The Tea Party Patriots left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that they called again this evening. I’ve never signed up for anything from them, and I have no idea how they got my mobile number. Yet for many months now, I’ve gotten periodic robo-calls from them.

Every time this happens, I make repeated requests — through all available means of communication — to be removed from their call list. They’ve never responded, and they have obviously not removed my mobile number from their call list.

I don’t have any way to block them on my iPhone (as I would on my landline), and them calling my cellphone is particularly bothersome. Any suggestions for what to do to make it stop?

Even if that’s not possible, I’m happy to spread the word that the Tea Party Patriots seems to be run by a bunch of jerkwads without the slightest clue about basic manners.

Here’s my latest email to them… not that I expect it to do any good:

You left me yet another robo-call message on my iPhone on Monday… and I see that you called again this evening. Every time this happens, I’ve contacted you through multiple channels with clear requests to be removed from your call list. You have never responded, and you have obviously not removed my mobile number from your call list.


So, for the upteeth time, I ask that you remove my cell number — [redacted] — from your call list! I am sick and tired of these intrusive and unwelcome calls from you: it’s harassment.

Until you respond, and confirm that you’ve removed my phone number, I will continue to publicly shame you for being such rude jerkwads. I’ve already posted something to Facebook, and I’m writing a blog post now.

Oh, and you owe me — and probably a whole lot of other people — a BIG FAT APOLOGY.

I’d be nicer about it… except that I’ve already written about ten such emails, all of which have been ignored. *sigh*


Back in January, the internet was agog over the report that a pastor objected to the 18% gratuity added to her bill for being part of a large party by writing on the receipt, “I give God 10% why do you get 18?”

The proper answer, of course, is provided by Grumpy Cat:

Your waitress offers you a genuine service, in exchange for your tip… God, not so much.

However, what I find particularly interesting about the story from an ethical perspective lie in the details of what happened at the restaurant and afterwards.

[Chelsea Welch's co-worker [at an Applebee's in the St. Louis area] had waited on a large party hosted by Pastor Alois Bell of the World Deliverance Ministries Church in Granite City, Ill. As is common at many restaurants, an 18 percent tip was automatically added to the bill.

Pastor Bell crossed out the automatic tip and wrote “0″ on the receipt, along with this message: “I give God 10% why do you get 18?”

Welch, who did not wait on Pastor Bell’s table took a photo of the bill and uploaded it to Reddit where it soon went viral. “I thought the note was insulting, but it was also comical,” Welch told TheConsumerist. “I posted it to Reddit because I thought other users would find it entertaining.”

Bell, who did not see the humor in this, complained to the restaurant’s manager. Bell told The Smoking Gun she did not expect her signature to be all over the Internet.

Applebee’s confirms that Welch was fired. In a statement, the company says:

“Our Guests’ personal information – including their meal check – is private, and neither Applebee’s nor its franchisees have a right to share this information publicly. We value our Guests’ trust above all else. Our franchisee has apologized to the Guest and has taken disciplinary action with the Team Member for violating their Guest’s right to privacy. This individual is no longer employed by the franchisee.”

Pastor Bell told The Smoking Gun she is sorry for what happened and points out that she left a $6.29 cash tip on the table.

“My heart is really broken,” she told them. “I’ve brought embarrassment to my church and my ministry.”

As this story makes clear, the waitress didn’t intend for anyone to be able to identify the pastor in question, and she took measures to prevent that identification. Alas, the power of the internet was too great. Also, the waitress reports that the pastor “contacted her Applebee’s location, demanding that everyone be fired, from the servers involved to the managers.” (That’s a quote from the article, not from the waitress.)

On the one hand, I understand why Applebee’s fired the server who posted the receipt. The restaurant wants its customers to feel secure in their privacy while on premises, particularly in their dealings with their employees, particularly in their financial transactions.

Nonetheless, in this age of social media, people’s expectations of privacy must change… or they will get burned. If you’re in public, your antics might be broadcast far and wide across the internet for other people’s amusement. Then, if you act petulant and bossy about that, as this pastor seemed to do, you’ll be lambasted even more.

Ultimately, a person needs to be responsible for his own privacy. That requires thinking in advance about what he wishes to keep private or not. That requires attention to what he says and does in view or earshot of other people. That requires being selective about what he emails or posts online. That requires providing appropriate context for public actions if he wants to avoid being misjudged.

A rational person does not broadcast his private activities to the world, then blame others for taking notice.

Robert Garmong on Cultural Influence via Trade with China

 Posted by on 2 April 2013 at 11:00 am  Business, China, Culture
Apr 022013

As I promised when answering the question on doing business with Chinese companies on Sunday’s Philosophy in Action Radio, here’s the commentary from Robert Garmong on whether trade with China with help improve China culturally and politically.

By way of context, here’s what I’d written him relevant to that:

Instead, [trade with China] seems like a prime example where trade is a means of exporting better American values, and thereby making China economically and political better than it would be otherwise. That’s a benefit to the Chinese and a benefit to Americans.

He replied:

As for your hope that trade with America encourages better values among the Chinese, that’s very limited. Most Westerners (myself included, ~2009), think that foreign trade will empower a new class of young, liberal-minded people who want reform. Unfortunately, this has proven to be mostly a naive Western bias.

The businesses that benefit from our trade are run by people who — whatever their personal predilections before going into international trade — now are among the most conservative in China. Remember that China is a culture with zero tradition of thinking in principles. So the people who’ve gotten rich on the free market are perfectly happy to continue the system of governmental control. And, since they’re mostly wealthy middle-aged men, they’re perfectly happy to perpetuate the cultural traditions that exalt rich old men. They’ve got their Audis to make them proud, they’ve got their CCP contacts to keep them safe, and they’ve got their mistresses to keep them happy.

(Here’s a fun fact for you: according to a survey reported on in People’s Daily, in 2011 the male population of China spent more on holiday gifts for their mistresses than for their wives. I may have mentioned that before, because it’s one of my favorite jaw-droppers in a country jam-packed with jaw-droppers.)

There is a rising “middle class,” though it’s only middle class in very relative terms. They are politically powerless and mostly indifferent. They care about making some money, ensuring their children’s education, buying their son an apartment so he can get married, and someday having grandchildren. (That’s sometimes discussed as “The Chinese Dream.”) They are increasingly frustrated by the corruption, and the fact that they work for $600 a month while their boss drives an Audi, but they aren’t politically active. If anything, they fear any change that might threaten the “Chinese dream.”

Recall, too, the cultural arrogance of the Chinese, which is deeply-rooted in traditional Chinese culture. (As is often noted, the Chinese word for “China” literally means “Middle Country,” in the sense of “the country in the center of the universe.”) And of course it’s reinforced in schools, on Chinese TV, and in the movies they see. For this reason, even as they benefit from their contact with the West, and even as some of them envy the freedom of the United States, the average person here is very skeptical of foreign values. This is why they’re quick to believe the negatives about America, such as that everyone carries a gun and shoots people.

The hope for change in China is not directly from trade with the West. It’s from the net-savvy twenty-somethings who populate Weibo and other microblogs. While in some broad sense their existence is made possible by foreign trade, they are only very indirectly influenced by that trade. They are influenced by *Friends* and *Desperate Housewives*, but I wouldn’t call those international trade because they’re mostly pirated copies. In their online discussions, those guys appeal directly to very basic and obvious human values, such as the aversion to corruption and theft by the government. They seldom advert to any foreign concepts such as rights, freedom, or justice. They often get these ideas from the West, but they don’t use them in their discussions.

I suspect, by the way, that this is the real reason the government is pulling away from English as a part of the curriculum. They’re smart enough to see where the dissent is coming from, and they want to discourage it. The Chinese operate in subtler ways than, say, their Soviet-era counterparts, so rather than openly crack down on the young netizens, they simply reduce their numbers, try to prevent them from reaching a critical mass by reducing English language training in the schools. This is how the government thinks, and it’s why they’ve been so much more successful than other totalitarian governments at negotiating the process of “reform and opening-up” without losing their grip on power. They may be rat-bastards, but they are very clever rat-bastards!

Fascinating, as usual! If you’ve not yet listened to my interview with Robert on Should We Fear or Embrace China?… don’t delay! It was a full hour of such insights! Also, be sure to check out his excellent blog, Professor in Dalian.

The Untimely Demise of Google Reader

 Posted by on 19 March 2013 at 10:00 am  Business, Technology
Mar 192013

Hitler finds out Google Reader is shutting down:

Like many, many people, I’m pretty upset that Google Reader is shutting down. I’ve used Google Reader for years — not just to read blogs, but also to manage The Paleo Rodeo. So I’ve got some extra work to do thanks to this unexpected demise of Google Reader, and I’m not enthused about that.

More, to shut down the most popular RSS reader seems like a really idiotic decision for Google. If they’re not making money on feeds, that’s because Google closed AdSense for Feeds back in September 2012. Plus, they shut down the sharing functions of Google Reader with the launch of the utterly useless Google Plus, thereby killing their sole social media platform that actually worked.

With the murder of Google Reader, I’m sure that Google will shut down the awesome FeedBurner soon too, which will be another huge problem for me and tons of other people. That’s even more frustrating.

Overall, Google has going downhill lately, in my view. I’ve had ever-more problems with their offerings, and I’ve heard ominous news about the exodus of the best engineers from people who work in the industry. That sucks, because I love Google.

If you’re looking for an alternative to Google Reader, check out Old Reader. You can easily download your data from Google Reader, then import everything into Old Reader. (They have a backlog of 50,000 imports right now though, so you’ll have a wait a few days.) You’ll be able to find what I share here.

Mighty Mule Gate Openers: My Experience

 Posted by on 2 March 2013 at 10:00 am  Business, Personal
Mar 022013

A few months ago, I did a major update to the fencing on our five-acre property, including adding a “Mighty Mule” automatic dual-gate opener to the driveway gates. They work great, and Paul and I enjoy just pressing a button rather than manually opening and closing the gates, particularly in inclement weather.

However, we’ve also had a major problem with these gates, namely that they’ll beep very loudly every 20 seconds all night long after a cloudy day. I kid you not. The beep can be heard clearly from a few hundred feed away, inside the house, with all the doors and windows closed. Honestly, I’m surprised that my neighbors haven’t taken a baseball bat to the device. That beeping is supposed to be the low-battery warning. However, the gates have never refused to open, even after beeping all night long. So the battery doesn’t seem to be actually low.

My fencing peopleguy has done his best to fix the problem. He returned once to add a second solar panel. (We don’t have any electric lines on that side of the property, so solar is the only option.) That lessened the problem somewhat, but not enough. So he came a second time. He tested the output of the battery, which seemed to slip just slightly low when the gate was opening, but nothing that should cause such all-night beeping. He was on the phone with Mighty Mule for quite some time, and the tech support person assured him that adding a second battery to the unit would solve the problem. I was hopeful… but disappointed yet again.

After our recent foot of snow, the gate opener was beeping loudly every 20 seconds, yet again… and I was feeling very, very stabby. So I trudged down the unplowed driveway at 10:30 pm to try to plug up the speaker hole with glue. I didn’t want to just cut the speaker wire because the gate does sometimes emit useful beeps, like as a warning before it starts to close. I was so angry that I took video, just so that others could hear just how loud and annoying the beeping is. (The beep at the end, when I’m standing near the opener, is ear-piercing.)

Unfortunately, my glue job didn’t work: I could still hear the beeping from inside the house. So I trudged down again through the snow in the middle of the cold night to tie a rag to the bottom of the device, over the speaker. That made the noise tolerable, even though still audible outside.

Yesterday, I called the tech support of “Mighty Mule” yet again. The person that I spoke to was infuriatingly unhelpful. First, he lectured me about how much sun the opener needs. Well, I live in Colorado, where we get 300 days of sunshine per year, and a single cloudy day will set the device beeping all night. That’s not normal. Plus, we’ve already added the extra solar panel, and the last tech support person assured us that an extra battery would solve the problem. Then he told me that I could ship the device back to them, and they’d check it out. I wouldn’t have to pay shipping. However, as I told him, I’d have to pay my fencing peopleguy to come out twice — once to uninstall the opener and then again reinstall the opener. So that seems like a major waste to me. Plus, after being told that the second battery would definitely solve the problem, I just don’t trust this company to actually fix the problem.

At the very least, Mighty Mule should have offered to ship me a new device, and then I’d ship them back the defective model. That way, my fencing peopleguy could come out just once, and hopefully the problem would be solved. But that wasn’t ever offered. Alas, I didn’t think to ask, but I’m pretty sure that offering such solutions isn’t the job of the frustrated customer. Moreover, I should add, the beeping is a ridiculous design flaw, and it ought to be fixed.

To add insult to injury, the tech support guy never seemed to acknowledge my problem. He just kept saying “Yes, ma’am” in a monotone voice. I’m sure that he would have said the same if I’d told him that pigs were flying past my window.

So if I can’t find a better way to block the speaker, I plan to cut the speaker wire. I hate to do that, but I don’t see that I have any better options.

As I’ve done these house repairs, I’ve been really impressed by the customer service offered by the various companies I’ve worked with. These companies know that they depend on word-of-mouth recommendations, and they’ve worked hard to go the extra mile. I wish that I could say the same about Mighty Mule and its parent company GTO.

So consider this post a word of warning… If their product goes wrong, don’t expect any useful assistance. I expected better from a product that costs a few hundred dollars. I’ve been nothing but frustrated and disappointed.

Southwest Rules

 Posted by on 29 January 2013 at 1:00 pm  Business, Funny
Jan 292013

I’ve had some great flight attendants on Southwest — including a guy from Brooklyn who gave a fabulously funny lecture on exactly what “regular” coffee is — but none can compare to David Holmes!

(Via Wimp.)

Yet Another Facebook Advertising Fail

 Posted by on 4 January 2013 at 1:00 pm  Business, Funny
Jan 042013

Facebook knows that I have a Ph.D in philosophy. Yet somewhere in the deep depths of its code, it imagines that I’d be interested in attending stenography school. It put this huge ad in the middle of my feed:

Even if I were flipping burgers, NO. Just NO. (Still, this ad isn’t as insane as the ad in Hebrew for the Israeli politician.)

I’ve yet to see something that interests me in these in-feed ads on Facebook, in fact. With all that Facebook knows about me, I expect better.

Behind the Scenes at Amazon

 Posted by on 10 December 2012 at 12:00 pm  Business, Cool
Dec 102012

I love Amazon, and seeing pictures of their warehouse in operation is pure awesome!

Facebook’s New Advertisements

 Posted by on 30 November 2012 at 10:00 am  Business, Funny, Technology
Nov 302012

I have no problem with Facebook earning gobs of money from its users (i.e. the product). However, placing huge ads in the newsfeed ought to be done with some degree of care. That shouldn’t be hard, since I tell Facebook everything about my life. Hence, choosing to advertise an Israeli politician to me — in Hebrew — seems like a pretty major case of FAIL.

Still, that’s not quite as bad as advertising young single women to my mother. I kid you not.

Cultural Imports

 Posted by on 21 November 2012 at 10:00 am  Business, Culture, Free Trade, Music
Nov 212012

One of the best features of American culture, I think, is our willingness to adopt anything from other cultures that we like. Apparently, we’re doing that in spades with “Gangnam Style,” a catchy Korean pop song with a crazyawesome video:

The video has spawned countless imitations, including this fabulous Klingon version:

My favorite derivative work, however, is this video of the toddler who will only eat when the “Gangnam Style” video is playing:

NPR has a fascinating article on how that happened. It wasn’t dumb luck, but the product of years of careful effort. As the article concludes:

“Gangnam Style” is what happens when a developing country becomes developed. An infrastructure to make and export culture can develop just like an infrastructure to make and export anything else.

Yes, and we’re all better off as a result! Hooray for sillycrazyfun K-Pop videos!

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