Are You Willing to Participate in a Survey?

Yesterday afternoon, I was doing the same thing I do most Sunday
afternoons–procrastinating doing anything of meaning as quietly as
possible since my husband was napping. Of course, the laws of the Universe
dictate that the phone will ring only when someone lays down to take a
nap. On this particular occasion, I jumped over part of the couch,
almost broke my wrist and tried to find the phone before the second
ring. It rang a second time by the time I got to it.

In my rush to shut it off, I didn’t look to see who was actually calling us. Big mistake.


good afternoon ma’am. My name is Old Man Blah, and I’m calling from the
University of California, Berkeley to conduct a survey of
Iranian-Americans. Would you like to participate?”

By this time I was in the closet of our spare bedroom–which is as isolated and private as you can get in our tiny home.

“I’m sorry, who is this? And how did you get my phone number?”

me paranoid, but having lived in places where governments have no
problems with violating personal rights, I kind of freak out when
someone calls me specifically to ask my opinion based on my

“My name is Old Man Blah, and I’m calling
from the University of California, Berkeley to conduct a survey of
Iranian-Americans and their opinions. I will provide you with the name
and phone number of the professor sponsoring the survey at the end of
my questions. My first question is, Do you think the United States is
headed in the right direction?”

And much like waving a giant red
flag in front of a pissed off bull, without thinking I blurted, “No
this country is not headed in the right direction!” I then realized
that the man hadn’t responded to my question about obtaining my phone

“Why do you not think the country is moving in the right direction?”

I opened my mouth and responded, because I am not the kind of person
who can contain myself or my opinions. “Well the so called foreign
policy would be a good place to start. Wait, you never told me how you
got my phone number. I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable participating
in a survey that has specifically identified me by my ethnic

You may wonder why I would worry about a survey
conducted by someone at UC Berkeley, perhaps one of the country’s most
liberal universities. It’s because while some people hear Berkeley and
think of hippies, I hear Berkeley and think John Yoo. Yes, the same
John Yoo who helped explain why torture isn’t really torture and why it
is acceptable for the President to use the afore mentioned non-torture
when he deems it necessary. I’m not saying he’s developing some kind of
project to round up Iranian Americans before the US attacks Iran, I’m
just saying it was weird to be called up on a lazy Sunday afternoon
specifically because I am Iranian American.

Oh, and then things got a little strange.

Old Man Blah started yelling at me! “I said,
this survey is being conducted for a professor at Berkeley. I will give
you the professors name and contact information when you answer all of
my questions. There is nothing suspicious about this!”

See, when a stranger calls your house, knows your ethnicity and wants to ask you questions–yelling that there is nothing strange going on, it kind of makes you think something strange may be going on.

“Could I at least have the name of the professor before I respond to the rest of your questions?”


thought a few seconds before I responded, “I’m very sorry for wasting
your time, but I don’t feel comfortable talking to you right now. Thank
you for your time.”

I hung up and sat in the closet, with what
must have been an expression of complete confusion. That is how my husband found
me a couple of minutes later. I told him what had happened and he was
so confused. “Why didn’t you just hang up on him?”

Leave it to the scientist to over simplify complex socio-political issues.

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