Sunday, June 21, 2015

about: kneelin' at his prayers / loyal to a fault

Larry Kirwan, one of Irish-America's renaissance men, played a solo show last night, which I was fortunate enough to attend. One of the songs he performed was a favorite of mine, "Forty-Deuce" - a rousing ballad, in the best story-telling tradition. Last night, however, my heart felt heavy as he introduced the tune with his anecdote of meeting Sweet Nancy. There is a line, in a later verse: "I blew him to sweet Jesus / While he was kneelin' at his prayers". I knew it was coming, and knew the chord it would strike with me, on this most horrific of weeks. I still flinched when I heard it.

There is another line, about being "young and stupid / Loyal to a fault", that gave me pause. "Loyal to a fault". "Loyal to a fault". Let that sink in. The man who shoot nine unarmed people in Charleston most likely believes he was being 'loyal' to his own faulty ideology.

There can be no excuses. As a friend of mine put it: If you think Dylann Roof was a "lone wolf" - that racism doesn't exist in this country or this was a crime against faith - please, unfollow & block me.

The people who are trying to miscategorize these murders as "against faith" are very much part of the problem rather than the solution. In a word, they are racists, and the worst kind of racists. Pure and simple. They will find any excuse to explain away the "white-on-black" nature of these crimes, while secretly applauding his actions. They will quote statistics for "black-on-white" shootings, and condemn the biased media for not bringing these number up. They are wrong. They are racists. They are loyal to a faulty ideology, preferring to hate their brothers and sisters than to love them.

Sunday, June 07, 2015

about: customer service

I'm certain I have written about customer service before, or, as I call it, Customer Service. Yes, it deserves the capital letters, as it is the cornerstone of every business. Just as a society can be judged by how it treats it's most unfortunate members, so too can a company be judged by how it deals with problems arising out of the use of its products or services. Fixing a broken washing machine, or rescheduling a canceled flight is not "great customer service" - it is the bare minimum that the consuming public have a right to expect. I know all about Service Level Agreements from my technical support background, and even the most reliable systems aren't perfect. (Six Sigma, the last word in quality control, allows for up to 3.4 defects per million. Yes, it sucks to be one of those three and a half people, because the type of process that uses Six Sigma methodology is usually a matter of life or death.)

Anyway, the point I sat down to discuss was that Customer Service is all about the people. Inbound customer support can be soul-destroying - sitting like a battery hen in a cubicle farm the size of several football fields, listening to someone describe the same problem you have already heard about a zillion times since lunchtime. But, the real star performers find a way to stick it out, and keep their sanity.

The guy I spoke to a while ago was a true mega-star: Steve from Time Warner Cable. I called to tell him that my DVR was malfunctioning, and had made a horrible screeching noise that sounded like it was possessed. As well as efficiently handling the mundane account related issues, he advised me that maybe I shouldn't record so many horror movies! Pure gold!

Friday, May 29, 2015

about: public safety

My family, back in Ireland, worry about me, particularly my mother, living here in big bad America. The United States is a big place, and lots of bad things happen here.

I'm sure their concern was the same when I lived in Dublin, and, you know what, it was probably less misplaced back then.

That isn't to say that I was ever afraid when I lived in Ireland's capital, but, there was something - I can't quite put my finger on it - that was slightly off. Maybe it was all of those Dublin people? No, because I have felt that subtle disquiet in Wexford too, amongst my own childhood neighbors. Whatever it was, I don't feel it here in New York.

The begrudgery, that's what it is. The Irish sense of schadenfreude, a German word that deserves to be Hiberno-English. The readiness to knock people off their pedestals; the readiness to negate someone's happiness because you aren't a part of it; the dog in a manger attitude that says "if I can't be as successful as you, I will criticize you instead". And, be certain, I am not saying that all Irish people are infected with this attitude - but just enough to make life a little bit more miserable for everyone else. "F*ck the begrudgers" is an often heard phrase in Ireland, and no matter how unanimous the support for you is, there will always be one - and where the is one, there is usually two or three more.

I have been out of Ireland for more than five years now, so maybe things have changed. Maybe the callous roar of the Celtic Tiger has been replaced by a more caring tone, as evidenced by the result of the Marriage Equality Referendum.

The reason I sat down to read this post was to tell the story of something to me that happened last week: I parked my car, and walked around the corner, a couple of hundred feet, to a bus stop, to catch a ride into Manhattan. As I waited, a silver car pulled up, and a man of Middle Eastern descent started shouting at me. With the traffic noise, I couldn't make out what he was saying, so I looked at him like I didn't understand English. He was insistent, and kept repeating himself, so I stood up from the bench I was sitting on, an approached his car. He asked again, "What sort of car do you drive?". Now, I have seen some bizarre market research methods, but this was something else... anyway, I answered him, and then he told me that I had left my keys in my car. You see, his car had been parked behind mine, and when he returned to his car, he noticed that my keys were in the door. I guess I had other things on my mind. I thanked him, went back to my car, and retrieved my keys...

So yes, I feel safer here on the streets of New York than I ever did on the streets of Ireland, and that makes me terribly sad.