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April 30, 2011

Shoe's On the Other Foot

When I first came here, my new friends often grilled me about American politics. Especially prevalent were questions about why and how Americans could re-elect President Bush with all that he did to the American people. For my friends here, who had news people who were more probative and more willing to ask the tough questions and dig after the truth than what was going on in America at that time, it was obvious to them that Bush was up to no good. The lies, the obfuscation, the repealing of Constitutionally guaranteed rights, all this was more obvious and was commented on in their news, even while our news was refusing to do its job.

On May 2 Canada is having a new election. I'm reading and experiencing all that Harper and his Conservative Party people have done recently (broke the law, prorogued (or "shut down") the government to keep from being ousted, lied, gave huge contracts to friends of the government, trying to change the official name of the government to "Harper's Government," etc.) and I'm trying to correspond this with the fact that 40% of Canadians polled are saying they will vote for the Conservative Party again, keeping Harper in office to continue these shenanigans.

With the shoe firmly on the other foot, I am now asking why and how my friends and other Canadians can vote for a party that has done so many negative things. The simple answer seems to be, "Because they are better than the other choices," which doesn't seem like much of a choice or answer to me. If the estimated 40% do actually vote Conservative Party as the polls predict, that would give Harper and his cronies a majority in Parliament (currently they have a minority), and they would be able to do more of what they have been doing.

I guess it wouldn't be so bad if Harper hadn't run on a platform of accountability and transparency. Because of that, all the swept under the rug issues and outright law bending and breaking seem that much more egregious. Just as one example of this, do a search on "Bev Oda" and read about the entire, sordid affair, and ask yourself how she still has her job. There are at least 10 or 12 more similar scandals, and Harper has fired or accepted resignations from very few of those involved.

Bush seemed, at the time of his reelection, to be the better of two evils; the devil America knew versus the one it didn't. The Republicans also ran very efficient and effective smear campaigns against both Gore and Kerry that worked surprisingly well. This seems directly analogous to what is happening in Canada right now; the people know that Harper is a bad guy and his cabinet is not to be trusted, but they would rather stay with that than go with someone new.

It will be very interesting to see both how Canadians vote and what the party that gets the majority (if any) does with the power on May 2 and beyond. Maybe I'll be able to turn that question around to my friends and ask, "How could you re-elect Harper, knowing what kind of leader he is?"

May 3
It appears that Harper and the Conservative Party got the seats it needed to have a majority. The shoe is definitely on the other foot now.

April 24, 2011

Whose Show Is It Anyway?

This last week's episode of Bones, a favorite of mine, had Bones and Booth heading out to Florida to find a body. Booth then says, "I've got a friend who can help us." At this point, the entire show is taken over by a pilot for a new show about a new character from a different set of books. The Booth and Bones characters (and a couple of others) show up briefly during the episode, and then are back to bookend the "Bones" episode and wrap it together.

This irritates the shit out of me. I watch Bones because I like the show. I don't necessarily want to see the pilot for a new episode, starring new characters and actors.

Now, it so happens that I found the trio quirky and interesting and may give them a chance when "The Locator" comes to a TV screen near us (either this summer or next fall). But the point is moot, as I would have been just as happy to check out the real pilot when they released it and given it a chance on its own merit. The fact that they, in essence, pre-empted the show I enjoy with a different show irritates me enough to consider boycotting what may otherwise be a decent show just to voice my displeasure. The fact that the Locator appears to be some sort of cross between Psyche and Burn Notice also makes the choice of whether to watch a little easier, as I already watch both of those original shows and, if this is just going to be a knockoff of them, I don't really need to add it to my viewing list.

Criminal Minds did this recently as well. I tuned in for what I thought would be an episode of one of my favorite shows and, instead, I watched a new group of specialists take over. In this case, however, I hated the new crew from the outset, especially the lead (played by Forest Whitaker-- an actor I usually enjoy), so it made the decision not to watch the new show very easy.

Some shows have organic means by which they grow the brand. NCIS spun off recently and it made some sense (and worked pretty well). I chose not to continue with NCIS:LA because I didn't have any characters I liked, not because they "pre-empted" the source show or took it over. They managed a much more organic and interesting means of segueing the new characters, placing them in the world but making them their own entity, and then breaking away from the source. Both teams played important roles in the origin show.

In a case like the Bones episode, and the Criminal Minds spin off, I'm left wondering just whose show I'm watching, anyway?

April 19, 2011

Civil Discourse

I have read the Constitution and the Bill of Rights a few times. I am a big fan of the Bill of Rights, and have had debates about it. Yet for some reason I never noticed, nor had it pointed out to me, that the Bill of Rights does not actually grant anyone any rights, as most of those with whom I discuss it always believe (and I did, too, until today).

If you read each of the first ten amendments, they discuss in detail what the government, and specifically the Congress, cannot do. Or, more precisely, what Congress cannot make laws to do.

For example, here is the entire text of the First Amendment:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Congress cannot pass a law establishing or prohibiting the free practice of a religion. It cannot pass a law infringing on free speech or the press. It cannot pass a law denying the people's right to peacefully assemble. It cannot pass a law limiting the people's right to petition the government. No where in that simple paragraph does it grant the people any rights. "Freedom of speech" is assumed, to some degree, but not explicitly stated.

As you go through each of the rest of the Bill of Rights, you see the same trend. The amendments are always worded to limit the government's ability to infringe on the rights of its people. But it never explicitly states what those rights are.

I recently got into a bit of a debate online. Someone was saying how the fact that the NBA gives such hefty fines to its players and coaches for speaking negatively about the officiating is bogus. He argued that, if he was in the NBA, he would say what he wanted and would sue the NBA if they fined him for it because he has freedom of speech.

And that, in a nutshell, is how most people online and in person seem to feel about the first amendment, which, unfortunately, shows their ignorance about one of the most fundamental rules in any democratic government. As you can see, looking back and rereading the first amendment again, it only limits the government from enacting laws that limit the people's right to speech. However, a company for which you work (in this case, the NBA) has every right to put policies in place limiting what you can say and offering disincentives for breaking that policy, up to and including the right to terminate your employment. If you want to be a part of that organization, they make you sign a contract and you are supposed to abide by the terms of that contract of face the appropriate penalties.

Most business have this to a greater or lesser degree, by the way. If you are a white collar worker, you undoubtedly signed a contract that specifies some things, like some sort of confidentiality agreement about the products or business you are working with or in. Main blue collar jobs have similar contracts, as you may be working with proprietary software, hardware, or ideas that your company does not want its competitors finding out about. Upon leaving, whether voluntarily or not, most companies have you sign a noncompetition agreement that states you won't work in the same industry, won't take your clients with you, won't discuss the business with any competitors for a certain number of months or years, etcetera.

In addition, a person cannot just say anything, at any time, in any circumstance. We all know the old adage about not yelling fire in a crowded theater. Well, guess what? If you do, you can be arrested and/or sued for doing so. Contrary to what you see on the internet in any chat room or forum, you can be held accountable for what you say through laws dealing with libel, slander, and defamation of character, among others. I will grant that the burden of proof in these situations makes it very difficult for the wronged individual to actually sue and win, but that is a different argument for another blog.

All of these are perfectly legal ways that businesses and individuals can limit one's "right" to free speech.

What this all boils down to is: many Americans seem to have forgotten in the last 20 or 30 years that "your rights end where my rights begin." Your rights to call me names and lie about me under the guise of "free speech" end where my right to privacy and to fight against defamation of my character begins.

America is founded on a system of laws. The first laws, those placed into the Bill of Rights and subsequent amendments, were all about limiting the government's ability to subjugate its people. All the remaining laws are at the State and local level and deal with how individuals and businesses interact with one another.

The next time someone states what their "Constitutional Rights" are, listen closely. You may have an opportunity to educate them on what their rights really are.

April 16, 2011

Work Until You Bleed

If I promise a deadline or a project, or if something happens that causes me to have issues with getting it done on time, I'm more than willing to work overtime and on weekends in order to get the project done on time or as close to it as I can. However, when it is someone else's issue(s) that causes the delay, a lack of support, an arbitrary deadline that someone else has imposed or agreed to on my behalf without discussing with me, or acts of God or similar, then I get frustrated if I have to work OT or weekends in order to, in essence, cover someone else's butt.

My current contract has been too much of the latter lately.
  • People who have no knowledge of the tasks involved have been promising due dates to the end-client without discussing with me first and there is an abject refusal to change the dates when I bring up objections.
  • My main reviewer has taken a couple of weeks off (2 in the last 6 weeks), plus individual days here and there, which has caused my processes to come to a screeching halt. When asked about the time off, I was told, "She has a family." Yeah, so? So do I. What they mean is, she has young children. My response is, again, yeah, so? She can get a babysitter, she can work off-hours, or she can get a reviewer to fill her place while she's gone. Which leads me to...
  • If another reviewer is willing to step in, then the primary hates all of his changes, edits, and decisions and makes me redo a lot of work needlessly.
We have had three days in the last two weeks that were completely lost due to new discussions about the format and structure of the documentation I am producing after I (and my two project managers) thought it was all agreed on and settled. That's 24 hours that could have been spent moving the project forward instead.

This week, in particular, has been bad on a number of fronts:
  • More formatting discussion on Monday, which led to the entire rest of the day spent reworking the structure of the document instead of doing more writing.
  • Tuesday started with a sudden hardware failure which required most of the day to overcome (involved two trips into the main office and a bunch of IT support from two different companies to get up and running again) plus a dentist visit in the middle of all of it.
  • Thursday I woke up to a flooded basement, which had to be dealt with immediately, before stuff was damaged or destroyed by the water.
  • Friday started with a login/password issue that IT refused to fix and that is still a problem (but that I got a work-around for).
The dentist visit I was already expecting and planning to work OT to cover, as it meant that I was away from work for about two hours. The flood was really my issue, so I was comfortable with working some OT to make up the time lost dealing with it.

The rest of the issues were either out of my control (hardware failure and IT issues setting up the work-arounds) or someone else's issues (the unending desire for others to make me completely reformat the entire document). It is this time that I begrudge having to work OT for. If the IT people could have set up my substitute PC correctly the first time, and if the IT at the other company would have helped me get the proper software reinstalled and re-set up correctly in anything close to a timely fashion, I wouldn't have lost most of one day. If the people in question would stop futzing with a working document's structure, I wouldn't have lost that day. And a third day was lost because one of the same IT departments refused to assist with the login/password issue that was partly caused by the hardware issue from a few days before. That's a whole lot of OT caused by other people's problems, and that I detest.

The net result of all of this is that I've had to work nearly double the normal work hours this week in order to try to get the document done. I missed the Friday due date, but as of right now, I have 95% of the document done and can get the rest done tomorrow for a potential Monday release. Since coming back from vacation, at which time all the documentation seemed on target for each due date, mostly due to other people's issues and concerns, I have had to work some or all of every weekend (5 so far), plus a bunch of OT.

There is an old adage that I enjoy, "Bad planning on your part does not constitute an emergency on my part." However, due to the nature of the work, the bad planning, the lack of a cohesive review process, and the constant struggle to get everyone to agree on a basic structure and format for the project has caused an emergency on my part. This has turned into a 60 hour work week for me when it shouldn't have been needed. Had the review process been smoother and had the format been agreed to three weeks ago when I thought it was, I would have made yesterday's due date without any issue. The basement flooding (3 work hours "lost" in the morning, made up that evening) and the hardware issues could have been overcome without significant issue, or may not have even been an issue, had everything flowed the way I expected and the way the group had agreed from four weeks ago to yesterday.

I'm only just over five weeks removed from the end of  my vacation, and yet I feel completely burned out due to all these issues caused by other people. My health is suffering from the constant work without relaxation. While I was always impressed by my stoic friends who have to work daily or a lot of OT due to the nature of their jobs or needing to work multiple jobs in order to make ends meet, these last five weeks have reaffirmed my esteem for them and their ability to keep going.

I just finished another eight hour day on my Saturday, with more hours expected tomorrow. My next deadline is Wednesday for a third, completely new document. I see more OT in my near future.

April 13, 2011

Character Issues

I'm not sure why the sports world is consistently surprised when those players with questions marks for character reasons go ahead and do something stupid. Some, like Michael Vick, hold it together or hide it longer and better than others, but, at the end of the day, those character issues always creep up.

LeBron James didn't go to college. People never questioned his talent but they did question both his maturity and the group he hung around with. He still hangs around with the same people, he made one of his friends from the old days into his closest adviser, and he has made a ton of poor decisions as an adult just like when he was a fresh-faced kid with all the talent in the world. His lack of education crops up frequently whenever speaking about ... any subject at all, including basketball. Many other straight-from-high-school sports kids managed to continue to read and educate themselves enough to speak intelligently on subjects, why didn't LeBron?

There are a wealth of bad character individuals in the NFL. People who have made poor decisions in their past tend to continue making those poor decisions unless shocked out of them by some traumatic event. It is for these reasons that I am not surprised when I hear about gun possession charges, assault, rape allegations, and arrests. What is true in other walks of life seem to be equally true in sports: if you're an idiot going in, you're going to be an idiot once there. If you hang with bad influence friends, you're going to have bad influences helping you to make decisions.

Add into this mix of stupidity and a bad entourage the effects of wealth, performance enhancing drugs, entitlement, and celebrity and I am, frankly, surprised we don't hear about more arrests and issues with players. Look at Mike Tyson; he was a high school prodigy when it came to fighting. There were rumors of him being aggressive toward women even back then. He came from a bad background where he had to fight to stay alive; no wonder he was such a mean, nasty fighter in the ring and had social issues outside of it. But that's what we were paying for. You don't get to be the top heavyweight fighter in the world by being nice. Yet, when his bad temper, wife beating ways were "discovered," we turned on him. When he spiraled out of control, we feigned shock. Why? He was a thug on the streets that got a ton of wealth and celebrity, which lead to entitlement, and his bad posse of "friends" fed off of him and helped him make increasingly bad decisions until he hit rock-bottom. He has, to all appearances, managed to crawl out of that death-spiral and turn things around, but that's rare. And look at how long it took him.

Most people don't change who they are without significant incentive. If people are thugs and felons in high school or college, then they will be thugs and felons in pro sports. If people have a "bad" group of friends/hangers on while they are young, they won't give them up when they get a ton of money and celebrity, and the bad decisions and peer pressure will continue in their pro career. It should only be shocking if we let it be -- if teams are truly, honestly about character, these people wouldn't be hired in the first place regardless of talent. But they are, because, in the end, it is all about ratings, talent, and wins, not about character.

April 4, 2011

Dungeon Master

For many years, I enjoyed being a Dungeon Master/Game Master (DM/GM) for my group of friends who like playing Roleplaying Games (RPGs). I enjoyed the creation of the world, the telling of the story, and the cooperative nature of the games.

I was complimented on my GMing and the stories I told. I don't think I was all that great, but I came at it from a writer's perspective, I didn't let the rules hamstring me if something interesting or cool came up, and I wanted each character, and by extension the player running him/her, to have a chance to shine each session. I enjoyed creating bosses that were challenging to overcome, simple puzzles to solve, worlds and reasons to adventure in those worlds. Most of all, I enjoyed the shared activity of the group story-telling sessions that are the foundations of any RPG.

In my current location, I started as the GM for the group I currently game with. I created a world (or, rather, a valley in which they started, with the intent of fleshing out the world later as we went). I gave it rules and places of interest. I let the players create characters. I created a means and reason for them to be together as a group and provided them with threats to overcome.

But I noticed I didn't have the same... verve for doing it I once had. I found that, while I had an outline for what I wanted to have happen, I didn't enjoy creating the individual adventures like I once did. I found I didn't want to adjudicate the rules like I did before. We played that game for about a year, and then one of the others in the group stepped up and said he wanted to GM. I was happy to let him.

I have very much enjoyed playing the game under his direction. He is a good GM, who is conscious of the rules and of his world, but also open to new things, house rules on the fly, and polite and well-meaning criticisms to help make the game better. His game is a bit more of the "roll playing" style, meaning that it is more about the rules, rolling the dice, and getting together than "playing a role." It is fun, and I enjoy the time spent with the group and on the game.

Recently, I also joined a new group. The GM of that group is much more about "role playing" (acting) and less about the dice rolls or rules. Although the vast amount of information is in the Player's Handbook, he admits he hasn't read it and rules entirely based on gut and the Dungeon Master's Guide. He wants everyone to have a good time, he house-rules everything in sight, and we don't worry about the rules nearly as often. I have a lot of fun in that game, too.

The key thing that I find so surprising is how much fun I'm having playing and how little I want to go back to GMing. In my Southern California gaming group, we had a legitimate four people who liked and wanted to GM, and two others who dipped their toe in from time to time. When I wasn't GM, even if I very much was enjoying the other game, I was already thinking of new places to go and new challenges I wanted my players to meet and overcome. I nearly chafed at the bit to get back to GMing!

I have tried for the last few months to come up with new things for my players here to do. They have mentioned they may want to head back to my game in the future, yet I can't seem to come up with anything I want to GM for them. I've even purchased and downloaded some paid or free adventures that I thought I could use for that game, but even those I have little to no desire to adjudicate.

The vast majority of people who play RPGs want to play. Few want the challenge or extra prep time needed to be the GM. It requires a very solid understanding of the rules, an incredible attention to detail, the ability to coordinate the efforts of multiple people, and the ability to create both prepared tasks and challenges and to come up with things "on the fly" as the players do things a GM never intended or expected.

I used to excel at doing pretty much all of that. Lately, however, I have been finding I am not remembering the rules as well as I should or need to in order to adjudicate the game. I am finding no joy in the creation of the story or challenges any more. My attention to detail seems slack. I, simply put, just don't feel like I can do it justice any more.

Maybe this is a life-long evolution. Maybe I did it enough that now I want to just be a player for a while. Maybe I am reaching an age where I just don't want to make the same time-commitment to GMing that I always did before. Maybe I am just burned out on RPGs in an overall sense, what with video games, movies in the genre, and playing/GMing regularly. Maybe I'll turn around tomorrow after having written this and have a great idea that I get excited about and it will turn out I've only been in a slump for the last year or so.

I don't know. But I feel like I've reached the end of a personal era, of sorts. I do still enjoy playing, so I will continue doing that for the foreseeable future. And, who knows what that future may hold for me on this front as I go forward into it?

April 3, 2011

White is a Color

I just took a survey for a prestigious North American company. When the survey got to the question about race/ethnicity, it listed several, including: Hispanic, Pacific Islander, African American, Native American, and Asian, among others. However, it listed "White" as the alternative race to all of those.

Um, excuse me? There were no other colors listed in this section.

Why would a prestigious company list a proper race/ethnicity for every other group and choose not to put "Caucasian" down as one of them? Or, at least, why not write "Caucasian/White?"

This makes no sense to me. White is a color, not a race or ethnicity. I nearly selected "Other" and wrote in "Caucasian" just to make a point.

In an attempt to be racially sensitive to others, this North American company wound up being insensitive to a primary race/ethnicity. Shame on them.