Thursday, March 31, 2005

Open Season on the Disabled...
Terri Schiavo has died this morning.

Her last few weeks sparked debate in this country on several subjects: the rights of the disabled, the courts, the partisan divide, living wills, euthanasia. In this regard, her death has not been in vain because these were all serious debates that needed to be had. What is so sad about this death, more than others, is the very public manner in which it took place. Terri is not the only person with brain damage or, as some doctors and commentators put it, "in a persistent, vegetative state" hovering on the brink of death this day. There are thousands of other Terri's out there and their continued care is now a going concern.

I do not pretend to know everything about the Schiavo case and was admittedly uninterested in it until the last few weeks. However, it has all the makings of a blockbuster Lifetime movie of the week: helpless woman, ne'er-do-well husband, the other woman, the epic court battles, the distraught family. This, for the time being, will be Terri's legacy --- Oprah will get to make a movie about it and dozens of tabloid-authors will write books about her in the next six months. Her family will grieve, her husband will become rich, the courts will be pilloried, lawyers will make a fortune providing clients with living wills.

However, Terri Schiavo will have an effect on this country in the long term that will be felt for a very long time.

Terri's fight was ultimately about decency. It was about the extra-judicial killing of someone unable to defend herself. It was about the morass the legal system has become. It was about the great divide between the religious and the moral and the secular and the depraved. What was done to Terri was done in the past to political prisoners in Russia and the Jews inNazi Germany; she was dehumanized, made into a political cause celebre and finally starved to death. The difference was that this time the cameras were rolling.

It will only be a matter of time before this ugly scene is repeated in 30 different places in the next 30 days. Another spouse with a husband or wife on life support will go to a court to get permission to remove their vegetative significant other from the apparatus that keeps them alive, avoiding the lengthy and expensive process of maintaining life in that state. Another family will be torn in two, suspended between hope and despair. Doctors will continue to make pronouncements based on very imperfect knowledge that will be taken as Bible truth in a court of law, where a judge who is not qualified to make medical decisions will in truth make them.

The laws will be changed. The judges will be changed. The medical system will come under increased scrutiny. The Right-To-Lifers will see to it. Democrats who insist on fillibustering judicial nominees will be bombarded by hate mail and embarrassed publicly. Terri started a revolution from her bed. It's first victim wil; be Hilary Clinton, who will suddenly start attending church everyday and visiting the the victims of PVS regularly. Even before Terri's body is cold, some democrat has designed a piece of legislation that makes appear as if they care and are fighting for the rights of the diabled. Ultimately, the ploy will fail because people will see it for what it is: grandstanding. Attempting to take advantage of a tragedy in order to position yourself for the mid-term elections.

Terri Schiavo is dead. Her fight, however, will be continued by others -- the fight between the moral and the decadent, the worshippers of life and the cultists of death.

Requiesat en Pacem.
The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Outsourcing...
Continuing a trend that will, eventually, make the other 1/4 of the world that isn't mad at us yet rethink that position. Here's yet another example of how far some businesses will go to shore up their...errr...bottom line. The following story was lifted from a post to

You know things have gotten out of hand when a can't-miss, sure-fire profit maker like phone sex gets outsourced.

In recent years, outsourcing has gotten a bad rap, mostly from people who have been tossed out of work, and I can understand their position. It's certainly not their fault that between benefits and employee taxes and the sheer greed of some CEO's that it's prohibitively expensive to actually hire someone these days. It's a golden rule in business, however, that when you can take advantage of lower costs, you'd be crazy not to. The advantage of outsourcing jobs to a foreign country, is of course, expense. In this case, not only will foreign workers in their home countries work for pennies on the dollar, they don't have any expectation of bennies. Yet.

Eventually, that part of the world that answers the phone for AOL or which makes a whole range of products for Wal-Mart will wake up and realize that while they are being paid a relative fortune now, they will certainly pay for it later. It's not like some guy in Pakistan has a 401(k) to lean on in his old age, or that National Health in India will pay for his Viagra. The workers there will eventually demand parity with what their Western counterparts get, or in this case, formerly got.

The upside to outsourcing from the worker's point of view (and there actually IS one, you know) is that the foreign employee is often not subject to U.S. law, which gets to be a pain in the ass for a company that outsources when it's been robbed blind by a contract employee in Bangladesh. Another upside is that it only takes one "ooops!", and the resultant lawsuit, for the outsourcer to rethink his relationship with the outsourcee. In recent years, this has happened already: I recall a case in Pakistan where a U.S. company that transcribed medical records suddenly realized it had given sensitive, personal information to an organized crime ring who used it for nefarious purposes. Imagine what would happen if the Russian mob got into some American citizen's banking or insurance records and started laundering cash. Don't laugh, it's probably happening right now and no one has noticed.

It's when things like this happen that the whole rationale for outsourcing, saving money, begins to look like a losing proposition. Eventually, the costs incurred by security measures, constant audits, and lawsuits, begin to tell. After that, it only takes one relatively intelligent executive to ask "Are the headaches worth the savings?" and the next thing you know, presto!, they start bringing those operations back "in-house".

My own personal experience after 20 years in the data processing industry have taught me three things concerning outsourcing:

1. At the end of the day, it's all about control. If you can't control your costs and ultimately your product, you start to get nervous. Executives are a bundle of nerves, most being little more than drones with too much to lose when push comes to shove. Rather than lose control over something, they'd rather take it back, no matter what it costs, provided it's important enough.
It only takes one to start a trend.

2. This isn't the first time a round of outsourcing or downsizing has occurred and it will not be the last. What's old is what's new. In my DP days, the mad rush was on to move to mini and distributed systems over mainframes because they were cheaper to operate in terms of power, cooling and occasionally, service. However, when the rush was on, nobody ever stopped to expend braincells on the issue of portability. Could the applications I run now, and depend on, be moved to a different operating system with different hardware and programming and run seamlessly? The answer was: of course not. The original stuff was designed and written to run in a mainframe environment and very often, making it work in the new environment meant massive amounts of money to re-write applications or a huge investment in consultants. Any real savings was virtually wiped out. In the end, everyone that mattered went back to a mainframe. The same thing is now happening with Linux --- the rage is the idea that you can write your own applications without having to license them. The downside is, you have huge costs associated with getting them to actually work the way you want to.

3. Today's outsourced worker is tomorrow's "must-have-guy" who can come back and name his own price. Once those applications, those businesses, are brought back in-house the people who formerly ran them usually get their jobs back and because there is a rush on, you can write your own paycheck. The rationale for outsourcing was to reduce employee costs; once the decision is made to un-outsource, the employee costs come back with a vengeance. Don't believe me? Ask all of those once-out-of-work cobol programmers who made it big again for the Y2K scare. They originally lost their jobs because they were useless mouths, but got called back when it found out that the legacy platforms and apps that were supposed to go with them never did.

Then again, think about this particular case. What happens when, for the sake of example, Western men who regularly use a phone sex service start getting upset by the bad service. I mean, who wants to talk dirty to someone who doesn't speak your language? What happens when the cultural taboos in the outsourcee country start making themselves felt, and millions of highly-paid Indian women suddenly start staying away from the job because they live in a society where a woman cna be burned to death for engaging in such activity? I can tell you what happens --- suddenly there is no longer a phone sex industry in India and the owners of the porn lines start to see their savings eaten up too as they get kicked out. Next thing you know, they'll be hiring all them Western women back just to break even!

Monday, March 28, 2005

Yet More Southern Sheeeeeeit...
The deeper I delve into the culture of the south, the more I learn. Not all of these lessons are happy ones, I'm afraid, but they are nonetheless heard-earned and much needed ones.

For a start, I had noticed some time back that racism, as I would understand it (coming from the north) simply did not exist here, and to a certain extent, this is still true. I see very little in the way of overt racism (there are no more "coloreds only" water fountains, for example), and contrary to popular belief back home, there are not legions of inbred farm folk running around in white sheets looking for someone to drape from the nearest tree. There is certainly not the mixing of the races that is more prevalent in northern parts, but, when black and white do get together here, it is mostly civil.

It's when North and South get together that things get a little dicey.

I'm constantly reminded that I am that lowest form of life imaginable: a damn Yankee. I get it whenever I ask a question that might involve someone having to think real hard, or perhaps, form an intelligent answer. If I don't get some variation on "this-is-the-way-things-are-done-here-and-it's-been-this-way-since-Christ-was-a-Corporal", I get "we're soooooo sorry things aren't what your used to. Might I suggest you go back home?"

It's become apparent that despite the historical racism, being a white guy here ain't all that great either if you're a Northerner. Particularly if you're a northerner.

Now, just what has brought on this venting of spleen, this ferral howling at the moon, this vexated diatribe? Stay still, gentle reader, for about three minutes and I'll tell ya.

I'm aggravated. I'm vexed. I'm pissed and my patience ran out a long time ago. At first, I thought it was merely a matter of me making adjustments to the southern way of life, many of which, I was more than happy to make. I understand perfectly that the ebbs and flows, the rythyms of life here are vastly different from what I'm accustomed to and I expected everything associated with my move to be a bit painful, at first.

But then I started engaging in the types of activities that one usually depends on others to either do for you or help you with. Case in point: obtaining employment.

To begin with, I have engaged the services of several employment agencies in Charlotte and now in my new stomping grounds around Greensboro. It was pure logic, in my mind, that when you do not know the job market, do not know what employers are available and furthermore, what positions are available, then you seek professional help. Hence, employment agencies.

Where I come from, obtaining a job is a straightforward business proposition: someone has a position available, they interview applicants who are qualified, they make a decision on who to hire, and presto, someone has a job. I'm sure it works this way on 4/5ths of the planet, but for some reason, once you pass the Mason-Dixon line, this simple business model suddenly disintegrates into a chaotic melee of ignorance, incompetence and, worst of all, nepotism.

I've been at this job search thing for 6 months now. I know jobs are available. U.S. News and World Report has just ranked North Carolina 10th in the country as far as new job creation in a recent issue. I read the local newspapers and everyday it seems, more Fortune 500's are relocating to North Carolina on a daily basis. Anyway, what happens when you engage an employment agency here is the following:

- you will fill in 60 pages of paper which will be promptly filed away and forgotten.
- if you call your agent every other week to ask about progress, you will be told there is none. Call more than once every other week and you will be told "you're being pushy".
- Your agent will most likely refer you to another personnel agency or agencies. Somehow, they all work together, swapping clients and such, and how any of them can make a profit this way is beyond me. They're practically begging you to call someone else while they also try to place you.
- finding a personnel agent who actually understand the industry they claim to recruit for is extremely difficult, unless you're a truck driver, warehouse specialist, cashier or domestic help. If you happen to be involved in a high-tech industry, knowlegable folks are few and far between, and for all I know, might not even exist here.
- if your resume does, magically, manage to land on someone's desk, once they find out you;re a Yankee you get a polite brush-off. "You're over-qualified" is a polite way of saying "get out, ya damn Yankee."
- One manager who actually managed to get my resume actually called me and told me he would not be interviewing me because "I'd be a damned fool if I hired my own, eventual replacement". At least he was honest.
- Your personnel agent, who is working like a (retired) sled dog -- for you! -- will start to tell you about how you should join a country club, attend trade fairs, start going to church, maybe start chewing tobacco, all in an effort to "meet the right kind of people". In other words, you will have to start networking because most hires in the south are the result of "personal relationships". i.e. nepotism. In other words, I have retained an agent who will make an astronomical fee for placing me somewhere, but I will have to do all of the legwork. So then, what is the point of retaining an agent? As I said, I can't see how any of them makes a dime.

And it all boils down to four inarguable, prescient points about southerners:

1. The are incredibly suspicious about anyone from up north. We make too much money, we have funny ideas, we're loud, pushy, obnoxious and argumentative, and this makes us suspect. This from people who eat grits, watch NASCAR, and live in a place where roadkill restaurants actually exist, where wife-beating and incest are the national pasttimes and who, on a good day, might be able to expend enough brain cells to burn calories.
2. Many southern managers I have met seem to be somewhat unbalanced: southerners can be stubborn, quick to take offense, inclined to shun that which they cannot understand, they hold epoch-long grudges for minor slights, and quite a few couldn't tie their own shoes without a government program. Give them a little authority though, and these minor psychological issues overcome any sort of decency or logic they might have in them. They become little dictators, expecting everyone to bow before the august majesty of their authority, and give little thought to what they are doing or how they are doing it.
3. I might be white, but I'm still the enemy because: a) I can get a job most southern men can't, b) I can make a shitload more money than most southern men can, c) I get my pick of the wimmenfolk afterwards. They take it personally.
4. There is a square-peg-in-the-square-hole mentality. If a job requirement lists, for example, a particular software product and you don't have knowledge of that product, but do have extensive knowledge of a similar one, you are automatically discounted. Depsite the fact that in computing, while the methodology or the specifics may differ, the principles are the same. The ability to think abstractly or make exceptions is a major barrier, not only for me, but also for the poor ploughboy who must endure the pain of thinking.

If I had to boil down the pure essence of the problems I'm having, it would come down to people being prejudiced against my northern heritage, the seeming stupidity of the people I'm dealing with and the cultural barriers peculiar to a place where the 21st century has yet to arrive. Despite these setbacks, I'm still determined to make a go of it here because despite the presence of southerners, this is still a wonderful place to live, once you get used to not being able to pick up a pack of cigarettes from the corner store at 4 a.m. For a start, there is no corner store. The conveniences of Yankee life, as I've said before, simply do not exist here. It's merely a matter of getting used to it.

But I'm getting pretty sick and tired of being called a Yankee and being treated like dirt because of it. As I was recently telling a black friend of mine, when it comes to how I'm treated by the rednecks, I now know what his people suffered through for four centuries.