Thursday, March 15, 2012

Thursday's Thoughts on Current Events

On the local scene our Arizona legislators have come up with another winner. The latest laughable labor of love in the state's continuing exercise in the ridiculous is House Bill 2625. This bill makes it OK for employers to pull contraceptive coverage from their health plans unless the female in question provides them with a good reason other than birth control. The legislator interviewed on Channel 5 said it was a matter of 1st Amendment Rights for the employer, but obviously not for the employee. It looks like Rush Limbaugh has a good following in our state capitol.

First it was guns on college campuses and now this. Does anyone know what planet we get these folks from?

On the national scene, gas prices are continuing in the news. The left (that's everyone but Republicans, (just ask them) thinks that Eric Holder ought to get after the oil speculators and calm down their activities. But it's not happening. The Right (that's Republicans, Tea partiers, flat earthers, birthers, climate change deniers) are content to beat the incumbent administration over the head with high gas prices right up to election day. (and thereafter if Mr. Obama is reelected.) So absolutely nothing positive is being done about the situation.

The financial press is reporting on an ex Goldman Sachs employee who published his resignation letter in the New York Times. The takeaway from this is that brokers routinely referred to their clients as Muppets. Ya gotta love those financial guys. Muppets are cute and funny, aren't they?

Speaking of financial guys, Matt Taibbi's piece at the Rolling Stone on Bank of America being too crooked to fail is a peach, or a prune depending on which side of the financial oligarchy you find yourself. He calls out the people, the company, and their actions. He also blames both the Obama and Bush Administrations for letting this company and others get away with massive felonies in the name of saving our economy. The list of malefactors and their crimes is quite impressive. In the days of Elliott Ness it would have been enough to put away the worst of the Mafia Kingpins, but in our time it just doesn't cut it. Amazing!

I hear there's some sort of Republican primary going on, but I try not to pay too much attention. The top two guys don't impress me much, but really no one in either party with the exception of Bernie Sanders, does much for me these days.

Then there's the latest mess in Afghanistan. If ever there was a poster boy for PTSD I'm guessing this guy is it. I feel bad for the families he killed, the people of Afghanistan, and our troops.


Friday, March 9, 2012

Reading "IS" Fundamental

While I have the time and inclination I've started reading serious material again. I was tempted to entitle this post as a little "Light" reading but was afraid the pun would miss. Besides, a light didn't really go off when I read the three books last week as much as a realization that many of the things I saw in our world were real and of concern to me. (Specifically while job and/or income hunting) And how I and millions of other Americans were blissfully ignoring the real condition of our world.

The first of the three books was "Freakonomics, a title from 2005. This book spawned a series of editions, a blog and a radio show. The book and related activities bring to light the erroneous nature of "conventional wisdom" and back up the findings with economic stats and calculations. This original take on our culture and economics looks at and defines actual drivers and motivations for things we either take for granted as natural occurrences in our world or have grossly mistaken understandings of the real cause and effect. As the little German soldier on "Laugh In" used to say; "Very Interesting."

From "Freakonomics" I moved on to "The Ascent of Money". This very interesting and somewhat more heavy reading material gives the history of how we came to have money, currency, loans, stocks, banks, insurance, bonds, and all the myriad financial instruments of our time. It highlights the need for much of what the financial industry does today to facilitate international commerce. It leaves the reader with a clear understanding of how we got to where we are concerning money, be it digital or physical.

Last but certainly not least and the one title I recommend for your perusal if you can only read one serious tome, is "That Used to Us." One of the authors is Thomas Freidman who you might recognize from his TV punditry. The material is quite dense, there is no getting around it. It is not however thick with graphs and studies like the very useful but tough work "Generations."

So.. You may need a little time to get through this one, but when you do you'll come out informed and hopefully inspired. The two authors lay out how we became a great country, the formula that made us that way and how we lost our way in the last 20 years. They favor no political party and they grind no axes. They do let the reader know what we did and are doing wrong, the consequences to America and the world if we don't change our ways, and they offer some ideas about how to fix it.

The bottom line from this reading is this. I and the millions of others in our country have to face the reality of our economy; that for millions of us our jobs are not coming back. That for a decade or two we ignored the effects of globalization and the IT revolution. That the financial meltdown just made it worse and that smart people must adapt.

I've also realized that in this climate of hyper-connectivity, highly collaborative workplaces and social networks that extend into the workplace; that I may need some help finding a place if I intend to prosper or even just survive.

While I continue to apply for the few traditional jobs that fit my age and experience, I will likewise search in other directions for workshops, support groups and any other resources that might help me find a new career or income opportunity.

One of things I took away from the books was the need to be flexible, be agile, and be willing and able to adapt. To do otherwise puts you on the path of extinction. I'm not ready for that just yet.


Friday, March 2, 2012

Voted off the Island

I got fired from my crummy $12 an hour call center job yesterday. While it is never fun to be let go, I have to admit to a certain amount of relief. It was perhaps the worst job I've had in 30 years and that includes a stint selling portable toilets. So, let's get the sour grapes, satirical wit and mini-bitterness out of the way so I can move on to more positive things.

Sour Grapes: The company culture was adolescent at best and just plain idiotic at worst. I complained vociferously about my supervisor yelling across the room while we were on calls, the need for headsets that worked and the quality of audio in our headsets, the lack of any decent sick leave policy, ( example: I asked for 1/2 hr off and put it in the system, (you can't just ask your supervisor) 3 weeks ahead of time and was turned down,) and the general lack of cleanliness in the facility.

After the last time in which I met with the Asst Mngr and my supervisor the die was cast. She looked for and found a nit picky violation of one of the many company policies and got me fired.

The termination process there involves you being brought into a room, told your offense, told you're fired and surrendering your badge. It is totally classless.

Satirical Wit: We referred to the supervisors and their favorites as Kool-Aid drinkers. If you didn't drink the kool-aid you couldn't get time off the phones for special projects and just plain BS.
My friend who sat next to me made it to his second anniversary there and was given a balloon. He is 50 years old. (I may have mentioned this in the meeting with a somewhat disparaging attitude) I missed my 2 year anniversary by 7 days. Just enough so they won't owe me two weeks vacation pay my wife believes.
The carpeting in the building was over 30 years old and very stained and nasty. (I may have brought that up as well), but they had a big balloon budget.
The accounting department must have been run by a descendant of Ebeneezer Scrooge,because they made you pay for the cheap little pads on your headset when they wore out.
I had to bring in a Doctors note to have a lunch break during the lunch hour. otherwise the computer would give you a lunch break as early as 9:30 or as late as 2:00.
I was once told by a manager that not everyone could have the luxury of a Monday-Friday schedule. I'm here to tell you that there was nothing luxurious about my Mon-Fri schedule.

Mini-Bitterness: The call center culture is ruining our businesses and effective customer service. Companies bring on entry level workers, give them minimal training and put them on the phones. The center I worked at had a business model that worked with 80% turnover. The company used a government program to make money on each new hire and then relentlessly weeded them out. This particular company has an insidious group think mentality that is scary. Supervisors regularly spout the company line when confronted with the ridiculousness of their actions.
The constant monitoring, nit picking micro-management, and the sheer pettiness of the enterprise was soul killing. Other workers complained to me of the constant stress they felt in the workplace. There was one well meaning but overly emotional co-worker who cried at least once a week.
The really sad thing about this particular company is how seriously these folks take themselves. In the end it's just a job folks. Many of the people for whom I worked were single or divorced and I believe the company culture and work schedule may contribute to their situation.
While informative and eye-opening, my tenure at this company was a waste of my talents and experience, they were totally devalued there. I stayed for the insurance and ease of commuting. Clearly I overstayed my welcome. Oh, well!

Positive Things: I stayed as long as I did at my work due to the insurance issue. We needed coverage for Vicki. Well, just a couple of weeks earlier she was hired on as a full time employee at her work and immediately covered by her insurance. So, no problem there. The only reason for me to stay no longer exists.

With the economy slowly coming back there is a better chance to find work that is rewarding, interesting and more attuned to my age, attitude, experience and skills. It's a big Ole World out there and I look forward to the opportunity to find my economic muse.

Even at my age I am not suited to fly a desk. Eight hours a day sitting is unhealthy and unnatural. Therefore I will look for work that has at least a minimal physical component, such as walking, driving, on site inspections and the like.

The world is still my oyster, let's see what I find inside.