Archive for the “Stories/Observations” Category

I’ve read a lot of her books: Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, Anthem, We The Living, and also a few of the non-fiction works.  I found them inspiring and they’ve had an influence on my life.  And…I think she is mostly wrong regarding what our relationship should be with other people (which is an extremely important question).

Her books are best thought of, not as philosophical statements, but as someone idealizing to the opposite of Lenin’s Russia after the Bolshevik revolution (which disrupted her previously bourgeois lifestyle).

Here are my thoughts on how Ayn Rand was mistaken:

She misunderstood human nature.  She left out compassion and love.

The heroes of her books are achievement oriented to a fault.  They do not help a fallen child (there are none written into the books); they do not reflect on their fortunate status as gifted individuals nor do they stop to consider how they can be of service to the rest of humanity unless it is through their own self-fulfillment.

Humans need each other.  We succeed together and fail alone. Love and compassion are our highest values; this is supported by the history of human philosophy/religion.  This question is often asked, especially when we are young (what is our obligation to others?)…however, the answer comes back the same each time:  We are all in this together.

People need help and it is our highest calling to serve  others if we are fortunate enough to do so.

There are no children in Rand’s books.  Any philosophy that fails to put that kind of love as central to interacting with people has missed the point.

She was elitest.

She wrote a book that might appeal to folks that are extremely gifted/powerful as it would give them a moral justification for what is, essentially,  megalomaniacal behavior.  (That is why her books are so popular with some, though certainly not all, CEOs and Wall Street types.  In the history of thought, there aren’t many philosophies that so deftly promote selfishness as a virtue.)

There is a particular passage in Atlas Shrugged where one of her heroes kills someone and it is glossed over as if it were just another sentence, because that is what she was promoting:  If you aren’t one of these prime movers then you don’t matter as much.

 You cannot derive a moral philosophy from reason.

The axioms must always be believed in.  Even in geometry you must essentially believe that two parallel lines never intersect.  If you don’t believe it, you can build up non-Euclidean geometry (which works as well).

Also, “you cannot derive an ought from an is”.  Objectivism, if it contributes something to the history of thought, contributes a re-examination of very basic premises…which is a neat thought experiment (even if it is wrong).

Rand uses the appeal to reason to give Objectivism a seemingly more objective basis.  It is the same though as other thought systems…not the same in a bad way, just the same in that all philosophical systems must start with basic premises…which need to be believed in.

 Achievement is not our noblest activity.

If Edison didn’t invent the light bulb, we wouldn’t all be sitting around in the dark.  Anything you do can be done by others.  It is a legitimate question to ask yourself if you want to be the one to do it; however, achievement is a by-product of other motivations, not an end in itself.

We stand on the shoulders of giants.  Rand writes about the achievements of her heroes as if they are a singular (can only be done by them), when really we are borrowing and learning from others that have come before us and adding a grain of sand to the mountain of human knowledge.

If there is anything to be had from achievement it is through what it offers to others in gaining it.  Achievement won’t fulfill the achiever, though how the achievement helps others might.

“Going Galt?”  I doubt it.

In Galt’s Gulch the “takers” of the world have asked for too much and the “makers” (her heroes)  secede from reality and move to Galt’s Gulch leaving the other 7 billion of us without our talented leaders.  What a complete miss on Rand’s part!

The prime movers (if there even are such people) of this world would never leave us, because they need us.  We enable their success, achievement and power.  They are only special in relation to us.  They would most certainly not secede from the world.  Rand misunderstands the psyche of the real world equivalent of her heroes.

Ayn Rand was a horrible economist.  She was dead wrong about the gold standard and laissez-faire capitalism.

Rand might, as a writer/philosopher, have been qualified to add good thought on human nature; however, she knew little to nothing about economics and was badly wrong on her glorification of the gold standard and laissez-faire capitalism.

The gold standard suffers from quantity issues, is subject to runs on the bank, prohibits flexibility in responding to crises/business cycle, can also be debased, and does not promote growth any better than other monetary systems (e.g. fiat money).  Economics, even as the dismal science, has settled this question.

And laissez-faire capitalism?  You’ve got to be kidding me.  Do you want to eat food not cleared by the FDA (hello mad cow disease, e coli, etc.)?  Do you want an unregulated financial industry (that worked out great huh)?  Do you want privately owned roads (where would we be able to drive)?   What about a court system or police protection only accessible for those with money?  I could go on and on here; this is a TERRIBLE idea.

Government creates the playing field for the market economy that can often serve our needs.  The government is the market maker; if you leave it up to private industry to create something that benefits everyone….it does not work.

Everywhere in history you see a “market” you will see government.  To speak of  laissez-faire capitalism is largely just a thought experiment.

 So, there you go.  I think Ayn Rand was wrong about some very important issues, which makes discussion of her philosophy, except as a foil to something else, difficult for me to entertain.

There are some good things about Rand’s philosophy as well; I am just not going into them here because that isn’t the purpose of the post.  Maybe later.


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Banks are not using the Fed bailout money to ease the tight credit market.  They are using it to shore up their balance sheets and consider acquisitions of weaker banks who were perhaps not able to get as much bailout money.  It is simply making the concept of “too big to fail” even worse since in this scenario the big will get bigger.
To the matter of “easing the tight credit market”….I have a comment:  How can more of the disease be the cure? If overly lax lending and inability to accurately assess the risk of debt led to the crisis, how can more debt and “easing the credit market” (aka more lending) fix it?  Its just doing more of the same thing….you can package it as a rescue if you like…it doesn’t change the fact that you can’t lend your way out of a crisis that was created by lending.
This is how capitalism works:  Bad investments fail, the capital is liquidated, and re-allocated to more fit industries and companies.  It is so two-faced to talk about the virtues of the free market with one breath while preventing it from working with another.
Why can’t banks fail?  Because banks issue money.  In a fractional banking system when banks lend, they create money.  It goes back to a crisis of faith in our fiat money.  If the issuers of the money fail….then the money itself might fail.  If the money fails, the government fails.  That’s why its tricky to let banks fail.  It is a matter of national self-interest (besides the army of lobbyist I’m sure the banking industry has).
What about General Motors?  Is the government going to let them fail?  They’ve been hemorrhaging money for years and keep asking for bailouts. The answer is NO.  The government may allow some small part of the auto industry to fail, but in general, they will not allow the inefficient US automakers to fold.  It is a matter of national self-interest.  The government wants cars manufactured in the US because in case of a war the auto industry might need to be conscripted to make weapons (as was done in WWI and WWII) or ramped up to fill a void in the absence of car imports if we’re at war with say China (where presumably Japanese cars could no longer be imported).  It is why the government continues to subsidize the farm industry in the US (when it clearly can’t compete with cheap imports from 3rd world countries).  If we are a war, we need to be able to produce our own food in the absence of imports.
I also want to comment on the red and blue states and the election results.  A map of the states that voted Republican also fairly closely matches a map of states with the worst poverty and most income inequality…exactly the issues the Democrats try to deal with.  Why is it that those who stand to gain most from the Democrats being in office vote against them?  It doesn’t make sense.  The Republican states are also generally less educated, with less health care coverage, and lose more jobs to free-trade agreements.  The Democrats also try to deal with those issues.  I truly don’t understand.  Is gay marriage, handguns, and abortion policy really THAT important to the poor?
Finally, I want to re-comment on Economics, the dismal science.  It has been shown even more dismal than imagined over the past few months.  Why is it, with all the economists in the world, that so few predicted the current crisis?  If economics is a science, it should’ve done better.  If it is a science then it should have something more prescriptive to say in terms of actions to take to remedy the crisis.  Instead Bernake and Paulson were able to blank check the banking industry…allowing them to do whatever they want with essentially as much money as they want….and call it the “best” plan of action to avert the crisis.  “Best” based on what?  Economics.  Now that is dismal.

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I played tennis with the CEO of a Fortune 1000 company today.  He came to the office, as he does every once in a while, to give an update on business, answer questions, etc…sort of a Town Hall meeting.

He was using one of the empty offices near my cube afterwards, and I’d heard he was an avid tennis player, so I stopped by his desk to say hello and ask if he wanted to play.  He’s a fairly funny, engaging guy…fit looking, so I figured he might want to get some exercise.  I didn’t think he’d say yes.

I picked him up at the office after work, and loaned him a racquet.  Luckily my car was fairly clean.

I learned traveling that all people are pretty much the same, so I am not intimidated.  We had a good time.  As expected, he’s a nice guy…two kids just out of college.  I asked him about pretty much everything but work.  I’m sure he’s tired of talking about that.

He asked me about my background, and I talked a little about what I did at Hewitt…not much though.  Even if I were a super star at my job now, it would be 5 to 10 years before I would be even a blip on his radar screen…if I were even interested.

He’s also a pretty good tennis player:  intense, very consistent.  I won the set 6-3.  I was surprised he actually wanted to play.  I do have the wrist injury, so I can’t really play that hard, but he won the points he won.  I didn’t give him anything.  He was competitive but gracious.

Anyway, most days are pretty boring, so when something interesting happens, I thought I would share it.

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My heart rate increases even before I call customer service….in anticipation of stupidity.

Customer service excels at impossible loops, deflecting accountability, repeating themselves, giving unrelevant/inaccurate information, telling the customer they should’ve behaved differently, and suggesting the “put the finger in the damn” solution.

I avoid calling if at all possible, doing all kinds of homework to try to solve it myself.  When I do call its usually something relevant, and not cleared up by their usual suggestion, “Is it plugged in?” or “Did you press the ON button?”.

Also, can they quit authenticating me? The phone system asks me to enter my account number…..then the rep asks my SSN, mother’s maiden name, and name of my favorite teacher in elementary school…..and they ask for my account number over again even though I just entered it. Then, after I tell them all that, I tell them I’ve forgotten my PIN #……nope, they can’t give me that. You just verified me didn’t you? Doesn’t matter. “You can change your PIN online,” they tell me. But I need my PIN to get online. I tell them that, and they agree and say they can mail me my PIN. “By email?” I ask. Nope…by mail.  CS rep:  “Also, can you please verify your email?”  Me:  “I’ll verify my email if you’ll verify my PIN.”

There was the time I wanted frequent flyer miles from United for my trip to India. They told me I needed proof of flight and to complete a form with the receipt and mail it in for review to add the miles. I said, “YOU are United airlines. Why do I need to prove I flew on YOUR airline. Wouldn’t you already know that?” I had to call another dept with United, pay them $45 dollars to send a proof of flight, and then send the proof back to United to get the frequent flyer miles. My stress levels shoot through the roof.

Exhibit A:

I enrolled in automatic draft with Georgia Power, because I don’t like to have to remember to pay my bill each month. I was unsure though that the outstanding charge I already had for activation would be covered by that, so I called to ask if I had to pay that one differently.

CS: “Yes…that won’t be covered. Your automatic draft will start next month.”
Me: “Ok…so can I pay the outstanding charge online separately from automatic draft?”
CS: “No, if you are enrolled in automatic draft; you cannot pay online.”
Me (confused): “Huh? If I enroll in an automatic online draft function to pay my bill, I can no longer pay online? Its like an oxymoron.”
CS: “I can unenroll you in automatic draft. Do you want me to do that?”
Me: “So I can then pay online, so I can then go back and re-enroll in automatic draft?”
CS: “Yes.”
Me: “That doesn’t make sense…but ok. I guess that will work”.
CS; “You are now unenrolled. Is there anything else I can help you with?”
Me (I keep them on the phone till I’m completely done since there is always some hitch): “Let me just process this while we’re sitting here and then I’ll be done.” I went through some links and payed my activation fee online.
Me: “Thanks…that worked.”(hang up) Then I go back to the automatic draft section to re-enroll. I get this message:
georgia power error message

I can’t re-enroll. It won’t let me. So I call back CS.

CS (after I explained what happened): Just write over the XXXs with your account number.
Me (like I wouldn’t have thought of that): It won’t let me. The field is un-editable.
CS: It won’t let you re-enroll because your payment hasn’t cleared.
Me: You mean the system message from GA power for “Please wait till your previous payment clears to re-enroll” is “Account numbers must be numeric”? That doesn’t make a lot of sense. Can you just re-enroll me?
CS: No.
Me: Huh? The previous rep un-enrolled me. Why can’t you re-enroll me?
CS: You have to do that online.
Me: I just explained to you that I can’t do it online. That’s why I called you in the first place.
CS: Wait a few days and go back online and do it.
Me: Ok…what if I do that and it still doesn’t work?
CS: Call back customer service.
Me: Why so they can tell me to go back online?

I have several other great examples that are popping into my head but I’m tired of writing so I’ll paste in this last conversation with Charter. This one is great because it isn’t a reconstructed conversation….its the actual conversation, lest you fools think I’m just making this stuff up.

Exhibit B:

Websites have these “Chat with a Customer Service Representative” buttons now…so I did.

A representative will be with you shortly.
You have been connected to Carlos .

kellio kellio:
can you connect me to the video chat support group?

Carlos :
My name is Carlos. Thank you for contacting Charter Communications. How may I assist you?

kellio kellio:
can you connect me to the video chat support group?

Carlos :
Sure thing, one moment.

Carlos has left the session.

Please wait while we find an agent from the Video Support CHAT department to assist you.

You have been connected to Jomar .

Jomar :
Thank you for contacting Charter High Speed Internet Technical Support. My name is Jomar. How may I assist you today?

kellio kellio:
i get getting routed to the internet chat, but I want to reach video chat support group…this is the third time its happened.

Jomar :
May I know your concern please?

kellio kellio:
I have a new install on an HDTV tomorrow. What do I need to have on my end to make sure everything runs smootly? (For instance, for the internet installation, I already own the cable modem and will have that for them when they arrive.)
kellio kellio:
its not an internet question

Jomar :
Okay, I will transfer you.

Jomar has left the session.

Please wait while we find an agent from the Video Support CHAT department to assist you.

All agents are currently busy. Please stand by.

You have been connected to Dave .

Dave :
Thank you for contacting Charter Communications Video Department. My name is Dave. How may I assist you today?

kellio kellio:
I have a new install on an HDTV tomorrow. What do I need to have on my end to make sure everything runs smootly? (For instance, for the internet installation, I already own the cable modem and will have that for them when they arrive.)

Dave :
You need to have the hd box.

kellio kellio:
you guys are supposed to provide that
kellio kellio:
i currently have an HDTV…nothing else.

Dave :
Yes. That is correct. That is part of the order.

kellio kellio:
what about cables?

Dave :
No need since the upgrade is for the HDservice only.

kellio kellio:
this is a new install

Dave :
Yes. Our technician will provide everything during the installation.

kellio kellio:
HDMI cable?

Dave :
By the way, do you have a cable service with Charter?

kellio kellio:
no…this is a new install
kellio kellio:
of cable

Dave :
I see.

Dave :
With regards to your concern, please call us at 1-888-438-2427 for further assistance.

kellio kellio:
huh? you can’t answer my question?

Dave :
Are you referring to a new installation of cable service?

kellio kellio:
kellio kellio:
i think i mentioned that.

Dave :
Okay. With regards to new service installation, please call us at 1-888-438-2427.

kellio kellio:
so this isn’t the right chat room?

Dave :
Yes, definitely.

kellio kellio:
can you not answer that: do I need to provide anything additional at install (like HDMI cables)?

Dave :
No. As I have mentioned earlier, we provide that during the installation.

kellio kellio:
ok, thanks!!

Dave :
You’re welcome.

Your session has ended. You may now close this window.


My installation happened yesterday. The installation rep informed me that I DID need my own HDMI cable. They didn’t provide one.
Install rep: “Didn’t Customer Service tell you that?”
Me (smiling): “Uhh….no.”

My favorite line to any rep (and I use it often) is: “You know how they always say ‘This call may be monitored for quality control purposes’…..I hope this is one of them.”.

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Today I went to the bathroom to take a dump.  I thought back over the previous three and a half years I have worked in this building.  I have never seen a stopped up toilet here…ever.  How is that possible?  Toilets get stopped up.  It is a fact of life. 

The toilets here are the same as in other commercial buildings, bars, and restaurants.  It cannot be that these toilets get stopped up less than other toilets due to design or plumbing.

Also, I do not think that these toilets see less traffic.  In fact, due to the number of people I know work here and the fact that they are here all day (as opposed to a few hours for restaurtants, bars, shops, etc), I think these toilets see more traffic than most toilets that I see stopped up occasionally.

I do not think it is the case that these corporate toilets do get stopped up as often as other toilets in high traffic buildings…just that the maintenance crew cleans them up before I actually get to see the mess.  I would say toilets are paid more attention in bars, restaurants, shops, gas stations (unless you’re at the “lone highway” truckstop in the middle of nowhere.  These toilets are stopped up because people don’t care.  I think these types of gas stations are outliers.).  People who run restaurants, shops, and bars know that the toilets tend to get stopped up and check them often since an unusable toilet may mean a non-repeat customer.  For a corporate toilet, we have to use it everyday.  We have no choice.

I don’t think its that you eat or drink at other establishments (and so that causes messier toilets since your digestive system is involved).  People eat often before coming to work (both at breakfast and lunch).  They don’t drink before coming to work, but that really only causes puking, and so isn’t useful for other means of toilet blockage.

I also do not believe, and so am ruling out, other scenarios…like perhaps people are cleaning up their own mess in the corporate bathrooms, or that they call maintenance right after it happens because they are so conscientious.  I don’t think so.

I am left with only one plausible scenario:  Corporate employees are “better” shitters.  They do not stop up toilets.  They do not puke in toilets.  They do not use too much toilet tissue.  At least they don’t do so with the frequency of the people that habit the other establishments.

I am not really attempting to make a value judgment.  I can’t think of a great, compelling reason why corporate employees would be cleaner toilet users.  I’m not going to comment on the “why”s, just that this is the hypothesis that best meets the observed facts.

Perhaps its just at my company?  I don’t have the data for other companies.  Maybe if corporate employees went to other public restrooms they would be poor toilet users (that doesn’t sound right though)?  Do employees of private companies differ in any way in their toilet use (perhaps they are even better, although its hard to be a 3.5 year run of perfect)?  Anyway, the experiments needed to confirm my hypothesis are impossible to run and wasteful since it really doesn’t matter, but it is interesting.

I came to the conclusion that corporate employees are better shitters simply because I can’t think of any other conclusion that fits better.  Can you?

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