Stuff Americans Should Know

Okay

PhoneMonkeyPNGHere I am, taking your requests. It’s a busy day, but I have a moment. Can I help you?

Okay.

That’s good to hear. Your request seems simple. Would you like to give me the details, so I can put them into the system?

Okay.

Great. It seems there’s a considerable sum of money involved here. Would you like a copy of the transaction details, for your records?

That’s okay.

It’s okay?

Okay.

Yes?

It’s okay.

So yes, then, or no?

That’s okay.

No?

Okay.

Okay. Will that be all?

Yes, thank you.

 

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Pax Per Bellum

It’s been a rough month.

Partially, this is my own doing, because I’m kind of a sucker for unpleasant knowledge. It used to be harmless fun. What happens if I drink this? Why is this substance illegal? Surely, a drop like this won’t kill me. Let’s try!

Now, I’ve transitioned into reading the news. All of it. From everywhere. What happens if I search for this? Who are these people? What does this really look like? Is it really as bad as they say?

Call it stubborn curiosity, morbid fascination, or intellectual imperative. I’m not naive, just apparently a glutton for punishment. Saying that used to be a flippant little remark. Yes, I have some deep-seated inability to enjoy happy things, and look how I surround myself with small miseries! Isn’t it adorable?

But I got burned.

In a misguided, go-straight-to-the-source attempt to learn who these ISIS/ISIL fellows are, I watched one of their recruiting/propaganda videos (no, not the one you’re thinking of–I still have some self respect) that’s been floating around on the web and, well… I know now. And no, I’m not telling you where to find it. I’m sitting here in my room, telling you what this disease feels like. If you want to know as badly as I did, go catch it. Just not from me, ok?

To say that it is violent is to call the ocean wet. And “savage” doesn’t seem to fit with the emotional calculus and professional video editing evident in its creation. It’s the kind of cold, smiling brutality that reminds the viewer (or at least the viewer who isn’t sympathetic to the cause) that the human body is just meat. It makes one’s joints ache and stomach churn. And yet, the video has a twisted kind of appeal. No matter how badly you want to look away, there’s something in it that’s carefully designed to tap into that most base of animal instincts inside each and every one of us. Militant or not, sympathetic to the cause or not, we all get a mainline boot of fight-or-flight.

But this video wasn’t designed to scare me or recruit me. This was directed toward potential allies and enemies in the Middle East. As a terror tool, the effect is obvious. Carnage–real carnage–is a terrifying thing. But as a recruitment tool, it almost seems counterintuitive. In America, our military recruitment propaganda is a lot of big ships, fast jets, and sneaky commandos sneaking places. Maybe this is because we haven’t really fought a war we needed to fight in a very long time. But we’re also a democracy, more or less, and rely on our freedom of choice: do we fight, or do we not.

In the places where ISIS is getting a foothold, however, there is often no longer a choice, but a dilemma. If you fight against ISIS, implies the video, well, see this building where guys are fighting against us, and see how we’re giving them no quarter and transforming them into these macabre piles of corpses and heads here? Yeah, they’re you and everyone you know. But if you fight for ISIS, you get to not be in that pile of corpses. See? Everyone’s happy. Well, except for those other guys, but they’re dead now, so they don’t have an opinion anymore. It’s a hell of a way to create a utopia.

This makes American dude-bro hawkishness seem downright civilized. We glorify armed men as heroes, forgetting that “greatness is based primarily on values that we abhor.” Okay, maybe a quote from a confessed spy and traitor wasn’t the best choice there, but the man had a point. If we consider ourselves to be a great nation, we need to be sure that the greatness is coming from values that we admire and would want to foster in others.

With recent, high-profile incidences of police militarization in the US, and with increased reportage of excessive force and unnecessary police violence toward unarmed citizens in places like Ferguson, MO, there is a temptation to draw connections toward the brutality seen in other places around the world. Obviously, the ISIS fanatics and our own police forces have very little in common, other than being armed and primarily male. But they also share an increasingly us-versus-them attitude.

To protect Americans from terrorism, the federal government donated surplus military equipment to local police departments across the country. How grenade launchers, automatic rifles and APCs would stop something as carefully planned and under-the-radar as the 9/11 attacks is a mystery, but it made people feel safer, so that’s good, right? Maybe not. Here’s a favorite quote of mine from HBO’s The Wire:

This drug thing, this ain’t police work. No, it ain’t. I mean, I can send any fool with a badge and a gun up on them corners and jack a crew and grab vials. But policing? I mean, you call something a war and pretty soon everybody gonna be running around acting like warriors. They gonna be running around on a damn crusade, storming corners, slapping on cuffs, racking up body counts. And when you at war, you need a fucking enemy. And pretty soon, damn near everybody on every corner is your fucking enemy. And soon the neighborhood that you’re supposed to be policing, that’s just occupied territory.

–Maj. Howard “Bunny” Colvin, Season 3, Episode 10 “Reformation”

The point of this, if not obvious, is that when you give police departments military hardware, and every small town has a tactical unit, don’t be surprised when they get tempted to use it. It also draws the line between soldiering and policing. In fact, the Posse Comitatus Act expressly forbids “military involvement in civilian affairs” unless called upon by Congress to do so, which is why military bomb disposal units, but not drone operators, can work with local law enforcement. This is largely due to the skill set that separates the military from the police. The goal of a police department is to hold a community together, whereas the goal of the military is generally to take communities apart. The militarization of police forces, and the warrior mentality that accompanies it, negates that separation and creates the situation Bunny describes, in which ordinary citizens are treated like “a fucking enemy.” It’s hard to call someone a peace officer when they’re loaded to bear with weapons of war.

We’ve had a pax per bellum mentality about a lot of things: terrorism, drugs, disease, hunger, poverty, and cancer. We do this with the erroneous confidence that through war on these things–meaning their eventual elimination–we can achieve peace. ISIS, too, wants to achieve peace through war, but what they’re searching for is ideological uniformity. Given the complexity of human nature, uniformity is a pipe dream. Even if they succeed in setting up whatever kind of society they’re trying to build, the kind of brutal intolerance for differences of opinion will eventually cause them to implode.

Of course, Ferguson isn’t Syria, and the police aren’t ISIS, but war is war: divisive and singleminded.

Peace is balance. These things are going to be with us for a very long time, and in many arenas it may serve us better to police when we can and war when we have to.

Phone Monkey: The Horse You Rode In On

“Well, I’ll just take my business elsewhere!”

We’re supposed to be afraid of that line because we’re losing business and sending it to our competitors, right? I assure you: we’re quaking in our bunny slippers. Our testicles crawl up into our bodies and our ovaries shrivel up like raisins at the very mention of the possibility of losing such a reasonable, flexible and understanding customer.

We get this line a lot, as does pretty much anyone who has ever had to work directly with the public. And maybe it would work in a meat-space business in an industry not as heavily flooded with demand. In our line of business, our primary customers are college students, many from countries where this type of service doesn’t exist. Taking their business elsewhere, where they’re from, might be significant, but as someone who’s around for four years, summers excluded, and then gone forever, they are replaceable. This even applies to the domestic students. After their four years, many of them are going to move away to areas where we don’t have service, or will simply stop ordering in so much when they join the Real World. And every year, we get a new crop of customers. If that seems jaded and cynical, you’re definitely on to something. I try desperately not to let that happen, but it’s a creeping eventuality in customer service work.

Why do we get this line, anyway? Can’t people just take their business elsewhere without faking a fuss? Why do they need to tell us?

The short answer is they don’t need to. Like a girlfriend or boyfriend listing all the things you did wrong (in their eyes) before dumping you, it’s catharsis pure and simple. They need the emotional release, and want to hear the fear of loss and grief of failure in our voice as we try to salvage an unsalvageable situation. But most times, the customer is one who’s been a problem since day one, and all we needed was an excuse to say goodbye. If we said that we were sorry to see them go, we’d be lying. We say it anyway.

Who could be such a pain in the ass that you’d let them go so easily? Isn’t that mentality antithetical to the ideas of customer support and customer service?

Last things first. No. We are support and service professionals. Our job, like a bra, is to support. It’s the customer’s responsibility to make sure that they ask for a 28B when they have a 28B problem, not to ask for a 28B and then blame us and storm out when their 42DDDs don’t fit into it. You might be surprised how often that happens. But we’re professionals, so we mostly just go in the back and get a bigger size, and then everyone’s happy.

The customers that end up being a bigger pain in the ass than they’re worth are the ones who demand more than we can or will give them. We offer credit toward future purchases, as many online retailers do. Today, for example, after much bad noise, I was able to get a refund for a customer, who had claimed on the phone that a refund was all he was after. Great. That sounded reasonable, and if I had to take an earful from someone at the restaurant to do it, well, that’s my job. Not so long afterward, the customer emailed in, saying that the refund was “not enough.” Obviously, he was angling for credit.

Let’s pause for a moment and pretend we’re back in that lingerie store. Mmmmm … frilly things. A customer walks in and says, “Oh dear! It seems that when I got home, I realized I’m a 34C, not a 34B, can I return these for a refund?” Sure. Definitely. Why not? Here’s your money back. Have a great day! “Oh, sweetie,” they say, “you misunderstand. It is your fault for giving me the wrong size. So why don’t you either give me my bra for free or reach into that cash drawer and offer me something good?”

To this, the obvious response is, “Hey, why don’t you go jump off a bridge?”

While phone monkeys are generally punching bags, we’re also gatekeepers. Beggars, thieves, and trolls will be turned away. Take your business elsewhere. Please.

And, of course, have a great day!

Phone Monkey: Why We Drink (NSFL)

Today is a short post because I need a day to myself. But here are some direct quotes from email or phone conversations I’ve had with customers and restaurant staff. Sprinkled in are quotes from other phone monkeys. I’ll let you guess whose are whose. Also, be aware that even though these exchanges happened in the workplace, they are 100% NSFW, not child safe, and demoralizingly NSFL.

Yeah, that cheese steak was my only guarantee to get laid. I’d like to see you fix that!

[slurring] You need to come down here and serve me. You took an oath and you have to serve me. Because you’re a public servant. You need to come down here and be my bitch.

He was drunk and on the drugs.

You’re so nice, I love you. *hiccup*

How fucking stupid can you guys be? […] A bunch of fucking monkeys!

I’ll fucking kill everyone at [_______] if you guys close me tomorrow!

Thundercunts.

I haven’t fucking gotten my food yet! Fuck!

i hate people […] bastards

We don’t read the whole order! You send it, we make it!

Reinstate my account but I don’t want that bitch [_____] to have any contact with me

Fuck you and fuck the driver you hire .
Bunch of idiots 

I love [______]/your service too! You guys really provide great customer service and I want to thank you because I’m guessing you aren’t getting paid much. And, I want to thank you before I sober up. Good job!

They should be BANNED from your site. They are shady and probally ILLEGAL ALIENS
THESE people… they are scum…

I ordered the grilled chicken Caesar wrap and it came with no Caesar which felt dry as it traveled through my esophagus […] Yea compensation would be great as I am very poor and enjoy moist sandwiches.

ALL CAPS!!!1

see you guys tomorrow. i’m gonna get out the whiskey.

Cautious Observations on Malaysian Politics

I’ve been debating heavily whether to post this or not, but decided that, at the very least, this may be of some interest to people outside of Southeast Asia, particularly in the United States. The caveat, and the thing that’s been keeping this back for so long, is the fact that I’ve only been in Malaysia for a year and until recently, hadn’t been keeping up much with local politics, except by word of mouth. Once I began reading, however, I couldn’t stop. Obviously, I don’t have all the ins and outs, and my scope is limited, but perhaps something can be gained from an outsider’s perspective, even if that something is a recognition that outsiders care about Malaysia, but need to know more.

Some Cliff’s-Notes Background

Malaysia, in its present form, has been around since the 1960s. In 1963, it gained independence from Britain, which had governed as a colonial power since the 18th century, and in 1965 it expelled Singapore due to ethnic violence, after which it has retained its general shape.

On May 13th, 1969, the same ethnic tensions that had led to the expulsion of Singapore boiled over after the election. Race riots ensued, in which hundreds of people were killed, forcing the government to essentially declare martial law until they could restore order. Generally speaking, the violence was primarily between the ethnic Malays and Chinese. With a young communist China in such close proximity and undergoing such social and political upheaval, there were concerns that there was more going on than just racial and religious discord. A Time magazine account of the riots can be found here. Since then, there has been a visible campaign of unity, which seems to have worked.

The Here and Now

That unity has eroded somewhat in the past months. The national election of 2013 saw the ruling party, the Barisan Nasional (BN), lose a sizable percentage of its power, despite keeping its majority share in the government. The ruling party since independence, the BN won less than half of the popular vote, but kept a majority share of its parliamentary seats. While this sparked some controversy, the real and probably lasting effect is the fracturing of the power base. The seats BN lost, it lost to the Pakatan Rakyat (PR). Both the BN and PR are coalitions of smaller, localized political parties (imagine if each state in the US had its own distinct parties, which were then grouped together under the umbrellas of the Democrats or Republicans), but as far as I can tell, the BN’s member parties are more or less unified, goal-wise. The PR appears to be comprised of groups with ideologies and goals that differ significantly. Some claim to be secular, while others, like the PAS, are ardently Islamic.

As the firm grip of the status quo has given way, these smaller groups have carved out their own slice of the pie. While it’s not a complete power vacuum, the ceded space has opened up space for more radical groups, like the ultra right-wing Malaysian Muslim Solidarity (ISMA) and Perkasa, that while non-governmental, have recently been flexing their political muscle.

The head of ISMA, Abdullah Zaik Abdul Rahman, ruffled a lot of feathers across the board recently, when, among other things, he called the ethnic Chinese “trespassers”:

If they want to remain as citizens of this country, they must pledge loyalty to the Agong and accept the position of Islam as the official religion and the sovereign rights of Malays.

Standing in the way of Malay ambition and denying Malays their right in determining the future of the nation is a challenge and an act of overstepping by a foreign race. ¹

He goes on to blame Zionist and Jewish proxies for trying to subvert Islam. So there’s that. If you speak Bahasa, enjoy:

The response to this, and to recent pushes to install hudud (a subset of limits and punishments in sharia law) as applicable to non-Muslims, has been overwhelmingly negative. While you can see some support for it, many seem to dismiss it out of hand as an impossibility in such an historically multicultural society. But the fear still lingers. Objectively, alienating and disenfranchising 40% of your population, not to mention possibly taking half (the female half) of your workforce away, is economic and political suicide. Current goals for the nation to reach Developed status by 2020 would have to be scrapped, and trade deals with foreign investors would be strained.

Malaysia’s constitution provides freedom of religion, while at the same time sets Islam as the state religion. This means that laws and customs are made according to the letter or the spirit of Islamic law. Sharia law has so far only applied to Muslims, and even then seems limited in its enforcement. Almost all Muslims I have interacted with here are self-governing in regard to how conservatively they interpret these laws and tradition, but certain things, like rules governing food, drink and family are, almost universally followed without threat of enforcement.

For the non-Muslim Malaysians and foreigners, there is almost no interference from religious law, except for certain de facto limitations on speech and the press, often in the form of self-censorship. Honestly, after a while here, one hardly notices the difference, but for someone fresh off the plane from the States, it can be a bit jarring. It’s a little like tasting a soup, realizing it needs something, but not being able to put your finger on what.

What is clear is that the vast majority of people are proud to be Malaysian and proud of the progress their country has made toward becoming a world-recognized developed country. While some see hudud and other more conservative alterations to Malaysian society as necessary to overcome crime, many see it as a step back socially and as a cheap way to avoid dealing with the causes of crime in a developing nation.

Every country that is now considered developed went through the same struggles. The great nations are the ones that remain true to their vision throughout the Great Experiment.