Law Enforcement Nation

March 19, 2013 – Tyranny trickles from the top down, until every man and woman on the street becomes a petty dictator wannabe.

By The Cerebral Aesthetic Vagabond

Sadly, it appears that the law enforcement mentality is becoming pervasive in what was once called the land of the free and the home of the brave. Actually, this missive addresses not only that unwelcome phenomenon but touches on that of planned obsolescence as well. The two are not as unrelated as it may seem, as both are consequences of a general loss of self respect among the populace.

Two and a half months ago I purchased two external DVD writers, one for a tiny computer that has no built-in DVD drive and the other for a laptop that I have attached to my TV and which I occasionally use to watch DVD movies. (I also use the computer to view internet content on the TV, such as Max Keiser, Greg Hunter and many others, as I have no other TV service.) I prefer to use the external drive instead of the internal one for such purposes because I know from personal experience that the internal drive in a laptop is expensive, if not impossible to replace if it should wear out.

Well, one of the two new drives is already malfunctioning. I doubt this is actually a case of planned obsolescence because even a cynic like me cannot believe that any legitimate engineer would plan to have a DVD drive wear out after two and a half months of light use. I think this failure is more a case of cost cutting to the bone, resulting in the use of electronic components that have too little tolerance to withstand the vagaries of the electrical supply, such as a voltage that occasionally gets as high as 127 volts, but I digress.

Anyway, I called the retailer from which I purchased the drives to see if I could exchange the defective one. Although the retailer, henceforth referred to by the fictitious name of “Worst Purchase,” accepts returns and exchanges only within 30 days of purchase, they said they could exchange the defective unit, which was covered by a one year warranty, by acting as the agent for the manufacturer. Since I explained to the fellow I spoke with on the phone that I had to drive 60 miles to get to the store – that’s the closest store of its kind to me – I wanted to make sure that I would be able to exchange the DVD drive and he gave me every indication that I could.

A few hours and 60 miles later I arrived at the store, DVD drive in hand and neatly repacked with every single accoutrement into its original box, and walked up to the mislabeled “customer service” counter (in retrospect, “booking desk” might be a better name for it), which was staffed by a stern looking woman whose name I didn’t obtain, but let’s just call her “Cruella” (like in that cartoon movie with the spotted doggies). Immediately I sensed that this humorless gal, unlike the affable Billie (with an “ie”) who I spoke to on the phone, was going to be unforgiving. Overhearing my explanation to Cruella, Billie bounded over and further explained the situation to her (it impressed me that he remembered our conversation) and then went to the shelf and fetched a replacement DVD drive. Genuinely happy to have found the exact same model, he deposited it on the customer service counter/booking desk next to the one I wished to exchange (there’s a fellow who understands the meaning of “customer service”).

Delighted that they had a replacement in stock, I presented my receipt to Cruella, who took it and then mechanically demanded my “ID.” Taken aback, I asked why she needed that and she vigorously brandished a large sign sitting on the customer service counter, which stated that returns or exchanges must be accompanied by an “ID.” So I reluctantly flashed my driver’s license at her, to which she responded in the same manner as a humorless and bored traffic cop, demanding succinctly, “Would you remove it from the wallet.” Actually, I don’t recall her using the word “please,” or even “sir,” as a cop would have done. Irked, I asked what she intended to do with my “ID” and she explained that she was going to “scan” it into the computer. Seeing me recoil in horror, she offered, “Or I can type the information in by hand.”

“What information?”, I inquired.

“All of it, the name, license number, expiration date.”

Now, while I admit to being a somewhat private person by nature (some might call me a recluse), my objection to having my license “scanned” was more pragmatic than philosophical. Hardly a week goes by that I don’t read of another heist of several million personal records from some corporation’s security-challenged computer database that is bizarrely accessible via the internet, and the information on a driver’s license is particularly useful to identity thieves. One reason I pay cash for almost everything, including these DVD drives is to limit my exposure to such fraud, so undermining my security efforts by blithely handing over a key identity document, especially in the absence of any sound need, made no sense to me.

But Cruella insisted that “several” stores required an “ID” to return items, so I politely asked which ones. After momentarily stammering, perhaps caught off guard by my unexpected resistance to her authoritative posturing, Cruella said “this one” and “several” stores in the mall, repeating her original words. I sloughed off the opportunity to make light of her circular reasoning in citing her own store as an example and wondered which were the “several” stores in the mall to which she referred. Were they perhaps the cemetery-like Sears, JC Penny or Dillard’s stores in the mall? If so, then Worst Purchase is in fine company, for all of them are slowly swirling down the drain. Although I didn’t mention it to Cruella, I immediately thought of “several” major retailers that do not require “ID” to exchange or return items, including Walmart, Sam’s Club, Costco, Lowe’s, Home Depot, Amazon, Tractor Supply and Newegg. With the exception of Costco, in the past year I have returned items to, or exchanged items at all of these retailers without the slightest hassle and no demands for “ID” (most of the returns were of defective, brand new items; in fact, it seems that reputable retailers nowadays have streamlined their return process to handle what is evidently a growing number of returns, on account of the shoddy, low cost-driven designs). I even got a refund from Sam’s Club for some discolored (i.e. bad) cheese I bought there after returning to the store weeks later, carrying only my receipt, for the cheese had long since been donated to the landfill; they refunded my cash with a cheerful demeanor. I also returned to Sam’s Club a vacuum cleaner that died after three weeks (another victim of overzealous cost cutting) and a mattress that sagged so much after two months that it was causing me back pain (another planned obsolescence scheme gone awry). In every case they promptly gave me a cash refund, with no questions asked and actually left me feeling like they valued my business. (Had I sought a refund instead of an exchange from Worst Purchase, I would have received only “store credit,” even though I paid cash for the DVD drive.)

Nevertheless, Cruella was adamant, forcefully declaring, “I cannot exchange this item without an ID,” even though her company was merely acting as a warranty agent for the manufacturer and not absorbing any costs itself. When I stated that I would simply go home and purchase a replacement on Amazon.com, she shrugged and mumbled something to the effect that, “That’s your right.” When I further warned that the defective DVD drive would be the last thing I ever purchased at Worst Purchase, she shrugged again apathetically. Any hope for sanity and reason waning, not angry, but baffled by Cruella’s apathy, and still seeking to elicit a tiny spark of business acumen from her, I explained that I spend “several” hundred dollars a year in her store – off the top of my head I think I’ve spent about $700 there in the past year – and that they would be losing all my future business on account of their nonsensical, needless rule, and asked her if it was worth it, and she confidently averred that it was. (Writing this now, her reply reminds me an awful lot of Madeleine Albright’s famously callous reply to a similarly worded question, which seems appropriate to mention here since Ms. Albright is one of many suitable figureheads for the authoritarian state that straddles the world today.)

Clearly, Cruella, who would undoubtedly rather be wearing a sew-on badge and working for the police state apparatus instead of a backwater retailer, was concerned about enforcing the rules no matter what in order to preserve her job. I suppose the worst companies today terrorize their employees into following the most picayune of “rules,” just like the government, regardless of whether or not those rules make any sense or serve any purpose, just like the government, or even if they’re counterproductive, just like the government. Of course, with fascism in vogue everywhere, is it any wonder that some companies seek to emulate the failure-inducing behaviors of government? The irony is that by embracing her role as enforcer of the company’s customer alienation program, Cruella is helping to eliminate her job anyway, albeit with torturous slowness, one customer at a time.

I don’t know, maybe I’m not just an iconoclast and a curmudgeon, but an anachronism too, one who values principles more than money and convenience. I stopped flying in 2004 because I refuse to be treated uncivilly (long before genital groping began); I got rid of all my credit cards and debts because I don’t want to support the corrupt financial system; I lowered my standard of living partly to reduce my tax payments to various corrupt governments; and now I will never again shop at Worst Purchase because I refuse to be treated as a disdained criminal instead of a valued customer.

What troubles me a great deal more than my own personal inconvenience is the knowledge that the vast majority of people tolerate and comply with these sorts of abuses and willingly submit to anyone who claims to possess “authority,” legitimately or otherwise. I guess the public school system has, after several generations, succeeded in its prime directive of instilling obedience above all else in the populace, including above peoples’ very dignity. A lot of people will read my story here and wonder what the fuss is about, but such an apathetic reaction merely underscores just how acclimated people have become to authoritarianism, whether on the giving or receiving end. In feeling umbrage over a seemingly minor attempted intrusion into my privacy, I may be the exception, but that doesn’t mean I’m not right to feel the way I do. People who tolerate this sort of abuse without feeling umbrage are the ones who are wrong, or worse, beyond helping.

Update – March 29, 2013

This story has taken a bizarre turn. After my failed endeavor to exchange the DVD drive at Worst Purchase, I contacted the manufacturer to see if they would repair the drive per the terms of their one year warranty. After navigating a voice recognition menu tree and enduring much unpleasant telephone music while waiting on hold, I finally got to speak with a real human. They collected the relevant information, including the serial number of the drive and e-mailed me a prepaid shipping label, which I printed, affixed to the packing box and returned to the manufacturer. Several days passed and I noted that the drive arrived at the manufacturer on March 26, whereupon it was immediately shipped back the same day, arriving yesterday!

Since there was no indication that anything was done to the drive, I called the manufacturer to find out what, if anything, had been done, and here’s where it gets weird. The manufacturer was adamant that the drive was refurbished and thus not covered under the warranty. When I protested that I purchased the drive in what appeared to be brand new condition, from a major retailer, the manufacturer became evasive and intimated that something shady was amiss with the unit. They were adamant that the drive had been refurbished, even though the label on the drive itself states that it was manufactured in November, 2012 and I purchased it within two months of that date, in early January, 2013. I don’t see how the drive could have been sold, refurbished and resold to me within the space of two months. Moreover, since the manufacturer insisted that they knew from the serial number that the drive was refurbished, I could not help but wonder why they didn’t tell me that the first time I called, and gave them the serial number, instead of sending me a shipping label and then shipping the drive back to me without modification! Between the shipping costs and the employee time I’ve consumed, the manufacturer has already lost money on the drive; they’d have been better off, financially speaking, to have simply sent me a brand new one right away as soon as I called.

Nevertheless, since the manufacturer was unrelenting, I called Worst Purchase and asked to speak to a manager. The sales person said the manager was too busy, doing “six things at once,” and asked me what I was calling about. The sales person said in no uncertain terms that they do not sell refurbished items in their retail stores and was as adamant that the DVD drive was brand new as the manufacturer was that it was refurbished! Clearly one of them was wrong, but convincing either of them that they were wrong seemed daunting in light of their adamant stances.

So it was back to the manufacturer. Their automated telephone system is not very good at recognizing human speech, so when I told the computer I was calling about a “DVD drive,” it sent me to the appliance division, where a human promptly answered the phone and inquired what was wrong with my “dryer.” After explaining to the human, whose voice recognition skills weren’t that much better than those of the computer, I was transferred to the entertainment division where another human promptly answered the phone and asked what was wrong with my “DVD player”; closer, but not close enough apparently, and I was transferred yet again, this time to the computer division, where for some reason they never answer the phones promptly and I was forced to endure another half hour of awful background music while I waited on hold. That damned jingle is still bouncing around inside my head.

I finally got hold of someone who repeated the earlier claim that the drive was refurbished. I repeated my claim that I bought it from Worst Purchase, who, I explained, insisted that they do not sell refurbished drives. Fortunately, the fellow I spoke with was not a complete drone and asked if I could send a copy of my receipt, to which I replied, “certainly.” So while he waited on hold, I took a photo of the receipt and sent it to the e-mail address he provided. After literally half an hour of waiting, listening to that awful music the whole time, the fellow came back and said he had submitted my “claim” and it would take a few days for the company to make a decision, as if I were requesting an audience with the king. I asked if someone would be calling me back in a few days and he said they would, although I strongly doubt that will happen.

In any case, I’m going to keep pursuing a resolution of this matter until I’m either told to “go away” or they repair or replace the drive, not out of spite, but because this has been a fascinating new experience for me. Over the years I’ve returned many items to retailers and had a few items repaired by manufacturers who readily honored their warranties, and I’ve never experienced the runaround I’m getting in this case. I have so few interesting things happen to me anymore, so this is a refreshing little episode. And it has nothing to do with the money – I can easily absorb the small cost involved. It has to do with principle and demanding that people honor their promises, promises that they offered voluntarily. It’s also an opportunity to study the operations of companies and be amazed at the counterproductive behaviors they sometimes engage in, behaviors that if they snowball to the extent of becoming a business model, usually precipitate the death of the company. In other words, this experience is turning out to be a class in “what not to do” when in business.

Update – April 13, 2013

Yesterday I received a package from the drive manufacturer, exactly one week after I sent in my drive for the second time, at the manufacturer’s expense. As predicted, nobody from the manufacturer called me to inform me of the disposition of my earlier “claim.” I was forced to initiate a whole new warranty claim and this time I asked the person to ascertain whether the drive in question was covered by the warranty and he assured me it was.

Nevertheless, this time I included a letter explaining my travails in getting the drive repaired under the warranty and included a copy of the receipt in the hope of convincing them that the drive was purchased brand new, not refurbished. Evidently my additional effort was worthwhile because even though I received the return package promptly, just like before, it was, in fact, a different drive. Oddly enough, the drive I received was manufactured in March 2012, whereas the one I sent in was manufactured in November 2012. I would have expected a newer drive coming directly from the manufacturer, but perhaps this one is refurbished.

I tested the new drive yesterday and it appears to work. I need to test it more rigorously before I’ll be completely satisfied, but I’m glad the manufacturer finally honored its warranty, nearly a month after my torturous journey began. Although this manufacturer has redeemed itself, I can’t say the same for Worst Purchase, which as far as I’m concerned no longer exists.

Update – June 21, 2013

Well, it’s happened again, the demand for my “ID,” this time while making a routine purchase... of a DVD movie! No, it was not the triple-X director’s cut of that adult classic, “Skanky White Chicks In Congress,” but a 44 year old classic western, “The Wild Bunch.” (I already have a copy of the movie, but it’s untold years old, whereas the one I bought yesterday is a “two-disc special edition” and “the original director’s cut.” So I figured at $4 I could afford to spring for an updated copy, hopefully one with a better picture quality and boasting extra content, and give my old one to the local library as I’ve done with hundreds of other movies.)

While checking out, the clerk (of a major retailer whose seven-letter name begins with “W” and ends with “T”) said, “I need your ID.”

“Why?”, I asked.

Holding up the DVD, the woman said, “I have to type your birth date into the computer.”

Glancing at the checkout terminal, I said, “But it says, ‘Is customer over 17?’ Surely you can tell that I’m over 17?” (I may look younger than my years, but not that much younger. How I wish! Truth be told, I’m more than triple 17 and old enough to be the father of that middle-aged clerk.)

Seemingly unable to process or respond to my simple question, the woman reiterated her programming, saying, “I have to type your information into the computer.”

I paused, savoring the monumental absurdity of the situation. The computer was asking the clerk if I was over 17, which I clearly was, but she still “required” my ID. The item being purchased was a run of the mill western movie! Along with the movie I was also purchasing some drain cleaner, a toxic chemical, but no ID was required for that. In the past I’ve purchased shotgun ammunition in that same store without any demand for my ID!

I was not angry but dismayed and disgusted by the utter loss of common sense among my fellow Americans. We’ve become a nation of infants pretending to be adults, with mommy and daddy government and its fascist corporate partners telling us how to do each and every little thing. I wonder if her corporate employer also instructs that poor woman step by step when she uses the toilet facilities. It sickens me that people like these, people so brain dead that they cannot think outside a matchbox, vote, or worse, reproduce! No wonder equally feeble minded creeps are continually reelected to political office. If people like this clerk are the norm today, and I fear they are, this country is truly doomed, and I really mean that. The founders of this nation must be weeping in their graves to witness what has become of their grand creation.

Although I am usually exceedingly polite to people who work low wage jobs, yesterday – perhaps it was the heat – my well of politeness ran dry and once I ceased reminiscing about the country I used to know and refocused on the present situation I said, “You know what, give me those things back and I’ll go to another checkout counter. You’re obviously not smart enough to handle this transaction.” I was not trying to be mean; my cruel words were a harsh statement of fact; that particular woman was truly not smart enough to understand the grammatically concise question, “Is customer over 17?”

Perhaps the harshness of my words momentarily overcame the woman’s pharmaceutical-induced stupor, for instead of handing me back the items, she promptly said, “It’s done.” Apparently she answered the computer’s idiotic question and completed the sale. So why the repeated demands for my ID? And what moron thought an ID ought to be required to purchase “The Wild Bunch”? I mean, if an ID is required for a tepid movie like that, then nobody ought to be watching modern television without the proper ID. This entertainment crisis we’re facing demands the formation of a new government bureaucracy called the Entertainment Safety Administration (ESA), with agents stationed in each family’s home to ensure that nobody is watching anything without the proper ID. After all, we have to consider the safety of the children...

The End