This is Epth Nation

Epth is a state of mind, not a place. Reading this will give you a virtual drivers license in that state, but you'll still need to be 21 to purchase alcohol. And you can't get any there anyway, so stop asking.

Friday, December 09, 2005

"Here, have some credit...first one's free."

A couple of weeks ago I got a long and brutal look at the credit industry, thanks to my job at a retail consumer electronics store. It was the day after Thanksgiving, which is the biggest day of the USA shopping year and the day each year when employees most want to kill the customers, their bosses, and finally, in one last tearful moment of desperation, themselves. It's the service industry worker's version of D-Day -- it begins way too early with way too much intensity, there's nowhere to run or hide from it, and the customers (enemies) just never stop coming. When it's all over, you know you've been through a war, and that means you'll never look at life or other people the same way. With that in mind, let me tell you what I did in the war zone that day.

My job* was to:

1) Notice customers who were either filling out credit card apps or holding finished ones in their impatient hands. This part begged for coordination because people were standing in the customer service line to turn the things in -- creating needless delays in an already time-consuming process. There were a buttload of people filling the things out because of the deal they had -- you would basically get a $100 rebate for buying $399 worth of stuff that day with that card you just applied for. It's one of those deals that's obviously difficult to pass up, especially if you were planning on spending more than $399 anyway. Hey, get $100 back and not have to spend any real money now? This credit sells itself!

2) Take the apps from the customers, who were very thankful that someone at the store knew what was going on. An informal poll I took found that exactly 0% of USA customers can fill out a credit application correctly on the first try. Seriously, I had to give back every single one at least once. Yes, these people were rushing, but did they think that filling in all the spaces on the form was optional? MBNA isn't going to lend you money if they don't have your social security number or current income. No way, jose.**

3) Re-take the apps from the customers, making sure I verified they were who they said they were by writing down their driver's license number. Of course, they all could have been fake I.D.'s...

4) Turn the apps over to the data entry people (who were also displaced associates, since the store doesn't employ data entry people), and in some cases type them in myself.

5) Check the outstanding apps occasionally to see if they "went through." We had up to 20 outstanding apps at a time, so you can see why it was such a time-consuming process.

6) Verbally massage the waiting customers, explaining to them that these things just take a while and please be patient because nobody likes you. Ok, not exactly that. But some of these apps were taking 45 minutes to go through, which caused some customers to try to explain to us (who had nothing whatsoever to do with the approval process) that they had billions of other credit cards and had never had trouble getting one before. The length of time it was taking the apps to go through seemed to be completely at random, I told them, even though it probably wasn't.

7) Match the Verdicts to their corresponding customers by loudly calling out their names in front of everyone. Not the best system, but we were kinda pressed for time.

8) Discreetly inform the customer of their acceptance or non-acceptance (at about a 80% acceptance rate), and hand them the paper that tells the accepted how much of MBNA's money they are allowed to spend. The non-acceptance ones were very sad, but I comforted myself with the knowledge that they'd probably be better off in the long run. And it didn't technically say they weren't accepted, it just said they weren't accepted "today," and that the decision would arrive in the mail in 7-10 days. That effectively shut the customer out of the $100 rebate (since one had to buy merchandise the day they applied in order to get it), but nobody got mad or anything. They all had that look of sighing resignation to them. I remember those days, when I kept applying for credit and was being rejected for "insufficient credit," and I thought the whole system was just a circular-reasoning scheme by The Man to keep me, Michael Pape, down. I since have learned that everything in the world works like this, and the key to everything is either to Get Lucky or Know Somebody. These rejects were unlucky and knew nobody and George Bush doesn't care about them.

9) Repeat process at least 100 times over the course of the day.

As I said, 4 out of 5 people were getting credit from MBNA. That struck me as amazing. What also strikes me as amazing is the credit card companies and their lobbyists who are just owning the Federal Government right now. They hand out credit like candy and then press congress to make laws that prevent certain people from declaring bankruptcy. I know that bankruptcy should be discouraged, but gues what? So should usury. These christmas shoppers were becoming beholden to MBNA for tons of future money just to "save" $100 today. And they don't even get the hundred today -- it comes in the mail in 6-8 weeks. Those poor shoppers. Like I said, the rejects were the lucky ones. Isn't that always how it works?

Mike's 1-point plan to fix credit in the USA (not endorsed by anyone but me).

Highest possible legal APR: 10%. That'll do it.

Now, this means that most people will not be able to get credit, at least not right away. Credit card companies will fail, but better ones will rise up in their place. There will still be money to be made in credit, if one is smart. Consumer debt will fall drastically, the economy will improve, and people will be happy with that, right? Right?

Wrong. People want easy credit and the right to get deeper in debt so they can make their lives a little better now at the expense of later. And MBNA doesn't care about anyone's future, as long as they can get more people into debt slavery. That's the evil thing about all of this. We are signing over our lives to people who don't care about us. MBNA doesn't care that I have to work 2 jobs to cover the cost of all our credit cards bills and loan payments. MBNA doesn't care that I'm writing this at work right now because I have no time to do it at home. MBNA doesn't care that their "customers" can't see their wives, their children, or even the things they bought with their MBNA credit. MBNA is our indifferent, monstrous, ready-to-please, all-purpose lord. Merry MBNAmas to all. I hope your mammon keeps you warm and toasty during this cold cold season.

* This is going to be a long footnote. The job I did the day after Thanksgiving is not my regular job there at the store -- normally, I'm the shipping/receiving/logistics guy for the service department. The Powers That Be made me go out and support the people at the service counter, and I took it upon myself to coordinate the credit card app receiving process (since customers were extremely unclear on what to do, where to turn in the apps, etc.). Note to prospectve employers: I am able to discern what to do in a given situation and take charge of it with no formal training. I learned on the fly to receive credit card apps properly, type them into the computer, and discreetly inform customers of The Verdict. I got skillz, as T. Hardaway would say.

** Actually, there weren't any "Jose'" applications. There was a We, a Shu, and a bunch of other Asian-sounding names, but no Jose'.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


So I was just watching TV and heard the song, "Just the Two of Us" over the background of a commercial. You know, the song that goes "Just the two of us -- we can make it if we try..."

Anyway, I sang "Just the Jews of us," and started laughing, because even I think that's obsessive.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Possible and Impossible Destinations for Arrested Development

As you know, Arrested Development is being cancelled by Fox after they get through their 13-episode 3rd season. By my count, that leaves 7 episodes left to air for the funniest show on TV. There has been a lot of discussion on the "internet nerd boards" about this, and while I am not privy to any negotiations between AD and any other networks, I am very privy to the wild speculation of people who just don't want to see AD die. By my reckoning, here are the possibilities for another network picking the show up.

FOX -- They are cancelling it because it costs a lot to produce and gets low ratings, and the strong DVD sales aren't enough to make up for that. They can show America's Funniest Vomit in its place and get the same ratings for 1/10th the cost. The only way it comes back here is if they make it a summer-fall show consisting of 13 episodes a season so it ends before November. Is that worth it for FOX? Probably not.

CBS -- I'm trying to think of something less likely than AD ending up here. Nope, can't do it. It's infinitely impossible, unless Michael Cena's dad becomes head of CBS or something.

ABC -- They're only kinda desperate, and I don't mean the housewives. No way.

NBC -- An intruiging possibility brought up by internet nerds is that NBC could field a night with "Great and sorta original comedies that are always on the verge of being cancelled," along with Scrubs, My Name is Earl, and The Office. Call it Must See or It'll Be Gone TV. The prospect is admittedly intruiging, and NBC needs something to give it good press, but I don't think that even they, as desperate as they are, would do this. Maybe if the "N" stood for "Non-profit," but it doesn't.

WB -- Ok, remember how I said that CBS was infinitely impossible? Well, this is worse. They wouldn't care so much about ratings, but money is such that they'd probably cut the cast in half and forbid any guest stars. Not bloody likely.

UPN -- It's like the WB, only with even less resources. I'm not sure this network is still around, actually. Can anyone confirm its existence? If a network is on, and nobody watches it, is it even a network?

HBO -- A definite possibility which would allow AD to write less (but slightly longer) episodes per season and really focus on quality. The only problem is they would lose some of that "censored humor," which means the show would lose some of its mischevious edge. Still, I think everybody would like AD to end up here, just to see what would happen.

SHOWTIME -- Rated as the #1 possibility by internet nerds, Showtime could use some good press and a cult show to drive up subscriptions. Plus, the DVD sales have got to be plum. Do they have the resources to pull it off? I don't know. But I would seriously consider Showtime if it landed there, and I can't think of any other event that would cause me to do that, aside from an Infinite Jest 24-part miniseries or something.

Nobody -- Unfortunately, this is the most likely suitor for AD. If I weren't so hung up on Lost right now, I'd really be sad.

News: Dallas Corruption Edition

I apologize for the sporadic posting lately. Between crazy Christmas-time death work, plowing through Lost, and searching desperately for a job, I just don't have much free time. I'm sorry about that. To make it up to you, today is going to be a busy posting day. Winter weather (1-3 in. of "wintry mix") comin' to town, and I may just be stranded here at work all night.

I am so not looking forward to delivering pizzas tonight.

Anyway, I have been noticing a bunch of stories involving local governmental corruption in Dallas and Fort Worth lately. Every day I seem to hear about some new scandal involving some new guy who was arrested for this that or the other. I'm now going to attempt a comprehensive list. The criteria I'm using are:
1) It must be a scandal involving a public figure, "public" meaning employed by the local government.
2) It must have been discovered or been in the news in 2005.

Let's start with this one, where Manny Vasquez, the top police officer in the DISD (and no, I don't know why the schools have their own police force -- is this a common practice?) started a security side business and awarded a $100,000 DISD contract to another business that he was partners with. He did this while he was acting as a liason to the FBI in their DISD corruption investigation. The FBI is investigating the DISD because of the Micro Systems scandal, where the recently ousted DISD technology chief traded the right to wire all the schools in Dallas with computers for a bunch of stuff, most notably the use of a $750,000 yacht. In fact, Officer Vasquez started his security business with one of the Micro Systems salespeople who was bribing the technology chief. I know it's a convoluted story, but they're all fired because of it, even though Vasquez was all, "I was gonna retire anyway..."

Dallas Deputy Fire/Rescue Chief Michael Price got real drunk at a conference, did a bunch of bad stuff, wasn't punished for it, and is now suing the female firefighter who blew the whistle on him. It's good to be the Deputy Fire/Rescue Chief.

This month's D Magazine cover story is about how DISD (back to them, the scum) is covering up the fact that replacing windows in some older schools is putting asbestos into the air when children are in there, working. And when somebody discovered this, the whole thing was ignored and then covered up. And they'll probably end up getting away with it.

There are 2 airports in Dallas, one that profitable Southwest flies out of, and one for everybody else. The Southwest one charges about 1/10th of the "landing fees" the other one does, allowing Southwest to make more money. The airport runs at a deficit. Not scandalous? Try telling that to the citizens of Dallas who've been unknowingly subsidizing the airport (and the airline) for years.

Back to DISD. They've (the state, that is) been using an illegal and unconstitutional "Robin Hood" scheme to fund poorer school districts, thereby turning school funding into an "unconstitutional property tax." Again, this is convoluted, but scandalous. White people got mad, and successfully sued to stop the scheme.

Several Dallas City Council members are under investigation/imminent firing because of secret deals involving kickbacks they pulled off using their influence over City policy. Seriously, it's a bunch of them. And they run the city. Oh, the humanity.

Yes, this was in 2001, but new charges of perjury have been filed against a Dallas Police officer convicted of using fake drugs to convict a bunch of innocent mexicans and send them to jail. Scummy, scum, scum. Oh, and he also probably skimmed money from informants. It's all like some bad movie.

Hey, there's a lot more, so I'll update you soon. I just thought you should know even after you move away from Illinois, corruption can still find you.