Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Extra! Extra! Not everything you read on the Internet is true.

The Internet is a shallow and unreliable electronic repository of dirty pictures, inaccurate rumors, bad spelling and worse grammar, inhabited largely by people with no demonstrable social skills. ~Author Unknown

I don't know why writers continue to be amazed that there are actually false stories on the Internet, but they are. Case in point: Chris Gayomali over at The Week brings to light a couple of hot stories that are actually hot air. The first involves “the knockout game” wherein wayward youths affected by Grand Theft Auto or something come zipping up on unsuspecting people and whack them in the back of the head. Right after this was “exposed” as a hot new trend, a story came out that some sweet little old lady, after being smacked on the noggin, pulled a pistol out of her bag and wasted one or more of the miscreants.

It turns out that the murderous granny was a fiction, as pointed out by Snopes.com, an invaluable source of info on Internet hokum. The Snopes article does add, though, that there has been a wounding incident. But that incident involved a bunch of thugs with a taser, hardly the “knockout game” as described by most sources.

Gayomali's main point is that the knockout game is, in fact, a phony trend, a myth based on three – count 'em – three reported incidents since October, 2012. Well, you know the mainstream media; they're always a little late to pick up on this stuff.

His other example involves a waitress getting stiffed at a restaurant because she is gay. The proof was a copy of the chargecard receipt showing no tip with an insulting homophobic message written on it. The falsity of this was demonstrated by the Facebook page of the diners showing their copy of the receipt, which shows a normal tip being given, along with a copy of their chargecard bill showing the total charge for the restaurant meal adding up to the same amount as the price of the meal with tip.

Their copy of the receipt proves little to me since they could have written on that after the fact, but the bill would seem to confirm their side of the story. So why would someone perpetrate such a hoax? Well, I worked in the restaurant biz as a busboy in my father's restaurants, and I know people do some rotten things to servers. Most memorable was a family of ten coming in and ordering full meals for everyone, then leaving a $1 tip for a waitress who had done a perfectly good job. In those days, all a server could do was grumble to herself and to her coworkers. Now, they have the Internet.

I don't know how many of these insults-to-servers I've seen over the last few months, but I don't expect them to go away anytime soon because customers can be jerks. Perhaps these people did leave a perfectly good tip but they were jerks during the meal. If one member of the dining group is an ass, the peron picking up the tab will often tip nicely to make up for it. Perhaps in this case, the tipe wasn't enough to make up for it. Or maybe, as suggested in the article, maybe someone else got hold of the receipt and decided to have their Internet moment of fame.

Simple good reporting would have avoided either of these stories getting out of hand. It used to be called “journalism”, this business of writing for news media. The trouble is that, evidently, just about anyone can call themselves a journalist these days.

Take, for example, this screed penned for Gawker by some guy who got canned from Buzzfeed. First and foremost, the writer admits that he's something of ass to work with. He even goes so far as to list as the number one reason they fired him is that they shouldn't have hired him in the first place. The only question here should be, “What the deuce are you complaining about?” At any rate, at one point he mentions that one reason he got the boot is because he regularly challenged the editors. His defense for being an argumentative so and so is, “[T[hat's journalism.”

Say what? This is Buzzfeed, for crying out loud. Who would consider the content of what is almost entirely a humor site made up of goofy lists of things a journalisitic enterprise? That would make Cracked, Mad, and the Onion examples of jouranalism.

Of course, considering the number of articles from the Onion that have been picked up by the news media as real stories, perhaps they are.

At any rate, it appeared that majority of commentors had little sympathy for him. Several took issue with calling Buzzfeed a journalistic entirprise, thank goodness.
The initial definition of jouranalism according to Merriam-Webster is so general as to almost include something like Buzzfeed, but there's one below it that covers my thinking: Writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation. What the guy formerly at Buzzfeed was doing was commentary or satire or humor or something, but it wasn't jouranalism. Most blogs aren't journalism either.

There's nothing wrong with just being a writer. We're all entitled to present our opinons in the mob scene that is the Internet. But let's not go putting on airs about being journalists. There are people paid to do that job, who are supposed to accurately report what's going on in the real world. Trouble is, the Internet is allowing them to be bloody lazy about it.

And that may just be the real crux of the problem.

Friday, November 22, 2013

How to Keep Your Job

I want to read the employment section of the Bible. I think it’s simply called Job. ~ Jarod Kintz

For all practical purposes, I retired yesterday.  My last day is December 27, but between vacation and sick time, I'm done.  I've judiciously avoided talking much about my job and still won't until the actual final day.  After that, I might pass on a few tales of my 10+ years with the City of Birmingham.

What motivates me to write today, though, is an article by Monster.com offering advice on how to get fired. Well, their point is to avoid doing this stuff so you don't get fired.  Now, I can speak with some authority on the subject of holding a job because:
  • I've worked for 50 years; 
  • I've worked for 9 different companies (and about 15 if you count summer jobs); 
  • I was fired only once (because I wouldn't spy on my boss to keep the owner's son happy);
  • I've  had to fire a couple of people myself (which pretty much put me off management positions forever).
Some of them make great sense, but on some of them, Monster may be a little off base.  Here are the ones I think will definitely get you fired.

Lying on your resume - Oh, yeah.  There's a good reason this is number one on their list.  There have been some seriously high profile people who got caught seriously padding the old CV, usually claiming degrees that were never earned.

Drinking at work - Of course. In fact, f you're working with machinery, this may well take care of itself.

Having an affair with the boss - Generally, yes, although there are a few people who have turned this into a major advancement opportunity.

Ok, little doubt about those, but the others I can take some issue with.  In fact, most of them are only used as termination excuses to gloss over something worse (like having an affair with the boss).

Gossiping - Unless this gets to the "getting sued for slander" stage, gossiping is not going to get someone fired.  In fact, gossips are usually among the most popular people in the office.

Spending too much time on personal calls - Back when people would use company phones to call Aunt Alice who lived two time zones away, this could get you into serious trouble.  Now, everyone spends half the day on their cell phones either talking or texting. If this was enforced, there wouldn't be an executive who could hold a job for a week.

Spending too much time surfing the web - As a system administrator with responsibility for managing the web proxies, I can tell you that everyone spends too much time browsing the web.  The clever ones use their phones (when they're not texting) so we can't monitor their activity.  The one caveat here is surfing porn sites.  Get caught doing this and you will be escorted out the door by the nice security guard.

Screwing up the numbers - Oh, please.  If everyone I knew who screwed up important calculations was canned, I'd have worked for a couple of ghost companies.  Worst case seems to be that if you do this often enough, they'll give you an assistant who can add.

Alienating your coworkers - Interestingly, the biggest jerks tend to be the people who do perform their job functions the best.  When people complain that the jerk is a jerk, the boss will just tell them to live with it.  I can speak with some authority on this.

Blaming everyone but yourself - What will get you canned is owning up to screw-ups.  Once will be well-regarded as a mark of honesty; twice will be looked at somewhat askance but tolerated; three times and they'll decide you're gossiping or spending too much time surfing the web.

Incredibly, Monster doesn't mention some of the most common reasons for termination.  For example, absenteeism will do the trick.  It can take a while, but it will get you out the door.  In fact, one of the people I fired managed to miss four days in the first two weeks.    Her illness cover got blown when her mother called to complain that we were making her work so much overtime.  What ever work she was doing, it wasn't for us.

Sex or racial harassment can get you off the payroll very rapidly.  Companies do not like being sued because they almost always lose on these.  Oh sure, there are places where people can get away with this stuff for a while, but most of the ones I've been with will show you the door very quickly.

But there is one reason which is never given explicitly, and that is the "somebody's got to take the fall" firing.  Oh sure, we hear about CEO's leaving for performance reasons, but they leave with fat bonuses and platinum parachutes.

No, what I'm talking about is the guys who got canned before the CEO took the money and ran.  These are the foot soldiers who did what they were told and got booted for their trouble so the higher-ups could try to dodge responsibility for bad decisions.  I was ordered to fire someone because of an executive's bad decisions one time.  Basically, a pain-in-the-butt customer was angling for a price cut, so they complained about everything they could, which including some testing being done by guy to be terminated.  The more they complained, the more the executive promised and the farther behind we fell in meeting commitments.

Now, this guy was not the best employee I ever had and had his flaws.  But he was improving..  He most certainly didn't deserve to be canned for the reasons given by the executive because he did the best he could in a situation where promises were being made that we couldn't keep.

And that's why I never got into management again, boys and girls.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Eerily Familiar

I'm not going to be the Alabama coach. ~ Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban, 76 wins and 3 BCS championships ago

Stop me if you've heard this one before.  Well, no, don't stop me because you have heard this one before.  Not long ago, speculation began making the sports news circles that Texas was interested in Nick Saban, current Alabama savior-in-residence, as head coach.

Back in 2006, the University of Alabama was suffering.  The late Mal Moore, then athletic director, was in desperate need of finding a decent coach.  As an aside, Mr. Moore is remembered with great fondness by Alabama fans.  From all reports he was a good human being, but history would indicate he wasn't the best judge of coaches.  He hired Dennis Franchione who skipped out to Texas A&M after a couple of seasons.  He followed this up with Mike Price, who never actually signed a contract, because he was fired for some extracurricular partying.  In desperation he chose Mike Shula.  Mr. Shula, in his second year, had the worst 10-win season in the history of football.  Everyone but Mr. Moore recognized what a fluke it was, but Mr. Moore decided it was worth a significant contract extension.  Mr. Shula didn't finish the next season, as I recall.

Then, Mr. Moore set his sights on Nick Saban.  Coach Saban was attempting to coach the Miami Dolphins.  Like many successful college coaches, the coach was not well-suited to the vagaries of dealing with pro players, and the Dolphins mediocre record reflected it.  Nevertheless, Coach Saban was insistent that he was not, no way, absolutely uh-uh, coming to Alabama.

The fun really started then.  With Saban's agent still working Mr. Moore hard, Mr. Moore decided to take Coach Saban at his word and tried to sign Rich Rodriguez, then at West Virginia.  Rodriguez, I believe, never had any intention of coming to Tuscaloosa (his wife reportedly was dead set against coming to Alabama) and simply used the offer as a bargaining chip.  So while Alabama was announcing that Rodriguez was flying to Alabama to accept the job, the coach was sitting in his office with the WVU AD and the governor swapping dirty stories or something.

Of course, we know what finally happened, Saban's agent Jimmy Sexton finally got Mr. Moore's attention and told him to just be patient.  The rest as they say is history.

So, what's going on now?

Well, here's Coach Saban going on about how he's too old, how he's planning to finish his career with the Crimson Tide, and on and on.  "I'm totally committed to the University of Alabama," the coach said.  Heck, the only thing he hasn't said is that he is not going to be the coach at Texas.

Mr. Sexton, however, has told people at Texas that Texas is the only school Coach Saban would leave Alabama for and that his success has put him under "special pressure," whatever that is.

Based on the history above, I'm more inclined to believe Mr. Sexton's actions than Coach Saban words.

Now, should the coach decided that deep in the heart of Texas there is more opportunity (and money) than in Tuscaloosa, he certainly wouldn't be the first coach to jump ship.  In fact, obviously, it wouldn't even be HIS first time at jumping ship.  At least he's never done it before the end of a season (like Lou Holtz, Bobby Petrino, and Pete Carroll, among others). 

Of course, should he leave, Alabama fans will be crushed, but they'll get over it.  This time, at least, the late Mal Moore won't be making the hiring decision.

You take your silver linings wherever you can find them.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Pre-concussion Syndrome?

Pro football is like nuclear warfare.  There are no winners, only survivors.  ~Frank Gifford

Concussions have become a big topic in sports, particularly in football, but also in soccer, auto racing, and others I'm sure.  Years ago, it was nothing to hear that a player had suffered "a mild concussion" and find him back in the game a little later.  Then all those players got older and dementia began setting in right, left, and sideways.  Then the attorneys got into it.  THEN, the NFL and others began to think seriously about what was going on.

Of course, it doesn't help that coaches, when they weren't teaching holding techniques to the offensive line, were teaching defensive players to clothesline receivers and make tackles leading with their helmets.  All of this led to more players being carried off the field, while the coaches (and the fans) cheered a "great hit."

Finally, the NFL and the NCAA (because college players can hire lawyers, too) realized this had to stop, so "anti-targeting" rules went into force this year.  Basically, this is the business, if I understand it correctly, of lining up a defenseless player in the crosshairs and deliberately whacking him, possibly with intent to injure. 

These sorts of rules are difficult to judge.  It's straightforward to call a hit to the head or a horse-collar tackle.  It's something else to determine in some cases what the intent was.  But you've got to start somewhere.  Targeting in the pros will buy you a fine, which can get heftier on repeat offenses.  In college, it buys you an ejection and/or a suspension.  Which brings us to Danny Kannell. 

Mr. Kannell used to be a quarterback at Florida State before bouncing around the NFL and Arena Football League.  He is now a color announcer for ESPN.  During a recent game, he was lamenting that one team had a player suspended for the first half because of a targeting penalty assessed in his last game.  Now, Mr. Kannell took issue with the penalty, saying it was way too severe.  Keep in mind, we're talking about being sat down for one half of a game, not for six games or the like.  Of course, one can argue whether the officiating call was right or whether the suspension, which was issued after a post-game review by the conference (I think).  However, Mr. Kannell's gripe was that they had the penalty at all.  His reasoning? 

"Concussions are part of the game."

Apparently, Mr. Kannell got hit in the head a few times during his career. 

Concussions are a part of the game that the powers that be are trying to remove.  It's certainly not necessary to have a player knocked silly and seeing two of everything to have a great game.

I wonder if Mr. Kannell saw this article about Bret Favre that came out after Kannell's brilliant observation.  Perhaps, Mr. Favre's message will get him thinking about concussions being "part of the game."

As if Mr. Kannell's stupidity wasn't enough, along comes Brad Keselowski, a NASCAR driver.  Seems the Sprint Cup series wants to have baseline concussion testing to try to stem the number of drivers circling the track with blurry vision -- and on their way to having trouble remembering how many gears they have.

"This is not the field for doctors, " Mr. Keselowski opined.  "Let them play in their arena, and I'll play in mine."  He goes on that vein ("Doctors don't understand our sport" and such) displaying an incredible ignorance of the effects of concussions and what it is that doctors do.  Perhaps Mr. Keselowski longs for the good old days when a few fatalities a year was no big deal.  It was just "part of racing."  He should ask Ricky Craven, Steve Park, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. about driving or trying to come back to drive after suffering a concussion.

Heck, making statements like these, Mr. Keselowski may not have a brain to concuss.