Monday, December 23, 2013

Duck Dimwit

Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? ~Proverbs 6:27

So, there's this show called Duck Dynasty, which is about some guy who has made a successful business from making duck calls and then hired his whole family to provide him with endless amusement while he makes money. Or something like that. At any rate, it is one more program in the long list of shows that Discovery/History (this one's on A&E) have come up with to convince its mostly urban/suburban viewers that anyone who lives in the South (or in Alaska, for some reason) is a hick and just a bundle of laughs.

We've had swamp people, logging people, swamp logging people, fishing people, gold hunting people, and Alaskans by the bunch all of whom seem to exist to show that there are, in fact, people dumber than the average sophisticated viewer of The History Channel, Discovery Channel, or whatever. Of course, if those viewers were so sophisticated, they might realize that these hicks are getting wealthy acting dumb while the viewer pays the cable or satellite bill to keep them on the air.

Well, now we have one of these hicks, someone from Duck Dynasty, doing a little good ol' fashioned Biblical gay bashing in a GQ interview which he followed up with an “apology” defending everything he said previously while allowing how he had committed some “sexual sins” himself.

Obviously his reading of the Bible never extended to John 8:7.

So A&E “suspended” him, whatever that means, while basking in all the free publicity for the show. Of course, conservatives tried to make this into a free speech issue, forgetting that, while you can say what you damn well please, you have to own up to the consequences of saying it.

There's also a bit of stuff in the interview where he's “for the blacks” because his family is “white trash.” Well, Mr. White Trash, while you and your ancestral white trash were working in the fields with the po' ol' black folk, you could easily vote, get a drivers' license, and have a hope of working up to a foreman's job, which, for a very long time, those black folk couldn't do. One reason they couldn't do those things were because of the people the poor old white trash kept voting into the legislature.

What this is called down here in the South is “pious racism”, appreciating the lot of blacks as long as they kept in their place. In other words, what we have hear is a good old fashioned bigot that much of the country can feel superior to because he's a hick Southern racist – or someone they can relate to because said viewers may be racist bigots, too.

This is your basic lose-lose situation.

But back to the gay bashing. Call me naive, which is kinda hard to do to a 65 year-old, but I have never understood the big concern over someone's sexuality. I've known gay people, and I've known straight people, and I have yet to detect significant differences between them when it comes to job performance, interests, and general humanity. All I care about is whether the person is a decent sort or a jerk. The rest takes care of itself.

I have noticed a tendency in the media to highlight homosexuality in a person accused of sex crimes, particularly those involving children. If the person is straight, then he/she is a pervert. If the person is homosexual, then he/she is a GAY pervert, as if that somehow makes it worse. Such reporting just adds to the whole “gays are disgusting deviants” mentality that refuses to go away.

However, just when it seems like the whole world is a stinking morass of hate, one gets a story like this. Seems a fellow with the wondrous name of Jamison Manwaring decided to come out not just to his family but his church. That's brave enough, but imagine this. Mr. Manwaring lives in Salt Lake City and is a Mormon. Not only did they not burn him at the stake, but church members, as well as his family members, are actually supportive of him.

Perhaps the Duck Dunce needs to take a pilgrimage to Utah.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Humbug

I do like Christmas on the whole.... In its clumsy way, it does approach Peace and Goodwill. But it is clumsier every year. ~E.M. Forster

In today's edition of “My god! Did someone actually say that?”, we have a teacher in New Mexico who, finding a black student dressed as Santa Claus said, “Don't you know Santa Claus is white? Why are you wearing that?” Needless to say, there were repercussions, suspensions and apologies all around and a veritable Internet feeding frenzy, which aside from scanning the one article, I have avoided reading. So I can't say who, if anyone, defended the teacher, who made it into another “war on Christmas” issue, or who wanted the teacher's head on a platter.

Frankly, I was going to ignore the whole thing. But it just wouldn't go away. See, this teacher was wrong on so many levels that I couldn't stop thinking just how typical of our society this was.

First, the statement was ridiculously racist. Second, it was totally insensitive. Third, and most important, it was a demonstration of how the spirit of Christmas has eluded the majority of people in this country (and probably most of the world that celebrates the holiday).

I think it was during the late Jurassic period, when I was around seven years old when I began wondering about this whole Santa Claus thing. After I began asking some probing questions, my mother decided it was time to break the news. I don't recall the word-for-word of it all, but the gist of it was that Santa Claus was a representation of what Christmas was about, the spirit, if you will, of Christmas. So all these representations of him we saw were just a way to remind us that it was a season of good will and giving. Of course, there was also the spirit of getting, but she played that down.

But her thinking was great. The whole thing, from St Nicholas down to the jolly old image foisted on us by Coca Cola was about a season where we put aside the petty and thought of others. Charles Dickens, of course, put it all into words we could understand in A Christmas Carol, a story that doesn't involve Santa at all, but does involve keeping Christmas in the heart the year round.

There's no telling whether the New Mexico teacher has ever seen A Christmas Carol, but, if he did, he didn't get it. The Spirit of Christmas does not come in a specific color or religion. It isn't about what Santa looks like or sounds like. It's about a feeling, a feeling that is drifting away from us. Ebeneezer Scrooge, before his awakening, would have found nothing wrong with working retail store employees on Thanksgiving to rake in early sales. He would have applauded the store that asked people for food donations for their employees rather than paying them enough to survive. Well, maybe not: “Are there no prisons?...And the union workhouses, are they in operation?Not enough to eat? Get another job, you slacker!

One thing that took me a while to understand was why Scrooge was so upset at seeing his own grave. Did he think he would live forever? No, that wasn't it. What terrified him was that he would die alone and unloved. He wouldn't even be hated; those he had wronged would simply steal his bed clothes and valuables and sell them then forget him. Alone, unloved, forgotten, a most pitiful way to die.

That's what it takes to shock Scrooge, to turn him into a man who kept Christmas in his heart year round. And that Scrooge, I think, would not care that a black kid might dress up as Father Christmas.

It would be nice if the teacher got that point.  I doubt he did, but, hey, it's Christmas.  One can always hope.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

BCS Logic: Imperfect is better than perfect

Football combines the two worst things about America: it is violence punctuated by committee meetings. ~George F. Will

I really didn't want to get into this BCS garbage, because that's what the BCS is – garbage. Oh, and by the way, it ain't gonna get any better next year with athletic directors and a few wannabe experts (Condaleeza Rice – really???) picking the four finalist teams for the “playoffs”. So what we'll get is a bunch of quid-pro-quo picks by the AD's (vote for us now, we'll vote for you next year) and a group of people who don't even know the team nicknames going along with them.

But, I couldn't avoid it when, after Ohio State beat Michigan in a great game and Auburn pulled off their second pure-luck victory in a row, the ESPN SEC bandwagon started up pulling for Auburn in the championship. And I got even more aggravated when Jay Jacobs, Auburn AD, came up with this line:

"An SEC team can't get left out of the (championship game) with one loss. We just beat the No. 1 team in the nation, and a team ahead of us struggled today, I understand," (referring to Ohio State's 42-41 victory at Michigan).

Sure, Jay, like your boys won it going away. For those who don't know, the score was tied with seconds left when Nick Saban, for reasons even he can't rationally explain, tried a 56-yard field goal. Not only was it short, but Auburn ran it back for the game winning score. Yup, Auburn sure dominated them. Oh, and the week before they beat a three-loss Georgia team with a last second prayer that bounced off two Georgia defenders into the hands of an Auburn receiver.

Yup, you guys were really kicking butt there.

Then he came up with this one:

"It's already happened in 2004, and it would be a disservice to the nation if we got left out."

Yes, I remember 2004. Auburn, with a perfect record was ranked third behind a one-loss Oklahoma.

So, having a one-loss team make the championship while a team with a perfect record gets the cold shoulder is bad, right, Jay? You wanna make up your mind?

There is a continuing myth that the SEC is the only good conference in the country, despite having fairly ordinary records against non-conference opponents who aren't cupcakes. Frankly, the SEC resembles the Big 10 over the years: One or two power teams followed by a lot of so-so. Yes, the SEC has dominated the national championship game. No one is saying Alabama, Florida, and the rest are crummy teams. But get past that and neither of the conference exactly dominates the other bowl games.

For me the BCS lost what little credibility it had in 2012 when Saban did everything he could to lose to LSU in the regular season then ended up facing them again in the national championship. After the loss, Alabama fell to third, then moved up to number 2 by not playing the following week.  Oh, and the same talking heads that thought that was wonderful had moaned and groaned that Ohio State-Michigan rematch would be bad for the championship game (they were 1 and 2 when they met at the end of the season: OSU won).

It doesn't hurt that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive is one of the main movers of the current BCS system, by the way.

The BCS has frozen out plenty of teams with perfect records, who went on to beat some impressive opponents in bowl games:
  • 2010-11 -- No. 12 TCU beats No. 5 Wisconsin
  • 2009-10 – No. 6 Boise State beats No. 4 TCU (who also had a perfect record)
  • 2008-9 – No. 7 Utah beats No.4 Alabama (oh, really?)
Apparently, the plan this year is to have a rematch between Auburn and Alabama for the championship game unless Florida State and Ohio State win by about 50 points each in their league championship games. That was pretty much the spin ESPN's crew put on things. Personally, I don't know what's going to happen for sure, but I can promise this.

It ain't gonna get better next year.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Flying cars, hell—Where's the 24 hour workweek?

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. ~Frank Lloyd Wright

Over at the other blog, I offered some opinions of visions of the future. But I left one out that has been predicted again and again without having come to fruition: The shortened workweek.

The theory always was propounded the same way:
  1. Improved production methods would increase productivity, thereby getting more stuff made in a shorter time.
  2. As the computer became a hot item, it was obvious that this “labor-saving” device would allow the crunching of data in a concise form that would make management jobs more efficient.
  3. Having a shorter workweek (with pay held the same) you could still hire more people (to fill in the gaps in the shorter week) and come out ahead thanks to 1 and 2 above.
Yeah, right.

So what's really happened? Well, managers are working as long or longer than ever, partly because they have so much data, they can't keep up with it. The increased productivity of production workers has simply resulted in less production workers. Of course, the idea here was that production workers could get retrained to work in white collar positions. Except that I don't think anyone is really investing in retraining on a major scale.

The computer, meanwhile, has increased rather than decreased the workload, thanks partly to lousy software and partly to the amount of time wasted by all levels of employees on the Internet.

Oh, there are employers who hold some of their workers to 30-hour workweeks, but that's so they can get around giving them benefits by calling them “part-time” workers.

This is absurd.

Not only are we working as much or more than we were in, say, the 1950's, but now both partners in the household are holding jobs (sometimes multiple jobs) just to keep their heads above water.

I've worked, at various times over the last 40 plus years worked 50 hours a week regularly, often working weekends. In my current, soon-to-be-officially-retired-from capacity, I worked a number of stretches of two or more months working every weekend. Fortunately, I could do most of this remotely, so I could do server maintenance or major file re-locations while sneaking a peek at a football game.

Which brings us to the whole business of working at home.

Evidently, for the few businesses that actually allowed this, it hasn't worked out very well. For some reason, workers, not knowing a good thing when they have it, were goofing off too much—or so goes the story. Personally, I think management doesn't like not being able to micromanage employees. Also, one suspects that people attending meetings by teleconferencing were doing a little non-work multitasking instead of hanging on every repetitive word coming from the wheels.

Okay, some telecommuters goof off if given the chance, but, if the data provided by network proxy devices is any indication, they're goofing off on the company premises pretty well, too. They may even be working less in the office than when they're at home. But, at home, the boss can't walk into the employee's cubicle and interrupt his/her train of thought to discuss something trivial or do something trivial for a hgher-up.

For the record, I actually have an office (real walls and a door), and my current boss and his boss tried to avoid this sort of nonsense. Most people aren't that lucky, as I was not in some earlier jobs.

So, it's a two-way street. Managers live in a world of the trivial (abetted by all that computer data they don't understand), and workers are forwarding cute pictures of kittens when they could be getting their jobs done. Ultimately, then, it's the overemphasis on the computer that is keeping people tied to their desks when they could be working 32 hours a week.

Peter Drucker once said that the main impact of the computer was to create unlimited jobs for clerks. I once opined that, in fact, the main impact was to turn managers into clerks. Now, I think its main impact has been to turn everyone into web-browsing zombies, watching movies, downloading pictures, sneaking peeks at porn, doing everything, in fact, but working.

You want a shorter workweek? Start by working. The rest may just take care of itself.