Ernest Cassara

With all of the hubbub caused around the world by the offensive cartoons satirizing the Prophet Mohammed that appeared in a Danish newspaper and were then reprinted around western Europe, my mind returned to a tour that my wife and I made some years ago through Andalucia in Spain. We visited various wondrous sites, including an ancient synagogue in Seville, with a statue of the great thinker Maimonides in its center.  But, what was so overwhelming in its beauty was the Alhambra in Granada. This was the Palace of the Sultan, dating from the 14th century. In Islam, human and animal faces and figures are not represented, so that the rooms of the Alhambra were decorated by artists in intricate designs.  As I remarked to a fellow tourist - from Britain - you think you could not see anything more beautiful than the room you are standing in, until you pass into the next room and are again overwhelmed.  (By the way, one of the rooms is dedicated to Washington Irving, who, when part of the American diplomatic delegation to Spain, convinced the government to preserve the Alhambra.)

It is remarkable that Spain each year makes an enormous amount of tourist money from the surviving sites of the Jewish and Islamic peoples.  Those were the people whom they drove out in the time of the rule of the Catholic sovereigns Ferdinand and Isabella, best known to Americans because they supported the efforts of an eccentric fellow who was convinced that he could reach the far east by sailing west!

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Last Friday, my Better Half and I were returning by bus from Symphony Hall in Boston - where we had enjoyed an all-Beethoven program conducted by James Levine - to Harvard Square on the #1 bus route of the Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, called by all the "T."  An uneventful trip.  Well, not quite, since the bus broke down.  Brake problem. Being the last one to exit, I said to the driver that I hoped he would make it back to the garage safely.  He responded that he would wait for the bus to be towed.

So, we all piled onto the next #1 that came along.  It was one of those buses that has a recorded voice that announces the streets it is approaching, and prints them on a board above the driver. Between the street announcements, the board shows the time. After we had passed the main building of MIT, I heard what I had never heard before.  The voice suggested that if we observed  "suspicious behavior," we should let the driver know.  My reaction was to confirm from the lady sitting next to me that I had heard correctly.  Then, I laughed and laughed and laughed.  But, it is no laughing matter.  I was laughing at the absurdity of the whole thing.  Mr. Bush and the federal government are constantly promoting an attitude for fear.  Even on the "T!"

Whatever happened to the brave American?

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The hazards of signing up for service on an internet website!  I received a threatening letter the other day from Verizon (Slogan:"We never stop working for you!").  If I don't pay a telephone bill within 15 days, they are to turn me over to a collection agency.  Why? Well, perhaps, it would be simplest to quote the letter I sent in response:

Dear Sirs/Mesdames:

I was naive enough to believe that I could deal with a telephone company on the telephone.  Three weeks ago I spoke to one of your representatives on the telephone, explaining that the telephone number (617.491.0264) was never installed.  She responded that I should just forget the whole thing.  Now, I receive your letter threatening to hand over my account, which never has existed, to a collection agency.

The whole confusion began when I changed from your national plan to suburban service, since I no longer required long distance service.  I made the mistake of attempting to arrange the change on your website.  For some reason that I don't understand, your website folks thought that I was ordering a new phone service.  Later, I received a postal card informing me that, since I was not at home when your service persons came, the phone was not installed.

So, I am puzzled as to how it is that you are requiring payment for an account that has never existed!

I enclose your threatening letter, for your convenience.

I trust that you will straighten out your records and that I will hear no more about this matter, as I was assured on the telephone several weeks ago.

Yours sincerely,

You may rightly laugh at this whole tempest in a teapot.  But, there is a lesson here.
Websites are to be used with caution!

Speaking of telephone companies, having surrendered the job of editing this journal to my colleague John Turner, it occurred to me that I should begin the job of disencumbering the hard drive on my computer of much material no longer of use.  One of the first things I called up, before giving it the old heave ho turned out to be an old copy of the HSC, dated 1 November 2003.  Read it with some interest.  Among the things, I found that my problems with the phone company are not new!

As the Observer was about to sit down to write this week's installment, the telephone rang. The lady on the other end, if I understood her garrulous approach to salesmanship, desired me to consolidate a number of credit card debts. Not wanting to hurt her feelings, I did not slam down the phone, but, I did think to inform her that we are on the No Call List.

"Oh, really, she replied? I did not know that!"

"Well, we are, and this call could cost you a lot of money. I won't report you this time, but, you had better be careful. Good luck!"

Even before the No Call List took effect, we pointed out to telephonic salespersons that we were on it. One day my Better Half, when she informed the caller we are on the list, the lady on the other end responded, "Oh, well, I am just calling to make an appointment for us to telephone your husband!"

Glancing at our latest telephone bill, I noticed two new charges. Only one was explained in a note, so I telephoned Verizon. It being a telephone company, I assumed it welcomed calls. After being instructed by an automated voice to press 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7, to connect with various departments, and, getting nowhere, I pressed O, for the operator. The line went silent. I waited, patiently, for three minutes and then hung up. Then I realized: Verizon has its own reverse No Call List!

But, as you can tell from what I have written above, even when you get through to the telephone company by telephone, there is no guarantee that positive action will result!

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