Sunday, October 31, 2004

Political Simplicity

Last night I went to a Halloween party. I actually went to two but the second was with people I knew in college. C***** asked if I had done any reading recently and I talked about "Constant Battles" by Steven LeBlanc wherein the myth that ancient people were more peaceful is destroyed by overwhelming archeological evidence that prehistory was in fact filled with more and deadlier warfare than today. Ken Burns' documentary "The Civil War", "How to Make War" by James Dunnigan and "On Killing" by Dave Grossman were also discussed. All in all, it was entertaining.

And then T*** came over. It was like C***** was struck and he changed direction instantly.

"So, I assume you are going to be voting for George Bush."

This is when I made my mistake.

Back in college, with the Cold War in full swing and Ronald Reagan in office, I somehow had earned myself the moniker of "Mister Conservative". I was, in all honesty, a "fiscal conservative" and a hawk when it came to military policy but to look at my polital beliefs across the board, I was pretty liberal in the true sense of the word. My liberal interpretation of the Constitution is that when says that the people have certain rights that these rights should be interpreted as broadly (or liberally) as possible. The 10th Amendment sums it up pretty well, "The powers not delegated to the US by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people." If it's not specifically prohibited, then it's allowed. A true liberal view.

My mistake: I responded "You assume incorrectly".

T*** literally threw his hands up in disbelief. C***** said "I want to start by saying that I know you to be intelligent and well-reasoned and I respect your views". Whereupon they double-teamed me at every point over why I was wrong. As the conversation got more heated, T*** would get closer in an unconsious effort to physically pressure me. C***** would periodically point this out to hold him back, no realizing that he was using the same looming tactic.

The topic turned to the war in Iraq and I stated my opinion that Dubbya is fighting the wrong war. He could kill terrorists all day long and only succeed in making more terrorists. What needs to be done is address the reason why people are willing to strap explosives on themselved and blow up a bus full of schollchildren in an attempt to catch a few soldiers in the blast. These people have nothing and are desparate. If they were economically self-sufficent then their reason for killing would disappear. This even went back to my first conversation of the evening, about the book "Constant Battles". People hate war. People don't like to kill. But they will if they feel pressured. Take away the pressure and they'll gladly go home.

Almost out of the blue, T*** said "So what you're saying is that Jews just didn't throw themselves into the furnaces fast enough."


Just because I don't kick my own teeth out of my mouth in knee-jerk support of Israel does not make me a Nazi and anti-semmite!

"What the hell are you talking about! Your fucking insane,T***!" My cursing outburst was out of character for me and the entire room quieted down.

What I wanted to do is drive my fist right into his face. What I should have done was walk away from the whole thing. I really don't need this short of hyperbolic bullshit. Especially when I'm trying to have a good time. But I knew that my wife was having a good time in a different conversation. and my leaving would put an end to that. It would also hand a victory to T***, utilizing some of the same tactics that the Dubbya campaign and his lackeys were using (such as the swift boat veterans calling Kerry a traitor).

I carried on the conversation, turning it to a damning of both parties and their tactics and trying to spin this as the sort of behavior that has always gone on. Of course, calling me a Nazi put a damper on things and while C***** and T*** went to get more beer, I took the opportunity to turn my back on that half of the room to join H**** and P***'s conversation on movies and the wonders of Netflix.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

Cost of Living

I got a raise!

Several; weeks ago, I had my annual performance appraisal. In years past, my rating has been extremely high. Last year, my Manager said, "So, T*** (my team Lead) tells me you can walk on water."

Fat lot of good all that talent and skill has done. Two years ago, The Company made some bad financial mistakes and we lost our 401k matching, our bonuses and any salary increases.

I have become less concerned with my opinions at my appraisals (and at any other time for that matter) and let it be known at this latest meeting that I was not at all happy with the financial situation and if the market didn't suck as bad as it did, that I would be gone in spite of my stellar performance.

Well, The Company was bought out earlier this year by Another Company, along with promises of an improved workplace. Thus, my raise.

But, this was not a performance-based raise which, in the past, had been as high as 6%. No, this was a "cost of living" increase which everyone was going to get. Twenty-five cents a hour. A 1.47% increase.

I hate to tell you guys but with inflation running at a "modest" 3%, I'm still loosing money on the deal. My paycheck went up $6. I didn't even recognize it in the first paycheck, thinking I had snared a little overtime on one of those last-minute customer calls.

How will I be insulted next?

Thursday, October 14, 2004


After todays building evacuation drill, I had to opportunity to speak with one of the security guards (I talk to him often about guns and anime). As it turns out, during the last drill, The Bank had such a huge number of non-participants that the City Fire Marshal took notice and levied a fine.

Hoody-hoo! It wan't enough to scare The Bank into obeying the law completely and having the Help Desk and Customer Call Center evacuate but it was something at least. Their apparent response was that unless the entire city is evacuating they will not evacuate completely and are prepared to absorb such fines as the cost of doing business.

Of course, if they did the smart thing, they would utilize these drills as an opportunity to test their business resiliancy and activate their backup locations to handle the calls during these rare and short term situations. As it is, we will have to wait until an actual emergency to find out if our business resiliancy plans will actually work.

Building evacuation

This story requires a bit of lead in, so bear with me here.

As a result of the events of 9/11, I became a Floor Warden, responsible for the safety of the people here at the Help Desk. Lots of "Business Resiliency" meetings and such. It wasn't until 2003 that The City had worked out a comprehensive plan with rules for the various high-rises. One of those rules was that each year, every building over 10 stories tall must perform a drill with a full building evacuation.

Because our building was so tall, they were able to negotiate an exemption that allowed them to do two evacuation drills, each evacuating half the building. The October 2003 drill was to evacuate the half of the building containing The Bank and The Help Desk.

Except that The Bank felt they were too important to loose 45 minutes of their day. So, the email we received indicated that The Help Desk and The Customer Call Center would not be participating.

As Floor Warden, I was in a position to follow up on this and I checked with the Building Manager. He confirmed that the law states that participation is mandatory. If the alarm sounds, the building is to be evacuated. He admitted that Building Security was not in a position to enforce the mandatory evacuation and while the City Fire Marshal was fully justified in exacting fines for non-compliance, it was unlikely that he would do so. Even so, it was against the law.

I quit my position as Floor Warden immediately. I had significant ethical problems with my employer asking me to break the law and being an accomplice to that albeit minor crime.

For this year's evacuation drill, The Bank sent out an e-mail that said "All employees are strongly encouraged to participate in this drill as it is an integral part of both US Steel Tower and PNC's emergency response plans" which implies that the drill is a voluntary event. Last year's e-mails did say "mandatory" until they realized that it would bring The Bank to a screeching halt and The Management decided to ignore the law. I checked with building security and they confirmed that the law has not changed and evacuation is still considered mandatory.

So I have been lied to and asked to break the law again. The irony of having to troubleshoot user issues with a regular battery of Code of Ethics CBT modules is not lost on me.

Monday, October 11, 2004


One of my neighbors placed several Kerry signs in his yard. Then the Bush signs went up in the yard next to his. Another Kerry sign went up. Then another Bush sign. Yard lights went up to illuminate the signs at night, first for Kerry, then for Bush. The neighbor across the street put up some Kerry signs. A 4 foot by 8 foot Bush sign went up, also illuminated at night.

And, for all these machinations I wonder what they really accomplish other than chest-beating, like chimpanzees or gorillas trying to intimidate one another. Certainly I cannot imagine two so partisan neighbors leaning over the fence to discuss the relative merits of opposing issues. More likely there will be the surreptitious re-distribution of fall leaves or flinging of dog droppings into the yard of the enemy camp.

It makes me wish I had a full-sized "Cthulhu for President" ( sign to put up in my yard.

Just because I have a degree in political science doesn't mean I like politics.

Friday, October 01, 2004

March of the Morons

Most of the time, issues with users are cause by simple ignorance. The user wasn't trained properly, it wasn't a feature they ever used before or some other computer problem that they simply don't know. This is usually easy to deal with an not very stressful. But occasionally I see things that make me weep for humanity.

On the rest room door, someone had taped a note "Kawshun, Wet Floor".

The floor is almost the exclusive domain of technical support. The Help Desk, Network and hardware support, you know, college graduates or those at the very least with an Associates Degree. You would think that they could spell the word Caution.