Thursday, December 19, 2013

Door Mats, Boot Lickers, Cage Rattlers and the Squeaky Wheel

The story of John O'Neill is one of the saddest and frustrating I have ever heard.  I don't know many stories that show the problems with modern American culture more than his story. He was the one FBI agent who knew about the threat of al Qaeda. When he followed protocol, he was ignored. He complained and stepped on some toes, he was made a pariah. He "retired" in frustration and started his job as head of security at the World Trade Center just a couple of weeks before it was brought down by al Qaeda, a horrible tragic irony. His body was found in the wreckage a few days later.

O'Neill's story is another example of the wrongness of the old idiom "the squeaky wheel gets the grease." When the squeaky wheel is a person, it usually doesn't get the grease. They usually don't get listened to or placated in anyway. They usually get ignored and as the squeaking gets louder, they eventually get labeled a "complainer" and get marginalized. I like the term Cage Rattler better than the Squeaky Wheel. It has better imagery. One of four things can happen to the Cage Rattler in any modern American organization.

(1) The Cage Rattler can become so frustrated that they stop complaining, they internalize their frustration and then they become apathetic. Like a doormat, they learn to be quiet, accept that they will be stepped on, learn to say "thank you" and are just glad to get a pay check. Most people are Doormats. They have lost all passion for their jobs. They learn not to question authority, not to speak up; it isn't worth the effort. They know they can't change anything. Their work with lack creativity and are, possibly, not very productive because of this.

(2) The Cage Rattler can get sick of being ignored and just quit, like O'Neill, and move onto a new job hopefully where they are in charge. The best place for a Cage Rattler is to be self-employed or to be in a position where they are beyond reproach. They need to have a lot of freedom and power to implement meaningful change. (3) If the economy is bad and they can't move on to another position, this can become a bad situation. The complainer can escalate their complaints so much that they annoy the wrong people, they rattle the wrong cage, and just get fired. This is the worst scenario. I've seen this happen to a lot of people. It is can get explosive. It is best to quit any job, if you can, before things get this bad. Just remember, one common way of fixing any problem, is replacing the person that keeps bringing it up. The Squeaky Wheel doesn't get more grease, it just gets replaced by a new quiet wheel.

(4) The best scenario of course, is the complainer gets listened to, the problem is resolved and everyone moves on. If O'Neill had been listened to, there would probably be a few more skyscrapers in Manhattan right now, there probably wouldn't have been a very expensive war in Afghanistan, the Patriot Act probably wouldn't exist and hopefully, the NSA wouldn't be tapping all of our phone. It is my experience, working in software support for almost two decades, that complainers are your friends. When one person complains, they are usually representing a bunch of other people who haven't bothered to. If your organization is a software company, complainers help identify bugs to improve your product. If you are a teacher, complainers help educate more students. If you are a security organization, complainers save lives. Embrace your complainers. No, they don't like complaining. No one does. If no one is complaining, there is probably something very wrong.

Cage Rattlers aren't the problem. The worst person you will meet in any organization is the Boot Licker. I'd rather have someone complaining to me than to have someone manipulate me. I once worked in a team of four guys at a software company. We shared a workload. Three of us worked very hard, but one guy did nothing. He spent most of the day socializing, usually on the phone with friends. Whenever a manager walked by he appeared to be talking to a customer. All talk of Whoopie's gown at the Academy Awards or which restaurant was hotter ceased at the right time. He was good at this. How did he get away with it? For one, Doormats were everywhere. He was such a "nice" guy and so well liked that if you complained about him, you were the problem, not him. He was a great talker. Whenever big meetings came up, he always chimed in at the right time. He was very good at getting himself on the right project, at the right time and taking as much credit as he could get away with. There aren't many more frustrating experiences than when you have worked very hard on a project and someone who has done nothing gets all the credit. A team with two Door Mats, a Boot Licker and a Cage Rattler is not a good combination. Boot Lickers are rare, but there is no better way to turn a Door Mat into a Cage Rattler.  Put him/her on a team with a Boot Licker and watch the transformation.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

I'm Dreaming of a Green Christmas

You could say that I have struggled with enjoying Christmas as an adult. I have attempted to make it meaningful and have failed. I don't bother anymore. I find Christmas to be a scourge on the planet and boil on the face of humanity. I wish it would go away.

Since it is not going away, I have learned to deal with it. I am not an environmental scientist and don't have any secrets to how keep your Christmas environmentally sound. The only thing you can do to keep your Christmas green, is not celebrate it. But if you are, there are certainly ways to minimize your impact.

Getting a real tree that is grown locally is certainly better than having an artificial tree but the operative word here is locally. Getting a Christmas tree at a Christmas tree farm (aka killing a tree for Jesus) is not as environmentally friendly as many people claim. Yes, they plant trees to grow and be cut down when it is six feet tall or so, this is good for the environment but not as good as planting the tree and letting it grow to maturity. Also, Christmas trees on farms not only don't grow to be large but they don't help to maintain a diverse ecosystems like those that grow in the wild. When birds nest in them, the nests are cleared away. Deer and other herbivores are kept away. When other types of plants sprout around them, they are pulled. This all contribute to these trees being more susceptible to disease and pest infestation which in turn, make the farmer more likely to use pesticides. Yes, these farms are a greener form of real-estate than a strip mall or a parking lot, but green? Not very. If you don't live near one of these farms and live in a big city, when you buy a real tree, you are not being green at all. If you think you are being green, you are kidding yourself. The amount of carbon that was burned to get the tree to the city makes the whole experience a wash. I realize not everyone can buy their tree from a neighbor like I do (not a farm but a guy with a few extra trees in his forested land). If you want to be green, you are better off getting an artificial tree, which is not green either, but it is reusable. You can keep it in a closet and take it out for the next 30 years. 

Unless your house is powered by wind, geo-thermal or solar, your lights on your tree are not green either. Non-electric ornaments are greener. If you have lights on your tree, you can often offset by turning off the lights in that room because the tree lights may give off enough light that you may not need the usual source. If you are one of those people who covers their house in lights and/or buys the huge idiotic plastic lawn ornaments, then you are obviously not green and you are probably not reading this blog posts because you clearly don't give a shit about the environment. 

Obviously, there are those that really do enjoy the Christmas season. You may know that the entire experience will never be green, but you feel that it is worth it considering the joy that you get out of it. Perhaps, but I would hope that you may find a way to offset this somehow with some other event during the year, like maybe planting a tree on Arbor Day ... buy locally, non-plastic and try not to travel just the sake of the holiday. 

Don't buy into the commercialism of it, obviously, but you should probably not buy into the religiousness of it either. If Jesus did exist, he was probably born in June. The December date was chosen by the Catholic church not so arbitrarily. They co-opted the date to coincide it with the winter solstice which was already being celebrated by the pagans. Then the capitalists stole it from the religious folks to sell plastic toys, greeting cards and adrenaline. The irony of this is that as a business model, Christmas is not good for the economy. Businesses lose a lot of money by hiring, training and laying off employees every year for the holiday rush. If the gift giving were staggered, like it is birthday gift shopping, they could maintain a steady employee base, who is well trained and compensated. If you want to help the economy, stop buying at Christmas and double your birthday present shopping. 

Overall, it would be it would be better for everyone if the pagans took the holiday back and made it their own again. It would green and quite a bit more sane. 

Friday, December 6, 2013

Star Trek and the Irish

I have mentioned a few times how much I enjoy listening to Podcasts. In my household, it is perhaps the top form of entertainment, news and general information. Recently, I discovered the Mission Log, a Podcast that is going through every Star Trek episode, all the series, one at a time, to discuss the plot, the social relevance and trivia. After enjoying the first two Podcast episodes, I decided to make it a daily ritual. I watch an episode in the evening and listen to the Podcast about that episode in the morning over coffee. If you are a fan of the show, check it out. At the pace of one show a week, it should take them about 14 years to cover all the episodes of all the series, so you have time.

In watching the original series (via Netflix streaming), again in order, and then listening to two fairly intelligent guys talk about it, I have discovered one fairly disturbing trend that I never noticed before. Of course, I remember going into this that Star Trek was a progressive show for its time, so there are many non-white actors portraying non-white characters without negative stereo-types. I also remember that even though they seem to be racially progressive, when it comes to gender they are not so progressive. I was expecting the sexism, I even see more of it the older I get. The disturbing trend that surprises me is the anti-Irish vein there seems to be.

I am twenty two episodes into the original series and I have noticed three fairly obvious portrayals of negative Irish stereotypes.

"The Naked Time": In episode four, we have a drunken Irishman, Riley, taking over engineering. Almost everyone is drunk on some alien virus, but only one character is singing Irish ditties over the loud speaker and acting like a fool. The rest of the crew are either horny or like Mr. Sulu, swashbuckling. The drunken Irishman almost kills everyone.

"Shore Leave": In episode 15, we are introduced to Finnegan, a bully from Kirk's academy days that just wants to beat the crap out of him. This is somewhat forgivable because the character is a fabrication from Kirk's memory so perhaps, Kirk remembers Finnegan in this comically brutish form.

"Court Martial": In episode 20, Kirk is framed and put on trial by the crazed and maniacal records officer Finney. Finney is just a ball of Fighting Irish rage.

I should point out that Irish characters are plentiful in Star Trek. Doctor McCoy is somewhat stereotypical but in addition to him, many of the extra characters are Irish as well.  O"Neil in the "The Return of the Archons" and Lt. McGivers in "Space Seed" are two that are not so stereotypical.  The negative stereotyping is a mystery to me. I am curious to see if it continues. Gene Roddenberry, the series creator, has what I assume is an Irish name so this explains why there are so many Irish characters but why the negative stereotypes? Was he over-compensating for something?  In his attempt to be progressive towards the black man or Asian man, did he just forget his own? The show was produced in the late 1960's so Irish discrimination shouldn't have been too foreign to him, possibly one generation removed. Perhaps it was okay in 60's to think badly of the Irish like today where bashing the French is widely acceptable, even in some very liberal settings.  National Public Radio's "Car Talk" seems to bash the French every week.  I can't imagine them doing this to blacks or Jews.  Perhaps every generation has some small groups that it is acceptable for even liberals to bash.