09 February 2008

Hillary Clinton, or Someone, is Getting on my Nerves

As I have mentioned before, my political leanings tend to put me in the "Democratic" column on election day. Unless you have been living under a rock or perhaps in denial you will be aware that the race for the Democratic Party nomination for President in 2008 is starting to look very much like a contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

I don't mean to begin a discussion of who is the more desirable candidate, or the differences and similarites between them. We can have that another time. What I want to talk about here is why in hell Clinton or her campaign staff think that it's a good idea to harass the living fuck out of me.

Today, Saturday 9 February 2008, is caucus day here in Washington State. The arcane process of selecting candidates is another thing which will be beyond the scope of this article. It is worth mentioning this fact only to possibly explain why my telephone started ringing frequently several days ago. We seldom answer calls from numbers that we don't recognize, or unidentified numbers. It is logical to conclude that anyone with anything of importance with which they must interrupt our peace will certainly leave a message. Junk calls, telemarketers, survey takers, charity beggers, etc., almost never leave messages. They are usually calling with automated equipment that simply disconnects when it doesn't get a live answer. So, more and more, we don't answer the phone. It saves a lot of useless frustration.

The calls were coming from area code 703. Google told me this was from Virginia. One of the Google hits for the number I entered was for http://800notes.com, a site where people report unknown, irritating, and annoying phone calls and tactics. Folks on there were talking about getting irritating "robo-calls" from politicians.

When the phone rang at 5:30AM we woke up with that confused feeling of what the hell? followed by dread -- no good phone calls come at 5:30AM. It was hard to believe that it was going to be another area code 703 call, but it was. The usual profile: when it went to voicemail, they left no message. That is rude. No matter from where they are calling, they have to know the time zone that we're in. This was really starting to feel like harassment.

Later in the day when one of the calls came in, I was standing near the phone and I grabbed it. I pushed the "talk" button on the handset, and didn't say anything. This is, in my view, a perfectly reasonable way to answer your phone even if you're not trying to fool a robot. A legitimate caller, hearing the end of the ring tone and nothing else, will certainly say something. This gives you, the victim of an uninvited interruption to your time, peace, and quiet, an advantage. You may recognize the voice as friendly, or not. It is your option to speak, or not. In the event that the call is from an auto-dialer, you will have confused the machine a little -- only a little, these refined torture devices have been in use a long time. Usually they will simply disconnect after a few minutes. And that's what happened when I allowed that call into my phone. There was silence, with no background noise, simply dead air, and then a fast "busy" signal.

The next time I tried this tactic, about two hours later, for whatever reason (maybe I made some inadvertent noise, or a background noise in the house triggered a response) the auto-dialer must have thought it had made a hit, because a recorded voice, speaking extremely fast, began to tell me about Hillary Clinton. This was followed by another voice, which claimed to be that of Hillary Clinton, encouraging me to help her become president, etc. etc.

Even later in the day I discovered a message on our voicemail, very much like the one delivered to my ear before. The same number, Hillary Clinton promo, and an incredibly fast disclaimer at the end that seemed to include a call-back number (I made out "703," but that's all.)

What exactly is going on? Does Clinton think this will get her more support? Does she (or her staff) believe that Americans will be positively affected by this tactic, rather than greatly annoyed -- which is what I am? Or -- here comes the conspiracy theory -- are these calls being made by Clinton and/or her staff at all?

Suppose that someone who dislikes Clinton and does not want her election bid to succeed is causing this to happen. It seems likely, in a way. But is it effective? I'm perplexed and annoyed now.

Apparently, in other parts of the country, this has been happening -- but the calls are accredited to Barack Obama. Clinton's campaign has actually accused Obama of breaking State laws by making automated calls.

Some states have passed laws against auto-dialing, but this is being challenged as a violation of the First Amendment.

I like the First Amendment, and the whole Bill of Rights. I've talked about it before. But making my phone ring at 5:30 in the morning while I'm still in dreamland, thereby taking my heart rate up to 260 and focusing my brain on every possible disaster I can think of is a lot more like assault with a deadly weapon than free speech.

I have never talked to anyone who likes telephone solicitation of any type, yet it continues to be used to sell things, collect public opinion, fund charities, and promote political objectives. It is very cheap, and apparently reasonably effective.

Google has an interesting new service called Grand Central. I have experimented with it a little bit. It allows me to have a little more control over my incoming telephone calls, and allows them to be routed to different places. I think I'll be looking a little closer at that, but it's too bad that my main personal impression of the first serious female candidate for President of the USA is that she's added to the general garbage-truck load of marketing crap that I have to wade through every day. Thanks.

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