Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dress As If You Mean Business

I hate working on Saturdays. I’m lucky I have a job that doesn’t require weekend work. Many of our employees at my company do have to work weekends, and judging simply by their talk, it’s one of the things they’re the most dissatisfied about.

But here I am working on my blog on a Saturday when I’d rather be relaxing and reading a book, and all because of that silly flight attendant.

I was talking with Mom on the phone this morning about her bus driving escapades. She reminded that the snowy road she’d been driving on during the Olympics also hadn’t been plowed yet. At one point, careful as she tried to be, she nearly lost control of the bus anyway; that’s how bad the road was. One of her passengers reminded her off it as he got off. She thanked him; but the truth was, she knew it, and there was just nothing she could do about it.

Sometimes there are situations that are just beyond our control. All we can do is try to be prepared for them. In the business world, one of those impending disasters is the dissatisfied customer. The other is the company CEO. Eventually, they find one another. The more dissatisfied the customer is, the harder they’ll try to connect with the company president - or worse, with The Media.

My mother was just the best role model of customer service. However, when she became “The Customer,” she threw off her halo and put on her horns and pointy tail. She was just the ultimate nightmare of every waitress, nurse, receptionist, and customer service representative. She’s the customer you hope you never have to deal with.

One time, she had a problem with her phone bill. When she didn’t get satisfaction from the customer service representative, and their manager, and their manager, she took out her stock folder. Being a stockholder in the company, as well as a customer, she went through the materials the company sent her until she found the president’s phone number.

She called him, and because she was also a stockholder (evidently, she had some stockholder ID number which she gave them), she talked to him – personally. A few minutes passed. The phone rang again; it was the department manager she had last spoken to. He told her he would do whatever it took to satisfy her, only “please, please, don’t ever call the company president again!”

Customer service can be a very rewarding experience. But it can also be draining. Unfortunately – and low be it spoken – dealing with customer service complaints is somewhat like dealing with cranky, very young children or crying babies; you must be patient with them, no matter how they try and bedevil you.

You have to be prepared for them. Having the experience of my mother, I had the perspective of both the ideal customer service representative and The Customer from Hell, all in one package. I knew how bad customers could behave and what to do about them.

At dinner with a group of friends, I watched as one of the wives sipped her coffee and wrinkle her nose with dissatisfaction. The coffee simply wasn’t the proper temperature for her palate. Instead of simply asking the waitress to reheat the coffee, she lectured her about waitressing, then demanded the fresh cup of coffee.

The waitress being young and inexperienced, naturally defended herself. So the customer raised the bar and demanded to see the restaurant owner. Now an argument ensued, and as a result, the waitress was summarily fired, on the spot.

The wife apologized (to the owner), but as a former waitress herself, she should have known what the result would be, and probably did. The owner told her not to worry about it, that she was a problem employee and he would have fired her anyway (this couple were regular customers at this diner).

Our company CEO recently came to visit our offices. I was horrified to learn that he was coming. Not that I’m afraid of him; I feared for our employees and their managers. We’ve become increasingly lax in our dress code, to the point that employees are coming to work in beach sandals and flip-flops. They also come in dress sandals, which isn’t so bad; they look nice but from a company point of view, such open-toed shoes are dangerous. If that employees drops something on their foot or get caught in an elevator door, we’re going to have a problem.

Worse still, management decided to keep his arrival a secret. He was only supposed to be coming for a leadership meeting. The managers and executives would be the only employees he’d meet with.

Our company has a motto similar to the Boy Scout motto. Yet here we were, charged with keeping a secret. The one saving grace was that he has never met with any employees unless they already had the manager’s seal of approval; you had to earn the right to shake his hand.

Only what if he took it into his head to wander our hallways? Who was going to stop him? Even if he only decided to go from the meeting room to our executive suite, it was two very long hallways and elevator ride frought with the peril of encountering flip-flopping, capris-clad or blue-jeaned employees.

Our managers don’t like it when executives wander around our hallways. This is a customer-service oriented business and any executive would be all too likely to hear a contentious conversation, our employees being as human as their customers.

Well, he did wind up going from the conference room to the executive suite and did decide to tour not just one floor of our building, but every floor. Leadership had finally decided to alert the department managers that our CEO was coming, one day before his arrival. I tried to caution our employees with subtle hints (I was enjoined to secrecy) and some not so subtle to remember the dress code. One of our employees took it into her silly head to e-mail an invitation to him to come visit her cubicle, and amazingly, he took her up on it.

I needn’t have worried. Some of the meeting participants were almost as inappropriately dressed for such a meeting as their employees. Not all of them. Some were dressed in suits. My former boss was well-dressed, and he eyed me up and down that morning to make sure that I was, too. Fortunately, I passed inspection.

If I was alarmed, it was because the whole discussion of the meeting was keeping up with our competition, to make sure we weren’t getting “soft.” Now, I’m no fashion maven. But that’s mainly because of the work I do. I never wear dresses at all and seldom wear tailored pant suits because of the leg-lengths.

Today’s suit trousers are tailored for women who wear heels. My job requires running (the day of the CEO’s visit, it certainly did) and being able to keep a steady stance with the camera. I can’t do that in heels. It’s not out of defiance that I refuse to wear suits, but terror that I’m going to trip on the high heels.

Our employees and even their managers are dressed just the way I remember seeing employees and managers at a certain well-known telecommunications company dressed. They were in approximately the same business stage this company is in now.

I was working as a temporary at the time and had the opportunity of working in their closest competitor’s offices as well. Company A was very laid-back, rather confident in their ranking (the company I’m at now, I must say, doesn’t take it for granted), even as they were laying off employees by the thousands. The casually-dressed employees weren’t even all that concerned about the layoff conference call they’d be attending; they brought snacks as if they were heading for a picnic. They displayed a cavalier fatalism about what was about to happen.

Meanwhile, at Company B, a sign had been posted: “Let’s Get Company A.” Their employees were dressed in suits. Their offices, I noted were dark and gloomy, where Company A’s office were very brightly decorated and appealing. The supervisor marched himself up and down the aisles of salespeople, peppering and badgering them with some rather threatening “encouragement” about increasing sales. Their employees were terrified. Their morale was as bad, in its own way, as Company A’s morale was, in another.

Back at the present company, the president took the tour. Being forewarned, the managers tried to guide him down aisles where he was likely to meet the best employees. Soon, though, he got away from them and managed to hear one employee in an increasingly strained conversation with a customer.

Oh well, I thought. Judging by the employee’s tone, I could pretty well guess the conversation and where it was headed. That was precisely the kind of customer (like my mother) that this president was probably going to hear from anyway. Might as well be now as later, I figured.

It’s a lesson that comes at as good a time as any, with this flight attendant episode still fresh in everyone’s minds. All businesses are going to have defensive customer service representatives who identify with the flight attendant, and customers on the other side determined to exert their power and influence.

When it comes to customer service and dealing with challenging customers, it’s well to remember the Boy Scout motto: Be Prepared. Especially right at this time. They’re going to do it; challenging customers are going to challenge the patience of customer service representatives everywhere, whether they’re waitresses, bus drivers, or call center operators.

My advice for the customer service representatives would be 1) Dress professionally. It doesn’t matter if no one can see you or ever will. You don’t know when that company president is going to come down your aisle, and you should work every day as if he or she is right behind you. This guy probably didn’t care that some of the employees were dressed in jeans (mercifully no one we saw was dressed like they were at the beach). But maybe he should have been.

It’s not that anyone necessarily wants employees to be uncomfortable (some Simon of LeGrees would enjoy it, I suppose). It’s just unwise to get too comfortable and let your guard down that way. Let’s face it; when you put on those jeans instead of trousers, you’re telling yourself something, even if you don’t realize it or don’t want to hear it: I’m a schlupp, in a schlupp job and what I wear doesn’t matter.

You think a thing like that and you’re going to convey it unconsciously to the customer you’re talking to and they’re going to pick up on it. Some of them will take you up on it and start giving you a hard time and you won’t have the confidence to take them on professionally and courteously - And wisely.

The second piece of advice is 2) Be Nice. No matter how they behave, your behavior must be better, or they’ll be on the phone to that company president. He might as well be standing right behind you, listening to what you say, because if you’re rude, even if it’s understandable, they’ll be right on the phone to tell him about it. He won’t care how they behave; his only concern will be how YOU behaved.

If this is a customer service war, you must out-nice the challenging customer at all costs. They’ll try to provoke you, but you mustn’t take the bait. I know; I’ve been there. I had a customer at one company literally screaming in my ear. She was so loud, I had to hold the receiver away from my ear. Yet no matter the provocation, retaliation - arguing back - is a fatal mistake. The Media despises capitalism and the business world and they’ll drive any wedge they can between businesses and consumers.

It’s unfortunate that this issue comes at a time when the economy is so bad. These are just the times when companies cut back or completely eliminate any morale-boosting activities. These are seen as unproductive, inefficient, and inappropriate at such economic times as these. Unfortunately, these are just the times when customer service employees need them, when customers are venting their frustrations on – or wielding their newfound power over – the customer service rep. The customer always has the upperhand in a downturn. Management responds sensibly, favoring the customer (as they must) but at a terrible cost to employee morale.

Even if you think you’re confident enough to do your job in jeans or do it even better in jeans for being more comfortable, you may not be doing your company as big a favor as you think. You may think it doesn’t matter or that it’s none of anyone’s business what you wear, but to other employees – and managers - it may feel like they’re not working at the greatest company in the world. It’s no fun working at Company B, to be sure, but it’s also no fun being laid off from Company A.

I’ve been guilty about letting myself go in terms of clothing – and I used to be so particular about what I wore. Once, I was a little fashion plate. But over the years, I found myself being more and more inclined to wear jeans and sneakers instead of slacks and loafers (instead of leather, heeled shoes, only for the sake of practicality) to work. I gave into the temptations of Dress Down Day.

Luckily, my doctor changed my meds – let’s hear for it Prozac. I asked myself one morning, when I was picking out a pair of jeans, just what the heck was I doing. Well, it’s Wednesday, came the answer; it’s a band night and there’s so little time between coming home from work and heading out to rehearsal. Never mind that, I told myself; put those slacks on. And I did. I obeyed my common sense. That day, I was called unexpectedly into the Executive Office to take some photos.

So my final advice to employees is this: dress as if the company president is coming to visit and/or this is your first day at work; or it could very well be your last and your company's (or close to it).

Friday, August 13, 2010

Transparency Czar Vanishes

“Let me make one thing perfectly clear.” Pres. Richard Nixon
According to a column by Timothy Carney in yesterday’s Washington Examiner, Obama has eliminated the Ethics Czar position in the White House. Those duties will now be performed by Domestic Policy Council member Steven Croley and White House Counsel Bob Bauer.

Bauer is considered a “lawyer's lawyer,” and partisan advocate. He’s hardly a “good-government crusader,” Carney writes. Before being assigned to the White House, he worked for the law firm Perkins Coie, where he represented John Kerry in 2004 and Obama during his campaign.

Among his other achievements, Bauer served as the top lawyer for the Democratic National Committee. Then-Rep. Rahm Emanuel, D-Ill., hired him to represent the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Recently, Bauer defended Emanuel's offer of a job to Rep. Joe Sestak, D-Pa., whom Emanuel wanted out of the Senate race.

According to Carney, Bauer blogged, “that politicians and parties are pictured as forever trying to get away with something,” and claimed this was an idea for which “there is a market, its product cheaply manufactured and cheaply sold.”

“In other words,” Carney writes, “we keep too close an eye on our leaders.”

In August 2006 Bauer blogged, “disclosure is a mostly unquestioned virtue deserving to be questioned.”   Boasting to the Senate Rules Committee that if proposed regulations of 527 organizations don’t work, they’ll find another way, he told them, “The money will find an outlet,” he told them.

At Perkins Coie, Bauer lobbied on behalf of America Votes Inc., a Democratic 527 funded by the likes of the AFL-CIO and ACORN. Carney reports, “The Sunlight Foundation is also concerned about the fact the White House no longer has anyone whose job is transparency., lists a few transparency promises on which the president hasn't followed through, including earmark transparency, a single Web site ( with all ethics and accountability information, and better lobbying disclosure, among others.”

The outgoing czar deserves to be sent to Czechoslovakia. He saw nothing wrong as Obama signed the rammed-through-Congress Health Care Reform and the even more odious Financial Reform.

He saw nothing wrong as Obama took over a private firm and “transformed” it into Government Motors. He sees nothing wrong with building mosques in foreign countries and financing foreign firms with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

Every time the Obamas took off on vacation in Air Force One, he must have been looking the other way. Now we have a partisan Democrat fox watching over the White House.

Well, at least we’re not wasting any more taxpayer dollars on this self-serving position. The emperor, it seems, has no clothes and now there’s no one to see if he has clothes. But no one was looking in the first place.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

President Dipstick

A mechanic friend was talking about a recent rerun of NCIS. One of the characters was on the phone with a garage. According to the television conversation, the character’s crankshaft was shot and would have to be replaced.

He denounced the character or rather the writers as idiots. “His crank was shafted all right,” said the friend. “The crankshafts on newer cars don’t wear out easily. You have to do something pretty serious to them, like never changing your oil, to destroy them.”

The Hollywood writers must be the same dipsticks who have been advising Obama on electric vehicles. I’m not a mechanic, so I had to wait for National Review’s article to learn all the things that are wrong about EVs, as they call them.

“You read it in a magazine?” Mr. Mechanic said. “You could’ve just asked me; I would’ve told you months ago.”

Just to give you some of the highlights, in order of logic (EVs for Dummies):

• The United States is an enormous country with very large cities spaced across large expanses (except in N.J.)

• American drivers drive 50 percent more miles per capita annually than their European counterparts

• There are over 160,000 gas stations in the United States.

• The lithium-ion battery has a limited range, typically less than 100 miles between recharging.

• The recharging process takes anywhere from 8 to 20 hours.

• Americans are used to spending five minutes at the gas pump.

• In order to meet that kind of time frame, the charging station would require an 840-kilwatt connection, which (according to NR) “would drain as much power from the grid as a 100-unit apartment building.”

• The cheapest way to fuel the connection is not with wind or solar power, but coal, which would only shift emissions from one place to another. Powering the cars with wind or solar power would require government subsidies.

• An EV powertrain is fives times as expensive as that of a conventional gasoline vehicle.

• The only available, full-electric car costs $110,000

• The makers of these EVs are given subsidies, and the wealthy buyers are given a $7,500 per vehicle tax credit.

• LG Chem is Korea’s largest chemical firm, a country where recharging is more convenient. The U.S. government will have to subsidize LG Chem to the tune of $150 million (to an $11 billion foreign firm) because they know there’s no willing market here for their product.

• Sales of hybrid vehicles in the U.S. have fallen below 2 percent of the market. Even in Korea, hybrid sales are weak (0.5 percent).

• Electric cars were popular at the beginning of the 20th century because the gas powered cars had to be started manually with a crank. But with Henry Ford’s mass production of the easier-to-refuel gasoline car, the bottom fell out of the EV market.

My mechanic friend has been listening to the struggling sounds of the U.S. economic engine for some time. In the matter of actual cars, he knows a crankshaft from a dipstick. Electrical cars are a waste of money and resources.

But he says what can you expect from this president? He’s a natural born used car salesman. We elected a lemon of a president and we’re going to get lemonade cars.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Bad Customers

Flight attendant Steven Slater evidently reached the end of his runway. JetBlue announced yesterday that he was suspended pending an investigation. The cops arrested him after the incident in his Belle Harbor, N.Y., home.

Arrested him for what, exactly, is the mystery. Stealing a couple of beers? Well, stealing is stealing I guess. But other than that, what his crime was is a mystery. He made a bunch of customer service mistakes, to be sure. His career as a flight attendant has crash-landed.

To managerial types, he’s a zero, not a hero. His history, from what has been published in the newspapers so far, is not exactly Employee of the Month stuff, hopping from one job to another. His father died of Lou Gehrig’s disease. His mother is in the final stages of lung cancer. He’s battled alcoholism and drug abuse, and he was arrested in bed with his boyfriend.

Still, if one has to go down in flames, he certainly did it with a flourish, giving a profanity-laden farewell address to his passengers on the airplane’s public address system, grabbing his luggage and a couple of beers from the galley, opening the emergency exit (the plane was parked), throwing his luggage down the emergency chutes, then following them, beers still in hand.

From there, he trotted across the tarmac and caught the plane-train to the employee parking lot, hopped in his car, and drove home to Long Island where he and the boyfriend “celebrated.” The media has since been booing and hissing his work ethic. Working class people are cheering him as a hero who’d simply had enough.

The rest of us, those of us who have a sense of humor anyway, are laughing ourselves silly over it. Is it something we would be inclined to do? No. Is it something we would want to see our children do? Certainly not. But somebody had to make a stand for the poor customer service worker taking on the chin all these years because “the customer is always right.”

How do we know the customer is always right? Because we’ve heard nix from the Media about the passenger’s considerable verbal abuse of the flight attendant. Not a word about her profanity laden barrage or of how she ignored the rules that say stay seated and flight attendant’s authority in matters of safety. Not a single word of condemnation.

My mother drove a charter bus for almost 30 years. She had to put up with criticism of everything from her sex to the speed she was driving (never fast enough) to the condition of the bus’ air conditioning. She had to be nice, but she didn’t put up with abuse, either.

There might have been times when my mother might have liked to take the emergency exit, just run out the back door and leave the passengers sitting there. But she had to do her duty, no matter how badly her passengers behaved.

I don’t recall too many problem passengers, except for the occasional coach who would complain about how dirty the bus was, thanks to his own team. My mother liked to keep her bus very clean. Coming back from one trip, a team left her bus littered with garbage. She got a broom down from the overhead rack, swept the aisles and seats, and then pushed all the garbage out onto the school sidewalk.

“You forgot something,” she told the team and their coach.

Mom wouldn’t have used foul language with Jet Blue’s unruly passenger. But she wouldn’t have been nice, either, trying to politely explain why the luggage had to stay in the rack. She would have ordered the passenger to sit down, in no uncertain terms.

On many a trip, she had passengers who would wander in the aisle or kids who would hang out the windows of her bus. She wasn’t “nice” then, either. Unruly passengers got the full thunder of her wrath, without ever having to cover their ears (except maybe to protect their eardrums from the volume). When it came to the safe operation of the bus, Mom was The Boss. Never mind that “customer is always right” stuff.

Still, beyond the safety factor, Mom considered herself in the way of a servant. She was being paid to drive the bus. In that respect, the customers were the bosses. The passengers always came first in her priority, in safety and in respect. If they didn’t accord her the same respect, she considered that a failing of theirs, not hers, and in fact, their bad manners made her their moral superior.

No matter the provocation, Mom never did run out the back exit of the bus, crying, “That’s it. I’ve had it!” Sometimes, after a long Atlantic City run, she would come home and say so, and after the 999th trip to A.C., she did say that was it. But she didn’t leave the bus in the middle of the Garden State Parkway.

She always saw her job through: when the brakes failed at the top of Hunter Mountain just as a snowstorm was setting in and the lodge was closing; when she had a front tire blowout on Route 80 and she had to manhandle the bus to safety; when some hoodlums on an overpass threw rocks at her bus, blinding one of her passengers.  She had to clean up the mess, too, trying to see if she could save the poor man's eye.  But it was no use.  They were all lucky; what if the rock had hit my mother, the driver, instead?

Nor did she abuse her bus’ public address system or her passengers. She did give one busload of high school students a lecture on the use of profanity.

“Is this how you’re going to speak when you get into the business world. Is this the kind of letter you’re going to dictate to your secretary? Dear Mr. Smith, you d-head: You stink, you bag of sh--. I’ve hated doing business with you. Your company sucks, you f’g ba—rd. The next time I see you, I’m going to pi—on you. You’re an a—hole who couldn’t run a lemonade stand.

Sincerely yours,

Mr. X.

The students didn’t make another sound until they reached their destination.

She was more likely to use her PA system to instruct than to implode, especially when on tour without a tour guide. A history and science buff, she was a popular driver on class trips. Speaking of history, Mom drove during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Her bus was overloaded, with people standing in the aisles, hanging on. She was the last bus; if she hadn’t let them on, they would have been stranded. Going along the road, some men started to argue in the back of the bus. Mom thought, “OMG, now I’m going to have a fistfight and it’s snowing. We’re in a bad situation here on a mountain road with no markers in a blizzard and these guys want to kill each other. What am I going to do?”

She picked up the microphone and said, very low key, “Oh come on, everyone. We’re all in this together. Let’s try to get along.” Silence fell, peace reigned, and they got back to the village safely.

But the worst customer, she says, was the Atlantic City run passenger in the seat right behind her who threw up all over her.

“I was absolutely coated,” Mom says. “My hair, my shirt, my pants – everything.”

Mom pulled the bus over to the side of the road. She went back to the lavatory. Her jacket was in the overhead rack, not on the back of her seat, so it had been saved. Taking off her blouse, she put the jacket on instead and cleaned herself up in the bus lavatory. Then she got some newspapers and paper towels and cleaned up the mess on the floor.

“Only one passenger out of the fifty helped me,” she says. When that passenger asked what they should do with the used newspapers, she told him to throw it onto the side of the road.

“I just couldn’t drive with that smell in the bus,” she explains. They got about three miles down the road and the woman threw up again. This time, she got it into the aisle instead all over Mom. But again, Mom had to pull over and do clean-up duty, with the help of the Good Samaritan passenger.

“She’d been drinking in Atlantic City,” says Mom. “Normally, I don’t condemn sick passengers. But why did she have to throw up all over me? Thank goodness for that other passenger. I got him some comp tickets to one of the casinos.”

The owner of the company was angry that she gave away tickets (makes you wonder what the comp tickets are for, then). So Mom got angry back and said she’d buy them herself if she had to. Mom didn’t take guff from anyone, not even the boss.

Customers and passengers, in particular, seem to have a problem understanding two basic concepts: 1) things go wrong, buses, trains break down; and 2) you have to follow the rules. The reason there are cabin attendants are so pilots don’t have to leave the controls to break up fights, clean up vomit, and make sure passengers behave themselves. A jet pilot can’t exactly pull over to the side of the road to stop a fistfight. That’s why we obey the flight attendants.

When they tell us to remain in our seats, we’re supposed to remain in our seats, not curse them out.

Let’s hope Flight Attendant Slater’s exhibition serves to improve customer relations and customer behavior. Let’s hope that customers will remember that the clerks, sales assistants, bus drivers, flight attendants, conductors, receptionists, and ticket takers are customer service representatives not customer servants.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Religious Freedom's Best Friend

According to the Associated Press, opponents of a proposed mosque in Temecula, Calif., “deployed” dogs to the protest “to intimidate” Muslims holding prayer services. The reporter was careful not to note what it was about the dogs that “intimidated” the Muslims.

Here’s a hint: if you’re thinking fangs, jaws, teeth, if you’re imagining a recurrence of race riot scenes of the Sixties, you’re thinking of the wrong end of the animal. Muslims are “intimidated” by dogs because they consider them “unclean” and the religion actually forbids Muslims to own dogs.

The story says that dear little children at a fund-raiser for the Murfreesboro, Tenn., mosque sold homemade wooden plaques, door hangers and small serving trays with messages saying, “Peace” and “I love being a Muslim,” and “Freedom of Religion.”

They may love being Muslims, but they don’t love dogs and Americans do, Americans of all stripes. The problem with Islam is its melding of religion and politics. For them religion is a law, the government. Were they ever to gain a majority it America, however slight, our country would go to the dogs.

They know they have us over a barrel with freedom of religion. But not every religion is legal necessarily. Religions that practice animal sacrifice are banned, for instance. They accuse Americans opposed to them “settling” here of employing stereotypes.

One of those “stereotypes” was on the cover of Time recently; an Afghan girl who’d had her ears and nose cut off by the Taliban. If the so-called “moderate” Afghans can’t control their violent militants in their own countries, what better success will they have here?

Meanwhile on the home front, a website called “Humane Events” has given us an update on the construction of St. Nicholas Church, which sat at the feet of the Twin Towers and was utterly demolished when one of the towers fell on top of it on 9/11.

“In July 2008, …church officials and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey announced a deal which would have allowed the church to be rebuilt about two blocks from its original location.

“The Port Authority agreed to give the church a parcel of land at Liberty and Greenwich Streets, and contribute $20 million toward construction of a new sanctuary. The Port Authority also agreed to build an explosion-proof platform and foundation for the new church building, which would sit on top of a screening area for cars and trucks entering the underground garages at the new World Trade Center.

“Trouble emerged after St. Nicholas announced its plans to build a traditional Greek Orthodox church building, 24,000 square feet in size, topped with a grand dome. Port Authority officials told the church to cut back the size of the building and the height of the proposed dome, limiting it to rising no higher than the World Trade Center memorial. The deal fell apart for good in March 2009, when the Port Authority abruptly ended the talks after refusing to allow church officials to review plans for the garage and screening area underneath. Sixteen months later, the two sides have still not met to resume negotiations.”

Yet this Ground Zero mosque was given clearance with no questions asked as to its funding or its height. Word is the State Department has given this imam its blessing and has sent him off on a tour of the Middle East as an ambassador of good will. We’ve also sold jets to Saudi Arabia.

Moderate Muslims have the same aim as their more militant brethren; they simply mean to conquer us “peacefully” by out-populating us. War and killing aren’t the answer. But calling upon man’s best friend as an ally may prove to be an amusing and “peaceful” way to settle our differences, protect our country, and send a message to our new Muslim neighbors.

Monday, August 09, 2010

The Bridge to Hell

The Muslims have a bridge they want to sell to Americans. They talk about building a bridge between our cultures. But we understand one thing by a bridge and they understand another, and they know Americans generally don’t understand what they mean.

As-Sirat (The Bridge) or As-Sirat al-Mustaqim (The Straight Bridge) is a crucial element in the religion of Islam. It’s their version of St. Peter’s Gate. Some of the more militant Muslims take the concept literally.

As-Sirat is the very narrow bridge, extremely thin, like a pencil, and sharp as a sword, which every person must pass on the Yawm ad-Din (The Day of Judgment) in order to enter Paradise. Underneath the bridge burn the fires of Hell, whose heat will make the faithless fall. True believers, who performed acts of in goodness in life, are transported across the path in speeds relative to their deeds, leading them to the Hauzu’l-Kausr, the Lake of Abundance.

Faithful Muslims who hope to make it across the bridge must offer the five obligatory prayers (Fajr, Dhuhur, Asr, Maghrib, Isha) and recite the Surah Al-Fatiha at least 17 times a day, which is a supplication to Allah to guide them through the “straight path.”

It is also referred to as Sirat al-Jahim, the Bridge of Hell.

Sirat al-Mustaqim is the Arabic term for the straight path. In an Islamic context, it has been interpreted as the right path, Islamic faith or that which pleases God. There are five obligatory daily prayers in Islam. During the two first cycles of each prayer the following phrase is included:

Ihtina s-siraata l-mustaqeem, Siraata l-ladheena anamta alaihim ghair al-maghdhoobi alaihim wa la dhaaleen

Show us the straight path, the path of those You bestowed favor upon, not anger upon, and not of those who go astray.

This is included when the believer recites Surah Al-Fatiha.

The Muslims borrowed their concept of As-Sirat from the ancient Zoroastrian belief in the The Chinvat Bridge (Avestan Cinvatô Peretûm, “bridge of judgment” or “beam-shaped bridge”).

The Chinvat Bridge separates the world of the living from the world of the dead. All souls must cross the bridge upon death. The bridge's appearance varied depending on the observer's asha, or righteousness. As related in the text known as the Bundahishn, if a person had been wicked, the bridge would appear narrow and the demon Vizaresh would emerge and drag their soul into the druj-demana (the House of Lies), a place of eternal punishment and suffering.

However, if a person's good thoughts, words and deeds in life were many, the bridge would be wide enough to cross, and the Daena, a spirit representing revelation, would appear and lead the soul into the House of Song. Those souls that successfully cross the bridge are united with Ahura Mazda.

Often, the Chinvat Bridge is identified with the rainbow, or with the Milky Way galaxy, such as in Professor C.P. Tiele's “History of Religion.” However, other scholars such as C.F. Keary and Ferdinand Justi disagree with this interpretation, citing descriptions of the Chinvat Bridge as straight upward, rather than curvilinear.

Three divinities were thought to be guardians of the Chinvat Bridge: Sraosha (Obedience), Mithra (Covenant) and Rashnu (Justice). Alternate names for this bridge include Chinwad, Cinvat, Chinvar or Chinavat.

Christianity is known for its proselytization; its attempt to save non-Christians from going to Hell. Only the Christians say that there’s nothing a soul has to do but ask for and receive God’s love and forgiveness (have I got that right, Christian friends?).

Islam says you have to prove it. There are probably many peaceful Muslims who are simply concerned for their non-Muslim friends’ souls; they want to “save” us the way Christians want to “save” other people.

This is a one-way bridge, though, not a connection between two worlds where they’re willing to meet other religions in the middle. Once they get you out onto that bridge, if you don’t accept their religion (according to theory), if you haven’t been a good person in life – and the only way to do that is through obeying or submitting to the strict laws of Islam; free will has no role in this religion – over you go. The more militant-minded Muslims won’t wait for the fires of Hell to singe your toes; they’ll push you off.

In 1993, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman attempted to execute “The Day of Terror Plot” or “Ring of Fire Plot” in New York City. He and his minions had targeted the U.N., the FBI building, the Lincoln and Holland tunnels, and the George Washington Bridge. It was quite an ambitious plot. Initially, Rahman had thought to blow up every major crossing into Manhattan – all the bridges and tunnels, thus, “The Ring of Fire.”

They didn’t have enough manpower for such an undertaking, so they scaled it back. The authorities have videotapes of them driving through the Holland Tunnel, determining the best location to set off the bomb, and the raid was made on them as they were making the bomb.

The mighty GW, one of the world’s longest suspension bridges, proved to be a bigger challenge than they could handle. Osama Bin Laden was rumored to have blown up every bridge in Afghanistan, and later, most of the bridges into Baghdad would be destroyed. But their engineers weren’t as conscientious as the Americans in constructing their bridges (the I-35 bridge and the Tappan Zee notwithstanding).

The terrorist guys soon discovered they didn’t have enough explosives or manpower to destroy the bridge; it was simply too big (3,500 feet) and its cables too thick. They set their sites on other bridges, as well: The Brooklyn Bridge, The Golden Gate, the Mackinac. But the authorities set their sites on the terrorists and most notably thwarted the attempt against the Brooklyn Bridge.

Whether it’s a plot to destroy a real bridge, or a seemingly conciliatory appeal to build a cultural bridge, Americans must be sure of the soundness of the bridge before they drive onto it.

As we all know, you cannot turn around on a bridge (except in an emergency directed by authorities). Once onto this bridge, you have to go all the way to the other side or pay their toll (dhimmitude - second-class status). Or be thrown over the side.