Sunday, December 3, 2023

Failure is Always an Option!

Failure is always an option - even for Martin!

A reader writes about their experience in a college course on Systems Analysis:
I took a System Analysis course...

The final was a problem faced by fictional company we were supposed to assist. I and the rest of the better students got a B. Many were unhappy with this.

No matter what your plan was, if you missed, given the problem and data, that the company was going bankrupt soon, B was the grade.
It was a clever test - most students, and indeed, people, would assume the goal was to come up with a plan to "save the company" and be the hero.  But in some instances, companies (and indeed, countries, governments, or even people) cannot be saved.  Rather than try for a "Hail Mary" pass and hope to pull off a miracle, maybe the best approach is to limit the damage and fallout, so that people can move on.

This seems counter-intuitive to most people.  But if you think about it, it makes sense.  And I have harped upon this concept in this blog more than once.  For example, if you run a business and are short of cash, it may be tempting to "borrow" from the employee's withholding money by delaying payment to the IRS.  This is a horrible idea for two reasons.  First, it will put you so far behind the 8-ball that you never will "catch up" with payments.  Second, the IRS will sock you with so many fines and fees that it will swamp your business - as it rightfully should have been swamped.

A better approach is to realize, if you are thinking of such a plan - that is is a 100% sure sign your business is doomed.  Better off to close up shop in an orderly manner, lay off your employees with some sort of advanced notice.  Otherwise, people show up to work one day to find the company has "suddenly" closed, when in fact, the writing was on the wall all along.

I wrote before, more than once, about my experiences at the Olde Tyme Gaslight Restaurant in Fayetteville, New York.  I was a 17-year-old stoner who worked as a dishwasher there, but what went on didn't escape my attention.  One night someone knocked on the back door - it was the meat delivery guy.  I told him to put it in the walk-in and he said, "Not so fast!  Nothing comes off the truck until I get paid in cash!"  Seems we had stiffed the meat company and they weren't giving any more credit.  The dinner rush was set to start and the cook (who was also a part owner) scrambled to come up with the money.

He should have closed the place right then and there.  As it was, his Uncle from Utica (who was his partner in the restaurant) was skimming cash off the top and the place eventually folded, owing the landlord, suppliers, the IRS and employees.  The cook shot himself in the kitchen, not even 30 years old, and I never got my last paycheck.  He shoulda shot the Uncle, instead!

Failure is always an option and in the restaurant business, a predictable outcome.  He was young enough to start over, but let his Uncle talk him into going further and further into debt, to the point where he was beyond broke.  The key, like in the exam question, was to figure this out before it was too late.

In your personal finances and life, the same is true.  People buy stock in a company they read about online (which is itself a bad idea).  The price goes up and then goes down.  And down.  And down.  They could have bailed at the peak,  but thought it was a "good investment" and not a pump-and-dump.  Then it starts to tank, but they are "invested" both financially and emotionally.  Surely the price will bounce-back, right?  So they ride it "all the way down" which I have done a couple of times in my life, before I gave up on stock picking.  Better to get out with something than nothing.

In your personal life, it is also true.  People go to "couple's counseling" to try to save a relationship.  And sometimes, a counselor can't see that it can't be saved - but are willing to bill the couple for endless sessions as they slowly torture each other.  A good counselor should, on occasion, just say, "get a divorce, already, you two are in a toxic relationship!" - which happens on occasion.  Sometimes things were just not meant to be.

But like with the restaurant or the stock picking, people try fruitlessly to "fix" a bad relationship, whether it is with a spouse or a sibling or a parent.  I know people in their 70's who are still trying to obtain validation from a parent - validation that will never, ever come as the parent always views themselves as superior to their child (after all, they made them!) and the child is always viewed as damaged goods by the parent.

Even in a "healthy" relationship, this happens.  The next generation has their own ideas and lives in a world of their own - not the world of their elders.  So what they do, think, and say seems alien to us "old folks."  So it is easy to run-down and mock the younger generation.  They can't read an analog clock!  Yes, Grandma, but you can't figure out how to get rid of the 10 viruses on your computer, can you?  Being older doesn't always mean you are wiser.

Football coaches - those paragons of intellectualism, say stupid things like "Give 110%" (Clearly Coach flunked math - that is literally impossible) or "Failure is not an option!" when in fact it is a predictable outcome in every game - someone has to lose, right?

Failure isn't all that bad, either.  In fact, it can be better than success.  I am so glad I dropped out of GMI as my future with GM would have been brief and bleak.  I only wish I saw that failure was inevitable and did a better job of dropping out.  But even so, I learned so much from that experience - and one thing I learned was not to fear failure but rather expect it as a routine part of life.

Maybe this seems obvious to most people - or irrelevant.  But I thought it was interesting, as these "Systems Analysts" such as at Booz-Allen or "The Firm" make a lot of money advising companies as outside consultants.  They make a pile of cash, regardless of whether their advice is any good or not.  That cash could have saved the company - or at the very least, cushioned the blow as the company folded.

In my experiences with Corporations and law firms, when the "consultants" show up, it is time to hit the pavement - you'll be out the door anyway, as the founders of the organization have clearly given up on how to run the place.  Maybe the urge to hire consultants is a sure sign your business is failing and it is time to pack it up.  In every case in my career where management brought in "consultants" to implore us to "work smarter, not harder!" the business folded its tent within a few years.

Failure is always an option, and it is something to think about before it is too late!

Then again, maybe that's why I would never make a good Systems Analyst.  The point is to bill the crap out of these failing companies, getting paid in advance, of course!

Friday, December 1, 2023

Everything is Falling Apart! (Not Really)

Every piece of equipment has a design life and thus it seems everything falls apart at once.

I took the hamster to Walmart to have the tires installed.  I ordered the exact same tires (make and model) as came with the car and had them "shipped to store."  I called and asked about TPMS sensors and the lady behind the desk suggested I order those online.  I found them in China for $30 a set (!) which beats the $100 apiece that some shops and dealers charge (Mercedes - $200 each!).   But since the shipping was on a "slow boat from China" I decided to get them from Amazon (boo! hiss!) for $50 the set.

They make you get an appointment at Walmart these days and I made one online.   Again, it was pretty painless, and I had to change the appointment because the TPMS sensors arrived a day later than expected (I forgot about Thanksgiving and apparently so did Amazon's delivery prediction algorithm).

The last time I ordered something "shipped to store" it was a spare tire for a friend's camper.  They were trying to sell the camper and someone swiped their spare and replaced it with their own blown-out tire!  So I ordered "ship to store" and when I got there they said "what tire?"  I went to the restroom and sitting in a cart by the "layaway" desk was the tire.  But that was a decade ago.

So my expectations were: (1) I would get there and they would have no record of my appointment, (2) the tires would be nowhere to be found, and (3) the Chinese TPMS sensors would either not work or they would not understand how to install them.  They did put a set in my trailer tires (for a $25 eBay sensor system that works great, even though it was not designed for trailers!), so there's that.

Well, they exceeded all expectations.  The guy doing the tires was competent enough, but the manager handed him the TPMS sensors and told him to install them - without mentioning that I had four new tires to install as well.  So he put the sensors in and re-mounted the old tires and didn't figure it out until he was almost done.  But it was instructive as he said the old tires had flat spots, missing chunks of rubber and were hard to balance.  They were indeed dry-rotted.

So I did some grocery shopping (bringing an insulated bag and ice packs) and bought some more of that $4.95 Cava for the holidays (someone asked for a half-dozen bottles for a party).   It took a couple of hours, but they got it done.  And Walmart has done some good IT work in this area.  My car was "in the system" (I guess they did an oil change once) and all the data pulled right up.  They give you a bar code (which they put on the keys as well) so you can check online the status of the repairs and they can text you when it is done.  The tires are automatically "registered" with Walmart, I presume for warranty purposes.

So, other than the false start on the mounting, they did an excellent job.  The only thing I felt was odd was that so many customers were unhappy - not with Walmart, but with their cars needing work.  They seemed to take out their misfortune with the workers, who are not responsible for them driving to work on bald tires for months on end.  I tried to be nice to the staff, and that kind of freaked them out, as they seemed to be expecting hostility, like the way a McDonald's worker pretty much expects abuse these days.  I slipped the tire tech a twenty which he seemed to appreciate.  The mounting and balancing came to $68 and programming the TPMS sensors was free.

I noticed that the tech hand-torqued the lugs to 80 ft-lbs and then had a second tech (whose badge number he scanned-in) check them as well.  They offer to re-torque them for free within so many days, but I doubt many take them up on this offer.  This is all about liability, so they don't end up like Sears did on "lugnut day."

Anyway, it was like driving a whole new car.  All the weird tire noises went away, including a background roaring noise that you don't really notice as it gets louder slowly over time, as the tires age.  Most people don't experience tire rot, except maybe with hobby cars (which I had an issue with as well, in the past).  Since we are retired and don't drive much, the original tires had 36,000 miles on them in nine years.  I am only sorry I didn't get new ones last year.

So that was a happy outcome. The next morning, Mark yells, "The fridge is OFF for some reason!"  The fancy fridge we bought 18 years ago (three years beyond its design life) had the word OFF in both the digital displays for freezer temperature and fridge temperature.  Fortunately, no food was lost as the cabinet was still cold.  We quickly transferred all the foodstuffs into our good old reliable plain-Jane "box" refrigerator in the garage.

The fancy fridge has been giving us fits for years, as I noted before.  And I finally figured out the problem.  The fancy "Dutch door" doesn't close all the way sometimes, which sets off the door alarm that is at such a high frequency that only dogs and Mr. See can hear it.  The door being ajar lets in humid air which condenses on the membrane switch control panel (Whirlpool Part # AP6010471 / WP67005949 Keyboard, NLA). This, in turn, shorts out the "+" button, which explains why in the past, we would open the door and see the set point changed from 38 to 42 degrees.

Apparently, to turn the fridge "OFF" you can press the "+" button until you get to "OFF" which I learned after reading the manual after 18 years.  I found some YouTube videos on how to take the control panel off.  But all of them show an older control circuit board in the panel, which ours does not have.  Either they incorporated it into the display panel or it is buried in the fridge somewhere to keep it away from the humidity.  I looked online to try to find the display panel part and got this message from HotPoint:

HELP – Where can I get this part?

If we have marked the part you need as No longer available, it means:

  • The manufacturer no longer sells the part
  • We can no longer get it from any of our suppliers
  • There is no substitute for the part available to us
  • We don't know of any other source for the part
  • Unfortunately, even if you contact us we won't be able to help

In other words:

  • Fuck You!
  • Fuck You With a Stick! 
  • Fuck You With a Sharpened Stick!
  • Stop Bothering Us!

I think they got the point across - you ain't getting this part from no one, no how, anywhere in the world.   And every source I tried, from eBay to Amazon to Sears Parts Direct to various other appliance parts online sites (a half-dozen at least) says the same thing.  If you think about it, it makes sense - why bother stocking a part for an appliance that is 18 years old?  We had the membrane switch panels replaced on the stove and microwave, under a recall (the stove and microwave were turning on by themselves!).   So these parts do fail over time and are too delicate for appliance service, IMHO.

So what to do?

On a hunch, I take the control panel off and play a hair dryer over it to try to dry it out.  After ten minutes, I put it back in, and it works!  Overnight, it is still working.  But do you want to put hundreds of dollars of food in a refrigerator that, at any moment, might turn on you - or turn off?  Also the door thing is getting old - the complicated latch mechanism on the "Dutch Doors" is getting worn which is why it doesn't close all the way sometimes.

I did find one place that claims to have it - for a whopping $225.99 (other sites had it listed for $120 but out-of-stock).  For a refrigerator that cost $900 eighteen years ago, is it worthwhile to spend that money - presuming they really have it in stock? (I have seen a lot of sites which claim to have NLA parts in stock, but when you actually order, they go, "Oh, sorry, no longer available!").  And actually, now that I look at that site closely, it does say "In stock" but also "no longer available."  I suspect a lot of these online appliance stores just drop-ship from a warehouse and they have no real idea if the part is NLA or not.  So they advertise it as "in stock" when in fact, they have no actual inventory of any parts.

So, it ain't worth fixing as an "end of life" appliance.  The Weibull curve must be obeyed!  And with the microwave broken as well, maybe it is time to get all new kitchen appliances.  We are in no hurry, which is a good thing.  A lot of people, when something breaks, panic.  "I need a new refrigerator today!" they cry.  "My car died, I need a new one now!" they say - and give up what little negotiating power they might have had.

While Lowes and Home Depot have low prices on appliances, we found the local appliance dealer to have even better prices and offer free delivery and removal of our old appliances, in the past.  So we'll check them out.  Yes, the stove still works, but it is getting old and worn in parts (paint worn off on some trim pieces, glass top stained, etc.).  The dishwasher has given us fits in the past - I had to order a new silverware basket and a cap for the rinse agent dispenser (surprisingly expensive, that latter piece).  That is the problem in deciding whether to repair or replace - you need to have available parts and they have to be cheap enough to make the repair worthwhile.

I'd rather not spend the money - you read the title of this blog, right?  But part of being "stingy" is to realize when "saving money" can cost you more money in the long run.  And maybe someday we may sell this house and it will sell easier with a newer set of clean and working appliances.  Nothing sadder to see than a house with a stove that only has one burner working.  It makes you wonder what else the owners have skimped on!

For the life of me, I don't understand these folks who wail about not being able to afford a home and having to rent.  Your stove breaks, you call the landlord - that simple.  And as one reader noted, in the vast majority of America, it is cheaper right now to rent than to buyWhat have I said about that in connection with Real Estate Bubbles?  Sales are down right now, and optimistic agents are saying it is because there is a "lack of inventory" - but I think it is also because no one wants to pay the outrageous prices being quoted.  I am seeing routine price reductions and longer days-on-market on our island.  But whether this means anything in the greater picture, I do not know.

I do know that living with broken-down shit is depressing as hell.  And having broken appliances, dry-rotted tires, and a "check engine" light on, doesn't make one feel very happy.  But after getting the new tires (and TPMS sensors) as well as a new OBDII code reader (to reset that pesky CE light - I need to order a new evap purge valve, I guess) I feel a lot better about things.

Equipment requires maintenance.  I noticed that Mark's studio - and indeed our whole house - had a lot of dust, dirt, mold, mildew, and red and green algae growing in patches on the soffit.  The back wall of the studio was RED with the stuff.  It took me a few days (and I have a few days more to go!) to clean it all off with Oxy-clean and a stiff brush and the old Karcher electric pressure washer.  Yes, the "free" gasoline-powered pressure washer works fine, but I think it would blow a hole through vinyl siding (actually I know it would!) so I will leave the "big boy" for doing concrete walkways and driveways.  Besides, it's noisy as hell.

But again, after three days (so far) of this back-breaking work, I wonder why I ever felt owning a home was "The American Dream" or something that would be fun to do.  It is a staggering amount of work, when you are working long-hours at a job as a young person.  It is even more staggering when you get old and everything hurts.  And hiring people to do this work is not only expensive, they never do as good or as careful a job as you would.  My lawn guy seems to be on a vendetta against vinyl siding with his weed-whacker.

Of course, this is not the first time we have had to overhaul some aspect of the house.  We had to re-do the laundry room and garage, and the guest rooms and master bedroom as well as the living room and hallway - and the guest bathroom (mild makeover).  Still to be done are the family room and kitchen.  I'd rather not replace cabinets, if  I can help it.  Once you go down that rabbit-hole, you are looking at a major renovation!

And of course, the hot water heater is living on borrowed time as it is....

So, off to the appliance store in the next few days.  We have looked online and almost everything is twice what it cost 18 years ago (which actually is reasonable, given money doubles in value every 10 years).  We may opt for a simpler fridge - one without too many fancy features like digital control boards, if they even exist.  Maybe a simple side-by-side instead of a "Dutch Door" deal.

But the time has come, and I guess it is time to upgrade, whether we want to or not.

Wednesday, November 29, 2023

What You Learn Is Less Important Than the Process of Learning

An education is not merely memorizing things, or at least it shouldn't be.

I recounted before that in Engineering School, they taught us to "think like Engineers" not "here's how you design a bridge."  If you learn the latter, well, you are stuck designing the same bridge for your entire career as an Engineer.  If you learn how to think like an Engineer you can come up with new designs or design things that solve problems never seen before.  And in Engineering, many of the problems you encounter will be things never seen before.  Otherwise, your client would just buy an Off-The-Shelf (OTS) solution and avoid paying you.

Similarly, when I went to Law School, they taught us to "think like Lawyers" not "Here's how to file a lawsuit."  If you learn the latter, you are little more than a clerk (or "clark" as they say in the UK) pushing papers around.  Novel legal issues arise and you have to be able to address them, not merely rely on boilerplate pleadings of previous cases.

A reader writes, citing an article about how cursive handwriting is now being taught in California schools, grades 1-6 by law, passed through a liberal legislature in a liberal State and signed into law by a liberal governor.  That oughta shut up those Boomers and their stupid "memes."

But I guess I am one of them, too.  At the Parcheesi club, they had a broken Bose stereo and I installed a new CD player in it (to play a stack of donated CDs).  I noticed that next to it was a landline phone and an analog clock.  I opined that if we added a envelope addressed in cursive (with a stamp, no less!) we'd have the prefect "Gen-Z" puzzle kit!  Boomer Humor.

Despite memes to the contrary (and as we know, memes are the font of all wisdom!) the next generation can read cursive and tell time on an analog clock.   They don't live in a vacuum.  I was born in 1960 but I know what a 78 rpm record is and can recite the names of several Big Band leaders - even though these things were not "taught in school."

We learn things, on our own. School merely teaches us how to learn.  Sure, I can research a topic in a library using the card catalog and Dewey Decimal system - both of which are arguably outmoded. And yea, I learned to do "legal research" using a pencil and paper - even as online search engines for legal documents were becoming a thing.  These were not "obsolete" skills, but useful information even in a digital age.  When you understand how to research things, well, it makes your skill set more powerful than merely doing Boolean word searches online.

Sadly, they don't teach that anymore.  Some jackass lawyer actually filed a brief using ChatGTP which cited fictitious cases that it made up, to prove its point.  The lawyer in question did not vet these cases, and could be disbarred for such antics - or at least severely sanctioned.  Long before ChatGTP this sort of thing was a problem - where attorneys would cite a case and claim it supported their position, when in fact it said the opposite.  That was a sure way to piss off a Judge.  Citing fictitious cases?  That crosses a line.

So yea, maybe learning how to do traditional research might be pointless or boring to some, but when you understand the process, you realize that Boolean word searches can often miss valuable hits and mischaracterize the hits you do get. If someone chose different words in a different era, well, that document won't show up on Google.

But getting back to education for education's sake, school teaches a number of things besides "reading, writing, and arithmetic" - it teaches you to get up in the morning, get dressed, and go off to work and behave yourself while sitting in a chair for hours at a time.  It is training wheels for the work environment.  It also teaches you that if you want something, you'll have to work for it.

Learning specific tasks, I think, is secondary to the overall mentality that is being taught.  And often this means teaching people things they suck at, which has two purposes:

1. You lean to appreciate the talents that others have (that you might not have), and

2. You learn what you are good at and what you suck at - a valuable thing to know!
I took courses in Elementary, Junior, and Senior High School in things that served me well and things that I realized I had no future in.  I was a "C" student in French, but understood enough to make myself understood (mostly) when I traveled to France on a few occasions (as well as French Canada!).  I also tried to learn the piano and cello and realized I was tone deaf.  I appreciate music and as far as I am concerned, people who can play instruments are basically practicing witchcraft.  It is a talent - a talent I don''t have.  And no, I have no business singing, ever - not even in the shower!

Gym class was torture for me - I sucked at all those hand-eye coordination things.  I recall one exercise we had to do, which was to climb these thick ropes that went all the way to the ceiling of the gymnasium.   I could never get more than five feet above the ground before I slipped back - my upper body strength has never been very good.  We looked on in amazement (and our Gym teacher, in alarm) as one of our fellow students climbed all the way to the top using only his arms.  The guy had muscles, to be sure!  But what you realize, later in life, is that just because you suck at one thing doesn't mean you are no good at anything.  The guy who climbed the rope was no good with computers.  I excelled at it.

We all have our strengths and weaknesses and school is a good place to discover what these are - and you can't learn what they are unless you are exposed to a number of different things.  That's why I cringe when people say, "I never had to use that in real life!" and thus imply that Math class or Gym class or French class was "a waste of time" and that they could have been better off skipping those things.

I disagree - vehemently.  Being a "well-rounded" person means learning stuff you think is irrelevant but might come in handy later in life.  Maybe handwriting seems "irrelevant" in this age of computers, but did you know there are people who design fonts for computers for a living and in fact, can make good money at it?  And these are protected intellectual property, too.   Of course, this means we end up with Comic Sans - we need to track down that bastard!

I have a sculpture of a cat on my table, something I made in school using the lost-wax process.  First, I sculpted it in clay, then made a plaster mold of that, and then made a wax positive from that mold.   I added sprues and vents and made another mold from the wax positive.  The wax was melted out and molten aluminum poured in.  VoilĂ ! as they say in French.  It is an industrial process in addition to an artistic one.

I never became an artist, so what's the point of that exercise?  I learned how casting was done and moreover had an appreciation for art.  I also learned silk-screening and made a few t-shirts in school.  It helped me later on understand how semiconductors are made - it is the same or similar photo process, ironically enough.  Things you learn in one field end up being useful in another.  And as a Patent Attorney, it helped to have at least a brief understanding of a number of fields, as the odds of every customer coming through the door having an invention in your one field of expertise are, well, zilch.

I could go on.  At GMI we did learn how bridges were built - how was that going to help us build cars?  How was organic chemistry going to help me if I wasn't working for an oil refinery?  Why would I need to know advanced calculus when only a few equations (if any) are used on a daily basis (the decay of the charge of a capacitor is a differential equation - the only "real world" use I ever found for that course).

Learning cursive isn't an end in an of itself, but a process of teaching a discipline.  And you can't tell, in advance, at age 5, what will and will not be of use to you in the future.  So we learn all sorts of stuff, to make us "well-rounded" citizens.

And yes, maybe cursive handwriting is sort of pointless in an era where most young people type with their thumbs. Not me!  110 WPM baby!  Keyboard style!   But the point of learning cursive is that it may not have a point.

I think the idea of teaching only "practical things" in school is flawed, as you don't know in advance what is and is not "useful information" when  you are a student.  And memorizing raw information is of little use if you are not trained on how to use it.   It seems we are de-contenting education in the name of efficiency - and the end result is a plethora of "graduates" who not only cannot read and write, but cannot think for themselves.  They are not educated but programmed or indoctrinated - and some people think that is just swell, too.  An uneducated person is so much easier to rip-off.

Back in the day, even primary school students were expected to master a number of topics.  One of my ancestors taught in a one-room schoolhouse in Pompey, New York in the 1800's.   The kids learned to read and write and, of course, basic arithmetic.  But they also learned Latin and Greek and algebra and geometry as well as American history - and the history of the world.

Latin - another one of those "you don't need to know in real life" subjects that has been rapidly jettisoned from the curriculum of most schools.  Yet, if you study Latin, you can more easily learn the languages that derived from it - including our own.

We need to make school harder - not easier. And yes, this means flunking people out, if necessary.  Let's make a High School Diploma mean something again, instead of just another meaningless participation awards ceremony, like a kindergarten "graduation" party (yes, they exist).

And, if nothing else, teaching cursive in schools will give the Boomers one less thing to bitch about.  Because, let's face it, we'll have to listen to them bitch and moan for a decade or more, before they slip off the mortal coil.  It ain't happening fast enough!

Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Why Rejection Is A Good Thing!

Being rejected in life is sometimes a benefit.

A lot of people get upset when they get rejected.  You get rejected by a girlfriend and it seems like the end of the world.  But maybe it is a good thing - either she is the kind of person who likes to play silly games with your emotions, or she really isn't into you.  Either way, would you want her back?  It would be a relationship destined to fail - again and againAs a young man, I went down that road once - and realized that when someone breaks up with  you, it is often for the best.

Similarly, you don't get accepted at the "college of your choice" and feel defeated.  But is that really a worthwhile thing to do?  The college is telling you they don't think you have what it takes to succeed there.  In most colleges, the dropout rate is pretty staggering - I know 1/3 never made it to graduation at GMI, and I was one of those one-thirds.  But life goes on, and although my parents wanted me to apply to Harvard and Yale (my parents apparently had a secret stash of drugs they never told me about) there was no way in hell I would ever get into such schools - so why bother applying?

Being rejected for a job?  Why would anyone think that not having to work for someone is a bad thing?  I never really had this problem much - the few law firms that didn't offer me jobs were either "white shoe" firms that were out of my league, or sweatshop places that I never would have wanted to work at, anyway.

Yet some people can't see it this way.  We read every day about real losers who decide "I'll show everyone who's really crazy!" and then gun down their ex-girlfriend and her family.  Yes, we now know who is really crazy and why she rejected you - because you are a loser!  Similarly, some folks go ballistic (pun, sorry) and shoot up their place of employment when they get fired - or not hired.  Again, we all know why you got fired as you are batshit crazy.  Sane people walk away - and learn from rejection.

Rejection, as I hinted above, can take a number of forms.  You apply for a job and there is another candidate who has better credentials or is willing to work for less money.  Nothing personal - if he hadn't applied, you might have gotten the job.  Stay in touch, though - he might turn down an offer and they may come back to you.   Pouting or acting offended or depressed accomplishes nothing.

I got my first law firm job because my resume landed on a partner's desk the same day as another clerk quit.  Timing and luck come into play, so don't sweat it if you get rejected.  I applied to a dozen or more firms, and was rejected by half - mostly because I didn't fit their needs or they weren't hiring at the time.  It pays to use a shotgun and apply all over, than to use a rifle and apply one company at a time.

The rifle people are the ones that end up disappointed.  "I applied to XYZ company which was my dream job!  And they turned me down! My dreams are ruined!  Boo-Hoo!"  The reality is, they might not have a need for you - now.  Take another job - maybe in a few years they might hire you.  Maybe in a few years you realize you didn't want that "dream job" after all.

The same is true with dating.  You break up with your girlfriend in high school and are devastated.  True love - shattered!  Well, maybe not - maybe a high school romance, destined to fail as you discover more about each other and have different life goals.  I dated a girl in school and she was sweet - that first teenage kiss is sparked with electricity.  We had fun together, but she wanted to settle down and raise a family - in our hometown.  I was accepted at college and would be moving away for several years.  She found a young man who had the same goals as she did - and they fell in love and lived happily ever after.

You can have more than one "true love" just as you can have more than one job or one college.   When I left GMI, I was depressed, but it turned out to have worked out for the best. Since those days, GM's market share has shrunk by nearly half - and the workforce by more than 3/4ths - as division after division was sold off.  The division I worked at would have been dissolved only a few years after graduation.  Likely I would have struggled to find another job in a field I never wanted to work in, in the first place (plant engineering).  It all worked out for the best, in retrospect.

I suspect those who are most devastated by rejection are the type who put all their eggs in one basket - the one true love, the top choice college, the dream job company.  Myself, I never thought of life like that - that somehow I could detect, beforehand, which potential spouse would be perfect, which college would be the best, and which company would lead to the greatest success.  It is hard to predict the future and foolish to try to do so - beyond a certain point.

Alexander Graham Bell supposedly said, "When a door closes, another opens, but often we spend too much time looking regretfully at the closed door, we fail to see the door which is open to us."  And this sums up why people who can't deal with rejection melt down.  They can't see that there will be another girlfriend, another college, another job - which might be better than what they thought they wanted originally.

Rejection, of course, can also be a time for introspection.  What did I do that caused my girlfriend to break up with me?  Maybe I was being an ass?  Or maybe she realized it was a match not to be.  Maybe I should learn from this and not be an ass - or maybe realize that not every romance is destined for life.  Similarly, if you don't get into the college of  your choice, maybe it is time to look at your academic record and your SAT scores and think about what college you are qualified for.  Trust me, in ten years, no one will care what school you went to, other than to perhaps recognize the sports team affiliated with it.  Let's go Orange!  Right?

Similarly, the company that rejected your job application might not have a position available right now, or gave the job to a better qualified candidate.  Or maybe you blew the interview - arriving late or blathering on about nonsense.  A job interview is not the time to discuss your favorite conspiracy theories, your gun collection, or you fondness for anime.  You'd be surprised how many people do these things, though.

If you look at it that way, rejection can be helpful and instructive, even, if of course, you are willing to learn from it.  Again, the folks who get depressed and go crazy are often the ones unwilling to learn.  Nothing they did was wrong, everyone else is at fault.  It is mental illness, plain and simple.

I saw this firsthand with a relative of mine.  He graduated from college with mediocre grades in fluff major and found no one was beating down his door to hire him.  He groused about how corrupt "the system" was, and yes, a bong was involved.  He would go to job interviews while high.  He had mental problems, to be sure - which were about to get worse.  His girlfriend, seeing this all go down, got tired of supporting him and broke up with him.  She found someone who wasn't high all the time and had his own business.  They settled down and raised a family - which is what she wanted to do all along.

But my relative didn't see it that way.  He was betrayed!  By the "system" and his girlfriend, who was just a "materialistic bitch who only cared about money" and oh, by the way, why won't she take him back?  He moped around his parents' house for a year or so, before they gave him money to move away.  And the whole time he was there, he was high and complaining how rotten a deal he got in life - so obsessed with past failures he could not see the future.

There was an utter lack of introspection here - everything was someone else's fault and no fault of his own.  I saw this going down and that's about the time I gave up smoking pot.  It can do that to your brain, when you are young.  That's why pot should only be for the elderly!  When you no longer have to work or go to school or get married, you can do what the hell you want.  But until then..... life has its demands on you, which are not really all that onerous.

So what happened to my relative?  He eventually got a job, but his boss "was an asshole" and not surprisingly he got fired.  He found a new love, they got married and she turned out to be a "materialistic bitch" and they got divorced.  And although he finally got a decent job, he ended up going on disability, I think due to mental issues.  It was very sad and he is a sad person. It makes me sad to think about.

Could any of this been avoided through introspection and trying to learn from rejection?  Maybe, but a person has to want to learn in order to learn.  Once a person makes up their mind that a topic is too hard or that they did nothing wrong, the gates to enlightenment are slammed shut and locked - from the outside.  People end up living in a prison of their own making.

Myself, I have tried to avoid that trap and take each rejection and setback in stride - and as a potential learning experience.  I was turned down for a loan from a bank that I had founding shares in.  The VP I was talking to was a friend of mine. He apologized for turning down the loan and I thanked him.  "When a bank turns you down for a loan, you should listen to what they are saying," I said.  And I took this as a sign my personal expenses were getting out of control and that I needed to pay more attention to the bottom line.  I cut some costs (and some non-productive employees) and turned things around in short order.  Turns out I didn't need that loan and in fact, it would have been a disaster if I got it.

But I was willing to listen.  Others are not - viewing banks as "mean" for not lending them money they had no hope of paying back.  So they go to the payday loan place or shady used car dealer and end up in bankruptcy court.  That was what the "mean" bank was trying to warn you about!  But few listen, particularly the poor and today, the middle-class.

Rejection is a "teachable moment" as they like to say on NPR these days (in funny, squeaky voices).  Don't fear it.  Don't be depressed by it - too much, anyway.  Don't try to bury it or make excuses for it, either.  Learn from it.  You may learn that it had nothing to do with you, personally.  You may learn that it was all for the best, anyway - that girl/college/job would not have made you happy, but miserable.  You may have inadvertently dodged a bullet!  But also take an opportunity to look inward, not to castigate or run down yourself, but to think about what you could have done differently and, rather than try to re-live the past, apply that knowledge to the next open door you see.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Desensitizing To Violence

One of the first steps toward fascism is to desensitize people to violence.

While crime rates are far lower today than they were in, say, the 1970s, the level of violence in our society has risen dramatically.  It seems quaint now, but back in the 1960s, people complained there was "too much violence" on television because Mannix got into fistfights.  Fistfights where no one ever bled and being "knocked out" never resulted in a traumatic brain injury.   Even when someone got shot on television, they just tipped over after going "ugh" and peacefully died.  No one ever spurt out quarts of bloods from a severed  artery and then died screaming.

Today, they do.  Violence in the media has become more and more "realistic" which is to say, gory.  The body counts have risen as well, as henchmen in any "action" movie end up being gunned-down in droves.  Then again, I suppose the same could be said for the finale of any old James Bond movie from the 60s.  Of course, henchmen back then died with a quiet and bloodless "Ughhh!" and then usually fell over a guardrail in classic stuntman airbag style.

First person shooter games are wildly popular these days - and probably make up the vast majority of the gaming market.  These have morphed from primitive target-practice games (remember "Duck Hunter" on the primitive consoles of the 1980s?) to realistic murder simulators.  You have a real, big-screen, surround-sound experience, and even "talk" to other players as you slaughter them.  People, mostly gamers or those in the gaming industry, are first to argue that spending hours every day practicing shooting people won't have an effect on your psyche.  I fail to see how it cannot.

And life itself is trivialized. Kill someone?  Well, either they are an NPC (non-playing character) or if they are a human opponent, they can "respawn" with a "new life" and start over.  How Buddhist!

You might remember - or have tried to block out - scenes from horror movies that you thought were "over the top" and excessive.  They upset you and make you feel bad.  Imagine seeing such scenes on a daily basis, for years. You end up not feeling anything.

But I am not picking on video games or television or the movies in particular.  You could argue - rationally - that art also reflects life and that the rise in gore and violence in our media is merely a reflection of the values of the underlying society.  It is also a result of the problem of one-upsmanship that occurs in every scenario or industry.

A guy shows up at a campground in a tent.  Another fellow decides to built a tent-trailer and everyone thinks that is keen.  Soon, someone has invented the camper trailer, then the motorhome.  Fast-forward a few decades, and people are spending a million bucks to go camping in a vehicle that is nicer than their homes.

The same is true of media.  In the old days, horror films were less about gore (Roger Corman notwithstanding) but than about shock and scares - the "jumpscares" that made a comeback with the "FNAF" game franchise (oddly enough, aimed at children, apparently).  Gore started to become more prevalent, I think, in the 1990s and beyond, until we end up with such cerebral material as the "Saw" franchise or "Human Centipede."  Nuance is out, grossness and gore is in.  People don't just want to see blood, and not even guts, but specific organs as they are removed from the body in a carnival of carnage.

But again, this is not limited to media.  When I was a kid back in the 1960s we had carefully orchestrated and rehearsed "violence" on television in the form of Professional Wrestling and Roller Derby.  These usually appeared on television on Saturday afternoon and they were not considered to be real sports and it was understood that the violence was cartoonish and faked - for the most part.  Even real pugalistic sports, such as boxing, had strict rules and you could not "hit below the belt" and contestants wore enormous leather gloves.  Still, you could get hurt and even die.

Today we have "extreme sports" such as Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) and bare-knuckles boxing.  I recounted before a restaurant I was eating at was playing one of these "cage matches" and I lost my appetite when I saw the bloodfest on the screen.  Other diners seem less perturbed - to them, bloody violence was the perfect accoutrement to a tasty meal.

We drive by, in Florida, a number of places that advertise paint-ball shooting or lazer-tag.  This is a chance to try out your marksmanship on live targets.  No one gets killed or seriously hurt, of course, although I hear that a paintball can sting quite a bit, and for some reason, they sell body armor online for airsoft games.  It seems, at least to me, that we have trained an entire generation to shoot one another, in these online simulations and in-person hunting games.

And then of course, there are guns.  Not weapons to be used for a specific purpose, but hoards of "tactical" style weaponry stored leaning up against a wall in the closet, or laid on a bed and photographed for Facebook friends.  This new generation of gun owners is always making dark comments about how they are going to overthrow the government or how much they would enjoy gunning down a "criminal."

"Years old but barely used. Less than 50 rounds into it. Comes with primer to reset the target, and red marking packets, and metal fork stand with base plate."

These are the sort of people who shoot at watermelons on the weekend, pretending it is someone's head.  Or shoot at an old car, pretending there is someone inside it.  Or shooting at body targets shaped like humans and having the characteristics of human flesh.  This is not healthy thinking and we've come a long way from deer hunting.  On our local Craigslist is an ad for one such "torso" target - riddled in the chest with bullet holes.  I guess the previous owner of it got tired of killing it.  Maybe smear some ketchup on it next time for more realism!

You might think that there was some sort of conspiracy behind this all - to train people to think of their friends and neighbors and coworkers and family members as targets.  And sadly, every week, we are treated to a story of someone who "went off" and killed - or tried to kill - a number of people.  There are so many today that they are quickly forgotten about a week later.

Now add into this mix the comments being made on the far right about "Civil War" and "Lining people up against the wall and shooting them" and it starts to look a lot like pre-war Germany, with the rise of civilian violence and  hatred - toward their fellow citizens.

There are, of course, other aspects to this as well - the Culture of Belligerence I wrote about before, where people, mostly men (but some women as well) trying to act tough and be aggressive through the way they dress, talk, and act, as well as the (usually loud and obnoxious) vehicles they drive.

Compounding this is the spreading of fear among even the neutral population.  The world is going to hell in a handbasket!  Violent crime is skyrocketing! (It is actually much lower than back in the 1970s).  Homeless people are doing Fentanyl and giving it to your kids!  All hell is breaking loose and our elected officials seem more concerned with the rights of criminals than with law-abiding citizens!  They seem more obsessed with pronouns than with law and order!  (And by the way, you can say this about both parties - the GOP is obsessed with "trans" issues to the point where they fail to govern).

Again, Wiemar Germany - an apparently weak government unable to handle crises, such as the Great Depression.  But actually, they did and the German economy was recovering nicely when the Nazis came to power.  How did they pull this off?  By promising an end to the violence in the streets - violence that they themselves helped foment.

Want an end to all this fussin' and a feudin'?  Want a return to "Law and Order" and not just the television series?  Want to go back to the "Good old days" when "Goyls were Goyls and Men were Men?"  Say no more - have we got a dictator for you!  Just a little messy business of taking over the government and eliminating our enemies.  Just a little thing we call "Project 2025."

Yes, Project 2025, which promises to fire government employees who are "disloyal" (i.e., Democrats) and replace them with loyal MAGA followers!  Yes, a cushy government job is waiting for you, as your reward for being a loyal follower - even if you are unqualified!  The only qualification is, of course, blind loyalty to the party and The Leader.  Apply now!  They want to install their minions in the first months of a "new" administration.  This is right out of the playbook of 1930's Germany when the Nazis rose to power.

When the time comes, people will be so inured to violence that the sign of people being gunned down in the street won't even affect them, provided it is someone else that is being gunned down - the "other" that society is currently programming people to hate.  So long as you pledge loyalty to the new order, you should be safe - for now.  But there are some groups who will be targeted for extinction - and you can pretty much figure out who those are without thinking too hard.

I would hope this is all not true - that people will come to their senses and that the election of 2024 will be a benign event not marred by violence or more ridiculous "rat fucking" exercises.

I hope, but I am not too optimistic!