Not ANOTHER form letter? Can't I talk to a human being?

If you've ever dealt with a business or a government agency, you know that they frequently use computerized answers to deal with the public. When you call them on the telephone, they either put you on hold or make you run through a seemingly neverending list of menus to punch numbers into. Or if you write to them, all you get is computerized form letters. Whatever happened to good old fashioned human to human communication?

In the following short story, science fiction author Gordon Dickson shows what happens when a totally innocent, naive individual goes to war with a computerized book club. Told as a series of letters, the story, called "Computers Don't Argue,"  uniquely illustrates the horrors of a database gone awry. As you read the story, think to yourself: this couldn't REALLY happen.......could it?

Read the story that follows. Then click on the link to open a new window to print and answer the questions. After you've done that, click on the link in the Navigation Bar to take you to the conclusions page.


 

COMPUTERS DON'T ARGUE

Gordon R. Dickson
 
 


Treasure Book Club
PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, SPINDLE
OR MUTILATE THIS CARD

Mr: Walter A. Child

Balance: $24.98

Dear Customer: Enclosed is your latest book selection. "Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson



 
 

437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
Nov. 16, 2000

Treasure Book Club
1823 Mandy Street
Chicago, Illinois
Dear Sirs:

I wrote you recently about the computer punch card you sent, billing me for "Kim,' by Rudyard Kipling. I did not open the package containing it until I had already mailed you my check for the amount on the card. On opening the package, I found the book missing half its pages. I sent it back to you, requesting either another copy or my money back. Instead, you have sent me a copy of "Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson. Will you please straighten this out?

I hereby return the copy of "Kidnapped"
Sincerely yours,
Walter A. Child
 



 
 

Treasure Book Club
SECOND NOTICE
PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, SPINDLE
OR MUTILATE THIS CARD

Mr: Walter A. Child
Balance: $24.98
For "Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson
(If remittance has been made for the above, please disregard this notice)



 
 

437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
Jan. 21, 2001

Treasure Book Club
1823 Mandy Street
Chicago, Illinois

Dear Sirs:

May I direct your attention to my letter of November 16, 2000? You are still continuing to dun me with computer punch cards for a book I did not order. Whereas, actually, it is your company that owes me money.

Sincerely yours,
Walter A. Child


Treasure Book Club
1823 Mandy Street
Chicago, Illinois
Feb. 1, 2001

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan

Dear Mr. Child:

We have sent you a number of reminders concerning an amount owing to us as a result of book purchases you have made from us. This amount, which is $24.98 is now long overdue.

This situation is disappointing to us, particularly since there was no hesitation on our part in extending you credit at the time original arrangements for these purchases were made by you. If we do not receive payment in full by return mail, we will be forced to turn the matter over to a collection agency. Very truly yours,

Samuel P. Grimes
 Collection Mgr.
 
 


437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
Feb.  5, 2001

Treasure Book Club
1823 Mandy Street
Chicago, Illinois
 
 

Dear Mr. Grimes:

Will you stop sending me punch cards and form letters and make me some kind of a direct answer from a human being?
I don't owe you money. You owe me money. Maybe I should turn your company over to a collection agency.

Walter A. Child



 
 

FEDERAL COLLECTION OUTFIT
88 Prince Street Chicago, Illinois
Feb. 28, 2001

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk Michigan

Dear Mr. Child:

Your account with the Treasure Book Club, of $24.98 Plus interest and charges has been turned over to our agency for collection. The amount due is now $36.83. Please send your check for this amount or we shall be forced to take immediate action.
 



 
 

FEDERAL COLLECTION OUTFIT
Jacob N. Harshe
Vice President
88 Prince Street Chicago, Illinois
April 8, 2001

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk Michigan

Dear Mr. Child:

You have seen fit to ignore our courteous requests to settle your long overdue account with Treasure Book club, which is now, with accumulated interest and charges, in the amount Of $47.53

If payment in full is not forthcoming by April 15, 2001 we will be forced to turn the matter over to our attorneys for immediate court action.

Jacob N. Harshe
Vice President
 


MALONEY, MAHONEY,
MACNAMARA and PRUITT, ESQ.
Attorneys at Law
April 22, 2001

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan

Dear Mr. Child:

Your indebtedness to the Treasure Book Club has been referred to us for legal action to collect.

This indebtedness is now in the amount of $101.56; if you will send us this amount so that we may receive it before May 5, 2001, the matter may be satisfied. However, if we do not receive satisfaction in full by that date, we will take steps to collect through the courts.

I am sure you will see the advantage of avoiding a judgment against you, which as a matter of record would do lasting harm to your credit rating.

Very truly yours,
Hagthorpe M. Pruitt, Jr.
Attorney at law


437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
May 4, 2001

Maloney, Mahoney, MacNamara and Pruitt
89 Prince Street
Chicago, Illinois
 

Dear Mr. Pruitt:

You don't know what a pleasure it is to me in this matter to get a letter from a live human being to whom I can explain the situation.
This whole matter is silly. I explained it fully in my letters to the Treasure Book Company. But I might as well have been trying to explain to the computer that puts out their punch cards, for all the good it seemed to do. Briefly, what happened was I ordered a copy of "Kim," by Rudyard Kipling, for $24.98. When I opened the package they sent me, I found the book had only half its pages, but I'd previously mailed a check to pay them for the book.
I sent the book back to them, asking either for a whole copy or my money back. Instead, they sent me a copy of "Kidnapped" by Robert Louis Stevenson-which I had not ordered;  for which they have been trying to collect from me.
Meanwhile, I am still waiting for the money back that they owe me for the copy of 'Kim' that I didn't get. That's the whole story. Maybe you can help me straighten them out.

Relievedly yours,
Walter A. Child

P.S.: I also sent them back their COPY of "Kidnapped," as soon as I got it, but it didn't seemed to help. They have never even acknowledged getting it back.



 

MALONEY, MAHONEY,
MACNAMARA and PRUITT, ESQ.
Attorneys at Law
May 9, 2001

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
 

Dear Mr. Child:

I am in possession of no information indicating that any item purchased by you from the Treasure Book Club has been returned.

I would hardly think that, if the case had been as stated, the Treasure Book Club would have retained us to collect the amount owing from you.
If I do not receive your payment in full within three days, by May 12, 2001, we will be forced to take legal action. Very truly yours,

Hagthorpe M. Pruitt, Jr.
 
 


COURT OF MINOR CLAIMS
Chicago, Illinois

Mr. Walter A. Child
437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk Michigan
 
 

Be informed that a judgment was taken and entered against you in this court this day of May 26, 2001 in the amount of $135.66 including court costs.

Payment in satisfaction of this judgment may be made to this court or to the adjudged creditor. In the case of payment being made to the creditor, a release should be obtained from the creditor and filed with this court in order to free you of legal obligation in connection with this judgment.

Under the recent Reciprocal Claims Act, if you are a citizen of a different state, a duplicate claim may be automatically entered and judged against you in your own state so that collection may be made there as well as in the State of Illinois.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

COURT OF MINOR CLAIMS
Chicago, Illinois
PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, SPINDLE
OR MUTILATE THIS CARD

Judgment was passed this day of May 27, 2001, under Statute $135.66

Against: Child, Walter A. of 347 WoodIawn Drive, Panduk, Michigan
In: Picayune Court, Panduk, Michigan

For Amount: Statute 941
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Michigan
May 31, 2001
Samuel P. Crimes
Vice President, Treasure Book Club
1823 Mandy Street
Chicago, Illinois
 
 

Grimes:

This business has gone far enough. I ve got to come down to Chicago on business of my own tomorrow. I ll see you then and well get this straightened out once and for all, about who owes what to whom, and bow much!

Yours,
Walter A. Child
 

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

From the desk of the Clerk
Picayune Court
June 1, 2001
Harry:

The attached computer card from Chicago's Minor Claims Court against A. Walter has a 13500-series Statute number on it That puts it over in Criminal with you, rather than Civil, with me. So I herewith submit it for your computer instead of mine. How's business?

Joe
 
 

CRIMINAL RECORDS

Panduk, Michigan

PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, SPINDLE

OR MUTILATE THIS CARD

Convicted: (Child) A. Walter
On: May 26, 2001
Address: 437 Woodlawn Drive
Panduk, Mich.
Crime: Statute: 13566 (Corrected) 13567
Crime: Kidnap
Date: Nov. 16, 2000
Notes, At large. To be picked up at once.
 

POLICE DEPARTMENT, PANDUK, MICHIGAN.
TO POLICE DEPARTMENT CHICAGO ILLINOIS.
CONVICTED SUBJECT A. (COMPLETE FIRST NAME UNKNOWN) WALTER, SOUGHT HIRE IN CONNECTION REF. YOUR NOTIFICATION OF JUDGMENT FOR KIDNAP OF CHILD
NAMED ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON, ON NOV. 16, 2000.
INFORMATION HERE INDICATES SUBJECT FLED HIS RESIDENCE, AT 437
WOODLAND DRIVE, PANDUK, AND MAY BE AGAIN IN YOUR AREA.
POSSIBLE CONTACT IN YOUR AREA: THE TREASURE BOOK CLUB,
1823 MANDY STREET, CHICAGO, ILLINOIS. SUBJECT NOT KNOWN
TO BE DANGEROUS. PICK UP AND HOLD, ADVISING US OF CAPTURE ...

TO POLICE: DEPARTMENT, PANDUK, MICHIGAN
 REFERENCE YOUR REQUEST TO PICK UP AND HOLD A. (COMPLETE FIRST NAME UNKNOWN) WALTER, WANTED IN PANDUK ON STATUTE 1567, CRIME OF KIDNAPPING

SUBJECT ARRESTED AT OFFICES OF TREASURE BOOK CLUB, OPERATING THERE UNDER ALIAS WALTER ANTHONY CHI LD AND ATTEMPTING TO COLLECT $24.98 FROM ONE SAMUEL P. GRIMES, EMPLOYEE OF THAT COMPANY.

DISPOSAL: HOLDING FOR YOUR ADVICE

POLICE DEPARTMENT PANDUK, MICHIGAN
TO POLICE DEPARTMET CHICAGO, ILLINOIS

REF: A. WALTER (ALIAS WALTER ANTHONY CHILD) SUBJECT WANTED FOR CRIME OF KIDNAP, YOUR AREA, REF: YOUR COMPUTER PUNCH CARD NOTIFICATION OF JUDGMENT, DATED MAY 27, 2001. COPY OUR CRIMINAL RECORDS PUNCH CARD HEREWITH FORWARDED TO YOUR COMPUTER SECTION.
 


CRIMINAL RECORDS
Chicago, Illinois
PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, SPINDLE
OR MUTILATE THIS CARD

SUBJECT (CORRECTION: OMITTED RECORD SUPPLIED)

APPLICABLE STATUTE NO- 13567
JUDGMENT NO. 456789
TRIAL RECORD: APPARENTLY MISFILED AND UNAVAILABLE
DIRECTION: TO APPEAR FOR SENTENCING BEFORE JUDGE JOHN
ALEXANDER MCDIVOT, COURTROOM A, JUNE 9, 2001


From the Desk of The Honoraable Judge Alexander J. McDivot
June 2, 2001

Dear Tony:

I've got an adjudged criminal coming up before me for sentencing Thursday morning-but the trial transcript is apparently misfiled.

I need some kind of information (Ref: A. Walter-judgment No. 456789, Criminal). For example, what about the victim of the kidnapping. Was victim harmed?

Jack McDivot

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

Tonio Malagasi
Records Division
June 3, 2001

Records Search Unit
Re: Ref: judgment No. 456789-----was  victim harmed?

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Records Search Unit
Criminal Records Division
Police Department
Chicago, Ill.
June 3, 2001
To: United States Statistics Office
Attn.: Information Section
Subject: Robert Louis Stevenson
Query: Information concerning


Information Section
U. S. Statistics Office
June 5, 2001

To: Records Search Unit
Criminal Records Division
Police Department
Chicago, Illinois

Subject: Your query re Robert Louis Stevenson (File no, 189623)

Action: Subject deceased. Age at death, 44 yrs. Further information requested?



 
 

Records Search Unit
June 6, 2001

To: United States Statistics Office
Attn.: Information Division
Subject; RE: File no. 189623

No further information required. Thank you.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

Criminal Records Division Police Department
Chicago, Illinois
June 7, 2001

To: Tonio Malagasi
Records Division
Re: Ref: judgment NO,- 456789

Please be advised that victim  is dead.

Sincerely, Records Search Unit

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
 

Tony Malagasi
Records Division
June 7, 1966

To: Judge Alexander J. McDivot Chambers

Dear Jack:

Ref: judgment No- 456789. The victim in this kidnap case was apparently slain.

From the strange lack of background information on the killer and his victim, as well as the victim's age, this smells to me like a gangland killing. This for your information. Don't quote me. It seems to me, though, that Stevenson-the victim has a name that rings a faint bell with me. Possibly, one of the East Coast Mob, since the association comes back to me as something about pirates-possibly New York dockage hijackers and something about buried loot.

As I say, above is only speculation for your private guidance.

Any time I can help . .

Best,
Tony in Records
 



 
 

MICHAEL R. REYNOLDS
Attorney-at-law
June 8, 2001

49 Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
 

Dear Tim:

Regrets: I can't make the fishing trip. I've been court-appointed here to represent a man about to be sentenced tomorrow on a kidnapping charge.

Ordinarily, I might have tried to beg off, and McDivot, who is doing the sentencing, would probably have turned me loose. But this is the damndest thing you ever heard of.

The man being sentenced has apparently been not only charged, but adjudged guilty as a result of a comedy of errors too long to go into here. He not only isn't guilty-he's got the best case I ever heard of for damages against one of the larger Book Clubs headquartered here in Chicago. And that's a case I wouldn't mind taking on.

It s inconceivable-but damnably possible, once you stop to think of it in this day and age of machine-made records-that a completely innocent man could be put in this position.

There shouldn't be much to it. I've asked to see McDivot tomorrow before the time for sentencing, and it'll just be a matter of explaining to him. Then I can discuss the damage suit with my freed client at his leisure.

Fishing next weekend?

Yours,

Mike
 


MICHAEL R. REYNOLDS
Attorney-at-law

49 Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
June 10, 2001

Dear Tim:

In haste ---

No fishing this coming week either. Sorry.

You won't believe it. My innocent-as-a-lamb-and-I'm-not kidding client has just been sentenced to death for first-degree murder in connection with the death of his kidnap victim. Yes, I explained the whole thing to McDivot. And when he explained his situation to me, I nearly fell out of my chair.
t wasn't a matter of my not convincing him. It took less than three minutes to show him that my client should never have been within the walls of the County jail for a second. But-get this-McDivot couldn't do a thing about it.
The point is, my man had already been judged guilty according to the computerized records. In the absence of a trial record-of course there never was one (but that's something I'm not free to explain to you now)-the judge has to go by what records are available. And in the case of an adjudged prisoner, McDivot's only legal choice was whether to sentence to life imprisonment, or execution.
The death of the kidnap victim, according to the statute, made the death penalty mandatory. Under the new laws governing length of time for appeal, which has been shortened because of the new system of computerizing records, to force an elimination of unfair delay and mental anguish to those condemned, I have five days in which to file an appeal, and ten to have it acted on.
Needless to say, I am not going to monkey with an appeal. I'm going directly to the Governor for a pardon-after which we will get this farce reversed. McDivot has already written
the governor, also, explaining that his sentence was ridiculous, but that he had no choice. Between the two of us, we ought to have a pardon in short order. Then, I'll make the fur fly . . . And we'll get in some fishing.

Best,
Mike
 


OFFICE OF THE
GOVERNOR OF ILLINOIS
June 17, 2001

Mr. Michael R. Reynolds
49 Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
 
 
 

Dear Mr. Reynolds:

In reply to Your query about the request for pardon for Walter A. Child (A. Walter) may I inform you that the Governor is still on his trip with the Midwest Governors Committee, examining the Wall in Berlin. He should be back next Friday. I will bring your request and letters to his attention the minute he returns.
 

Very truly yours,
Clara B. Jilks
Secretary to the Governor


ILLINOIS STATE PRISON
JOLIET, ILL
CELL BLOCK E, Death Row Section
June 27, 2001

Michael R. Reynolds
49 Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
 
 
 

Dear Mike:

Where is that pardon? My execution date is only five days from now!
 

Walt


MICHAEL R. REYNOLDS
Attorney-at-law
June 29, 2001

Walter A. Child (A. Walter)
Cell Block E, Death Row Section
Illinois State Penitentiary
Joliet, Illinois
 
 

Dear Walt:

The Governor returned, but was called away immediately to the White House in Washington to give his views on interstate sewage.

I am camping on his doorstep and will be on him the moment he arrives here.

Meanwhile, I agree with you about the seriousness of the situation. The warden at the prison there, Mr. Allen Magruder will bring this letter to you and have a private talk with you. I urge you to listen to what he has to say; and I enclose letters from your family also urging you to listen to Warden Magruder.

Yours,
Mike
 


ILLINOIS STATE PRISON
JOLIET, ILL
CELL BLOCK E, Death Row Section
June 30, 2001

Michael R. Reynolds
49 Water Street
Chicago, Illinois
 
 
 

Dear Mike: (This letter being smuggled out by Warden Magruder)

As I was talking to Warden Magruder in my cell, here, news was brought to him that the Governor has at last returned for a while to Illinois, and will be in his office early tomorrow morning, Friday. So you will have time to get the pardon signed by him and delivered to the prison in time to stop my execution on Saturday.

Accordingly, I have turned down the Warden's kind offer of a chance to escape; since he told me he could by no means guarantee to have all the guards out of my way when I tried it; and there was a chance of my being killed escaping.

But now everything will straighten itself out. Actually, an experience as fantastic as this had to break down sometime under its own weight.

Best,

Walt
 



 
 

FOR THE SOVEREIGN
STATE OF ILLINOIS

Order of Pardon

I, Hubert Daniel Willikens, Governor of the State of Illinois, and invested with the authority and powers appertaining thereto, including the power to pardon those in my judgment wrongfully convicted or otherwise deserving of executive mercy, do this day of July 1, 2001 announce and proclaim that Walter A. Child (A. Walter) now in custody as a consequence of erroneous conviction upon a crime of which he is entirely innocent, is fully and freely pardoned of said crime. And I do direct the necessary authorities having custody of the said Walter A. Child (A. Walter) in whatever Place or places he may be held, to immediately free, release, and allow unhindered departure to him . . .



 
 

Interdepartmental Routing Service
PLEASE DO NOT FOLD, MUTILATE,
OR SPINDLE THIS CARD

Notice: Failure to route Document properly.

To: Governor Hubert Daniel Willikens
Re: Pardon issued to Walter A. Child, July   1, 2001

Dear State Employee:

You have failed to attach your Routing Number.

PLEASE: Resubmit document with this card and form 876, explaining your authority for placing a TOP RUSH category on this document. Form 876 must be signed by your Departmental Superior.
 

RESUBMIT ON: Earliest possible date ROUTING SERVICE office is open. In this case, Tuesday, July 5, 2001

WARNING: Failure to submit form 876 WITH THE SIGNATURE OF YOUR SUPERIOR may make you liable to prosecution for misusing a Service of the State Government. A warrant may be issued for your arrest.

There are NO exceptions. YOU have been WARNED.








 
 
 
 
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