Monday, January 22, 2007

I Did It

What does this horde of slaves, traitors, and plotting kings want? For whom these vile chains, these long-prepared irons? What outrage, what fury it must arouse! It is us they dare plan to return to the old slavery!
~first verse of La Marseillaise

I resigned from my highest-paying gig, ever: subcontractor to a multinational outsourcer and offshorer. I was already withering from the hostile environment, commuting downtown sucks asphalt, and the last straw was the latest issue of their corporate magazine which appeared in my cubicle last week, with the cover story,
Stepping Up To The IED Challenge. Complete with flaming, melted wreckage of a Humvee.

Hey, I am all about fostering culture.
Healthy culture. If someone else wants to include chants of HOO-AH in their definition and purveyance of culture, my recommendation is "Go for it," followed smartly by, "and include me out."

As much as I'd like to be thought of as the kind of person who simply departs upon discovering a moral mismatch, I must say that I have another situation lined up. I was more than a little amazed at how quickly I found it, but it bears disclosing that I didn't resign until I found another place to land. Ontology suggests that I got another job quickly because I'd already decided to leave. My dad once advised me never to quit without first having something else arranged. I'd always wondered about that period from my childhood when he sold the house and took that weird job selling lingerie. But, I digress.

"Hostile environment" goes beyond the exploitatively ugly photo on the magazine. Despite being very well compensated, and sharpening my clustering chops , there's the stench of despair in the air, and arrogance in the spoken words. I still find it amusing that the outsourcer taking over Truly Believes that they can do the job remotely, with low-skills, low-paid bodies onsite. Not that I think this isn't possible; heck, I just completed an engagement with a behemoth mutual funds trader to design a "lights out" data center, ostensibly for disaster recovery. I wish I'd thought to take photos of the full-time employees as they found out that it was actually a proof-of-concept to outsource--and offshore their jobs. Oh, wait, I left the moment that I learned that this was the real plan, all along. After securing another situation first, of course. It's more accurate to say that I decided to leave when I realized, and yeah, I kept at it. For the money.

The hostility in my current work environment is from the full-time employees of the firm, the one who's switching IT service providers to save money. They're in big trouble, and bless their hearts, they really believe that it's all Someone Else's Fault. They remind me of Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove, riding the atomic bomb, yelling, "Yee-hahhhhhh...." all the way down to global destruction.

IT service providers. WTF is that, other than the commodification of yet another industry? It's so slick, without being glossy. Slimy. It makes it sound like me trying to switch electric utilities to save money, and hopefully to be treated like a customer. Reality check: It's the method for devaluing the individual, in order to scale down pay rates.

The corporate magazine photo was merely the last straw. Aside from the reactiveness of the team I've joined, there are these impromptu meetings: Someone walks up to where I'm sitting--working--and interrupts without so much as a salutation:
We need you in conference room Bravo right away. Sometimes they actually say, "Double time!" That's actually not so bad. I have military experience, it's a little nostalgic sometimes, but mostly it lands as invalidating and degrading. Well, of course I go to the conference room, where FTEs have had a meeting which was scheduled in advance, with the topic(s) made available to attendees ahead of time. They've made up their minds, and what they really want to do is to bully me into implementing some half-baked plan. The kind that indicates a severe lack of planning. There are sketches on the whiteboard, and these are waved at and occasionally elaborated upon. In at least 25% of the cases, the diagrams get significant additions as I watch.

Then comes the moment where the newly-hatched scheme has been communicated as much as it's going to be at that time, and I'm expected to agree. Silly me, I almost always think it's the time for me to share my expert opinion and/or experience. The same people become impatient--angrily impatient--before I can explain how the plan could actually work, because they realize that I'm about to recommend changing their plan. They raise their voices, they pound on the table, and sometimes they actually rant and rave in the same fashion as my 8-year-old son when he doesn't get his way.

N repeats of this in N weeks, I was already ready to move on. Then I'd get another paycheck and think, Damn, that's a lot of money. Suddenly the chronic headaches and stiff muscles seemed somehow worth it.

How did I miss that this corporation is a war profiteer? All I could remember about them was that time they brought down the dot-com domain, didn't realize it for eight hours, then tried to cover it up. If you can find anything online about this mid-Nineties debacle, please post or forward. I'm pretty good at finding text on the net, and I've just about concluded that it's all been expunged somehow. Except for the essays and interviews, of course--just no hard news to be found, any more.

I'm going to work for a much smaller concern, for a little less money and a few actual perquisites beyond free coffee, tea, and refrigerator space (cleaned out every Friday). I get to work next to someone I've worked with before, someone I admire for his honesty and straight talk.

I'll do another seven business days here, I'll do this one last trivial project which has been blown out of proportion without reasonable communication or a written plan, and then I'll whistle--no,
sing La Marseillaise on the way out.
What a Monday I'm Having

Do you folks like coffee? Real coffee, from the hills of Columbia?
The Duncan Hills will wake you, from a thousand deaths.
Dethklok jingle for Duncan Hills Coffee, Episode 1: The Curse of Dethklok

I decided to indulge in the luxury of a large cup of Starbucks (grande drip, venti cup, to the rim with half&half), at the front of my 31.2 mile commute into the heart of The City. My nearest Starbuck's purveyor is embedded in a grocery store, and when I went to pull into the column of parking spaces nearest the door, I found a Porsche Cayenne parked in the middle of the entrance. Having already committed to the turn, I just jumped the curb with my right rear wheel, found a space, and decided to let the driver know that she was in the way.

I approached the driver's side and saw a thirtysomething woman staring off into space. "Probably woolgathering while she waits for someone to come out of the store," I thought, and stood next to the window.

Nothing. My memory says that she was consciously ignoring me, but that's all I have to back up that theory. I waved and said, "Hello?" to the rolled-up window. Still nothing. I sidestepped and waved in front the of the windshield, and the window powered down.

"Yes?" Her lips moved, but she kept staring straight ahead.

"Hi. I just wanted to let you know--you probably don't realize--you're, uh, kind of blocking the way into this parking row." Could I have been more nervously over-polite?

"Okay." Still no change in expression.

I'd been a little irritated before, had resolved to be polite, but now I could literally feel the blood flow being redirected from my brain to my vital organs. I stood there, beginning to marvel at the powers of concentration it must have taken for her to almost completely ignore me. I ventured further: "Are you going to move?"

She ignored me, but I caught a slight head movement. Ah, so... a young girl, eleven or so, emerged from the store in a complete Juicy Couture outfit, carrying a Starbucks cup and the distinctive paper bag reserved for prescription medication. I started for the door to the store; clearly this interaction was over.

Then I heard the girl as she got into the car: "Sorry, Mom. The pharmacy opened late again, and they said that all they had was the generic."

I looked back to see the driver pound the steering wheel with very engaged frustration. Quite the contrast to her earlier study in stillness. "JESUS FUCKING CHRIST! What the Hell do I have to do to get real Paxil???? DAMN IT! DAMN IT! DAMN IT!!"

The driver's side window was still down, so I was able to hear the girl offer, "I got you a latte..." as the Porsche screamed out of the parking lot. Hope she didn't spill it.

I went inside, no waiting, scored some over-roasted Colombian, noticed my hand was still shaking when I poured in the heavy milk. Listened to Dethklok, full volume, all the way to the freeway.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

We Get What We Tolerate

To become truly great, one has to stand with people, not above them.

~Charles de Montesquieu, remembered for his articulation of the theory of separation of powers. Born 318 years ago today.

Response to Charles Stimson's apology for his attack on law firms representing Guantanamo detainees, in which he asserts:
Regrettably, my comments left the impression that I question the integrity of those engaged in the zealous defense of detainees in Guantanamo.

To the contrary, Mr. Stimson: Your comments leave the impression that you've made up your mind that the detainees at Guantanamo are guilty, and by extension, so is every suspect detained on charges of terrorism.

It's understandable. It would appear that you have only a hammer, and so this issue may look like a nail to you. Your obvious arrogance and disregard for the rights of these unfortunate human beings leaves us wondering whether anything more than the grace of God separates us from those unfortunate enough to be ensnared in the War on Terror.

Whether the stories about some number of the Guantanamo detainees having been turned in for a bounty are true, simple statistics dictate that some fraction of them are innocent. I understand that you're an experienced and elite jurist. You don't seem to understand that the vast majority of the citizens of these United States believe deeply in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty." Notice that many of us react accordingly to injustice in other countries who do not recognize this maxim. We claim it as our right, and we expect the rest of the world to eventually come to the same conclusion.

Yet remarks like yours suggest that our most powerful leaders do not believe as we do. Your remarks come across as very telling to us, and reinforce our fears that our Government is neither by, for, nor of the people. You will be remembered for contributing gravity to the argument that we are being led by nothing more than a cabal of disconnected elites who view us as pawns to be manipulated.

Most of us understand that we get what we tolerate. Our patience is wearing thin.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Tree Falls in Forest (audio not available)

ambivalence, n.

  1. The coexistence of opposing attitudes or feelings, such as love and hate, toward a person, object, or idea.
  2. Uncertainty or indecisiveness as to which course to follow.

I'd love to change the world/But I don't know what to do.

~Ten Years After, I'd Love to Change the World

Does it make a sound if no one is there to hear it? I don't know. I wasn't there.

It occurs to me that I don't know a Hell of a lot. I like to think that I know certain things because it lends me a sense of security--but really, I have no idea what some of the most important people in my life are doing, whether they're happy, safe, proud of me, &c. It doesn't make any sense to ponder those things, either. Believe me--I've tried it.

You've probably heard of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. It's at least 65 years old, and various implementations consist of between 50-100 multiple choice questions. The result is a four-letter acronym which indicates the dichomoties in your personality, e.g. extroversion/introversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judging/perceiving. Like a horoscope, the ensuing analysis is interesting, but not always accurate. I notice that the results depend on where you're at, physically and mentally, when you answer the questions. Another interesting vector is whether you answer according to how you act at work, home, &c.

I tend to straddle every category except for the last one. I've derived that the categories where I exhibit traits from both sides are those for which I've learned to "switch hit," as it were. The one thing that I'm sure of, that these tests seem to confirm, is that I am most certainly not judgmental.

Like I needed a test to tell me that. I can consider most things all day, and then resume the analysis on the next. I don't like to give estimates. I do like straight talk, but I'm still training myself to provide it. For quite some time, the most frequent phrase I uttered was, but then again. The metaphor of rumination would suggest that my mind resembles the digestive systems of hooved animals that digest their food in at least two steps.

Yet there are some things about which I'm certain. Most of these are based on maxims that I accept, yet still look for agreement about in conversation. For example, I know that if I unleash some personal upset into the world (yell at my kids, flip someone off in traffic, give some service provider a hard time), someone will be kicking the dog when s/he gets home from work. And I'll have been the cause of that particular instance of abuse. I know this is so, and yet I'll discuss it at length, if only to understand it better for myself.

I find it interesting that the Zen master who composed the tree-in-forest koan chose a noisy and dramatic event--and didn't choose an enraged human being yelling in the forest with no one around to experience the upset. Aside from the residual effects on the person who was alone in the forest, I'm certain that this is the only exception to the idea at hand: Expressing my personal dissatisfaction with How It's Going to another person who didn't ask for it isn't worth whatever relief I might get in that moment. It compounds, with interest, and lives on, passed from one person to another.

I used to blame someone/something else for having been like that. I've decided since that I'm responsible for how I show up in the world.

If being a jerk in the morning to another human being connects to someone's pain in the afternoon, then the depth of one's generosity is impossible to fathom. I might remember every detail of every time I was felt offended from yesterday, but I'll always remember the friend who got me to pick up the guitar again.

My personality construction was complete before I aged 20 years, and I still feel like pretty much the same person inside. I still wonder: How in the world I can ever realize my own principles with my actions? Just the other day I was driving to work, feeling somewhat smug because my car gets better mileage than the SUVs I see on the freeway. Then I looked around and saw that everyone--including me--was driving alone. Oh, but I have plenty of reasons why I can't carpool. It's as though I've got my world set up so that driving to work alone works for me. I'm concerned that it doesn't work for the planet.

After lengthy consideration (heh), I've decided that I do change the world, regardless of what I do. Even if the sum of my actions/inactions is to preserve the status quo, it's still true that I did that. I'm responsible.

Not so much that I'm to blame. I'm able to respond in the matter. As for the tree, I'll get back to you tomorrow.