Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Listens to the Listeners?


Whether you're ordering a pizza, fending off a telemarketer, or talking to your bank, odds are you've heard some variation of the following:

"This call may be recorded for training purposes or customer service."

My bank called last week - twice in one day, actually. I told the first caller that I wasn't interested in any product offered over the phone, and asked him to mail me the details. A different representative called a few hours later about the very same product, so I was already annoyed when she said the call was being recorded.

"I'm sorry, but I have a bit of a problem with that," I said. "Aside from concerns about my own privacy, I don't want to live in a world where my fellow citizens are monitored every minute of their working day. I don't think you should have to put up with that."

"Fine, sir, thank you very much," she said, and hung up.

I suppose I sounded like a bit of a crackpot, but my words were sincere. I can easily imagine corporate motives for recording calls; they want to have records in case of some kind of dispute, they want to have a record of employee misbehaviour, perhaps they really do use the recordings for training purposes.

As far as I know, the only reason companies even inform you that they're recording the call is because the law requires it. And so they dutifully follow the law, but if you indicate that you don't want to be recorded - poof! - the call's over.

So the citizen is trapped. You can order your pizza, and accept the invasion of your privacy, and accept the dehumanization of the employee whose every moment at work is being monitored. Or you can refuse on ethical and humanitarian grounds and go hungry, because apparently there's no option to use the service without being recorded.

Wonderful.

Monitoring workers in call centres is just the tip of the iceberg. Many jobs require drug testing, even when your use or non-use of drugs has no impact on your ability to do the work. Others require invasive personality profiling. Other workplaces use monitoring software to log every keystroke and mouse movement. Forget about checking your bank balance on your coffee break, or taking a few minutes to compose a personal email. Forget the very human, very natural impulse to goof off from time to time.

We are building a world of diminishing trust.

The next time you're told that your call is being recorded, try asking this question:

"Will you still serve me if I refuse to be recorded?"

I'd like to know what they tell you.

Anybody listening?

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Strange that you should post this within 24 hours of my discovery that my copy of "The Skeptic's Handbook" has vanished without a trace.

Or maybe...

...not so strange after all.

AllanX said...

Stop ordering pizza. It's very bad for you.

Anonymous said...

Wow, that's pretty deep stuff Earl.

Do not post my pictures without my permission or I'll REALLY invade your privacy!!!!!!!!!!

Tee-hee....

Syl

Anonymous said...

Pizza can be a very deep subject to tackle. Most people don't give it much thought, which is what the Worldwide Barbecue Sauce Coalition wants in the first place. First of all, if you order a pizza for delivery, you almost always give out a lot of personal information: where you live, how much you expect to pay, maybe a credit card number, and what your eating habits are (no anchovies!). Second of all... Worldwide Barbecue Sauce Coalition ?!? I've mentioned these people before on Earl's Blog. This is a super secret clandestine organization that is dedicated to keeping people from making their own barbecue sauce, which turns out to be cheaper, fresher, and tastier than what you will find in bottles on store shelves. They are so secret, I don't even know their true identity, so I will call them the Worldwide Barbecue Sauce Coalition (WBSC).

I see now that even these shadowy figures have masters pulling their strings ("Pool ze strink! POOL ZE STRINK!!" Note to self: watch those old Ed Wood movies again. Pay more attention to subliminal fnord imagery in same). The WBSC, I believe, is just an American branch office of some nameless Universal Sauce Syndicate, dedicated to keeping sauces throughout the known universe secret. With great pizza comes great restaurant bills. I can show you that if you can make your own pizza, you will break the chain of dependance towards tomato-based sauce protectionism.

You are still scratching your head over barbecue sauce. I did blow the lid off of how to make your own barbecue sauce, but of course, the PTB's obviously found it and deleted it form the Internet. If you search, you will find no trace of my BBQ sauce recipe on Earl's Blog. This serves to illustrate how determined the WBSC is, and the lengths they will go to to keep their secrets from public view. Never fear, though, as I am working on an even better BBQ sauce recipe, and when the time comes, and it will, I will publish the results of my findings. In the meantime, I will give you what I know about how to make your own pizza, which will a) be healthier than store-bought pizza by a wie margin, and b) which you can make without depending on the surveillance network of the Universal Sauce Syndicate.

I will have to type as fast as I can, as I think I can hear the silenced engines of the black helicopters coming for me right now...!

Anonymous said...

MAKE YOUR OWN PIZZA! BREAK THE CHAIN OF DEPENDANCE ON PRE-PACKAGED TOMATO-BASED SAUCES!

This pizza is so good, whoever you serve it to will likely offer you sexual pleasures in return, so be very careful when feeding it to family, strangers, or platonic friends. Unfortunately, this recipe requires some advanced ingredients, techniques, and equipment. It's not at all like BBQ sauce, which I had demonstrated that I can make more cheaply than the bottled version. The only way you will break even financially with these pizzas is to make a great number of them. On the other hand, they are far tastier and healthier than what you can order from pizza places whose names are also their telephone numbers.

First, an explaination: North American pizza piles on toppings, cheese, and gooey sauce all in an effort to hide the terrible quality of the toppings, cheese, sauce, and crust. We are conditioned to believe quantity is quality, but that's so not the case. We have to take pizza back to its Italian peasant roots to understand that it is a minimalist food, really bread and tomato sauce and maybe cheese and that's it. Once we perfect crust, sauce, and cheese, then we can build a better, heathier pizza that wont make you feel like you've been punched in the stomach by Ronald McDonald after eating it.

Next, some research. What you will want to do is to seek out what is called a "DOC Pizza". DOC stands for "Denominazione di Origine Controllata", which is Italian for "Denomination of Controlled Origin", a system for ensuring that food and/or wine from particluar regions is made in a standardized way. I am not making this up. You can see exactly where sauce protectionism got its start. However, we can use the DOC formula against the Syndicate by using it ourselves.

You will need at least one piece of special equipment: a pizza stone. These can be found in better grocery stores and Italian delis. I prefer the latter, as the grocery stores tend to use "discount cards" which are really just a means for the Sauce People to track your purchases. Pay cash: don't leave a paper trail that can be easily followed by the sauce protectionists. Buy some cormeal as well to use with the stone. Before you cook, spread a dash or two of cornmeal on the stone, and it will prevent your dough from sticking to the stone as you cook.

You will need some particular incredients:

CAKE OR PASTRY FLOUR: Quality flour is the secret weapon of the best pizza makers. Most people are unaware thet there are different degrees of quality of flour, which suits the Syndicate just fine. Even worse, most Americans are unware that their standards of flour are quite a bit below those of most of the rest of the world, especially Canada. Canadians enjoy some of the world's best flour, due to the large quantity of High quality grain that can be found there. Americans make do with lesser quality. In the USA, if you buy any white flour that does not come with the reccommendation that it can be used in bread machines, you might as well just eat sawdust because that's what you are getting. Italians also are not known for their wheat, although they do produce some grain; they don't grow enough to support their bread and pasta industries, though. Italy imports a lot of Canadian grain, and they prize the wheat that's grown in fertile Manitoba the most. It's not quite DOC, but it's one way we little people can break the monopoly of the Syndicate.

Cake or Pastry flour is the finest flour you can get commercially. It is used to make dough very light weight. It is different from regular flour, which is too heavy to make a good crust. Be careful when handling cake flour, because if you handle it roughly it will settle, which makes it heavier in dough.

ROMA OR CAMPARI TOMATOES: Tomato-sauce protectionists want you to buy hothouse tomatoes grown locally. This is because every time you cook with these bland, monstrous frankenfoods, they turn into watery, tasteless mush, making you want to buy commercially-prepared sauces. Ugh! North American farmers have been duped into creating large tomatoes for sale. Cosumers have been duped into believing that these large tomatoes are actually good. They aren't. They taste like crap and they spray water all over the place like a fire sprinkler. That's not how a tomato should be. It should taste like it has been under the sun, with a powerful, sweet tangy flavour that's not at all watery.

The best we can do on a limited budget are imported Roma tomatoes. These are small and kind of pear-shaped. These make good sauces. Big hot-house tomatoes are okay raw for salads and sandwiches, but you should never cook with them unless you really like watery food. Even so, Romas are a better choice. Campari are good as well, but be sure they are as small as you can find.

Truthfully, canned Italian tomatoes work well, as long as they are imported from Italy. You can pick these up out of season at any Italian deli.

TRUE MOZZARELLA CHEESE: In North America, we are used to covering our pizza with the most abominable of cheeses. We end up mixing them with cheddar and mozza out of a can just to try to get flavour out of the fatty mess. Stop that! You can do much better, although it's not easy.

The very best cheese you can find for pizza is "mozzarella di bufala", which is made from buffalo milk. It has the consistency of thick pudding or maybe a runny brie and can easily be eaten with a spoon. It tastes heavenly. If you use hard mozzarella that you have to cut with a knife or a grater, you're just hurting yourelf and helping the tomato sauce protectionists. Even the softer, yet rubbery mozza you find in grocery stores is just awful in comparison to the real mozzarella di bufala. However, this stuff is hard to find. You can find cow's milk mozza which is not as good, nor is it DOC, but it can be used. I buy mine from Costco, called Bel Gioso. It's unripened, so at least it's reasonably soft.

Anonymous said...

DOUGH RECIPE:

This isn't DOC, but it's close enough. True DOC dough can take a day to make. Even so, this will take a couple of hours at least.

2 1/4 tsp dry yeast (bread machine yeast will work here)
2 cups hot water
2 cups pastry flour
4 teaspoons salt (sea salt is best)
4-5 cups white flour (bread machine flour in the USA)
few drops of olive oil.

Turn on your oven to its minimum lowest setting.

Dissolve the yeast in the hot water. Add salt. Add flour one cup at a time. At first you can stir it in, but then you will need to knead it with your hands. You should keep kneading for ten minutes until all of you flour is used up. The ball of dough should be smooth and not sticky. If it becomes rough or hard to knead, it is too dry, add water 1/4 cup at a time. if it is too sticky, add pastry flour 1/4 cup at a time. Although the ball will look large, it should feel unusually light, due to the pastry flour.

Put the dough in a large oversized heatproof bowl, and smear a few drops of oil all over the outside of the dough with your hands. Put the bowl with the dough in the warm oven, cover the top of the bowl with a clean cloth. TURN OFF THE OVEN! The dough will rise in the remaining heat.

* See SAUCE RECIPE BELOW After an hour, the dough should have at least doubled in size. Take the ball out and divide it into 4-6 pieces. Use a sharp knife to cut the dough. Shape each piece into as thin a pizza crust as you are able. In North America, pizzarias will fling the dough into the air to shape it. In Europe, they just mash it down with their hands. Unless you have an octopus in your family tree, I reccommend the European method.

Make sure that the crusts will fit on a dinner plate! If you make the dough too big, you will have trouble removing it from the pizza stone after it cooks. Smaller is better than larger for homemade pizza sizes.

SAUCE RECIPE:

The aromas from this sauce will make your mouth water! If you want tyour kitchen to smell amazing, make this sauce:

*While you are waiting for the dough to rise, you can make sauce. In a large non-stick pan on medium heat, use these ingredients:

2 tb olive oil
1/4 to 1/2 cup onion, chopped up coarsely (or use 1/4 cup onion flakes or 2tb onion powder)
1 peeled carrot, coarsely chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
2 cloves minced garlic
1 28-oz can of Italian tomatoes, or the equivalent in Roma Tomatoes (around a dozen small ones) coarsely chopped
2 tb basil
1 tb parsley
sea salt & pepper

Fry all of the above in oil on medium heat until the tomatoes turn to mush. It will look like hell but smell like heaven. The colours will astound you. After the tomatoes turn to mush, turn the heat down to LOW, and let the mixture simmer for 15 minutes. Dump the mixture into a bowl and alllow to cool for a few minutes. When cooled enough to touch, dump the mixture into a food processor or blender and puree the mix.

Add salt and pepper to taste. The sauce will actually be quite bland. If you want a spicier sauce add at the end:

1-2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp basalmic vinegar
pinch of chili powder
1 tsp rosemary
3 tb red wine

You will have way too much sauce for the pizza. You can save the extra sauce for later, or put in on pasta.

As I let the sauce cool, I form the dough.

ASSEMBLING THE PIZZAS:

After the dough is out of the oven, put your pizza stone in and sprinkle 1 tb of cornmeal all over it. Turn the oven on to 450. DO NOT PUT A COLD PIZZA STONE IN A HOT OVEN!!

As you wait for the sauce to cool and the oven to heat up, assemble your ingredients.

True Italian DOC pizza is just dough and sauce. One innovation is to put cheese on the pizza. Use the best quality mozzarella you can get, preferably mozzarrella di bufala. If it says "Kraft" on the label, forget it, go and eat out instead.

For a more North American flavour, I use meat and mushrooms. I will buy 50-100g for lean prosciutto sliced paper thin. I will also use porcini mushrooms, if I can get them. If you want greens on your pizza, I suggest fresh arugula. I use 3-5 dollops of cheese per pizza pie, depending on the size. Definitely DO NOT expect to cover the pie with cheese. I use 3-5 bits of prosciutto and maybe 5 mushroom pices per pie. It helps to portion out the ingredients before you assemble the pizzas.

At this stage you should have raw dough, sauce, and toppings.

Take one of the flat doughs and put 1 drop of olive oil in the middle. Put 2-3 tb of sauce in the middle and spread it around with a spoon. Less sauce is better than too much, but that's up to your taste. Put mushrooms and meat on the sauce, and the cheese on top. I like to sprinkle grated Reggiano cheese on top. Parmesan is okay, as long as it's freshly grated. If the package says Kraft, go seek help, you need it.

As long as the crust is small, you should be able to pick it up by hand and place the crust on the now scorchingly hot pizza stone in the oven. DO NOT GET DISTRACTED! Watch the pie like a hawk; that's what the window in the oven door is for. Watch for the moment the mozza cheese starts to flow. Use a long spatula to slide the little pizza onto a dinner plate. Look underneath to make sure the bottom of the crust is not burnt. Tap the crust edge with your finger and listen for a hollow sound. Break off a small peice to see if it looks done. If it needs more, put it back in for a minute at a time. The pizza will cook very rapidly, probably less than 5 minutes total.

If your pies are small enough, you can try cooking 2 at a time. If you need to, add more cornmeal on the stone to keep the pizzas from sticking. You want to melt the cheese and cook the crust without burning anything. This requires constant vigilance. Anybody that tries to bother you at this stage should be denied this or any other pizza ever again.

If you have too many uncooked crusts, just save them in a plastic container in your fridge for later.

When your pizzas are done, serve immediately with a small green salad. I like a cab/merlot wine, but you can have sparkling water instead. A fruity gelato for dessert will finish off the meal nicely. Buon appetito!

Earl J. Woods said...

This pizza recipe sounds very good, and yet I'm afraid to try it. Perhaps the WBSC conditioning is too deeply embedded. :-(