There's just over a year to go before the 2004 presidential election, and everybody in the nation is extremely excited. Except of course the public. The public, shrewdly, pays no attention to presidential politics until all of the peripheral dorks have been weeded out, and it's finally time to make a selection between the two main dorks left over.
So what does the public care about right now? Telemarketers. The public hates them. It hates them even more than it hates France, low-flow toilets or "customer service."
We know this because recently the Federal Trade Commission, implementing the most popular federal concept since the Elvis stamp, created the National Do Not Call Registry.
The way it works is, if you are a member of that select group of people (defined as "people with phones") who do not wish to receive unsolicited calls from telemarketers, you can go to www.donotcall.gov and register your phone number. Starting October 1, any telemarketer who calls you will be locked in a tiny room with a large, insatiable man who will force the telemarketer, repeatedly, at all hours of the day and night, to change his long-distance provider.
No, sorry, that was the original concept. But the law is pretty strict:
For each call to a registered number, telemarketers face an $11,000 fine. This program is a huge hit with the public.
Already 30 million American households have registered; this figure would be even higher if it included all the Florida residents who tried to register but accidentally voted for Patrick Buchanan instead.
And how has the telemarketing industry responded to this tidal wave of public hostility? It has issued this statement: "Gosh, if these people really don't want us to call them, then there's no point in our calling them! We'd only be making them hate us more, and that's just plain stupid! We'll try to come up with a less offensive way to do business."
No, wait, that's what the telemarketers would say in Bizarro World, where everything is backward, and Superman is bad, and telemarketers contain human DNA. Here on Earth, the telemarketers are claiming they have a constitutional right to call people who do not want to be called. They base this claim on Article VX, Section iii, Row 5, Seat 2, of the U.S. Constitution, which states: "If anybody ever invents the telephone, Congress shall pass no law prohibiting salespeople from using it to interrupt dinner."
Leading the charge for the telemarketing industry is the American Teleservices Association (suggested motto: "Some Day, We Will Get a Dictionary and Look Up 'Services'" ). This group argues that, if its members are prohibited from calling people who do not want to be called, then 2 million telemarketers will lose their jobs. Of course, you could use pretty much the same reasoning to argue that laws against mugging cause unemployment among muggers. But that would be unfair. Muggers rarely intrude into your home.
So what's the answer? Is there a constitutional way that we telephone customers can have our peace, without inconveniencing the people whose livelihoods depend on keeping their legal right to inconvenience us? Maybe we could pay the telemarketing industry not to call us, kind of like paying "protection money" to organized crime. Or maybe we could actually hire organized crime to explain our position to telemarketing industry executives, who would then be given a fair opportunity to respond, while the cement was hardening.
I'm just thinking out loud here. I'm sure you have a better idea for how we can resolve our differences with the telemarketing industry. If you do, call me. No, wait, I have a better idea: Call the folks at the American Teleservices Association, toll free, at 877-779-3974, and tell them what you think. I'm sure they'd love to hear your constitutionally protected views! Be sure to wipe your mouthpiece afterward.
In closing, here's an:
IMPORTANT REMINDER -- Mark your calendar with a big "X" on September 19, which is the second annual National Talk Like a Pirate Day. This is the day when everybody is supposed to talk like a pirate for very solid reasons (see www.talklikeapirate.com).
Last year, the first National Talk Like a Pirate Day was a huge success, as measured by the number of messages on my answering machine consisting entirely of people going "Arrrrr." So if you're feeling depressed -- if you think the world is in terrible shape, and one person like yourself can't make a difference -- remember this:
You're right. So you might as well talk like a pirate. It's easy! For example, when you answer the phone, instead of "Hello," you say, "Ahoy!"
Then you hang up. Scurvy telemarrrrrketers!