Well, at least we're leading in obesity.
kitten   September 25, 2006

As is often the case when I visit my mother's house for dinner, I am forced to cease a line of discussion for fear of igniting an argument. Tonight was little different, as she asked me whether or not I look at my pay stubs each time, though I have no recollection of what prompted the question. I replied that no, I don't, as I know more or less how much I get paid every period and I can always just check my bank balance. "Why do I need to look at my pay stub?" I asked. "So I can get annoyed by how much money I didn't get thanks to the government?"

"Easy for your liberalism to go out the window when you realize how much money you don't get to take home, eh?" she prodded.

This line of thinking is so oft-repeated that it bears some scrutiny, for conservatives love to espouse the evils of using tax money for other people's benefit. Better, apparently, to use it to engage the military in blowing things up and killing people for profit.

No, but the real reason such statements irritate me is precisely because, despite the money taken out of our paychecks week after week, Americans receive very little in the way of public welfare, compared to most other first-world developed nations.

My European friends are often given to wonderment at how it seems the US government is perfectly content to let someone die in the streets if they fall on hard times for more than a month or two. Most modern governments make extraordinary provisions, by American standards, for taking care of their citizenry.

They pay about the same in income taxes as we do.

In New Zealand, it was national news when someone had to sleep in their car for a two months because he couldn't find work. In America, such a thing is so commonplace that it doesn't even merit casual mention. New Zealanders pay only 2% more income tax than Americans do at my income level, and in return get free public healthcare and virtually unlimited unemployment benefits. In America, you're cut off in most states after a few months of a rather paltry sum.

France, the world's sixth largest economy, has a 35-to-37 hour workweek, a 6% poverty rate (the US is at 18%), and a minimum wage of roughly eight dollars per hour. It also ranks above the US in productivity (GDP divided by hours worked). Employees are taxed about 20% at my income level -- about median -- which is roughly 8% less than in America. Despite this, every citizen in France has a right to public healthcare and up to 23 months of unemployment insurance.

Conservatives in America are quick to dismiss these remarkably progressive attitudes with a snide "But that's socialism!", which is true. It is quite socialist. I'm sure the French are crying about it during their five weeks' mandatory vacation, too.

These examples illustrate my irritation with the money being taken out of my paycheck, for which I as an American receive virtually nothing in return. Clean water, safe food, fire protection -- these things I am happy to have and will not complain about. The rest of my money gets funnelled into 300 billion dollar war efforts against half-imagined enemies, police to patrol around and collect additional revenue for the state after catching the Big Bad Expired Tag Bandit, multiplicities of government beaurocracies engaging in vast duplication of effort, and other bits of idiocy. In 1995 and 1999, the federal government essentially shut down for a few weeks after Congress was unable to come to a budget agreement. As I recall, nobody noticed.

If I lose my job in the US, I am screwed.
If I have a medical problem and don't have health insurance in the US, I am screwed.
If I didn't save enough for retirement in the US, I am screwed.

In virtually no other developed nation can a citizen say these things. I may be annoyed that money is being ripped from me on a weekly basis, but I'm more annoyed that it isn't going to anything productive, anything beneficial, anything that increases the standard of living, anything progressive that helps me or anyone else. Instead, Americans receive more terrorism and fundamentalism in return for their tax dollars.

Some will doubtless counter that this is all irrelevant to them, for they are not poor, have retirement savings, privatized healthcare, and are doing quite well for themselves. This short-sighted and self-centered view is, to me, appalling. What does it say about us as a society and as a civilization that we're willing to let people fall by the wayside this way? And given that taxes aren't going to go down, does it not make more sense to at least use the money to help people, instead of blowing it on frivolous nonsense at the whim of overpaid politicians?

Expatriating is starting to look better and better. Any cute European girls want to marry me out of this place?

Alright, you primitive screwheads.
kitten   September 18, 2006

I'd like to offer some valuable advice to customers and computer users the world over who seek assistance in some way.

I don't require an editorial about how angry, upset, or annoyed you are about a problem. The fact that the problem exists is enough to make me fix it -- your irritation about it is irrelevant. Do you want to bitch and bitch, or do you want me to go fix the problem?

Similarly, I don't need to know how important it is for your business that the problem is rectified.

To you, your problem is of earth-shattering, monumental importance. To me, you're just one of fifty other people who want my services, and I have to prioritize. Phrases such as "please hurry", "immediately", and "urgent" should not find their way into your communication with me. I am capable of determining the level of import of your problem without your opinion, especially since you are biased and I am not.

Asking me for a status update is not going to make me work faster, or provide you with any useful information. When it's fixed you'll know.

Computers and networking are not tasks to be taken lightly. We in the IT world try to make things as simple as possible, but some things require specialized knowledge, which is why professionals in the field exist. Do not assume you can handle everything, or that it is a simple matter to deal with over the phone or email. Sometimes you'll have to actually spend money to get a local professional to do something, particularly if what you're doing is unusual. However, you could just head to your nearest college, pry a geek away from the computer lab, and offer him a case of beer to do it for you.

If it worked before, and it doesn't now, something has changed. Errors on our part will occur from time to time, but usually, the problem can be traced back to you messing with something you should not have been. Put it back how it was. And if you call me for help, tell me what you changed. I'll probably tell you to put it back how it was.

I don't respond well to threats.

You're an adult; act like one. This includes a professional tone of voice, and spelling as though you graduated high school. It also means controlling your temper. I don't like things being broken any more than you do, but I have yet to yell at the people who can help when my stuff is broken.

When you are calling me, you are calling someone who knows what he's doing. Do not interrupt me with your wild guesses as to what I'm going to ask you to do. When I'm speaking, you're not.

I can tell when you've done something I asked you to do, and when you haven't. Don't lie.

When you hear me saying "Okay, yes, alright, okay" in a bored tone of voice, that is your cue to shut your word hole. I've heard everything I need to hear. Be quiet and await my instructions.

I am only one man and my duties are varied. I will not always be at my desk just because you chose that moment to call. I may be on the phone with another customer, or busy with another task, or busy with any number of other responsibilities I have. My voicemail exists for a reason -- leave a message and await a callback. Hanging up on my voicemail and calling back right away is not going to help you, but it will make you look like an immature twit.

I'm good at what I do, and that includes making sense of your barely-coherent descriptions of the problem. I am not, however, omniscient or omnipotent. Sometimes your problem is going to require some investigation. Contrary to popular belief, we in the IT sector do not possess magic wands we can wave to fix any problem, nor can we "just log in remotely" and cure any ailment. Be patient and accept this.

Your parents should have instilled you with the notion that instant gratification is a myth. If they did not, allow me to do so now.

If you purchase a car, it is not the dealership's responsibility to teach you how to drive, or to ensure that the roads you intend to use are in good condition, or to put gas in your car and keep the tires inflated. Similarly, if you buy technical equipment, it is not my responsibility to give you a crash course on TCP/IP networking, security, cabling, or to configure it for you, or to make sure your internet connection is solid.

High tech is a small town, but believe it or not, not everyone in the IT industry knows everyone else. I have no special influence with your ISP, I cannot grease the wheels with your router manufacturer, and if you purchased equipment from a third party to use with our service, that third party is responsible for it, not me.

I do enough of this at work. I don't want to do more of it outside of work. Unless you are a family member, close friend, or I am sleeping with you or have slept with you or want to sleep with you, don't expect me to care about your computer problem.

"There was some kind of error" is not a useful starting point for me to diagnose. You wouldn't bring your car to the mechanic and tell him "The car doesn't work", so why are you trying this with me?

If you're using a system that you can change around, feel free to try something and see if it works instead of calling me and asking. At worst, it doesn't work, and you can put it back to how it was. You don't need my approval for everything.

When I'm doing you a favor that goes beyond what we normally offer our customers, be grateful. Do not pester me that I'm not doing it fast enough, because I'm under no obligation to do it at all. For more information go back to first grade and consult the book "If You Give a Mouse a Cookie".

If you have a problem with our management, billing, sales, pricing, or other non-technical aspect of our service or company, take it up with the appropriate person, not me. I'm just the guy who chews on keyboards all day.

Any questions?