Burton on the Bay

Vol. 8, No. 9
March 2-8, 2000
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Hang up the Phone

Man is the only animal that can be skinned more than once.
—Jimmy Durante

Right on the nose, big as it was, Schnozz. When you said this back in the days of the Great Depression, you were probably talking about politicians of that era — and though you were what we might call a singing comedian, or vice versa — you were a sage prophet and politically astute.

Your words certainly hold true today. Which brings us to Anne Arundel County State Sen. John C. Astle, who obviously lives so far back in the woods that he has neither a phone nor neighbors and friends who have one. Or he has enjoyed too many lunches with lobbyists for phone companies.

We do get the impression he’s a turncoat — though that’s not unique among politicians — seeing that he was a co-sponsor of a bill designed to benefit us plain citizens who do have telephones. And then he turned around and joined the forces to dump it.

Incredible. This guy would be the ideal posterboy for a bumper sticker I saw the other day en route to Breezy Point Marina south of Chesapeake Beach. It read: “Don’t Vote To Re-elect Anyone — Not Even Momma.”

Here’s this guy in the State Senate who takes a curious stand about an issue that in a poll would be among the top legitimate gripes of the citizenry of not only Anne Arundel County but the nation. Probably even Timbuktu.

Do-Not-Call Me

The bill that croaked in the Senate Finance Committee would have given us some relief from telephone sale pitches. But it died when Astle made his switcheroo. If only there was a way we could, with the press of a button or two, forward those phone solicitations to his horn at home.

There must have been quite a convincing lunch with lobbyists before his change of heart. He insists, however, he was swayed by the arguments of opponents, which reminds us that lobbyists, with their fat expense accounts, are opponents of bills their clients oppose.

The bill would have allowed us to put our names on a state-maintained “do-not-call” list and forever thereafter spare much of the time, inconvenience and downright annoyance of climbing down from a stepladder to pick up the horn to hear some dripping voice say something akin to “Hello Mr. Burton, and how are you today. Toadstool House remodeling is now working on some houses in your area, and we just thought …”

I was up on that stepladder in my office the other day rummaging around books on the top shelves under the high cathedral ceiling when the phone rang. I crawled down cautiously seeing the ladder was leaning on lower shelves stacked with books and it wasn’t very solid. This time the voice was a sweet, soft-spoken lady who was curious whether I’d be interested in a lot in some cemetery.

I barely had time to tell her to call back when and if I died before I heard the start of a thunderous avalanche of books. I abruptly hung up, but I’ve since wondered why she didn’t call back promptly seeing there was enough noise to indicate death underneath a pile of rubble, thus another prime candidate for a shaded lot.

A couple afternoons ago as I was up atop the same stepladder, this time outdoors while attempting to squirrel-proof a new birdfeeder, I could hear the phone. A call I wanted might be coming, so again I climbed down and dashed inside on the fifth ring only to hear a paid solicitor calling on behalf of a candidate whose name I believe was Robin Flicker, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate. I can’t be sure because my hearing was obscured by a combination of being out of breath and annoyed.

But seeing that I already had the phone in hand, and with few, very few exceptions, am inclined to vote any incumbent out of office, I asked who her candidate was running against. Incredibly, I got the response “I’m not familiar with that.”

Privacy Invaded

I realize that under the Constitution, it’s illegal to block politicians and charities from making solicitation calls. But I wonder why we don’t have another amendment. Shouldn’t we be free from inconvenience and annoyance? All middle Americans appear to be the victims of invasion of privacy in the broad definition of the word.

Our phone lines are clogged with unwanted calls for money and things like aluminum siding and health clubs. Our mailboxes are stuffed with unwanted flyers. Our strolling in any city is disrupted by persistent and intimidating panhandlers — all in the guise of free speech. Can nothing be done to accommodate our annoyance and frustration?

I read in a Hints from Heloise column in the daily paper this week of Dinah and Aleene of San Antonio, Tex., who wrote of making 103 phone calls since August to catalog companies requesting their names be taken off mailing lists. One hundred and three calls: that’s a lot. So is the time some companies estimated it would take to drop the names from the list: three or four months. My sympathies to Dinah and Aleene.

With mail, as with the phone companies, we are legally obligated to go to the time and expense to relieve ourselves of the annoyance of unwanted and unsolicited sales pitches. Shouldn’t it be the other way around?

Shot Down

When we get a glimmer of hope via legislation such as the recent phone bill, it gets shot down by a coalition involving the likes of legislators Astle and lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano, who represents Bally Total Fitness Corp., a health club chain that would be small if it weren’t for the invention of Alexander Graham Bell.

Bally and MCI-WorldCom, another intrusive phone marketer, threatened to move their operations out of state if the legislation was passed. Sadly, in this state, business not only talks but rules — and we are the oppressed.

Incredibly, Astle was quoted in the Sun not only poo-hooing the suggestion that he was pressured (lobbied?) but also claiming that he didn’t feel much public support for the bill. Maybe he doesn’t read his mail. Or take calls from his constituents.

Among the weakest excuses ever heaped on the electorate was his response that people would be angered when they continue to receive calls from such exempt callers as politicians, charities and marketers who previously did business with individuals who now wanted no more calls. Who scripted that wish-wash?

Shoot 'Em Down

If our current crop of politicians, elected government administrators and legislators are that ignorant of our desires and our rights for privacy — and think we’re that dumb — then perhaps that bumper sticker spotted on Route 2 is as right as Durante.

We’re being continually skinned. Meanwhile, the wheeler-dealer politicians are amazed that outsiders like John McCain and a few others — who promise us a break from business as usual — are skyrocketing in polls. Can’t the pols add 2 and 2?

Maybe if we all got those bumper stickers about voting for incumbents, they’d become aware of our disappointments and frustrations. Enough said …

Copyright 2000
Bay Weekly