Friday, December 21, 2007

Fascism by Another Name...
I didn't want to have to write about this, but I was asked about it recently and so I feel compelled.

The source for this little screed is one Mike Huckabee, one of the seven or eight morons presently engaged in making an ass of himself on a national stage for the purposes of becoming the nominee of the republican (small 'r' intentional) Party in the 2008 Presidential election.

Huckabee is something of a marvel these days; a candidate with no money, none of the experience you would think a man should have when he stands to ask the people of this country to make him their leader. He is the former governor of Arkansas, which is sort of like being the Master of Arms of the Loyal Order of Buffaloes of Flintstones fame. If you asked 100 Americans where Arkansas was on a map, 98 might hesitate for a moment and then draw a lazy circle with their finger around New England. Assuming they found the United States on the map in the first place, of course. The other two would indicate that Arkansas was the northernmost province of Mexico, and a make a compelling argument for it. I would hazard to guess that at least 80 of them probably attended college, too.

Anyways, Huckabee is doing something which the 'conventional wisdom' says it impossible (it never ceases to amaze me how often conventional wisdom is wrong, because it's always being proved as such) and he's making a case for himself in the 'all-important' primaries in Iowa and New Hampshire, and he might, just might, knock all the 'establishment' candidates off the battlefield.

As an aside, primaries and caucuses in Iowa and New Hampshire should not be considered 'all-important' because they truly prove nothing at all; the myopic views of self-interested ('who will promise me more useless, but lucrative, ethanol subsidies?') farmers in Iowa, and stubborn, hard-headed self-important Yankees (who believe they are the only 'normal' people left in the US) in New Hampshire are not representative of anything. Except for the idiosyncracies of people who live in sparsely-populated states in constipated states of mind which cannot be altered short of dynamite. Yet somehow, we listen to these folks for their prognostications as if the fate of the free world depends upon it. It's sort of like asking the Pope what play your quarterback should run on 4th and 10, down by 3, with 28 seconds left to play, and no time outs.

Anywhoo, Huckabee has performed in such a way as to have people stand up and take notice. Now, this in and of itself is not an issue: we should be willing and able to hear as many ideas and see and listen to as many candidates as possible. When we don't, we wind up with second generation Bushes and Clintons, and that's not good for any of us. No, the issue is not Huckabee the man, it's the way in which Huckabee makes his case and to whom he's making it.

Mike Huckabee makes no secret of his being a Christian and ordained Baptist minister. On his website, the words "Christian Leader" appear, and Huckabee makes reference to the Almighty just about every four minutes or so in his speeches and public appearances. And that's all well and fine; if he's a believer, who am I to begrudge him his beliefs? However, it's also quite apparent that this is all Huckabee has to offer (I'm religious, dammit!) and it explains his recent rise in the polls; he's picking up the religious vote within the republican party that had no place else to go with the current field.

For the faithful of the Repubs will not vote for a Mormon (Mitt Romney) since many Baptists, Evangelicals, Catholics and other Christian denominations consider Mormonism to be a cult, and a deranged one at that. They claim to be open-minded on matters of faith, but they aren't; they're bigoted against Mormonism. Rudy Giuliani makes a mockery of all they hold dear; thrice divorced, cross-dresses as a joke, lived with a homosexual, favored abortion rights. The 'darling' of the Conservative wing (supposedly) was once Fred Thompson (of Law and Order fame), who it appears requires a jump-start with a Die-Hard attached to his testicles just to say anything at all. On TV he's an awesome actor; in real life, he's duller than unbuttered toast. When it comes to non-religious issues, John McCain is a conundrum, like the "new" knife in the kitchen drawer that has had two handles and three blades. He's too unpredictable for their tastes.

And so, Huckabee is the man on the rise because the extreme right is gathering under his banner, and it is the extreme right who votes in these stupid primaries because a) they don't seem to have jobs, and b) when Pastor Bob says 'get to the voting booth and pull the lever for this guy or the Good Lord will take me', they listen to him.

However, Huckabee has a major problem; his religious schtick works just dandy with primary voters, but will get him absolutely nowhere in a general election. And he's pouring it on extremely thick, too. He can't go more than a few minutes without a prayer session, and he can't make himself attractive to the vast majority of voters who care about politics, but who could give a rat's ass about religion. Especially when it comes to extolling the virtues of a brand of Christianity which is infinitely more persnickity, obnoxious, and bigoted than most other strains.
There are some Evangelicals and Baptists in this country who are only a camel and a worn pair of sandals removed from the Taliban.

The interesting thing to watch is this; Huckabee is pandering (obviously) to the religious right now, will he continue to do so if/when he wins the primaries and becomes the candidate, following the old dictum of 'run right in primaries, move center in general elections'?

If he does the first, we will have, in my opinion, make the first crucial step towards fascism in this country (for democrats, the first step towards fascism is a vote for Hillary Clinton), and no, it will not be of the Mussolini/Hitler type; it will wrap itself in the flag and carry the Cross before it, claiming to be the movement which will save the United States from itself with a program of forced morality, a return to good ol' fashoned 'merican values, and a resurgence of belief in God...whether we want it be resurgent or not.

If he does the latter, then all that will have happened is that the republican party will have been forced to run a very weak candidate who could be beaten by just about any democrat in the field (even that complete moron John Edwards could beat Huckabee) by a bunch of bigoted fanatics.
These are the people who send money to Televangelists who claim that God tells them to send cash to a post office box. Now the republican party is going to let them select it's candidates?

I've said this before, and I will say it again; the republican party had best wean itself from this cuckoo in it's nest, even if it means political oblivion for the foreseeable future or there won't BE a republican party anymore.
A Very long, and Educational, Hiatus...
Yeah, I know. I ain't been around to bitch at y'all for some time. Well, there's a bunch of reasons for it, some of them little more than lame excuses. But, there's always this...

To begin with, I've been trying (still!) to obtain permanent work in my chosen profession, I have recently come to a clear and terrifying realization: my chosen profession no longer exists. It hasn't for quite some time, despite protests to the contrary.

See, 22 years ago I got into Computer operations. Back in the day, this was a fantastic job; it was interesting, it paid well, opportunities abounded and in terms of the future, the sky was the limit. We were on the cusp of the Information Age, and there I was, at the tender age of 18, in the vanguard. While my contemporaries were attending college studying drama and anthropolgy (which prepared them well for their future careers as waiters, file clerks and hotdog vendors at Yankee Stadium), I was earning a living. A very good one, too, by the standards of 1985.

The technology kept evolving, and becoming infinitely more complex and interconnected, so that the field became increasingly an interior one; there were no schools to teach people how to run mainframe-based data centers (there still ain't for the most part) it was reserved, basically, for those who did it and those who knew about it. Those of us who were there in the beginning simply did what so many others before us had done: we learned by doing, we learned every aspect of the job, we worked long, hard hours, and then we got rewarded. We followed a career path that would have been recognizable to anyone: computer operator, supervisor, manager, and then we branched into one of the specialty fields surrounding operations (communications, programming, technical support, et. al.).

That, of course, was before The Business Model Changed.

The Business Model of that golden age was simply this: you produced a useful/superior product/service, you supported the hell out of it, improved it whenever you could, and then delivered it to your customers for a reasonable price. If you did this, you made money. Lots of it. The New Business Model threw such quaint notions right out the window.

The New Business Model no longer revolves around providing quality for a reasonable price; it revolves around narrowing the consumer's choices and then squeezing every last penny out of him while maximizing 'shareholder value', which is a codeword phrase for 'screwing your employees' while stuffing the executive's pockets . As an example, I toss out the last company I worked for, CitiGroup.

CitiGroup is a conglomerate of 16 (and counting!) financial services companies: CitiBank, Smith-Barney, Primerica, Travelers Insurance, and a few other companies you've probably never heard of, but you get the point. It exists to provide it's customers with every financial service they could ever require all in one place. Need a checking account? No problem, open one at CitiBank. Need a retirement plan? No worries, see our professionals at Smith-Barney. Need a mortgage, call Primerica. You get the idea. Sounds like a wonderful idea; I can get all this STUFF, that I NEED, all IN ONE PLACE!

And then you realize that your Checking acoount no longer pays interest, like it used to. That you get charged $50 just for the privlege of having an account, and God forbid you bounce a check (that's $50 a pop). Smile while you pay $2 to use an ATM at your own bank, let alone some other bank's, because you're a 'valued customer'. Your stockbroker charges you fees for basically granting him the privlege of handling your money. If you make a trade on your stock account, expect to pay half-a-dozen processing fees and a double-digit-percentage commission on top of it. Don't make trades all that often? Be prepared to pay a fee for having an account with money in it, but no activity. Static accounts still require people to keep track of them, auditing and paperwork needs to be filed with the government, not to mention mailing you your statements. Of course, your stockbroker is an agent of the state; he has to report your trading activity and holdings to the Fed'ral Gubmint for tax purposes, and that costs money too, you know. Buy insurance and you very often discover that your responsibility is to simply pay the premiums and the insurance company's to find every way it legally can NOT to pay you when you DARE to invoke your policy. All the while, CitiGroup takes your fees, pools it all to make CitiBank look like a huge cash-cow (which draws even more money to it) and then distributes it all to it's shareholders (the preferred ones, not the peasants with common stock) and executives, and when that isn't enough to sate their greed, it "trims the fat", which means it lays workers off, cuts their benefits, freezes their wages..and then uses the money saved to line the CEO's pocket, bribe a politician to help then make some more money, or to buy another firm to add to the collection. The cycle continues ad nauseum.

In the modern world of business and finance this process is being repeated in every conceivable human endeavor.

Which brings us back to my original proposition; my field no longer exists.

See, one of the problems I 've been having with finding a steady job is simply this: the steady jobs have disappeared. They have been shipped overseas to Third-World countries where people may be just as smart as I am, but they work cheaply and don't require benefits (assuming they know about them!). This is called outsourcing, and the idea behind it is that when you don't have to pay workers high wages and benefits, shareholder value is maximized because you have held onto more profit. So, when you ask around about Operator jobs, you find there are none. When you ask about Technical Analyst jobs, you get much the same answer. When you ask about Management positions, you quickly realize there is nothing to manage. Today's IT manager doesn't manage anything: he simply fills a chair in meetings and generates the proper reports (which no one reads, incidentally).

But WHAT there is a lot of is what's called "Contract-to-Hire" (CTH from now on) positions. Basically, a Contract-to-Hire is the technical equivalent of migratory farmwork. What happens, typically, is that you are told that there is a "Unique CTH opportunity" available; the contract will last a year, pay a fantastic amount of cash, and the employer in question "has a good track record" of hiring it's CTH's to fill later full-time positions (presumably the position that you yourself will be creating with your own work!). So, you sign that "one year contract" (which has a provision in it stating that the employer can declare the contract null-and-void any damned time it pleases), and you show up for work.

On your first day, whoever it is you report to will try to explain what is expected of you. I say "try" because he/she is often very much in the dark about what is expected of THEM, except that "this project must be finished within the alloted time" because "it's very important to the future of this firm"or some other such bullshit. You are basically left to your own devices; the systems you're working on have been programmed by people who left there (or were laid off) 5 years ago, and who are unavailable to you to ask rudimentary, but often necessary questions. Nothing is documented. Your support staff is in Calcutta, Shanghai or Moscow, or worse, aren't even employees (even foreign ones) of the company you now work for, but employees of a third-party vendor hired by your employer to relieve it of the necessity to pay for it's own support staff, and they're probably in Singapore (if you're lucky!). You're already flying blind; you have no practical experience of the specific systems you need to work on, with it's nuances and peculiarities, and there is no one to explain the why's and wherefore's of this particular system or application to you.

Unless you wish to spend five hours a day on the phone with Sanjay, who doesn't have any clear idea, either, but at least he's a pleasant fellow. But I digress.

You are now being harranged on a daily basis to "make progress". The sooner you get this project done, the better your evaluation will be, and this poositive evaluation will "go a long way" to helping management decide wether they wish to keep you as a full-time employee once the project is complete. Of course, you see very few "full-time employees" anywhere in the office, just other CTH's, but that's beside the point. They hold out the hope that you could be one.

After slaving like a three-legged sled dog for a few months, one of three things happens:

a) You complete the project early and competently(God only knows how)...and you have your contract nullified.


b) You take "too long", defined as "having the audacity to take the words One Year Contract literally, believing that you do, in fact have a year to work...and you have your contract nullified.


c) The bean-counters upstairs, who know nothing about computers and data processing and system's prgramming and all that stuff, but who originally demanded the project you're now working on be made a reality, post-haste, are handed a report which causes them to "consider a rapidly-changing business environment" and they now decide that the idea that they just poured several million dollars into and signed you to a contract to complete and gave you ulcers and migraines for is no longer necessary, and therefore, no longer a justifiable expense...and you have your contract nullified.

And just like the migrant lettuce-picker, it's off to the next field, taking whatever terms you can get, working on a day-to-day basis, utnil the crop is in or the bossman decides he doesn't need you anymore. That is what the world of "High Tech" is like nowadays: real "Grapes of Wrath" stuff...only with a tie. It's time to start looking into another field of endeavor.

Plumbing sounds good. Because this entire experience has taught me that there's a good living to be made in shit.