Machines Are People, Too

The early internet brought the cost of voice communication dramatically down, and fast. For some years American consumers grumbled that ‘customer service,’ having been sent to cheaper offshore call centers, became incomprehensible and ineffectual.

These days I find call center calls with my dear fellow Americans, if not as incomprehensible, then at least as ineffectual. Is it just me?

It has to be the script they suit up with when they come into work, and their apparent inability to deviate therefrom into humanity. Blame the two-hour-old coffee in the bottom of the Bunn?

Tonight I called the air conditioning repair people after business hours and a live voice delighted me. I told it, “Oh hi, I was just thinking what I would tell the answering machine.” This plunged the live voice into stunned silence.

Spontaneous remarks had not been addressed on her script.

Pause, and a time wobble.

“Your address?”

Ah. On this conversation, we shall interact only as machines.

Now, why?

Eradicating Malaria while Buddhist

Here is an anecdote from my first book, Common Sense and Whiskey, about a stay in Thimpu, the capital of the Kingdom of the Thunder Dragon, Bhutan:

“Stray dogs (I think about eight billion) gave a free, full-throated concert most nights. Strays are the bane of Bhutan, just like in Kathmandu and Rangoon and Tahiti.

Being Buddhist, the Bhutanese have a little problem. They can’t kill the strays, can’t even spay them. That would be taking a life. But they can appoint Indian Hindus as dog catchers, and have them kill dogs on the pretense of rabies or rash.”

And here is a story from the BBC about another Buddhist conundrum, the problem of wiping out malaria in a land where “killing any life form, even a disease-carrying mosquito,” is not okay. A quote:

“One interesting challenge in Bhutan was the Buddhist aversion, in this deeply religious country, to killing any life form, even a disease-carrying mosquito. Thus the officials spraying buildings with insecticide had to reframe this practice. Rinzin Namgay, Bhutan’s first entomologist, laughs when he remembers that they would tell anxious homeowners during IRS: ‘We’re just spraying the house. If a mosquito wants to commit suicide by coming in, let it.’”

A Good Day for Giraffes

As a major giraffe fan, it makes me happy to read this good news in the most recent newsletter from the Amboseli Trust for Elephants:

“The 18th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species took place in August in Geneva, Switzerland. CITES was established by the UN in 1975 to ensure that international trade in wild species of flora and fauna would not threaten their survival as species. Currently 183 nations are parties to CITES. ATE and other NGOs either attend the CITES meeting as “non-governmental observers,” or advisers from the sidelines. Either way, we work to persuade attending governments to conserve species, not profit from their destruction.

This most recent meeting attained some important victories for vulnerable animals. Proposals by southern African nations to reopen the international ivory trade by allowing the resumption of ivory stockpile sales were defeated, as was a proposal to reopen trade in white rhino horn. The conference stressed the need for governments to address the existence of legal ivory markets, and the EU promised to tackle the huge market across its 28 member states. Australia also announced its intention to ban the domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn.

In a huge victory, giraffes were granted protection from unregulated international trade. This is an historic move, and marks the first time giraffes have been granted such protection. Giraffe numbers have dramatically declined (in some areas, up to 40%) during the last 30 years, due to habitat loss, poaching, disease and war or civil unrest.”

It’s Not Just our Corrupt President

I agree with Sarah Chayes, former NPR foreign correspondent, adviser to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and currently a fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for Peace, who wrote this morning that our entire influence-peddling, revolving-door system of governance needs a thorough housecleaning. Having visited Ukraine last month, I’ve had a lot of smug fun showing you pictures like the two below and those in this previous post. They show the excess and corruption Ukrainians tried to upend by ousting President Viktor Yanukovich in 2014. President Yanukovich lived in this place on a salary of around a thousand dollars a month.

Yanukovych’s fleeing to the protection of Russia was a victory for everyday Ukrainian people who forced him out, no question. But it is not to the honor of the United States that as soon as Yanukovych was safe in Vladimir Putin’s arms the American Vice President’s son came ’round, and as Chayes put it in her article headlined No Excuses for Hunter Biden,

“He had no prior experience in the gas industry, nor with Ukrainian regulatory affairs…. He did have one priceless qualification: his unique position as the son of the vice president of the United States, newborn Ukraine’s most crucial ally. Weeks before Biden came on, Ukraine’s government had collapsed amid a popular revolution, giving its gas a newly strategic importance as an alternative to Russia’s, housed in a potentially democratic country. Hunter’s father was comfortably into his second term as vice president—and was a prospective future president himself.”

Despite any apparent qualifications beyond bloodline, Biden-the-younger was named a director of Burisma, Ukraine’s largest natural gas producer.

Most of us, all but President Trump’s 30-something percent hardcore supporters, can agree that this president has to go. To my fellow Trump opponents who advocate electing Joe Biden to “get back to normal,” I suggest that the status quo ante won’t do, either.

So now for more of the self-satisfied display of corruption and greed, Ukrainian-style:

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych’s home from the rear. The balcony leading from the President’s bedroom, top right, afforded him a lovely private view of the Dnieper River. The corresponding balcony, on the left, opened from his girlfriend’s bedroom.

The view from the front of the former president’s home.