Drive Time Musings

When I browse the web in search of that perfect job, I often run across articles that tell me the “top 10 things that get your resume noticed”, or the “50 most asked questions at an interview”, and so on.  Useful bits, one would think, but they only serve to get the type of person in the door and on the team that will fit in.  No outliers allowed.  And while thinking about the types of articles floating out there and the questions I’ve been asked in interviews, it has struck me to my very core that the employer don’t want me, the individual, they want a widget that will bring PROFIT to the employer.  So, unless you go in as the son, daughter, niece, uncle, etc., of the folks who determine what your wages will be, your output will exceed your pay, thus, profiting the organization.  Now, that’s how our capitalist society functions, and as long as the working class believes in their heart of hearts that one day they or a son or daughter will become a “captain of industry”, heir to gain and gold, there won’t be any huge revolt against the way things are.  Indeed, this article isn’t an attempt to kick-start a revolution on a macro scale, but a caution to the individual.

One reads everyday about the struggles to reap the success promised new college graduate of well-paying jobs and a place in middle class society.  It seems that the formula:  M(oney) + E(ducation) x T(ime) = $(uccess), is turning out to be a more complicated problem, with variables such as A(vailability of jobs), W(ho you know), and F(ollow your dreams) making solving the puzzle more difficult.  Let’s add to that the mix of individuals who are changing jobs/careers or returning to the workforce,  and you’ll use reams of paper getting to the final answer.  So it can feel like getting your foot in the front door for an interview seems like a win and you can relax and sail into productive citizenship.

Hold on.  What if the job does offer a benefits and pay package that make it seem as if you’ve hit the job jackpot?  What if you did your research, asked and answered the “right” questions, and the interview is winding down to a gooooaaaalllll! for all parties involved?  Before you shake hands and go home to “consider the offer”, ask a few more questions.  Understand that once you accept the job, you’re entering a “cage” that will hold you captive.  And the “forces” that hold you captive are bills, a desire to eat, and a choice in where you live, what you drive, etc.,  Some employees enter the “cage” unawares, and are blindsided by corruption and incompetence immediately.  Others smell a stink and can’t trace it initially, but when they find the source of the foul smell, they find themselves awake at night, wondering how did they get there.  It’s because they didn’t ask the right questions.  You’d like to leave but you’re trapped – held there by external forces until what’s happening on the job causes you to make a choice between being able to sleep at night, and where you lie your head.  There are individuals who live “outside the cage” willingly – that’s another post, but there are those who want and need the security of a known income stream.  If you are in search of that, read on.

If you display your knowledge of a company’s “public” face, the interviewer gives you points, and if you ask questions about “a typical day on the job”, you show interest and that you have a pulse.   But you need to ask questions that benefit you beyond the superficial.

Anyone out there who has had a “nightmare” job experience will ruefully think of the types of questions they should have asked the interviewer.  Really, how can you know?  Here’s a few samples of typical questions, and what I think ought to be “reflex questions”, designed to see if the organization is a good fit for YOU.  Based on their response, you’ll know if the chains you accept will chafe gently, or if you’re entering the Terrordome.

Interviewer: Tell me about an accomplishment you are most proud of.

You:  Give me one example of your organization’s core values as they apply to the employees. 

Interviewer:  Tell me about a time you made a mistake.

You:  What is the process by which an employee can report unethical behavior, even if the behavior is profiting the company? 

Interviewer:  How did you hear about this position?

You:  How many employees here are relatives or neighbors?

Interviewer: Would you work holidays/weekends?

You:  What types of work would be done on the holiday?  Weekend? 

Interviewer:  Give a time when you went above and beyond the requirements for a project.

You:  How do you recognize / compensate a person who goes above and beyond the requirements for a project? 

Interviewer:  How would you fire someone?

You:  How do you support your managers when they have to discipline an employee?

Interviewer:  Would you work 40+ hours a week?

You:  How long would you “hold” a job for an exemplary employee who’s out for medical reasons?

Moral of this musing:  Don’t be a “widget”

What Happened to Occupy Wall Street?

When these young, optimistic, energized folks first sought to bring attention to the unfairness between the haves and have-nots, it was the talk of the world.  But they never became the media darlings that was their right, only a prickly thorn in the side of righteous middle class – those who firmly believed a person could pull themselves up by their bootstraps.  If only they tried.  See the media is composed of average people, who, through a combination of looks, charisma, and connections were able to catapult themselves into lifestyle that protected them from the gritty headlines they produced.  If they gave these young warriors too much attention – pouf! gone are the sensible investments in place to ease their departure from the limelight.  Change would Happen.  No, not too smart to listen carefully to their complaints; just move along folks…let’s take a look at the next sensational headline…The solidly working class folks looked up from their grindstones and a brief glimmer of hope shone in their eyes, then they put their heads down and plowed on, not believing they had a bone in this particular fight.  After all, the working class knew all along the game was rigged.  So what happened to these young warriors?

For the most part, they are still there.  Some are fighting smarter – taking the skirmishes to boardrooms, or boycotting particularly devious corporations.  They’ve used the electronic media to get the word out, and there’s a website you can visit to see what they’re up to.  Some have fallen by the wayside.  When your own country views you has a criminal, take the well-traveled road – shave, clean up your act, put on some khakis and a tie and pray your picture never made higher than the “continued from page 1″ columns.  It’s probably why the movement has been slow to take hold with groups who can/are easily singled out for retribution:  ethnic or religious groups, women, etc.  But slowly, even these groups are understanding that simply standing by won’t guarantee them a job or any sense of stability.

What was the war all about?  It pretty much was a wake-up call that the rich are getting richer, and the rich are putting policies in place that will ensure that the arrow always points up on their powerpoint presentations.  If you were working class, making a living (albeit barely), then you didn’t pay too close attention.  If you’re working class, and have lost your job, while you’re in the unemployment line, you can muse on what policy or boardroom decision led to you no longer being able to feed your family.  If you were middle class, you felt like you had educated or worked yourself out of the smog of futility.  But it requires the income of two to afford the comforts of the good life – health insurance, vacations, the latest gadgetry, children – while bravely facing down the education debt mountain.

But Occupy Wall Street isn’t over yet.  It’s initial run has been lead by the most unlikely group to have a complaint:  young, white, employed, future on lockdown.  So forgive the unemployed, working class, barely surviving citizenry that didn’t get too worked up about it at first:  they allowed their eyes to deceive their ears.  If they had closed their eyes and listened, they would have heard the cry of a sister, brother, mother, or father who spoke out against the machine.  As the members of this class get squeezed harder and harder, they are speaking out against stagnant wages, unfair labor practices, and legalized slavery.  The scales are falling from their eyes and they see OWS for what is truly is.

“We are the 99%”.  That tagline refers to anyone who can’t walk out their front door and board a private jet to destination anywhere.  Up and down the income scale, you find deluded persons who believe their 6-figure salaries or potentially hot start-ups insulate them from the vagaries of life lived on someone else’s terms.  So they don’t think of themselves as the “99%”, but as fortunate bystanders who deep down inside give themselves more credit for their success than chance, fate, or God.  These are the people who hire the people who try to sell us palliatives for a pain that is deep within our psyche.  These are the people who gamble that their faithfulness to the “job creators” will result in future security for their offspring and themselves.  Anything to deny that they are in fact one of the 99%.  And just like there is infighting between brothers of a family; the folks on the high end of the 99% are the hardest scrappers against the folks on the low end of the 99%.  And like parents, the 1% stay out of the fray, only stepping in when the fighting could seriously damage one or the other.  Because that would lead to anarchy.

Keeping your head down won’t protect you.  Stand up.  Acknowledge that you are one of the 99%.  Find out what you can do.  If the very least you can do is that you won’t continue to enrich the very folks that strive to keep you penniless, then you’ve made a giant step to remove yourself from their clutches.  Educate  and know yourself.  Spend time thinking, and move away from what ever takes away your focus.  Own yourself.  Don’t be used to further someone else’s goals.  Don’t think for a minute that renting a toy of the elite makes you one of them – it doesn’t.  Get out of the business of enriching others.

Paradigm Shift I

It occurred to me this morning, that I have more beliefs in common with Republicans than I would have ever thought. 

I’ve always been a supporter of individual rights, especially the right to work hard and reap the benefits of that hard work.  I’ve suffered a setback or two in life but it’s been nothing that I’ve blamed others for, or asked a free pass on to the next level.  My upbringing certainly leaned towards individualism and self-reliance:  we never asked for or accepted government subsidies while my parents were alive and working.  Working poor.  Proverbs 17:1 means so much more to me now than it did as a child; we weren’t the happy-go-lucky laborers ala Phil Robertson, but the tensions in my family home didn’t arise solely from outside influences.  I was able to have a largely uneventful childhood.  It’s ironic that much of my aversion to government subsidies is due to the fact that kids whose parents received food stamps and a ‘gubmint check’ dressed and ate better than I did.  And rubbed our faces in it.  As an adult, I’m aware of the evils of striving for more than I need, which has led to more than one set-back for me; but, I believe the evil of receiving something that you didn’t work is even greater. 

I used to dislike Ayn Rand on principle, had never read anything she wrote, just looked at her most ardent supporters (white, Republican, sometimes racist) and thought she was a rabid separatist who thought whites were a superior race.  Out of a sense of needing to know personally why I disliked her, I picked up one of her books.  It was an eye-opening experience, and taught me again that ideals and beliefs can be twisted to fit the needs of anyone’s agenda.  She was against racism, and she believed affirmative action was a form of racism.  I didn’t agree with that initially, but I see her point now.  I mention Ms. Rand because her philosophy of self-reliance, objectivism and not living a sacrificial life was particularly freeing for me.  It cuts out so much clutter in dealing with people when you place the onus on them to live their own lives.  One of her characters in the book I read says, “I do not live for others”.  It’s a useful go-to mantra when my day is threatened to be overwhelmed by OPP – Other People’s Problems. 

We could spend our wheels going around and around about which came first:  the evils of being subsidized or the necessity for the subsidy, but it has to end eventually.  I’ll never lift a finger to hurt someone, but I’m now starting to understand that their success or failure is not my fault.  I’m not going to sacrifice my life to ensure their success or comfort.  So, I get where so many Republicans are coming from when they complain about taxes going to support those who won’t lift a finger to help themselves.  I want to believe in a society where one’s success and failures in life are largely due to their own “selfies” (self-efforts).  It exists?  Yes it does, and we’re working towards it as a country.  Now as the pendulum swings back towards conservatism, I can only pray that if we are indeed “post-racial”, the country can judge each person solely on their merits, reward each according to their efforts, and get used the the success of each person with out comparing them to an ideal that simply doesn’t exist in reality. 

I won’t stay in the “closet” long.  I’m announcing to my community through my actions, that I will not support others’ poor choices.  This may hurt the people depending on these poor choice-makers – that’s always been the case.  I recall that as a child, my siblings and I suffered much due to our parent’s poor decisions, but no one butted in and said, “Here, let me make it better”.  I’m learning to differentiate between true community support, and blind altruism.  If parents won’t take responsibility for their childrens’ upbringing,  I am going to fight to keep my tax dollars away from bridging that lapse in personal responsiblity.  But I will fight to ensure that should that child make it to the classroom, they’ll have a world-class education.  I don’t support separatism, but I won’t stand in the way of those who wish to disengage from a damaged society.  I’ll call you a hypocrite if your success has been built on serving the undeserving; yet you wish to keep them out of your neighborhoods.  I don’t believe in “job creators”; there’s nothing benevolent about a business owner who expands and has more jobs to offer – it’s only to keep the profits coming in.  And those profits depend on cutting production costs, don’t they?  So, the worker must advocate for himself at some point in the game.  If my taxes go to support something everyone can enjoy – let’s do it.  I don’t mind that parks are improved, even though I rarely use them.  But I do mind my taxes be spent to put someone in housing that I myself can not afford.  I can’t stroll throught their front door and enjoy their well-built, stylish homes or apartments.  And when I walk into my crummy apartment (all that I can afford), it takes a minute to locate my gratefulness for the roof over my head. 

I won’t touch healthcare in this blog – that’s a blog unto itself.  But we are rapidly crossing the line between acting humanely towards our fellow man and acting as his keeper.  Once we do that, we’re one step closer to revivng slavery – as that was the basic premise of capturing humans and forcing them to adapt to /serve another culture – to civilize them. 

Republicans have a lot of good ideas.  Some of these ideas have been diluted by the shadow of classism (which is really the only “ism” left) which leads to the failure of a lot of their platforms.  Some of their ideas are based on the belief that there are intrinsic differences between racial groups that determine which group should be on top, and which should follow.  A careful perusal of Ayn Rand’s philosophy would put that hogwash to rest, and remove a lot of the cries of injustice that one hears when exposed “isms” that were carefully hidden and suddenly brought to light when a proponent of “bootstrap beginnings” is caught dishing out favors to followers whose only qualification was a superficial trait.

I’ll know more about what my true “orientation” is tomorrow – after I read the morning news.

School Voucher System In Louisiana

Recently, the courts decided that school vouchers are unconstitutional in Louisiana.  Apparently, giving parents a choice in where their children attend school is a no-no.  It seems history is repeating itself.  I mean, school vouchers are simply the latest way to “integrate” schools where the distinction is not race-based, but income levels.  Historically, public education in Louisiana and other states, was a situation of “separate but equal”.  Quite frankly, I believe that would have been the best way to keep things but for two facts:  1) The rationale of “separate but equal” was based on the erroneous belief that whites were superior to non-whites and therefore, separation of the races was for the best.  The second fact, 2) the schools were never “equal”, but simply an extension of the superiority belief of one group which led to inferior classrooms, materials, and equipment for the other group.  If there had ever been any equality, I doubt integration would have needed to be dictated by law.   I’ll even go out on a limb and postulate that there were innate racial differences, one group was more aggressive, more innovative, more willing to stop at nothing to succeed, etc.,  which may support a need to separate the groups.   But, not everyone “drank the koolaid” back in the day and bought that superiority lie.  And not all non-whites were champing at the bit to go sit in a classroom where they clearly were not wanted.

So, after racial segregation was struck down, economic segregation took its place.  Families now worked two and three jobs to put their kids in “good” schools.   A lot of these “good” schools just so happened to have a specific religion at its core philosophy, and it was a religion that few non-whites (it just so happened) practiced.  And if they weren’t religious-based, their fees were so astronomical, if you could afford the fees, race was a non-issue.  Bingo, segregation is back, and there’s nothing the courts can do about it.  Now here comes a governor who wants to pull up state education rankings and decides school vouchers are the way to go.

No protest from the private schools – they simply reviewed their admission requirements, tweaked them as needed, and declared they would only accept a limited number of voucher recipients.  This satisfied the basic requirement of the governor, which was simply dismantle or weaken the public school system.

Limited protest from parents.  Some wanted out of the public school system but couldn’t afford it.  Some didn’t care either way.  Some simply wanted the school system to be fixed.

Anyone speaking out against the voucher system was not looked upon kindly by the Jindal administration.

Anyway, nobody in this mess has considered the human component – institutions work only if the individuals all buy into its philosophy.  Teachers are human.  They bring their foibles and assets with them, you can’t train it out of them completely.  For instance, a teacher may have bias against children who remind him or her of a person they don’t like.  Guess what, they either work at reducing the effect of that bias on those children, or they allow it full reign.  That bias doesn’t ever go completely away.  Now, instead of having to teach one or two kids who fall into that unfortunate category, many more of them are at the door.  But the poor teacher can’t quit, not just yet.  A career change may be just around the corner, but in the meantime….

The teacher may simply decide to teach certain students and ignore others.  Males in one class are elevated and groomed; girls are patronized and prepared for domestic life.  In another class, students whose parents are professionals are given preferential treatment over those who receive free lunch.  In yet another class, the teacher thinks brunettes are smarter than blondes, and doesn’t pass up an opportunity to illustrate this fact to the class.  Or another who sympathizes with black children, but sees them as inferior through no fault of their own, gently skirting subjects she believes these children can not comprehend.  The list goes on and on.  This is what happens if 1) the teacher feels they are being forced to teach children they don’t resonate with and 2) teaching is a stepping stone to another career.

So back to the voucher system, it simply replaces the decades-old forced racial integration.  Are these children really beneficiaries of this system?  I can imagine that these kids may face some type of discrimination, albeit economically based.  Even before racial integration, children brought the characteristics of homelife into the school.  Upper income children brought their expectations and behaviors same as lower income children did.  Teachers could see the difference.  Some acted on those difference in positive ways, others used the differences to further perpetuate stereotypes.  And after integration, the differences were skin deep, but hey, why go further and really see the child for who they were when you could simply slap on characteristics commonly attributed (whether false or not) to that child’s race and simply go from there.  And now the voucher system, which says, you couldn’t afford to go here on your own, so you were given a helping hand.  Economic discrimination.

Parents and public school teachers should fight this latest form of integration.

Parents should accept that they are parents (yes there are some who haven’t come to grips with that) and act accordingly.  If they became parents unintentionally, they ought to volunteer to speak to teenagers about the perils of unprotected, unwed sex.  But being parents, they ought to realize they should work to protect the fabric of society by being decent people to their children.  Feed them, teach them and love them.  Don’t send a neglected, damaged child into the school system and then act surprised when that child comes back home uneducated.  Schools can not do the job Mother Nature intended for the parent:  that of nurturer, provider and protector.

Public school teachers have to fall in love with teaching again.  Teaching was once a vocation, then it became a career for those who couldn’t or didn’t know anything else to do, then it became a launch pad for other careers, and at its’ worst, teaching became a job.  When teaching stopped being a vocation,  it became vulnerable to human faults and prejudices.  When teaching is a person’s calling, they don’t care who is in front of them when they are in that “zone”.

When these two things happen, a good portion of what ails the Louisiana Public School system will be cured.

Who Really Understands Health Care Insurance?

I wonder who really understands healthcare insurance?  I read a lot of articles from people who angrily denounce the Affordable Healthcare Act, and a few from those who say it’s the best thing to happen in a while.   I know how it feels to have health insurance – I have been blessed with several jobs that offered it as a matter of course.  The portion I was expected to pay monthly did not cause undue financial hardship for me, but I did have several co-workers who could not afford it.  They receieved healthcare from clinics that were partially funded by the government, using either sliding scale fee to make their payment, or paying the full office visit fee + labs + meds.  I also know how it feels to not have health insurance.  I have joined the ranks of people who receive health care from health care centers.  When I am able to purchase health care insurance again, I will do so.  When did health care become a gamble?

Writer’s Block

     The primary reason most would-be writers encounter “blocks” is that writers get too wrapped up in how others might perceive their writings.  Have you been told that you can’t write?  Was English your worst subject?  Is writing too ephemeral, something that changes before your eyes?  Well, join the club, the writer’s club that is.  Get to it and do it!