Saturday, May 14, 2011

Pro What?

Some people may think I am as dim as a firefly in a London fog or that one would need access to the Hubble Telescope to see any glimmer in my obtuse brain but there are things I simply don’t understand.

Yesterday in Ottawa there was a huge Pro-Life rally. Thousands of people walking around the downtown core yelling and screaming how important it was to save every life; that the unborn child had the right to live; that mothers who get an abortion were murderers; etc. We all heard the message: some are touched by it, others are offended, but very few are left indifferent.

As I was walking back from a meeting, I was able to observe the participants in that rally. It was quite a mixed bag: young and old, beautiful and ugly, calm and excited. They all seem to have one thing in common though: they all had a bit of a right-wing air to them. Whether it was the hairstyle, the clothing, the glasses, the demeanour, or other more subtle indicator, most of them were certainly the conservative type. That got me thinking. If, they were indeed leaning on the right, they had me confused. Aren’t these people that are now asking the government to save the life of all unborn children the ones that beg for the return of the death penalty, demand lower spending in public health, call for the right to bear arms, appeal for greater investment in the military? I really wonder how the same people who so strongly defend the life of the unborn can rationalize equipping the military with the latest weapons to increase the kill per soldier ratio or giving someone a lethal injection based on an “eye for an eye” logic.

I wish I could find out when, in these people’s minds, life looses its sanctity? Is it when the individual is capable of independent thought? When facial and body hair appears? Maybe it’s something else. I know it’s not politically correct to say this but does the ethnicity of the life in question have some importance? Is the real message behind all of this that we must save white unborn children but it’s OK to kill Arab extremists, black prisoners and sick natives?

Come to think of it, at the rally yesterday the crowd was certainly overwhelmingly white. Could some explain all this to me because it’s all very puzzling?

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A Christmas Story

- Hello. Can you help me? I really need to “go”… Like now; could you tell where…?
- No, I can’t, I’m currently on break. If you don’t mind waiting, I’ll be able to help you in 10 minutes or so.
- But you’re standing there anyway! Why can’t you just answer my question? It’s kind of an emergency really.
- I wish I could but because I’m on break, it’s against our collective bargaining agreement to answer customer questions.
- Didn’t you just answer my question?
- Yes but I answered as an individual, not as a representative of the company. That would have been a breech of agreement and could have resulted in a grievance.
- That’s ridiculous. Can I ask the individual where I can find…?
- No, no, don’t even go there. What you would be doing would be forcing me to act more or less as a scab, a sort of strike-breaker.
- But you’re not on strike, your on break. At worse that would make you a break-breaker.
- Same difference…
- Have you ever consulted for your condition? I think you may suffer from acute mythomania or a really bad case of dissociative identity disorder!
- I don’t fully understand what you are getting at but I will assume it is only mildly derogatory…
- I would say that “mildly” was certainly misplaced in that statement. But, never mind. Let me try another approach. Hypothetically speaking, if one needed to go…?
- Sir, please. Don’t force me to call Security.
- You wouldn’t dare… Anyway, I’m sure Security would see the ridicule of the situation…
- Security is governed by the same collective agreement, so…
- So what! All I need is for you to answer a simple question. One that anyone – even you with your apparently very limited abilities – would have no difficulty in…
- Sir, there is a limit to the abuse I am willing to accept. These defamatory comments directed towards me, the individual, could constitute grounds for a formal complaint.
- This is absurd. We are in the busiest time of the year: people are stressed out with their last minute shopping; there are thousands upon thousands running around trying to get ready for the holidays like so many cranium-lacking poultry and now, to top it all off, they all will need to face you and your kind: over-protected, under-competent employees that hide behind collective bargaining agreements to avoid doing their job!
- Sir, I would suggest absurdity is in the eye of the beholder. Isn’t it idiotic to feel pressure from having to buy gifts? Isn’t it foolish to wait until the last minute to do your holiday preparations? Isn’t it ludicrous to expect that someone will forgo his own rights just to make your life easier?
- Wow! Of all the people in the world that could have crossed my path today, I had to run into you… You are by far the biggest waste of oxygen I have ever seen. At least if you were capable of photosynthesis, you would be showing some productivity…
- Sir, you don’t seem to understand my position. I am but a small cog in the big wheel of my labour union. What I am doing right now is not for my benefit but for that of my labour brothers and sisters around the world who are united in the face of globalisation and the commoditization of human industry.
- I can’t believe it! Where the hell are you from? And who ever thought you had the profile to work in customer service? Now I know what people in the USSR must have felt like when, expecting to buy a loaf of bread, were given a Lada rear view mirror instead!
- Well at least the Soviet Union treated everyone equally…
- Yeah, they all had an equal chance to be sent straight to the Gulag on a whim from a well connected party member. God I wish I was in that position right now!
- Well, let me say this to you sir… Oh my lord, my break is over! Give me a second while me the employee returns… Hello sir, how can I help you?
- You can switch it on and off like that? Absolutely amazing! In a parallel universe maybe you could be the subject of Stevenson’s novel instead of Dr. Jekyll… But there’s no point in beating a dead horse. Would you mind telling me where I can find the men’s room?
- I would not mind at all, if it wasn’t for the fact that my job description states, and I quote: “An employee may be required to perform other related duties not explicitly defined in this document from time to time. These need to be specifically authorized by the employee’s immediate supervisor prior to being undertaken”. Since providing directions to customers is not part of my job description, I will need to call my supervisor to ensure I am empowered to answer that question for you.
- Kafka? Kafka? Come out where ever you are! We need to find a way to conclude this most enlightening conversation as I really, really need to “go”. How about if you, the individual, tell me where you go when you need to go?
- That’s simple enough. I go down the aisle between cosmetics and jewellery, turn left at ladies underwear and walk straight towards the back wall…
- Great thanks!
- No sir, stop! You can’t go there because the door is locked and only employees are allowed in!
- Sh*t, I give up! I just don’t know how to get the information from you… Wait, maybe there’s an alternative… Yeah, that’s it… Excuse me, but I would like to try on this beautiful silk scarf. Would you be so kind as to open up a change room for me?
The overarching moral of this story, if one is indeed needed, is that most things, when pushed to the extreme become absurd. But, hidden behind that is another more implicit moral that when one really needs to “go”, one should never rely on outside help.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

IMHO II – What is the goal of a Corporation anyway?

Should we really be surprised when we hear that yet another greedy bunch of executives have lied and cheated their way into making a fortune while leaving investors, clients and suppliers high and dry? After all, greed is the character trait corporations look for in their executives as they well know that if they succeed in harnessing it, they will ensure the financial success of their organization. Problem is that organizations now seem to have a much harder time controlling the greed of their executives than they did years ago. Execs know that with only one little crooked deal, they can make enough money to last a lifetime and, if they don’t get caught, they can start again the next day at another company.

In my hair-raising opinion, a corporation’s success should not be measured only by the bottom line. It should take into account social responsibility aspects such as fairness to employees, respect for the environment, etc. Using such an approach, execs would have no choice but to take these factors into account since their compensation would be linked to them. I think it’s about time we revisit the savage capitalistic model that has driven western society to the brink of self-destruction and take a more holistic approach.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

IMHO I - The Boomers

No but really, what a bunch of spoiled brats… Not only have they had and eaten their cake but now they are leaving us to clean up their dirty dishes. Of course I am talking about the baby boomer generation. You know who they are: they’re the people that have high paying jobs with full pensions, drive expensive cars that guzzle gas like there is no tomorrow, wear expensive clothes imported from god knows where, drink expensive “fair trade” coffee in throw away cups, have plastic surgery to try and hold back the years and then moralize us on how we need to do more for the environment they massively contributed in destroying.

These may seem harsh words but I do think a lot of people see it the same way. Not a day goes by where one can’t find a headline showing boomers asking for more or wanting to contribute less. And, of course, our political establishment is listening because not is it mostly made up of boomers but also because boomers represent the bulk of the potential voters who actually show up at the polls on Election Day.

In my hostile opinion, we, the non-boomers, should do everything in our power to ensure that they, the boomers, foot the bill of their excesses while they are still around; the clock is ticking. The best place to start is by exercising our right to vote.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Why o Why?

Just a few years ago - ok, I’m lying, it’s more like 20 years ago - an acquaintance of mine was considering having a small tattoo on his forearm removed because he believed it was limiting his chances of promotion in the large conservative US consulting company where we were both working. He would continuously wear long sleeve undershirts just to be sure that the outline of the anchor (or whatever it was he had there) would not be apparent through his white shirts. He had gotten the tattoo when he was young and rebellious but now regretted having walked into that shop while under the influence of ________ (fill the blank with one or more of the following options: peer pressure, absentmindedness, alcohol, drugs, penis envy…)! Yes, this was 20 years ago and times have changed. But, have they really? It may be acceptable today to have tattoos everywhere but how about 20 years from now? Can anyone know for sure?

10 or so years ago, when this renewed interest for tattoos started, it was a way to marginalize one’s self: a sort of personal rebellion against the accepted norms of society. People that got tattooed were mostly of the “see-if-I-care” type. Now, every Tom, Dick and Georgette seems to have at least one. But, as we all surely know, when something becomes popular with the Walmart crowd, you know it’s reaching the end of its “fashionability”. After all, it’s easy to realize that this is the same fashion cycle that has caused the return of such great fads as bell-bottom jeans, brylcreemed hair and Tom Jones. What is popular and fashionable today will not be in 5 or 10 years. This is not a big deal when it comes to clothing or hairstyles but it’s another thing altogether when the fashion statement is permanently printed on your body.

Just the other day I saw a fortyish, fairly large office clerk looking lady with both arms covered in tattoos. Not only was it not very visually appealing but it also seemed utterly unprofessional. I found myself wondering if, under circumstances requiring me to be in a hiring frame of mind, I would ever consider her for an office job. The answer was quite clear: no f’ing way. This may make me old fashioned or – I hate this word – discriminatory but I believe that it’s important, within reason, to look the part. If one holds an office position for some large organization, I would expect that that person would make an effort to look professional and not expose their love of angels, skeletons, medieval knights, New Kids on the Block, Pokémons and/or Richard Nixon through permanent doodles on their arms, legs, fingers, forehead, etc.

I know that in the grand scheme of things, this is trivial. Everyone is the master of their own bodies and should be allowed to do with it as they please. On the other end, these people should realize that others may not feel the same way about their means of self expression and that this may easily lead to typecasting, especially when tattoos are once again considered marginal.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

A Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers

April 6, 1992: I remember it as if it was yesterday. It was a Monday and, like most Mondays that spring, I stopped by the corner store on my way back from class to buy a Cherry Coke and a chocolate bar – my favourite, a 3 Musketeers. As I walked into the store, I noticed a small group of gentlemen in old suits attentively watching the small television behind the counter. I asked to find out what was going on and someone said that they were witnessing a world changing event, the siege of Sarajevo. Although I could recognize the importance of the moment, hunger and the need for a sugar boost was, in my eyes, more important in the grand scheme of things. I wriggled my way to the counter and finally got my hands on the coveted treat. As I handed the money to the clerk, a nice Vietnamese man would seemed unimpressed with the whole event and wishing the crowd would at least buy something, a man at the back of the crowd cried out that he too needed a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers to boost his morale. I turned to look at who had said that and saw a burly middle-aged man that had an “I am way more important than any of you think” look about him. As he made his way to the counter, I heard him say that it was certainly against doctor’s orders but important events called for important measures.

A number of years passed. I had now become a “productive” member of society. I had a job working as an accountant – hence the quotation marks around the word productive! - in an investment bank. My job called for me to meet with prospective clients to go over their application. In the morning of October 8, 2001 – I remember it well as everyone in the office was talking about the start of the war in Afghanistan, “Operation Enduring Freedom” – I was sitting in my office waiting for my morning appointment to show up. When he arrived, I immediately noticed something vaguely familiar about the young man but I could not put my finger on it. We went through the usual niceties and then down to business. After a while, my client asked me if there was any way he could go and get something to eat, as he had not had time to have breakfast prior to our meeting. As my schedule was tight, there was no time for him to do so, so I offered him all I had on hand, a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers. He reacted strangely to the offer: his face turned pale and for a moment he seemed to stare into the distance. I was taken aback by his reaction and he must have noticed as he immediately apologized. He then went on to tell me the story behind his reaction.

His father had been a scientist and businessman. After having emigrated from some Eastern Block country, he started work for the defence department. That lasted for a time but he finally left civil service to found his own company. His aim was straight forward enough: market products based on research he had done while in his home country. He had tried to promote the ideas to his superiors in the defence department but they had found them too ludicrous to even be considered. He worked tirelessly and was on the verge of success when, in 1992, his life was caught short by a massive heart attack. It seemed that the stress of the work, combined with his awful eating habits – he used to say to his son: “You smell that? Kielbasa, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of Kielbasa in the morning” - had made him a prime candidate for an acute myocardial infarction. On that fateful afternoon in 1992, his father had returned home glowing with a strange air of satisfaction. He had then sat down in his favourite chair and never got up again. Doctors were never able to confirm exactly what the true cause was but all signs seemed to point to a large intake of sugar which he had all but removed from his daily diet. Following his death, the company went bankrupt; no longer having a driving force to make it progress, and the family became destitute. The son, who was a teenager when his father passed away, had vowed to follow in his footsteps and finish what his father had started. He had worked himself through university, studied his father’s work and was now ready to pick up where is father had left off. This is why he was in my office that day; he was looking for funding to restart the company and finally produce what his father had invented.

His father was a botanist and biologist and had developed a fast growing plant that took on a different color based on whether or not the soil in which it grew contained traces of explosives. This would provide an effective, economical and much safer way of detecting landmines. The son had calculated that, had his father lived, his invention could have saved the lives of over thousands and thousands of people. As he kept on talking about plants, landmines and people, my mind started to wander and I asked myself what was so familiar about him. Then, as it often does, a small change in his facial expression made it all came back. His short brown hair that stood straight on his head, his eyebrows that seemed to have been drawn by a single stroke of a large felt pen, his brown eyes that looked both happy and sad at the same time, his round nose that gave the impression of inflating every time he took a breath, his crooked smile that revealed uneven teeth… He looked just like his father; the man who bought a Cherry Coke and a 3 Musketeers in a corner store on April 6, 1992.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Why did the chicken cross the road? IV

Salvador Dali’s viewpoint

Upon hearing the question, Dali got up, walked over to the questioner, wet his own index finger with his tongue and stuck it in the questioner’s left ear. Dali then returned to his chair, turned around and sat with his back to the interviewer. After a few more moments of silence Dali said: “I once said that intelligence without ambition is like a bird without wings. As I doubt a chicken has any intelligence and we all know that its wings are of limited functional use, it follows that it would not be ambition that would drive it to cross the road. Ambition cannot grow out of the barren garden of stupidity. In order for the chicken to cross the road, there must have been an external agent, a source of motivation that compelled it to go beyond where its limited imagination could take it. I can see only one source of attraction strong enough to elicit such behaviour from a lowly chicken.” Dali became silent again and played with his moustache by pulling it in every direction. After doing so for a minute or two, he once again got up, walked over to the questioner but this time bent down and slowly moved forward until his nose was almost touching that of his interlocutor. He then said: “I am now ready to answer”.

So why did the chicken cross the road? “Because I was on the other side.”