Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Your Worst Job Ever

What was your worst job ever? This URL here explores the topic at some length.

Everybody has had one. I've had a bunch of them. It's hard for me to choose a "favorite", as it were. When you major in trombone-playing, the corporate recruiters won't exactly beat a path to your door.

I spent a woeful semester as a part-time trombone instructor at Penn State, but that's not the bad job I was thinking of. I was making so little money from that endeavor that I had to moonlight as a grill cook at a 24-hour diner. I got the night shift, lucky me. This happened in Fall of 1979, but I remember it like it was yesterday. Making grilled stickies at the famous Penn State Diner and trading barbs with the drunks at 2 AM, when the bars closed. Ah yes, I remember it well. I enlisted in the Air Force band program in November, 1979, so it was of short duration. But it made an impression. One of the things I learned was how important status is, when you're trying to make time with the ladies. Or even thinking forlornly of it. I learned, simultaneously, that minimum-wage grill cooks didn't have any status. It was so bad, I thought being a slick-sleeved airman in Air Force basic training was a step up.

The job I'd had several years earlier, though, was arguably worse. My father was a cost accountant and office manager at a textile mill in Newport News, which manufactured twine, carpet yarn, and cable filler. My mom worked in the mill, a hard, hot, noisy, thankless job. I got to experience that, as my dad got me a job the summer after high school graduation making cable filler. Wow. Now, that was a hard job, and my mom deserved the Medal of Honor for doing it for ten years.

In my profession (database programming and administration), I've had some pretty bad assignments, but it's amazing the things you'll put up with when the money is good. My former employer, TRW (now a part of Northrop-Grumman), was a "project" company, and you could wind up on a bad project for an indefinite amount of time. I will say this for TRW: the work was always interesting. Sometimes, the project managers were a little too interesting, but there were good people and good times there. Another former employer, AMS (now a part of CACI), had some wonderful people but some unfortunate projects too -- that's where I learned what the term "death march" meant (with regard to the programming field). The reference is to Bataan, and is probably somewhat irreverent, but it is descriptive.

I spent a year working for an HMO when I first moved back to Virginia. I was the only DBA in an IT shop of about fifty folks, and it was like cleaning the Augean Stables every day, except that I'm no Hercules. When Friday came around, I would always say, "Thank goodness it's Friday -- only two more days left in my work week!" I lasted a year -- essentially, working non-stop around the clock, day in, day out. Ye Olde Sweat Shoppe.

In my senior year of college, I lived in Wichita, Kansas, and worked pretty hard trying to finish my bachelor's degree. But I was broke, so I had to find some way to make a little extra money. There was a dirty little sandwich shop -- submarine sandwiches, or subs, were called "grinders" in Wichita, "hoagies" in Pennsylvania, and Lord knows what else -- between my room and the music building. They needed help, but were unwilling to pay minimum wage -- so I did it for less. Big time illegal, but mainly they were the ones who would be in trouble if caught. They had a teenage workforce in the kitchen, and I have to say, the work was okay, but I have (thankfully) never had to work with such odious people ever again in my entire life. I was fired one day, inexplicably; they didn't give me a reason. But I found out later that I had been accused of stealing money. Another one of those memories that seems like yesterday. I never had a chance to protest my innocence, but somebody there robbed the till and blamed me.

That same thing happened one other time, about two years later when I was going to grad school in Pittsburgh. I delivered medicine for a drug store, to older folks who lived in the general area -- but I had no car, so it meant a lot of walking. Again, I was being paid less than minimum wage under the table. Well, one day, I was stuck behind the cash register (one of those old mechanical ones) and had no idea how to use it. I think I must have accidentally rung up a huge amount of money, because I was let go the next day, but not until after being eyed suspiciously and treated in a hostile manner. On neither occasion was I actually confronted or accused of anything.

If someone is convinced that you're guilty, without evidence, your arguments to the contrary wouldn't help anyway. It's the most powerless I've ever felt, at least from job-related incidents. The trick is always to remember that there is no pain or humiliation felt in this life that Jesus did not feel to an even greater degree -- and if He's not entitled to decent treatment, neither are we.

Well, that's all part of being in the work force, isn't it? Jesus is our salvation, but financial independence has a Siren call that is hard to ignore. But it's good to have work if only because nothing is more destructive to one's soul than too much money and free time. It sounds fun, though, sometimes, but I'm Reformed, so I am forced to conclude that the Lord has me right where he wants me.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Münchausen Democrats

There's a chilling scene in M. Night Schyamalan's movie "The Sixth Sense" in which the ghost of a dead girl appears to young Cole Sear (played by Haley Joel Osment), who "sees dead people", asking him to give her father a video tape. As it turns out, the tape, which was made by the sick girl shortly before her death, inadvertently caught her own mother dead to rights in the act of poisoning her. When the woman's husband (the girl's father) tearfully and incredulously confronts her, the look of guilt in the mother's eyes was absolutely cold and remorseless (and very well-acted by Candy Aston-Dennis). Chilling, as I said.

In a similar scene today, the House of Representatives just passed the so-called "Cap and Trade" bill. Investor's Business Daily, one of my favorite take-no-prisoners arch-conservative rags, is positively apoplectic about this bill. Here are some of the more polite selections:

"The House of Representatives is preparing to vote on an anti-stimulus package that in the name of saving the earth will destroy the American economy. Smoot-Hawley will seem like a speed bump."

"It is the largest tax increase in American history — a tax on all Americans — even the 95% that President Obama pledged would never see a tax increase."

"Other countries can just sit back and watch us destroy ourselves. Where will you be when the lights go out?"

So, the question deserves to be asked, "Why now?" The U.S. economy is reeling from the sub-prime debacle, Congress just passed the biggest spending bill of all time with the most obscene deficit ever recorded, the unemployment growth rate is off the charts (and far higher than what Obama promised when he was selling his obscene deficit), and on top of all that he's pushing socialized medicine (while pretending it won't cost us anything). So, now, Congress decides it's a great time to send energy costs into a rapid upward spiral. Now?!

What is going on here?

Rand Simberg has an answer: the Democrats are afflicted with a weird form of Munchausen's syndrome by proxy.

Here's what Wikipedia says about Münchausen syndrome by proxy:

"[A parent] ensures that his or her child will experience some medical affliction, therefore compelling the child to suffer treatment for a significant portion of their youth in hospitals. Furthermore, a disease may actually be initiated in the child by the parent or guardian."

The sickness, in other words, belongs to the parent, not to the child. Now, simply substitute "politician" for "parent", and "the economy" for "his or her child," and you have a description of what has been going on in Washington since January.

Simberg brings the analogy home by tacking the syndrome's symptoms next to the analogous symptoms in our political situation:

But what should we think when we see the same phenomenon on a much grander scale — when instead of a mother fabulizing symptoms or poisoning her child, an entire political class in power spouts nonsense about the state of a great nation’s economy and the causes for it, and then treats it with long-failed nostrums almost guaranteed to make the situation worse by any rational economic analysis? What to think when the stock market rises when the president is out of the country? (”the patient improves in the absence of the parent...”)

The administration predicted last winter that, in the absence of their “stimulus” medicine, unemployment would rise to nine percent sometime next year, and that with it, it would peak at eight and start to drop this summer. Well, the contents of the bottle from the traveling Obama/Reid/Pelosi medicine show turned out to be arsenic, because unemployment is already at 9.4% and it’s not even summer yet. The patient is showing a “poor tolerance of the treatment.”

As Rahm Emmanuel said, Obama and the Democrats are trying not to waste a good crisis. They're using the opportunity to ruin the economy, in the hopes, strange as it sounds, of solidifying their hold on power. It's the recipe Franklin D. Roosevelt used, and it worked fantastically well for him. The question will not be, which policies facilitated our economic decline? The question will be, simply, which party gets the blame? With the entire news media in the tank for BO, do you think they'll have any trouble portraying Bush as the bad guy in all this? It's the Democrats' m.o., as Hoover was demonized for generations. In a bad economy, people depend more on the government, not less -- all the better for the party of Big Government. If that kid is allowed to go out and play, Mommy Dearest won't be able to show how needed she really is. So when the private sector starts standing up, wobbly but game, saying he feels much better, expect the government to kick his feet out from under it and explain how delusional he is, and how this only proves how sick he really is -- "Now, go back to bed and take your medicine!"

I used to think our Democratic leaders were mistaken and misguided, but well-intentioned. I no longer believe that. I think they know what they're trying to accomplish. The question is, will we let them?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Shoddiness and Schadenfreude

Who else is following the downward trajectory of the fallen governor's incinerated career? Now, that's what they call a real orbit-uary. Don't cry for him, Argentina. Leave that to his campaign manager.

Let's stipulate that sex makes men stupid. E.g., if someone had asked Gary Hart, "Would you rather be president of the United States, or have a gorgeous young blonde babe dangling on your knee?" Hart would have of course said he'd rather be president, but in fact we know in hindsight that he would prefer to fondle the blonde. Not that Donna Rice wasn't cute. But how cute would she have to be to have been worth the cost?

It's never worth it, but that's men for you. Women have sex in order to accomplish things. Men accomplish things in order to have sex. And ne'er the twain shall meet.

If you're a double-standard-obsessed conservative like me, you ask the question reflexively, "Why is it that Democrats, from Bill Clinton to Gerry Studds to Barney Frank can survive, or even prosper, while committing flagrant acts of indecorum (to say the least) -- but a Republican senator like Bob Packwood can pinch one too many feminine buttocks and find himself on the outside looking in faster than he can say, 'Hey, baby, what's your sign?'"

It's simple, really. Here's the dynamic: conservatives care about such immorality; liberals don't. That's why such peccadilloes mark the end of a Republican's career, but mean little or nothing to a Democrat's.

Conservatives are old-fashioned. They believe that a man can have all the right opinions on all the issues of the day, and still be a dirt bag -- or behave like one on any given day. Conservatives believe that leaders are role models, and that someone who can't control his baser instincts is not a suitable role model. We may all be hypocrites at some level -- as is anyone who has a standard of morality higher than he is able to achieve -- but there's no reason to accept a leader who is blatant about it. Bad character is like an iceberg; you're not seeing the half of it. Most of us probably wish Gov. Sanford had stayed in Argentina for good.

Liberals, on the other hand, are "New Age", postmodern, and so above all that talk of ancient commandments and provincial moral codes. If someone has all the right opinions -- that is, if he is a liberal -- then he is a good person, by definition. His other moral failings, whatever they are, are explained away as quirks or, at worst, regrettable lapses, but not definitive evidence of bad character. In fact, they may even display his human side, proving he is actually one of us. They will apologize for him -- "Yes, I wish he hadn't done that, but he lied about it to keep from hurting his wife and daughter, and you have to consider all he's done for the [fill in the blank] poor/homeless/women/minorities/world peace/environment/civil rights/sick/downtrodden etc."

(Mind you, these are philosophical attitudes, not practical ones. I have no doubt, liberal or not, that Hillary may have wanted to use the pinking shears on Mr. Bill's wayfaring luggage. You know, the ol' Lorena Bobbitt treatment, or as Johann Sebastian Bach wrote, "Wachet auf!" -- which John Bobbitt would recognize as "Sleepers, Awake!")

So then, why do liberals in the media make such a big deal of Republican sexual scandals, when liberals themselves don't care about such stuff? (Indeed, they think being Republican in the first place is the real scandal.)

Simple: they know conservatives do care. So it's Schadenfreude at its most deliciously insincere.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Greater Love

I was not prepared to believe that "Gran Torino" is Clint Eastwood's greatest movie. It may in fact be the best movie I've ever seen.

Spoiler alert: Eastwood plays Walt Kowalski, a retired Ford employee who lives alone in the house where he and his (now deceased) wife had raised their two sons (who are now middle-aged and have families of their own). Walt is haunted by his memories of the Korean War, stymied by the indifference of his sons, and lonely since the death of his wife. He spends his time working on his beloved 1972 Ford Gran Torino (which he helped assemble at the Ford plant), drinking Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, and swapping politically-incorrect and verbally colorful ethnic jokes with his blue-collar buddies.

Much to Walt's chagrin, his once dignified, middle-class neighborhood has been taken over by Hmong immigrants and turned into a lawless ghetto. As Sue (charmingly played by Ahney Her), the lovely and spirited Hmong girl next door explains, the Hmong have adjusted well to life in America -- Hmong girls go to college and Hmong boys go to prison. After Walt rescues Sue's brother, Thao (sensitively portrayed by Bee Vang), from an assault by a local Hmong teenage gang, the elders of the Hmong community see Walt as a hero; they extend their irresistible friendship, and shower him with unwanted gifts and attention. Walt reluctantly responds to their overtures and forms a bond with Sue and especially with Thao, whom he takes under his wing. It becomes Walt's unacknowledged project to save Thao from a life of gang crime, and he does this by teaching him the things he knows -- the manly virtues, such as, how to talk to other men, how to work with tools, how to become emotionally self-sufficient, and how to respond to the attentions of a pretty girl.

Eastwood is an amazing director and, yes, an effective and solid actor. Like a great prizefighter, he jabs you with his left while he sneaks in a devastating overhand right. The last thing I imagined this film was going to be was a Bible study. But when the final showdown between Walt and the Hmong gang arrives, I couldn't help but be reminded of this famous passage:

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.

As a bonus, Eastwood wrote the song that closes the movie -- appropriately named, "Gran Torino". (Eastwood is a huge jazz music fan and plays piano quite well.) It's a beautiful and haunting song, and was itself worth the price of the movie; I predict it will become a classic. Like the film. Like Clint Eastwood himself.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

All the Hope and Change We Can Stand, and More!

The data are pouring in on the efficacy of solving an enormous debt problem by borrowing $2 trillion more. Yep, the results are what you thought they'd be. It takes a team of Keynesian economists and a roomful of Ivy League Ph.D.s to believe it could have been otherwise.

Check out the numbers at Gateway Pundit.

What we have here is the highest two-month rise in unemployment (7.6% to 9.4%) since we started tracking the statistic in 1948. The red line with dots represents actual data. If unemployment were a common stock, your broker would be telling you, "Buy! Buy! Buy!"

Meanwhile, as the economy burns, Obama fiddles with socialized medicine and green legislation.

This was all too much for one prominent critic of the Obama economic "stimulus", who protested on May 15:

“We can’t keep on just borrowing from China. We have to pay interest on that debt, and that means we are mortgaging our children’s future with more and more debt.”

So who is this bold critic of the Obama debt? Newt Gingrich? Rush Limbaugh? Fox News? Beelzebub? But then, I repeat myself. Why, it was BO himself, the One, the fellow who sends a tingle up Chris Matthews' leg, the God-like savior who has Newsweek reporter Evan Thomas genuflecting. Lest you think Obama was surrendering finally to reality, you're not that lucky -- he didn't mean it, he just tossed that out as a spurious argument in favor of a socialized medicine. It takes a special mindset to look at socialized industry and see increased productivity.

Let's have a show of hands: who remembers the way the media excoriated Bush for the size of his deficits? Now, another show of hands: which mainstream media outlets have pointed out that Obama's first year deficit is bigger than all eight of Bush's deficits combined? If ever this country needed a news media to do its job and report all the news, that time is now -- and all these guys can bring themselves to do is lick Obama's shoes. Anyway, here are the deficit projections, and again, hat tip to Gateway Pundit.

And here's what the mainstream news media thinks about all this:
...sound of crickets chirping...
...ceiling fan oscillating...
...cat yawning and stretching...
We might be fortunate enough to vote the sordid lot out of office in a couple of years. I say fortunate, because in politics it's not who does the wrong, but who gets the blame, that counts. If Obama is able to pin the tail on Bush, and the media seems more than compliant enough to assist, then we'll go on spraying gasoline on the fire and wondering what Bush must have done to cause the flames to sprout so high. It happened with FDR in the Great Depression, no reason it can't happen again.

But even if we do vote them out, what will remain?

The current administration is nothing if not thorough. Destroy the currency? Check. Indebt our country to a powerful dictatorship? Check. Ruin the bond market and, while we're at it, the rule of law by stealing money from bond holders? Check. Prop up failed industry after failed industry with your tax dollars and mine? Check. Politicize the census so the districts can be redrawn in a manner more favorable to one political party? Check. Put everyone on the government teat so they'll be afraid of the consequences of not continuing the socialization of the economy? Check. Offend our erstwhile allies and sweet-talk the people who want us dead? Check. Brag to a dangerous world that America's days as a force of stability in the world are winding to a close? Check.

I'm not saying Obama hates our country and wants to bring about its destruction. I'm only asking, how much differently would he be doing things if that is what he wants?