Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Stop crying wolf, I'm trying to cry wolf!

In late May, I
a letter objecting to the Consumer Broadband and Digital Television Promotion Act, and sent it to my representative and senators. One of my senators is Dianne Feinstein, a co-sponsor of the bill, and so I expected her response to be the least useful of the three. Still, on principle, I sent it to her, respectfully asking her to reconsider.

Interestingly, the only response I've received so far has been from Feinstein. (Well, her organization. You know what I mean.) It was a polite form email explaining that she can only reply to emails that are submitted through her web page. If I want a response, it says, I should go through the web page.

But I had gone through the web page. So I called up her office and asked what was going on. A staffer explained that the bounce email is sent not only for incorrect submissions, but also for form letters. That is, the staff rejects emails that appear to be form letters, and mine was apparently flagged as such.

I was told to try again, and so I did. Several weeks later, I received the same bounce email. Again, I called her office, and again I was told that my email must have been flagged as a form letter.

Their claim is that form letters, such as those offered by
are "too easy" to send, and so aren't representative of constituents' opinions. That's ridiculous in itself, but it hardly matters, because mine wasn't a form letter.

Now, I don't expect a lengthy personal response. I don't even expect the Senator to read it herself. But a response from the legislative staff is customary--a brief position statement, or even just an acknowledgement. At the very least, my opinion should be tallied. The point, after all, is for my opinion to count, in some tiny way.

What's going on instead is disturbing. My opinion happens to coincide with that of other organizations who are providing form letters. While the wording of my letter is different from those form letters, the sentiment is apparently similar enough to confuse her staffers, who
dismiss my opinion as a result.

It's well known that legislators take individual opinions with a grain of salt, and take form letters with an even smaller grain of salt. Form letters aren't effective. But it never occured to me that form letters may actually reduce the effectiveness of non-form letters on the same subject.

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