E Pluribus Mores

Archive for May, 2013|Monthly archive page

Codename Gumshoe

In Uncategorized on May 31, 2013 at 11:36 am

It began as a typical day.  Volume was up; but with the uptick in housing prices, you would expect a marginal increase in consumer confidence.  I had just finished with a routine job:

“I have some movement on the Assad account.  A $60 million sale to….  Oh, it’s just Sergei Shoigu in Moscow.  Looks like another batch of S-300’s.”

“Did he use paypal?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Run it.”

But if there is anything I have learned at this job, you can’t get comfortable.  It was just then Jones called me over.  He was white as a sheet:  “Sir, you better have a look at this.”  It took a couple seconds to take in what was on the screen.  That’s when I saw it:  “It’s the Bassler-Mortensen account.”  “I’ve never heard of it”, replied Jones.  I paused for a second, “Me, neither.  Any previous activity on the account?” Jones had already pulled the file, “About four months ago, a heart pendant.”  “One of those anatomically correct hearts in the little glass dome?”  “Yes, sir.”  “Those are pretty cool.”

The sale was for a laptop, but not just any laptop; it was a model G75VX gaming computer with 3d Gen Core 7 processor, 17.3” display, 1 TB hard drive, and backlit keyboard…with the extended warranty.  The order had been placed using a Dell Optiplex GX620.  The Optiplex had been popular in school libraries and penitentiary rec rooms about six years ago.  There could still be some in circulation.  There could be.  It could all be a coincidence. But I didn’t make Assistant Deputy Director of Fraud, Abuse, and Credit Card Scams by believing in coincidences.

“Jones, get the Deputy Director on the line.”  I lifted my hand to my ear and spoke into the Blue Tooth, “Charley, Nine-er, Nin-er, profile Happydaze, codename, Gumshoe.  It looks like we got a 10-100 in progress.  It’s the Bassler-Mortensen account.  No, I haven’t heard of them, either.  Yes, Ma’am.  I’ll take care of it.”

I leaned over to Jones, “Punch it, Chewie.”

Training, drills, an online business course at Phoenix University, nothing can prepare you for the real thing:  the flashing lights, the droning AHH-UUU-Gah of the alarm, the distant thud of copters.  I could see the men were tense.  Metcalf ran past me and through the open door of the Situation Room.  I could hear him moving from office to office down the hall, “It’s FrrrrrAAAAAUUUUUUUUUUUUD.”  “Rookies”, I said to myself.  Six months on the job, and they send them into the shit.  When this was over, me an HR are going to sit down and have a nice, long talk.

I addressed the staff.  “Look, men.  We have to keep it together.  We made it through the ’09 Berkawitz Ink Jet Printer Scam, we’ll make it through this one.  Jones, I want emails to the principles at seven minute intervals.  We need operators on every known contact. Set up an account freeze on all card numbers and secure the perimeter, 24 hour video surveillance.”  I shook two bee pollen capsules into my hand and swallowed them dry.  It was going to be a long night.

Four hours later not much had changed.  “Jones, status update,” I snapped irritably.  “No response on the 175 emails to Ms. Bassler.  We made preliminary contact on the land line, but he keeps hanging up on us.”  “Who do we have working the line?” I asked.   “Heather from Account Services, Inc.–one of our best.  Wait, I think we’ve got someone on line 4.  I’m patching it through to your office phone.”

I sat down at my desk, took some time to collect myself, a couple of deep breaths, then, “Mr. Mortensen, I’m glad we got a hold of you.  We have noticed some unusual activity on your account.”  You can’t count on customers being too bright, so I assumed my cheeriest voice and was careful to break it down for him using small words.  It took about twenty-five minutes, but it seemed like he finally understood the gravity of the situation.  At least, so I thought.  “So, I f**king bought something.  You have a problem with that?”, he responded.  “It’s just…there was…it was unusual activity”, I sputtered.  “Are you saying my wife can’t order a birthday present for our son Egon without you going all code red on us?”

In a flash it all became clear.  I covered the receiver and turned to the office members who had gathered expectantly around my desk, “The computer is for Egon”, I said with relief.  The Egon account.  Yea, we knew the Egon account: x-boxes, ipods, a flat screen T.V., stereo speakers, a box of 100 black bouncy balls—heck, he had his own ebay business last summer.  “Egon”, murmured Jones, “he’s a good kid.” “Yes, Mr. Mortensen, it all seems to have been a misunderstanding.  I’m sorry to have bothered you.  Yes, I understand…you will probably keep getting emails and calls for ten days or so, but you can disregard them.  We’ll take care of the freeze on the credit cards.  No need for that kind of language; I’m just doing my job, sir.”

And like that it was over.  The room was still tense, almost giddy.  I addressed the office, “We got lucky on that one.  But it’s not like credit card frauds are going snap selfies in the back seat of their car.  Get back to work!”  I turned to Jones, “That was some good work, son.”  I could look forward to a martini when I got home, sleep in my own bed.  Maybe I could score some Jersey Boys tickets on Broadway for the weekend.  Jones shook me out of my daydream, “Deputy Director, on line 3.”  I put my hand up to my ear.  “It turns out it was legit.  The computer was for Egon…yes, that Egon…evidently it was for his birthday.  Yes, Ma’am.  He is a good kid.”


Ad hominem

In The Classics on May 11, 2013 at 8:01 am

I work in a philosophy department and share an office with another instructor, Fred.  As white, middle aged, underemployed PhD’s we have a lot in common.  So it is not surprising that we frequently find ourselves in deep philosophical conversation.  Most often we debate classic chestnuts such as, “What are the practical differences between Gangnam Style and Gingham Style?”  or “What is it that HR actually does?”  But last week we got into it when Fred proposed that it was not possible to praise or denounce the person, only their actions.  I wasn’t going to let that stand, so I countered with, “Nuh-uh!”,  and brought up Hitler.  Then he was all like, “blah, blah, blah, Kant…blah, blah, deontology,” and I was, like, “But what about Hitler?”  Well, eventually Fred had to teach, and feeling like I hadn’t expressed my position to its greatest advantage, I decided to prove my point by writing Fred a letter of recommendation in which I avoided declaring him competent, knowledgeable, or moral, but  limited myself to only praising his actions.  The  result is as follows:

Dear august members of the Search Committee,

Please accept my recommendation for Fred for the position of Professor of Philosophy at Midwest College.  While I cannot say that he is a good teacher, knowledgeable in ethics or other branches of philosophy, or even that he is a moral person, I have observed many actions he has performed that would fit these categories.

Fred is currently employed teaching ethics and critical thinking at Midwest College.  As his office mate I have been in a position to observe his interactions with students many times.  Given that Fred on at least one occasion indicated that he prefers to meet privately with students, I leave the office when students arrive.  He meets with students regularly, and these encounters often last 20 minutes or more.  While I cannot speak to what goes on in these meetings, I have viewed Fred with any number of students through the glass door.  On these occasions both Fred and the student were making eye contact, speaking animatedly, and smiling—all of which are consistent with a favorable interaction.  Certainly, I have never once heard a student complain after a visit to Fred’s office.

From personal conversations—and the fact that a diploma with Fred’s name hangs in the office–I can say with certainty that Fred holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Wisconsin.  On this basis, I can infer that he has met at least the minimum requirements for a doctorate, including but not limited to passing preliminary exams and writing a dissertation.  He has spoken to me about conferences he has attended and articles that he has written or intends to write.  I have no independent verification of these actions, but were they proven true, it would further support the committee choosing Fred over the other, no doubt, qualified applicants.  In conversations and friendly arguments Fred has mentioned several philosophers, referred to at least one ethical theory, and generally supported his claims with examples drawn from everyday life, or even more often his interactions with students.  What I cannot say is whether Fred learned anything in graduate school, or whether any fact he might have retained from the experience would be applicable to his teaching or in performing any useful service to the college.

I have noticed that Midwest College events are often accompanied by banners with the words, Truth, Justice, and Community.  I conclude from the prominent placement of the banners that the search committee would look upon Fred more favorably if he were truthful, just, and a valuable member of the community.  It is with great regret that I cannot say any of these things about Fred.  I can, however, say that while in my presence Fred has never once told a lie, not even a fib!  Fred has indicated that many of the actions of Hitler were deplorable, has supported at least some of the motivations often associated with Gandhi, and when asked to take a position regarding college sports Fred predictably favors the Buckeyes.  Furthermore, I have never once witnessed nor even heard rumors of Fred flipping the bird to other drivers on the belt line, eating his own children (admittedly, Fred has no children), or beating puppies and barnyard animals with sticks.  In fact, he recently related to me that he has worked with the boy scouts, as a life guard, and at clubs where young men and women congregate.

To conclude, I would like without reservation to recommend Fred for the position of Professor of Philosophy on the basis of his teaching ability, knowledge of philosophy, and moral fiber.  Unfortunately, this is not possible.  His many instances of sound pedagogy, his extremely probable scholarly accomplishments, and his frequent moral actions–not to mention the utter lack of immoral action–suggest that Fred  may act similarly in the future.  There is overwhelming evidence that his students will be well pleased.  All of this suggests in my opinion that Fred would be an effective teacher and reliable colleague.  But, then, who’s to say?


Daniel Mortensen, Ph.D.