Friday, September 28, 2007

Happy Anniversary. Really.

Six years ago today the Burgh Correspondent and I were released from employment by The Software Company That Shall Remain Nameless or We Get No Severance. (They can't enforce that now, but even though I'm not holding a grudge, I'll be damned if I'm giving those rat bastard asshole pedophiles any free pub.) Time has shown me they actually did me a favor, which I guess I knew early on, as shown by this essay written in my pre-blog days, right after they dropped the hammer on me. (Note: I had moved out, but the divorce from Lady Voldemort had not yet gone final.)

I am not the most industrious person in the world. I hide it pretty well, having learned that most people are lazy enough that any effort at all makes you look conscientious. Beneath it all I have always had a desire to be a Man of Leisure, and I have finally achieved that goal.

My last job change brought me to a pre-IPO software company. Everything looked rosy, it was a new and open market space and we had an experienced and respected team at the top. We were shown slides of how much money people who got in early made at Microsoft, Oracle, and PeopleSoft. The sales people in the training class were secreting enough greed hormones to smother an elephant.

I am made of sterner stuff. None of this “all shake, no bake” business for me. I took what they told me with a large block of salt and put my shoulder to the grindstone and my nose to the wheel, metaphorically speaking. I hoped that I might be able to retire by the time I was fifty-five, with some conscientious saving and a little luck. Little did I know that within a mere five hundred ninety-seven days, my employer would make me a Man of Leisure.

They fired me.

I was in good company. About twenty-five per cent of the workforce got whacked. Some of them were high profile types, although I don’t think any were vice presidents. This was significant, as the ratio of employees to vice presidents before the recent blood letting was fourteen to one. Rumor has it some veeps became directors, to keep Manuel Noriega from moving in on the company like another banana republic.

I have studiously refrained from mentioning my company. I would like to say it is because I am a highly evolved human who derives no joy from denigrating others . Anyone who knows me has understands that this is not true. If I want to collect my severance, I have to refrain from making any disparaging remarks about the company, and to not divulge any company secrets or techniques.

At first I was mad about the gag order, but it’s not as strict as it sounds. We are talking about a company whose stock went from twenty-nine dollars a year ago to a low of a buck fifty-two the week I was riffed. (Note: The company has since had to engineer a reverse stock split to keep from being de-listed.) I realize the market has had a tough year, but the Titanic didn't sink that low. What insults could I possibly add to, “and Software X has lost ninety-five per cent of its value from its fifty-two week high?” They’re ugly and their mothers dress them funny? Their performance isn't insulting enough to insulate them from further damage to their reputation?

I like the company secrets bit, too. I’m sure their competitors are slavering over the chance to find out what they might be able to do to lower their value by ninety-five per cent in less than a year. Soviet Union stock did better than that. Even if the secrets were worth anything, it’s not like I ever had any training on the stuff.

Training for the pre-sales technical staff consisted on semi-annual meetings where we would all sit in a room for a day and marketing people would show us what the new product did. We could then play with it, hands-on, for an hour and a half if we were lucky, although at least half of that time was spent installing it and working around issues the marketing folks hadn't discovered.

It has occurred to me that some of you might not know what a pre-sales technical person does. It’s simple. Our role is to tell the prospective customer that what he thinks he heard the salesman say isn't exactly what the salesman meant without calling the salesman a liar to his face. It’s a job calling for enormous tact and diplomatic aplomb. Guess how good I was at it?

Those of you who have been paying close attention may detect a note of bitterness in this essay. Not really. They may have done me a favor. Several people have been telling me that I should look for something else for months now. I have been reluctant to look for reasons of my own.

First, I've had too much going on. Doing battle with Lady Voldemort has been a full time job, not unlike doing your own dental work while wearing mittens. There’s only so much energy to go around for anyone. The stress of looking for and starting a new job could wait.

It could wait indefinitely, as far as I was concerned. I was tired of changing jobs. The years of being a freelance musician have taken their toll. I want to be some place where I will know how things work, who to call for what, and how to get things done. Not the stuff they teach you in Orientation, but how things really get done. That only comes with time.

In fairness, it should also be pointed out that I was paid very well for what I did. My immediate working environment, as far as my boss and most of my peers were concerned, was excellent. I was allowed to do my thing in my own particular idiom. There was no urgency to leave, whether staying was a good idea or not.

Now I have to get busy. I have been granted an opportunity with very little downside. The Desert Flower Correspondent told me that I should view myself as uniquely free right now. I am all but rid of Lady Voldemort. I have some money in the bank, and my total indebtedness is about $800 on a credit card. I own my car, and I am not tied to a house. My health is good, and my age is not a major concern. I can do whatever I want.

What I want is to be a Man of Leisure. The problem is that I can’t afford it for too long right now. I’ve done a budget and I’m good for at least three months without having to dip into savings, unless I want some training or to relieve my stress with daily “therapeutic” massages. There are lots of daytime baseball playoff games over the next couple of weeks. I can spend some of the time between innings using some of my free brain cycles to pick winning lottery numbers.

Monday, September 24, 2007

He Who Hesitates is Lost

I've been thinking just about exactly this for several days, but several distractions like work and family obligations Kept me from getting to it. Many thinks to the New York Times for writing almost exactly what I would have said, if a little dryer.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Who's in Charge Here?

It’s been a while since I bashed Hapless Harry Reid. This week’s excuse was another defeat in the Senate. Not that I’ll post something to rip Harry every time he gets rolled by the Republicans. I have a full-time job already.

Harry finds himself, and the party that has lashed its ambitions to his incompetence, stuck in what may be a unique situation in American politics: he can’t do anything worth doing without sixty votes. The Republicans threaten to filibuster anything he might try, so the usual “majority rules” principle doesn’t apply.

While the Republicans may be superior parliamentarians, they’re still fascists. This week they quashed a bill that would have restored habeas corpus, a right that had withstood all manner of threats from 1215 till last year’s passage of the Military Commission Act.

Before my Republican friends get their glands on their shoulders over the term “fascists,” let’s examine the evidence. Habeas isn’t one of those “penumbra” rights they claim were invented by the Warren Court and its heirs, like Miranda or abortions. It’s a fundamental right of a free society. Latin for, “produce the body,” it’s the principle through which someone held by the government can demand to hear the charges against him, or be set free. To say anyone can be held indefinitely, without charge, is patently anti-American. It’s the kind of thing the Nazis would have done, and did. Ergo, fascists.

Here’s the question I can’t answer: if the Republicans can hold up the restoration of habeas corpus with the threat of a debate, why didn’t Harry save it that way in the first place? Walk up to then-Majority Leader Bill Frist and say, “Habeas stays, or we’ll shut the whole operation down.” Probably because he was afraid Frist would invoke the dreaded “nuclear option,” thus rendering filibuster obsolete. Mitch McConnell, the current Minority Leader, doesn’t have that fear. He’s already bluffed Harry into a ghost filibuster with every bill.

Here’s a suggestion: let them filibuster. Shut down the whole operation. It’s not like the Senate is accomplishing anything, anyway. If you’re going to get nothing done because the Republicans are being obstructionist, let the world see how obstructionist they really are. Losing votes is the quickest way to make a majority look like a minority with a big mouth, while allowing the minority with a big mouth govern as though they were the majority.

Enough should have been enough a long time ago.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Dogs and Ponies

It wouldn’t be so bad for George Bush to lie every time he opens his mouth if it wasn’t so obvious that he doesn’t care that you know he’s lying. Last week’s clumsily choreographed events in Washington are another episode in the continuing saga of the Bush Administartion’s remake of The Man Who Would Be King.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker spent Monday and Tuesday on Capitol Hill, testifying under oath their “reports” were not vetted or aided by the White House. This might have played better had Bush not announced his agreement with Petraeus’s recommendation to draw down our forces in Iraq before the general was even finished talking about it.

Salient fact: there’s no drawdown. The “surge” was supposed to be temporary. The troops coming are coming out on almost exactly the same timeline they would have originally. Extending them wasn’t really an option, as the Joint Chiefs of Staff are near mutiny now over the tattered state that passes for military readiness. Claiming credit for bringing them out without replacing them is a hollow truth; there are no troops to replace them with.

Much of Petraeus’s testimony alludes to improved conditions that allow him to send troops home, contradicting a recent audit by the Government Accountability Office. Ah, but, the GAO data is five to nine weeks older than what Petraeus brought forward. Things are completely different now, wink wink, nudge nudge.

On Thursday, Bush made a televised address to announce his new “return on success,” initiative, touting accomplishments that contradicted his own recent statements. Petraeus set him up nicely – if, of course, coincidentally, since no coordination was taking place – by stating in a media interview hours earlier that Iraq should reach a state of “sustainable security” by June 2009. Was this something he came up with on Wednesday? It must be, since he said nothing positive about the prospect of “sustainable security” while on Capitol Hill, unless he mentioned it to Larry Craig in the men’s room.

The parallels between Iraq and Vietnam grow greater by the day. Petraeus occupied a seat eerily similar to one William Westmoreland sat in forty years ago, being asked the same questions. “How long?” “Are we winning?” And the answers, while phrased with forty years of marketing savvy behind them, served the same purpose: to buy time. Keep the money coming. Keep the war more alive than the thirty-eight hundred who have come home in boxes.

We support a regime no more legitimate than the Diem government in South Vietnam. Bush has spoken of the bloodbath that resulted when we left Vietnam, and how he will avoid the same result here. Left unsaid was how much of that bloodbath was the result of our own actions: destabilizing the Cambodian government, allowing the Khmer Rouge to take over and slaughter millions of their own citizens, until the Vietnamese came in and took over themselves. Had we actually used Bush’s standard in Vietnam, we’d still be there, with over 100,000 names on The Wall.

The analogy to look at is Yugoslavia, where another strong dictator (Tito) kept bitter ethnic hatreds submerged through his own iron hand, and by providing a common enemy to the various factions. Yugoslavia fell apart into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and more new countries than anyone outside the State Department can keep track of. Things got sorted out there, but only after much violence that had been repressed found its way to the surface, and with the support and disinterested supervision of the United Nations and NATO.

Bush’s pronounced intention of buying time for the Iraqi government to get its act together is disingenuous to the point of perjury. He’s buying time to get his own ass out, to allow someone to make the inevitable departure so he can claim they “lost” Iraq. As for his alleged desire to avoid another Vietnam, it’s too late. Better to avoid another Yugoslavia, which can best be done by eliminating the factions’ current common enemy: us.

Maher vs. Clinton - No Contest

Slate Magazine recently held what it called a Democratic Mash-up, a form of online debate. The following came from John Dickerson’s follow-up article describing the winners and losers. Click here for the full article.

Press critics swarm after every debate with a list of the zingers and truth-exposing questions they would ask if only they had the chance. They assume that merely asking the question will get the desired answer. Bill Maher asked a sensible right-between-the-eyes question of Hillary Clinton about her vote to authorize the use of force in Iraq: "Sen. Clinton, all the senators here, except Sen. Obama, voted for the Iraq resolution in 2002, saying that their decision was based on intelligence that they believed to be accurate at the time. In other words, George Bush fooled you. Why should Americans vote for someone who can be fooled by George Bush?" This was a great question, and Sen. Clinton's answer was nearly identical to the one she has given so many times before in discussing her Iraq vote. Sometimes a great question doesn't get you any closer to a deeper answer.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Heroism in Government

Somewhere there must be a more craven, spineless, and detestable job than member of the United States House of Representatives. If so, it occupies a rung so low illegal immigrants won’t do it. Only lawyers and MBAs need apply.

General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker made the rounds of the House and Senate this week to deliver their much anticipated “report” on the status of Iraq. There were few surprises, as they painted a picture optimistic enough to allow hawks to roll out the predictable “stay the course” rhetoric, while staying on the safe side of what can be said under oath.

My day job prevented me from listening during the day, so I caught as much as I could stand in the car after work. Fortunately, the drive took only about an hour. Fully half of the “questioners” I heard – regardless of which side of the aisle they occupied – failed to ask a question. Ass coverings in the form of speeches abounded. Democrats, sensitive to charges they do not sufficiently support the troops, praised Petraeus as though he was Eisenhower, Grant, and MacArthur reincarnated in one package. Republicans – who really don’t support the troops except with verbiage, but are impervious to criticism – lobbed him softballs all day. Petraeus’s contention that he had not vetted or coordinated his testimony would have been more convincing had he not answered several Republican questions before they were asked.

The Senate was better: less overt partisanship, more probing questions. It doesn’t matter; nothing will change, except the level of vitriol directed at Democrats by those who don’t think they’re moving fast enough. They’re not moving fast enough, but it’s not because they think the war is accomplishing anything. It’s because they’re Democrats, who live their lives afraid that anything they say, do, or think will offend someone, somewhere, even if that person was no more likely to vote Democratic than George Bush is to win the Nobel Peace prize.

Republicans, good for so long at framing any political discussion, have missed the boat one hundred eighty degrees. It’s not that the Democrats lack the courage to stay in Iraq. The Democrats lack the courage to leave.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Be Careful What You Ask For

We've all heard about the "General Betray Us" ad put out by I've been on their mailing list for some time, until tonight, when they asked those of us on the list what we thought of the ad, and provided a link with which we could email directly to their president Eli Pariser.

Most of you already know better than to do something stupid and then dare The Home Office to say something about it. Below is my letter to Mr. Pariser:

Dear Mr. Pariser,

It pains me to write this, as I agree with virtually all of MoveOn’s positions. I have also told my significant other that, while I’m not a marcher, I’d love to find an organization for which I could do some writing. I see you’re currently looking for people to do just that, Unfortunately, I am so disgusted with your organization right now, I have to pass.

The timing of the Petraeus ad was abominable. Taking a decorated and respected member of the armed services to task in such a disrespectful and sophomoric manner on the eve of this week’s hearings served no purpose other than to give Republicans a diversion to taunt the Democrats with, when all attention should have been on his testimony. Petraeus is not the architect of this failed policy; your ad merely shot the messenger, doing his job as he saw fit. Like you, I strongly disagree with him, and I feel the Bush Administration has used him shamelessly. Still, to vilify the tactician for the mistakes of the strategist is to blame the quarterback for calling the wrong play when the coach’s faulty game plan already has the team down by forty points.

Shame on MoveOn for sinking to the level of Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter, taking the cheap and gratuitous shot when more focused action was demanded. I’ll be removing myself from your email list tonight.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stalling Your Career

The Burgh Correspondent asked what the big deal was about the Senator Larry Craig fiasco, wondering if it might have just been a misunderstanding over needing more toilet paper. I'm not sure how I feel about being her go-to guy on cruising etiquette, but I was able to summon up a few thoughts.

I don’t know a lot about the cruising habits of homosexuals in restrooms, but I expect that cop does. It’s his job. (I wonder who he pissed off to get that gig.)

What I do know is this:

  1. Guys who need toilet paper don’t use hand gestures to request it; we ask.
  2. Those were either really tight stalls, or he has a wider stance than Shaquille O’Neal.
  3. After six or seven weeks of contemplation, the distinguished Senator from Idaho pled guilty.
  4. He didn’t mention it to anyone, which an innocent man would have done.
  5. Rumors have floated around him 25 years, ever since he went out of his way to profess his innocence during a congressional page scandal that no one accused him of being involved in.
  6. While no one (except maybe a few of his conservative peers) cares that he’s gay, a lot of people care that he’s a hypocritical asshole, who would happily vote in favor of public flogging for someone (else) convicted of his offense.

I just wish this had taken place closer to the election, so a few more of his holier than thou conservative brethren could go down the tubes with him.