arrest on the grounds of "disorderly conduct"? Or is this closer to the all too familiar police rational profiling situation, just as claimed by Gates? Does it really matter?

Well, I am not sure. But the stakes became higher now that the president decided to call the police, as a whole, "stupid", over this unfortunate event.

I really can't know more than anyone else regarding what really happened. All we can do is use the information we have at hand to try to figure what has likely happened. Information, such as past behavior and other objectively verifiable data.

I must say if Crowley happened to be an individual, whose background was "decorated" with reports of racial profiling, brutality, racially insensitive comments, etc (something perhaps some other police officers have, so goes the public stereotype), we would have very little question as to whom we should believe in this case. A Harvard Professor, a high achiever, a clearly credible individual, or an officer, who already was in trouble not dissimilar to the one at hand.

But that is not the case here. Far from it. In fact, as far as anyone can know, Crowley has been an exemplary officer, even with regards to race issues, including being involved in education of officers about racial profiling. As far as we can tell, he is a professional, only following procedure.

Hm. That makes this more complicated. I don't meant to be cynical, but just to play the devil's advocate, can we rule out that Gates, somebody who takes into heart African American issues so much, did not mind an opportunity to bring national media attention to this issue? I am not suggesting he set up the whole break-in and all, purposefully testing the response of the police in a break-in case where they find a black man at the property. Again, no one knows and not knowing leaves us with lack of verifiable knowledge of the events and cannot exclude any possibility.

I think that is where that story should have ended. The police could conduct their own review/investigation and conclude whatever, likely to find no evidence of wrongdoing (although then the question comes why and who decided to drop the charges?). Gates, on the other hand, will likely continue his personal crusade against police, clearly increasing his own visibility (although the leadership of Harvard could ask whether such visibility is 100% wanted or not).

The problem is when the President of the US gets involved. It makes no sense. He declares he does not know everything. To complete logical contrast to that he then goes ahead and blasts the police. Excuse me? Why? He felt personally indebted to Gates, so much so to take this huge risk and go that far? Not good.

I believe the best thing the President can do at this point is to issue a formal apology to the police, stating he was mislead by prejudice and he is very sorry. The President of the United States should definitely excuse himself from commenting on issues like this. (The fact he is black and friends with Gates does not make the situation a bit less complicated...)

The President is no god, nobody expects him to rule and judge on everything, from petty crimes to world peace (in fact I am disappointed with the media for even asking him on this issue; what purpose was that for other than to create a great, but completely unconstructive story). He could have politely bowed out of this one and he should have. (Of course if he were to do that, I would not be writing this blog and using my time for something more productive myself :))

We are all human, we make mistakes, and I wish this was the biggest mistake Obama was ever to make. It will be a test of his maturity and humility whether he issues an apology. I hope so. That would likely short-circuit this pointless media brouhaha, a distraction the President hardly needs right now at a time of major national and international emergencies.

I still don't have a working checking/ATM card... Anyone surprised?

I thought I give you an update :) As stated in the subject line, I still don't have my card. Well, there is a bit more into the update. Here goes it...

As described in detail in the earlier posts, I was hoping to receive the card before I was going out of the country on 7/10/09. Well, it did not get here, but when I got back from Hungary on 7/19/09 I found a couple of door tags by FedEx. "Great" I thought "now I missed that one." And so it was. I called FedEx (a little bit of frustration there by their "automated" tracking option, which is designed to make customer annoyance automatic while not at all helpful in tracking anything) and eventually learned that the package (presumably with my new ATM card) was returned to the sender.

However, while wading through my mail, I found a regular mailed envelop from BoA, which had a brand new ATM card! Wow! That is something I definitely did not expect! A pleasant surprise! I almost began to feel bad about all the public posts I am slamming them in, while a wave of warmth flooded my heart. I called and activated the new card without a problem. I, for a moment, deluded myself in the belief I again had a working ATM card and the saga ended.

Well, you probably suspect what that indicates. Yes. Whenever you think it is over, you are in for a brutal surprise for your stupidity to think something actually worked out in your favor and to your convenience, especially when such positive outcome develops unexpectedly.

The only reason I called BoA at this point was actually NOT that I suspected something was wrong (things appeared to be panning out right, which should always suggest there is something wrong). I guess I am still too naive. No. I was in fact calling them to verify that the returned FedEx shipment actually WAS theirs (to make sure I did not miss something else, as I sporadically order things from the internet, especially eBay, not necessarily remembering each and therefore not specifically expecting the delivery).

Eventually I did get through to customer support and spoke to a live person. He kindly confirmed that the FedEx shipment WAS theirs and identified my activation of the new card. But then he became apologetic, which made no sense on the surface, given all signs indicated I just managed to end a nearly month-long ordeal after my ATM card got "confiscated".

Well, he was apologetic because he informed me that the new card I just activated was also blocked, due to "security concerns". I guess I must be on some criminal watch list. I only want to have a regular check card, which I can use to deposit checks and occasionally withdraw cash. That's all. I don't do crazy stuff. I don't use it extensively. I don't engage in questionable practices and push the envelop to give reason for security concerns. I am just an orderly guy with very orderly and average usage habits, why do I have to raise all these red flags, leading to card confiscation, blocking, etc?

I guess we will never know. They wouldn't say. I still don't know why my card was confiscated in the first place. BTW they never actually formally apologized for it, other than the agent on the phone when I first reported it. Of course that is easy to do, but means relatively little in light of the aggravation this whole ordeal ended up causing.

In any case, I will just go on, subjected to whatever they please to subject me to and accept this as something I have no control over.

The agent also said I could go to a branch and get help there. Well, that is not possible today. I am doing intraoperative monitoring all day, possibly to very late night. Tomorrow I have other commitments and so on. I found that the regular mail option is really the best for me and I told the guy. He was not very happy with this and informed me that it will take nearly 2 weeks for me to get it that way. I told him that is a penalty I would happily take, when I look at the big picture (where suffering has been in a lot bigger scale than just waiting 2 weeks for a card, which actually does work and ends a "beautiful" saga).

So there we are right now, awaiting the card. I definitely update you on how this evolves...

Mammutokról és toleranciáról az SZDSZ bukása kapcsán.

Link: http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/cikk.php?cikk=173335

Hát persze, h már megint Bayer Zsolt és Magyar Hírlap és persze, h a tolerancia (illetve annak hiánya), az örökzöld témakör, ami írásra ragadott. Igen, örökzöld téma ez, talán mondhatom, h sajnos. Mégis olyasmi, ami mindig nagyon érdekel. És a jelek szerint kimeríthetetlen.

Nem érdekel a politika. Kifejezetten előnytelennek hiszem a demokrácia olyaténképpen történő; megvalósulását, ami politikai pártokba való rendeződést jelent, mert ezáltal sokkal inkább a csordaszellem és "másik" csoport ELLEN történő hadakozás (ami törzsi harcos múltunk csökevénye) kerül előtérbe, mintsem a tényleg fontos kérdések alapos megértése, a társadalom szervező erőinek az emberek tényleges érdekében történő mozgósítása. Az érdekeink minden mástól függetlenül megvalósítása, az adott kérdésben véleményünk és akaratunk kifejezése talán nem pártos, képviselős, reprezentációs, hanem referendum formában volna a legszerencsésebb, mert egy ilyen elven működő rendszer egyszerűen az emberi gyarlóságggal és megvesztegethetőséggel nem kompatibilis. Ugyanakkor a referendum alapon működő társadalmi szerveződés ma már a technológiailag egyre inkább lehetséges (pl. egy Wikipedia típusú törvényhozási mechanizmus, abszolút profi és karrier alapú végrehajtó hatalommal).

Messzire kalandozok. A lényeg, h nincs semmilyen politikai motivácóm, egyik pártot se szeretem vagy támogatom, úgy az egész párt alapon működő rendszert tartom korruptnak. Magyarul abszolút nem célom egyetlen párt vagy politikai vagy egyéb csoport védelme sem, nem ezért írok. A tolerancia ellen irányuló támadásokat érzem veszélyesnek és köteleséggemnek érzem, h ha veszélyeztetve látom a toleranciát, illetve kifejezetten egy csoport, rassz, nép, stb ellen képződik retorika, azt csírájában igyekezzem elfojtani vagy legalább felhívni rá a figyelmet, tenni valamit, bármit, amit én egyszerű kis polgárkánt tehetek.

Blogomon már találtok egy korábbi cikket, aminek megírására Bayer korábban megjelent nyíltan rasszista hosszászólása késztetett (http://zneuro.net/blog2.php/2009/02/14/velemeny-a-ciganyba-369-noezes-es-politi). Most pedig az újabb SZDSZ-hez kapcsolódó szösszenete döbbentett meg (http://www.magyarhirlap.hu/cikk.php?cikk=173335).

Bayer pezsgőt bont az SZDSZ összeomlására. Hm. Miért is? Hol jó ez neki? Nem teljesen világos számomra, h ez is csak vmiféle sötét gyűlölet, amit egy másik csoport minden tagja iránt érez pusztán a másságuk miatt avagy cask a “dögöljön meg a szomszéd tehene is” típusú ősi káröröm vezérli Bayert, esetleg mindkettő.

Bayer írásából cask az nem derül ki, h pontosan mi is az, amiért az SZDSZ ilyen végtelenül feketelistás nála és ezzel mi is az, ami az SZDSZ kárában ilyen eufórikus pezsgőbontásos reakciót vált ki belőle. Mik azok a konkrét politikai nézeteltérések, filozófiai, társadalomszervezési, hitvallásbéli konkrétumok, amik ilyen jelentős érzelmi alapokra csúszó szembenállást indukálnak?

Azt hiszem minden magát legalább közepesen intellektuálisnak tekintő ember egyetért a dialógus fontosságával, a másság tisztelettudó elismerésével és az egyet nem értés, nézeteltérések előre vivő hatásával és jelentőségével. Feltéve, h a dialógust civilizált síkon, a másik fél legalább olyan tiszteletével, mint amilyet magunk is elvárunk, tudjuk lefolytatni. Olyan módon, hogy a véleménykülönbségeket a legkonstrukívabban, lehetőleg minél kevesebb primitív érzelmi behatás és ősi zsigeri ösztönök befolyása alatt tudjuk megtenni. Valahol éppen attól vagyunk homo sapiens (úgy értem mindannyian, cigányok, zsidók, SZDSZ-esek, FIDESZ-esek, és bőrfejűek egyaránt), h erre képesek vagyunk.

Sajnos az érzelmi alapra helyezett “politizálás” sok jóval nem kecsegtet. Viszont óriási hagyományokkal rendelkezik. A gyűlülködés, uszítás, vitathatóan a legintenzívebb hatásokat tudja produkálni, a leghálásabb módszer a tömegpszichózis eléréséhez. Mi, európaiak, sajnos nagyon súlyosan éltük meg az ilyen módszerek és hozzáállás “sikerességét” és “eredményét”, amikor sikeres.

Kárörvendeni emberi sajátság. Szinte mindannyian átesünk szociálpszichológiai fejlődésünk bizonyos primitív szakaszában ilyesmin, amikor óvodában a másik gyerekre ömlik a forró leves, vagy amikor az iskolában a padtárs kap rossz jegyet vagy büntetést. Van, aki ezen a szinten felnőttként is megreked, de ez még nem igazán jelent veszélyt és ha Bayer megmaradt volna a pezsgőbontásos bejelntés szintjén, most nem írnék.

Ami viszont ijesztő, az ahogyan a kommunistázás és zsidózás be lesz csempészve az írásba, az SZDSZ bukásának "örömhíre" kapcsán. Mintha csak a kommunisták és zsidők bukása volna itt az igazi örömhír. Megintcsak nem a konkrétumok felsorolása és elemzése a cél Bayernél, nem igazán az, h pontosan MI IS a gond ezeknek az embereknek a programjával, elég csak a kommunistázás és zsidózás úgy önmagában. Az úgyis mindent elmond (annak, aki érti az ilyesmit, félszavakból is). Bayernek a jelek szerint untig elég ennyi és úgy tűnik a kiadónak és talán az olvasók egy részének is. Ez talán az egészben a legszomorúbb és riasztóbb. A józan észt és jó érzést alázó. Mármint az, h mi magyarok, társadalom szinten nem vagyunk elég érettek az ilyesmi teljes lenézésre és kiközösítésére, h ne legyen érdeke a kiadónak ilyesmit publikálni, mert senki nem eszi.

Azt hittem, a kommunistázás megszűnik egyszer, ahogy telnek az évtizedek a szabad választások megjelenése óta és kihalnak az egykori aparátcsikok és velük együtt az őket gyűlölők is. De Bayertől megtudhatjuk, h a kommunisták “csemetéi” is ma már ott viszik tovább a stafétabotot és vele a gyűlöleti céltáblát. Feltehetőleg öröklődik a dolog. Mint ahogyan a zsidóság is, tehát az ő csemetéik is megérdemlik Bayer haragját.

Vajon mit is kéne csinálni ezekkel a zsidókkal és kommunistákkal és csemetéikkel, úgy 'en bloc', úgy értem ezen csoportok minden tagjával (még inkább ha ezek keresztmetszetében vannak!)? Nem az a gond, h mit csinálnak, mondanak, képviselnek (hiszen aligha elképzelhető, h MIND ugyanazt tennék vagy képviselnék), hanem az a gond, h kommunisták és zsidók és persze ezek csemetéi ők (és aztán vélhetőleg majd a csemeték csemetéi és így tovább). Mit kéne velük csinálni, h Bayer elégedetten megnyugodjon, h ne érezze magát fenyegetve tőlük, h végre nyugta lehessen? Hogy minden este pezsgőt bonthasson? Hiszen attól tartok írását olvasva, h pusztán az SZDSZ feloszlása, bár kétségtelenül nagyon örömteli fejlemény, még nem tesz pontot az i-re, hiszen a feloszlott pártból bizonyára ezek a kommunisták és zsidók (és csemetéik) be fognak várhatólag szivárogni máshova, ki tudja miféle pusztítást okozva majd ott ezáltal.

Hiszek benne, h a józan ész és humanitás felülkerekedik a tolerancia hiányán, a gyűlölködésen, a zsigeri ösztönlény mivoltunkat stimulaló alantas uszításon. A Magyar Hírlap nyilvánvalóan nem ennek jegyében járt el Bayer írásának leközlésekor és szégyelheti magát.

P.S. Úgy érzem a fenti témához kapcsolódik egy írás a Népszabadságban, ami viszont közel áll a szívemhez: http://nol.hu/lap/hetvege/20090725-alompart

An Independence Day "Present" from BofA

Link: http://www.zneuro.net/Files/BofA_04_Jul_2009.MP3

When Giannini established Bank of America (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bank_of_america) and gave this grand and pathos provoking name (although he already had a pattern of such big naming habits, i.e. Bank of Italy, then Bank of America and Italy), defining his banks's independence financially, he might have associated this major achievement with an even grander and greater connection of America and Independence.

He must have had a grand vision for the Bank then. I hope he would be disturbed to know what BofA hands out in today's America, as "Independence Day present", to its custmers. Well, I have to say that just one petty customer's issue of being denied access to his paltry money certainly does not measure up in significance to either establishment of the biggest bank in the US or the celebration of independence of one of the greatest countries in the world. However, I felt this experience still "counts" in my micro-environment and may be applicable to many more little people like me. Because both the bank (however big) and the entire country is related to everyday people and such way we are grand. That is how I just could not help making these grandiose associations, also out of lack of better options, and decided to summarize my experience today...

This morning, on July 4th, 2009, I was depositing a check at an ATM near my office. It accepted/deposited the check, but then it refused to return my ATM card. A message appeared on the screen saying that for security reasons the card could not be returned and that I should address this issue with customer service.

Not having the ATM card, I did not have their phone number or my card number, so I called another number (for one of my credit cards with BofA), where I spoke to a rep who gave me the number for the checking customer service (800-432-1000) and also transferred me. When he transferred, an automated voice told me that they were shut down for the holiday and I should please call back Monday. There was no mention of a fraud report back-door at that time. I hung up.

I called the number (800-432-1000) back (follow link for the recorded conversation) at which time with a minor lie (i.e. I had to go for the "fraud" option as if my card was stolen; well it wasn't exactly stolen, but since the ATM machine retained it against my will I made it qualify for a steal, knowing that was my only option to speak to a live person). At this time I was told that there was nothing that could be done. It was acknowledged I had cash in my checking account and I had no way of accessing it, but I was told I should just use my checkbook in case I am so determined to spend my money over the holiday weekend. Although I appreciate the "choose to save" campaign, this was not the right moment for it, especially when somebody else "chooses" for me against my will, forcing me to "save".

I am leaving for Hungary in a few days and as crazy as my schedule is during the last few days I have before my trip, I simply cannot waste an hour (which is how long it took me to wait in line last week when I visited a branch for another issue that I may address in a separate blog) to have a temporary check card. Thus in effect this also means I will be without access to my checking account (and cash) through ATMs until at least late July when I return from Hungary.

Again, I am no expert of customer service management and strategy. But to me taking somebody's card away (and with it, his/her access to their checking account) appears to be such a major intrusion that I would have extreme caution and measures in effect, infallible, to make sure such a thing would not happen inadvertently or for the wrong reason.

If there is a security issue so severe that taking away one's ATM card is deemed warranted, if any respect to customers was of even the slightest priority, I would spare no time and energy invested in ensuring that the customer is contacted, even it has to be a long distance call (they have my home number, as they often leave unwanted marketing messages about their other products I never wanted or ever would want; they have my email, where I get all my statements, etc; and they also have my cell phone #). Clearly, marketing contact somehow does make it across, but not when such a major security issue (presumably) emerges which makes their system take my card away. If the customer cannot be contacted, I would take the risk of some security issue related losses than causing such a major disruption to the customer's life.

If however, for the slightest security warning or concern, the bank has working policies to shut down the account (which happens often with my credit card accounts, every time due to a presumed security concern later found not valid or existing) or take away the ATM card, it may mean that they have no respect for their customers and their priorities are aligned very strongly skewed toward protecting their own bottom line and sacrificing anything they can on their customers' end.

For example, if a severe security concern emerges, they probably can instantaneously and automatically (based on some algorithm built in their management software) shut down an account or have the ATM card retained at close to zero cost to them, i.e. they lose nothing. With that of course their customers would be left with extreme inconvenience and frustration, which is not of much interest to them if it essentially carries no real cost/financial risk (a screaming and yelling customer is not really threatening the bottom line, especially they shut down customer service for the holiday). On the other hand, reaching the customer by telephone clearly means extra costs (up to tens of dollars, depending on how hard it is to reach them), not even mentioning the scenario when there is a valid security concern and they decide to err on the side of preventing their customers' loss of access versus losing real money to fraudsters, recovery of which is of course being truly expensive. In other words, they go with the least costly option (an automatic computer-managed zero-cost shut-down of an account or retention of bank card) at the expense of customer frustration that costs less, on the long run.

Of course, I don't know what exactly happened in this particular case (as the representative seemed to suggest that some error at the actual ATM machine's level might have been the cause). But if ATMs are so unreliable and faulty, I am even more concerned about how a company manages their customer-based retail-level business operations.

I know I always come across as cynical and assume that for-profit-companies care only about their profit/bottom-line and since that is the sole thing that drives them, as a result, aberrations like this will necessary occur. And since that business strategy is driven by what is less costly, there is not much one can change. Well, here is my 2 cents. If pissing off customers to the extreme (i.e. by egregious examples like shutting off their account for no good reason or taking their bank card away) proves to be actually more costly to them in the long run, they could decide to revise their policies. Granted, the extra costs would be pushed onto us, but in the same time I rather pay a penny more in whatever fees they are to build this in (security fee?), but I take it any time if that small fee will mean they will reach me to alert me regarding a problem before I am left out in the total cold without options, totally screwed. In any case, from our end, I think we should just have to find ways of increasing their cost-perception of the otherwise easy-appearing option of automatic account shut-downs and access denials.

I am not sure what the best ways are to do that, but public debate, discussion and brainstorming seem to represent a good option to get started...

On this day of Independence, I feel actually not very independent of practices and habits of American companies. I am actually rather dependent on them. They can just stop my access to my own cash in a glimpse and tell me I should just suck it up. Wow. Pretty strong sentiment there. So who is independent here? How are we independent of really? Does that make us independent?

However, I don't want to feel terrorized and let thrown into total desperation over this issue or for feel lack of independence. I think our spirits are still independent, no matter what, which is exactly why we can start doing something about these issues. E.g. I helped relieve my frustration by writing about this particular issue. I know BofA or any other bank won't change just because of this blog or even if we all reported our horror stories. I still feel independent and part of that spirit pushes me to not let it go and at least document it, allow others to share their comments and experiences. It is an uphill battle, of course, with close to zero chance of changing anything no matter what we do. But if we just sit and do nothing, or do as they say we agree to "suck it up", our chances of having a different experience next time or changing anything at all will certainly be zero.

1st followup to Verizon Saga

When I decided to create an entire category of blogs for Verizon, I had 3 contributing factors/reasons in mind.

First, I wanted to do the blog as we take an umbrella to improve our chances it won't rain. I.e., it is a hassle to carry an umbrella for no reason. One can even feel stupid for it. But that mini frustration is leverage, a lesser of 2 evils, a price, we decidedly pay to avoid a bigger evil, plus we buy the illusion of being in control with it. I figured I could look somewhat stupid for doing a blog on Verizon, which is something I am willing to take happily, over the unfortunate situation of having to deal with them. In other words I felt if I write about this crap, it will help me avoid it. I jinx it :)

Second, I felt so out of control, so beaten, so without options, so helpless. When I came to the idea of publishing my experiences on the web I suddenly felt relieved. I felt I actually AM doing something about it. It may not help solve the problem, but it does start something, I create something over it, I felt productive, leaving a mark out there, which is available forever (supposedly).

Third, I hoped to start some discussion over the "big picture", the philosophy of customer service management and strategy of large companies, which could be a pretty stimulating conversation (BTW feel free to make comments here, that's part of the idea).

With that, in line with the first motive, I actually expected to have this prolonged and worn out PIN debacle with Verizon to be solved relatively painlessly.

As you probably figured by now (if you got to read to this point), my flawed and detached hopes of a resolution were murdered. Raped. This of course starts to question the concept I raised in the previous post, i.e. the possibility of this whole thing just being a totally random and sporadic bad luck in the field of a generally OK-working system (as opposed to a system that is not working for the most part, but we just don't hear about it more due to customer apathy and lack of time/practical forums to raise hell).

Well, nothing "extraordinary" happened, I think, only that I ran another round in the match and realized that I am back in square one (which is BTW the same as the "red corner").

Of course, despite this being a major burden, I managed to make time to call during the communism-like 8-5 weekday-only slot, today. Actually, the wait time was a lot shorter (remember, 28 min in the previous case). Of course, the same navigation skills through dead-end and customer-killer menus were required again, but I was actually talking to a live person within 8 minutes!

This time, no "rewards" or "billing" departments were recruited or mentioned, but the gatekeeper person (I think correctly, for the first time during this saga) realized my issue belonged to the "e-whatever" department. Not only that, but actually when I got transferred (and again spoke to a live agent) it still appeared I was in the right place.

The e-agent spoke little English and we had a few minutes spent on clarifying what kind of PIN I really needed. However, when this was clarified, I suggested I go to the same website, where she was to navigate me through the process.

This time we chose the call home phone option for PIN delivery. She was somewhat unhappy and shocked I wasn't home (it was about 2.30 PM EST-daylight saving) and declared this could be a problem. Nevertheless, when it was revealed I had an answering machine, she said it should work, as the automatic system would leave the PIN on the answering machine.

The idea was that I would go home, get the PIN off my answering machine, then go online and everything is solved! I did go home and I did find 3 messages on my answering machines, each one the same, an automated voice asking to press 2 and that they would call back. Of course, there was no PIN or any actable information, thus my only conclusion was that (1) I got fooled again; and (2) achieved nothing.

Clearly, my next plan is to request a phone-delivered PIN when I am actually at home. If you don't see any more Verizon blogs that is because I succeeded... However, even if that happens, I am still likely to post a final analysis on this...