when the status quo frustrates.

A Story of Privilege

Sunday, April 10th, 2011

For a couple of months now, I have been driving a young teenager from her home to her high school and back again (about 22 miles one way) for 15 dollars a trip a. Recently, I have also started doing laundry for $12.50/ hr. at the same house. So, at the end of the month, this family pays me a little under a grand. The girl has had almost all privileges a young girl can have- her parents are both corporate attorneys, she has traveled the world, she lives in a lovely McMansion, she has been exposed to culture and goes to one of the best local charter schools. For the most part, she is quite blessed.

This family would be easy to point to and say “Look how easy they have it! Of course this girl is going to succeed, she’s going to have ample opportunity too!” But this is not a story about her, or her family. This is a story of my privilege.

It is harder to look at the things that you have that you don’t deserve. It’s easier to go “I deserve so much more because I work so hard” or talk about all the difficulties but you have had to face. But, even people who have had legitimate difficulties (and I imagine there are quite a few of them) mixed in was all the stuff that institutions have favored about you, the headache that you don’t know that you don’t have*, and sheer dumb luck. I’m female, bisexual, poly and I’m currently lower-middle class. I’m also white, cis-gendered, grew up middle class and grew up in the United States. Your life is always going to be intermixed with what you do, and what happens to you.

I was reminded of that, very strongly, when reading this post from “Forever in Hell”. The post talks about a poor business owner who’s 2 miles away from the nearest bus station, and because of it can’t find anyone to work for him because he needs people to have a car. The relevant part here:

But you have to be able to drive. That’s an odd way of putting it, isn’t it? Why would you need to be able to drive to be a metal fabricator or a welder? What Mr. Isbister means to say isn’t that you need to be able to drive, it’s that you have to be able to afford a car.

Where I live, bus riders are divided fairly evenly between three groups: people too young to drive, people too old to drive and people too poor to drive. Mr. Isbister isn’t talking about the first two groups, he’s talking about the third group, and all of those people are fully able to drive. I have a driver’s license. I know how to drive a car. I just can’t afford to own, maintain, repair and gas a car. That’s expensive and I just don’t get paid enough.

Neither, I would guess, do Mr. Isbister’s employees. And that’s the problem. Henry Ford was a racist asshat, but he did get one thing right: he paid his employees enough to afford the product they were producing. He was only doing that to create a demand for his product (can you imagine a time when you had to create a demand for cars?), but the point still stands.

In order for businesses to be able to pay low wages, they depend upon our tax dollars to provide services to their employees that their paychecks just won’t cover. Low wages won’t cover the cost of owning a car, so your tax dollars pay for public transportation to get employees to work. Low wages won’t cover the cost of food, so your tax dollars pay for food stamps and WIC*. Low wages won’t cover the cost of housing, so your tax dollars pay for housing assistance*. Low wage and part time jobs don’t cover, or even offer, health insurance, so your tax dollars pay for health insurance for their children. And on and on and on.

My job is to drive a kid back and forth. I got this job, because I graduated with honors from high school, and this was my parent’s gift to me, so while I have been paying for the insurance and upkeep on it for the last 7 years or so, I never purchased it. Last month, my car which hadn’t had any problems before, suddenly had the timing belt break on me. The mechanic told me it would be at least $600 dollars to repair**. This is the third major expense on it, and Hubby and I had already decided before this happened that if there was another, that we were just going to junk it for it’s pathetic $200.

$200 dollars is not enough to buy a new car, and my job, it should go without saying, requires me to have a car. Had I not had my husband’s car to fall back on, I would have been flat out screwed. Did I do anything to deserve this luck? No. It’s just what my situation had available for me. We went with one car for awhile, and we could have stayed a one car family, but it was turning out to be really difficult with our wildly divergent schedule. So, Hubby’s family lent us their second truck, a manual. Did I do anything to deserve this? No, it was luck that’s Hubby’s family is wealthy enough to do that and that they could offer it to us. Now, Hubby’s car is starting to sound funny, so we’re taking it in to the mechanic’s. The second truck is a stick, which I of yet don’t know how to drive, so Hubby’s grandparents are lending me one of their vehicles for the couple day’s it’ll be in the shop. Again, did I do anything to deserve this? Did my hard-work lead good things to me? Did I even pay for it in any way? Absolutely not.

If someone else would have been in another situation, they would be flat out screwed. They’d have to quit this job, and lose the painfully meager salary. I have the privilege of a) having a car to get the job b) having a back-up when that fell through c)having in-laws that were in a position to, and willing to***, help me out when this car needs preventative maintenance. This is a privilege that I have that others do not, and one that I’m going to be taking advantage of. And I wish people who say things like “I’ve worked for what I have” could recognize where they didn’t work.

It is more than likely that Hubby and I will eventually be middle class, and probably upper middle class, at least if our parents and grandparents life-path’s are any indication. And I just hope, when and if that happens, that we can keep the knowledge of our assistance, and apply it to everyone else, not just who we know.

*Ani Difranco “Shroud”
**And already had called a couple junk yards to give us quotes on how much we could get for it, demonstrating that he didn’t think it was worth fixing.
***My in-laws confuse me. When it’s everyone, it’s “people should rely on themselves, and pull themselves up by their bootstraps” conservative tripe. When it’s their friends and family suddenly it’s “Everyone needs a little help in the beginning”. I’m not sure how they live with the disconnect.

Got any good ones..? Post ‘em!

Monday, March 16th, 2009

Oh, those workplace departure e-mails. (Thank you, Slate, for finally giving me something to actually call the things.) They’re so fun to write! and sometimes, they are really fun to read.

I’ve quit three jobs in which a “workplace departure e-mail” seemed called for. I didn’t feel the need to generate one for any of my babysitting jobs growing up, nor did I whip one up for McDonald’s (dudes, not only did I not have an e-mail address, I didn’t even have a computer, and hardly anybody else who worked there at the time did either), and a field-based Army unit in Europe doesn’t really require an electronic notification when you’re outprocessing. However, once I graduated college, engineering degree clutched in my hot little hand, my subsequent corporate adventures did, indeed, sort of require some kind of generalized e-notification of various coworkers and bosses, both mine and other people’s, upon my leaving those jobs for greener pastures. So I had to start cobbling them together.

I’ve never really had too much trouble knowing what to say. Platitudes apparently come as naturally to me as breathing. It’s been a great experience working with all of you! I can chirp cheerily on command. I wish you all well in your future endeavors! I generally consider myself a very honest person, but apparently, there are some circumstances under which I can lie like a rug with no qualms whatsoever. Quitting a job that I may or may not have come to hate to the point where each new day brings a new outbreak of hives is one of them.

The part of the workplace departure e-mail ritual that always threw me for a loop was who, exactly, to send the missive to. Every place I’ve worked has strongly discouraged e-mailing the entire freakin’ company, a policy with which I heartily agree, sometimes to the point where the ability to put in the companywide e-mail address is locked out from most of the employees. (Now, if only they will start removing the ability of said employees to “reply ALL” to those emails sent out to the entire company by the original, authorized personnel. No, Cathy in the London office, I don’t care that you’ve lost your password to the document management server nor, Bob from Sacramento, do I care that you and your family will be unable to attend the local company community service awards ceremony.)

But who do I send it to..? Can I get away with not sending it to the people I can’t stand…? No, not really, because even if those people can’t stand me in return, they’re usually just the type to make a big stink about being excluded from my workplace departure e-mail. Well, in that case, can I not include my new e-mail address..? No, because I do want some people to have it, both in terms of personal warmth and business referrals, and if I send some people an edited version that does not include my new e-mail address, again, they’ll probably get offended even if they can’t stand me. And how about people I worked with but who are either several levels above me or in only distantly-related departments..? Is it presumptuous of me to e-mail the first and peculiar of me to e-mail the second? But if I don’t, again again, will somebody Get Offended..?

And so on and so forth. But to the best of my knowledge, nothing bad has ever come of any of my workplace departure e-mails, so I must have muddled through the whole situation well enough each time…however, I can’t say that’s been the case for every workplace departure e-mail I’ve ever seen. Heh. Actually, some of ‘em have been a scream–for me, the sadistic observer; probably less of a scream for the author and some of the recipients, but given the e-mails themselves, clearly there was a Situation there that long preceeded the email. A few of my favorites from over the years–each sent to either the entire company, or a large subsection thereof:

“I just want you all to remember, what comes around goes around, and you know who I’m talking to.”

“I’ve had it with this situation. If I don’t get a response to this e-mail in ten minutes, I’m sending it out to everybody in the company so they can all see what idiots you are.” (I don’t know if this was supposed to be a workplace departure e-mail, but it sure turned into one; the author was fired the next day.)

“I haven’t always enjoyed working here, but it has been a learning experience.”

“Please don’t ask me why I’m leaving, I can’t talk about it, but you’re welcome to e-mail me privately to get the whole story.”

As the title of this post says–if you know or have any good ones of your own, share! :)

The market for half-assed theories is always strong

Tuesday, February 10th, 2009

In times of economic uncertainty, whose advice should you heed? If you said an “instigator of several nationally televised PR stunts” you fail, and deserve what you get:

With a brutal wave of U.S. layoffs, and the single greatest number of job losses since 1974, one controversial media expert is encouraging more people to quit their jobs preemptively.

David Seaman, author of Dirty Little Secrets of Buzz and instigator of several nationally televised PR stunts, says that quitting today is the answer for millions of workers caught in limbo.

Seaman’s plan is that you preemptively quit your job on the basis that “I quit before I was fired” has magic properties that will make you seem like a god among men at the temp agency. This is a great plan, hampered only by its immense stupidity. For example, complete the following fantasy:

Picture this, you are waiting in line with thirty other candidates in an employment office for an interview. When you get to talk to the HR guy he asks, “So you lost your job like the other hundred people I have seen today?” You can honestly say, “No, I had a good job and I was promoted but I quit because I can do better and I am highly sought after”.

In my mind, the interview ends like this:

“So you quit before you even had any interviews for a new job? Were they not giving even token severance packages? Seriously, did you think that through at all? Have you even glanced at the news lately?”
“Ummm, errr….”

The other problem is that if enough people did this, your interview would actually go like this:
“So did you lose your job like the other hundred people I saw today, or are you one of those dumbasses who quit without a plan before they could be laid off?”

But hey, it’s not David Seaman’s problem. With more than 11,000 views on CNN’s iReport and the consequent television facetime he can milk those views for, he’s prolly doing all right. But there’s no reason to just sit there hating him when you can let him inspire you: in tough times, the unscrupulous can always prey upon the desperate or the stupid, and with a 24 hour news day that has to be filled with something cheap and new every day the opportunity has never been better! So just don’t quit your dayjob until you know what your schtick for FOX news is.

I Haz Tiny Little Gurlz Feet

Saturday, February 7th, 2009


My new job is at a construction site, and my old steel-toed non-slip workboots had finally given up the ghost after seven years of hard use. Now, I got those old boots via my first company out of college, which simply passed around a mail-order catalogue to its new hires with the allowed makes and models circled; we just picked out our own size in our preferred color or style and voila! two weeks later–workboots. The set of workboots I owned prior to that had been issued to me by the Army…you see a trend here..? In short, I did not realize what an ordeal buying my own steel-toed, non-slip workboots was going to be.

Now, I am not an unusually small woman. I am five feet eight inches tall, with a medium build and average bone structure. My feet are a very generic women’s standard width American size 8. I rarely to never have real trouble finding shoes I want or need that fit my feet, regardless of whether we are talking athletic shoes, dress shoes, casual shoes–you name it. The picture captioning this blog? I had no trouble at all finding a pair of those kind of boots that fit, as you can see.

After having spent the afternoon shopping for a new pair of steel-toed non-slip workboots, I am being forced to come to one of the following conclusions:

1. Women do not work on construction sites.
2. Men are vetted for construction jobs based on shoe size.
3. Gender stereotyping by the retail industry is alive and well.

I found exactly one line of steel-toed non-slip footgear for women, charmingly referred to as the “Amy” line; however, they are not boots. They are what is known as “factory shoes,” which are fine for manufacturing floors but not for construction sites–essentially, they’re not boots; they look like running shoes.

So, I was finally forced to buy the absolute smallest size workboot I could find, which is a men’s size 7. Whatever my foot size is in men’s boots, it is shorter by at least an inch than a men’s size 7–but I can keep the damn things on, at least, and that’s clearly the best I am going to be able to do on short notice. I’ve put in an e-mail to a friend of mine who works in the safety department of a previous job, who will hopefully provide me with some links to online ordering companies specializing in steel-toed non-slip workboots like whatever company it was that provided the boots for my first job out of college. But since I need these boots next week, for now, I am stuck with boots that do not fit and will probably rub my feet raw and fail to contribute to my gracefulness in navigating trip hazards on the construction site.

<—-pissed OFF!

Sometimes Psychobabble Can Be Fun. Usually Not But Just This One Time It Kinda Was.

Friday, September 19th, 2008

Apparently this is me.

So, not too long ago at work we were suffering through some “group exercises” to “build teamwork” (thankfully there was no “hugging,” or GOD forbid, “sharing”)–BUT anyway, one of the things we did was take the Myers-Briggs assessment. I’ve never formally taken it before and certainly never done so with a whole bunch of other people. One thing I must say, the statistics provided as to what percentage of the population is usually this four-letter combination and what is usually that four-letter combination turned out to be nearly spot-on in terms of our little gang of twenty or so.

As it turns out, I am an INTP. This is an INTP:

INTPs live in the world of theoretical possibilities. They live primarily inside their own minds, having the ability to analyze difficult problems, identify patterns, and come up with logical explanations. They seek clarity in everything, and are therefore driven to build knowledge. They are the “absent-minded professors”, who highly value intelligence and the ability to apply logic to theories to find solutions.

The INTP has no understanding or value for decisions made on the basis of personal subjectivity or feelings. They strive constantly to achieve logical conclusions to problems, and don’t understand the importance or relevance of applying subjective emotional considerations to decisions. The INTP is usually very independent, unconventional, and original. They are not likely to place much value on traditional goals such as popularity and security.

INTPs are about 1% of the general population, making this one of the rarest of types.

Contributions to the team of an INTP

In a team environment, the INTP can contribute by:

* using analytical and critical skills to solve problems
* focusing attention on the central issue
* providing intellectual insight
* suggesting ideas that achieve long and short term aims
* viewing information objectively

The potential ways in which an INTP can irritate others include:

* being too intellectual
* finding too many flaws, and not accepting imperfect but ‘good enough’ solutions
* not taking account of others’ feelings
* leave others to worry about implementation once the major problems have been solved
* clinging to a principle at the expense of relationships and harmony

Yeah, well. Scarifyingly dead-on, I must say. How bout any of the rest of you PunkAssBloggites? Ever done a Myers-Briggs assessment? If so, how accurate do you think it was?

Changing Tacks

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Don’t you hate when bloggers write self-consciously about blogging? Yeah, me too. Please don’t read the rest of this post.


Bitch: Business Travel

Friday, July 18th, 2008

I’m ba-aaack!

(It’s possible nobody noticed I was gone…but in case anybody DID–)

In the past year or so I have gone on many, many, many business trips. Oh, to think that there was a time when I thought that business travel was probably Glamorous and Exciting and You Get To See Lots of Cool Places on the Company Dime!!

Well, it ain’t, it ain’t and you don’t.

There are two kinds of business travel. There’s the kind where you are going to a conference or a seminar or a training course as a recipient of knowledge only, which is actually a blast. This is because all that is required of you is to show up someplace for roughly the normal equivalent of a typical work day, absorb whatever you are there to absorb during that time frame, then party like a beast into the wee hours. I had a trip like that to Montreal early last year. I actually didn’t anticipate it being as fun as it was–I knew I’d have plenty of time to explore the city ’cause it was a four-day seminar from 8 am to 4 pm each day, but I was the only person not just from my job site, but from my entire company attending, and a quick check of the folks I know from surrounding companies didn’t reveal anybody else from them that I might know enough to pal around with either. However, by the end of the first day I had fallen in with a group of folks in my general age range from various other companies and, heh. Montreal is a fun city…the first night we went out, we were out til 11 pm and I was kinda tired the next day and so was everyone else and we swore we wouldn’t do THAT again…so of course the next night we stayed out til 1 am and we REALLY swore, ya know, tomorrow night is the last night before the final day of the seminar so we will be good TOMORROW night..!

Yeah, we stayed out til 3 am. Oh well…

However, this kind of trip comprises the definite minority of my business trips. Mostly, I am there to work, and when that is the case, the days are usually at least twelve hours long and even after they are over, you have so much follow-up-and-preparatory work still to do that you have to go straight to your hotel room and spend another three hours on the faithful laptop. So in spite of the fact that I subsequently traveled to Chicago, Indianapolis (okay, we can probably skip over Indianapolis as a potential fun spot anyway–sorry to anyone who lives there, please don’t take offense!), New York, Helsinki, Los Angeles, Stockholm, Quebec City and Philadelphia, I did not really have too much in the way of F-U-N. Read, practically NONE, bleh! My company got its money’s worth outta me, let’s put it that way.

(Now, I do have another seminar later this year in Puerto Rico–finally, I’m travelling in the right direction as we head into wintertime instead of as close as possible to the freaking Arctic Circle like usual!! I am a presenter, not just an attendee–the organization sponsoring the seminar invited me and are going to pay for all my travel and other expenses based on a process I’m publishing in a peer-reviewed journal with my company that I developed to–er, do something. Sigh. Stupid confidentiality agreements…oh well, if you don’t work in biotech a description would probably range for you from boring to incomprehensible anyway. But the seminar is Wednesday and Thursday, deliberately designed they told me so that attendees could stay over the weekend…bliss! I am allowing myself to hope.)

This week’s business trip was of the usual variety, however. Flew out to LA Wednesday, trapped on the job site during all beautiful beach hours, just flew back in last night on the redeye and was a total effed-up mess this morning. Which really sucks because I took vacation today and Monday so I could go to the beach here and nope, I did not make it out the door this morning. Oh well, at least I didn’t have to drive from the airport straight into work either, and didn’t have to take a vacation day–travelled from midnight to 9:30 am this morning, which my boss is willing to concede counts as a full work day. So there. A small consolation, but it is my own. And our travel agency got confused and put me in an “Economy Plus” seat right behind the First Class section on the return flight instead of the usual crap seat in the dead back of the plane so EVEN THOUGH our plane had unspecified electrical problems that kept us at the departure gate for an hour and a half after we were supposed to take off, it coulda been way worse.

Anyway, in my bountiful spare time on this plane and many others, I have been compiling a running list of thoughts, advice and complaints that I feel like sharing. Also, it’s a painless way to solicit advice from any other frequent fliers out there that might wanna share some happy tips on making business travel life more like people THINK it is rather than the way it ACTUALLY usually turns out–hook me up! :)

Long Plane Flights:

1. They suck.

2. Don’t wear socks; your ankles swell up like balloons sitting in a fixed position at high altitude for hours.

3. Do business class or even the new “economy plus” if you possibly can, unless you enjoy seeing how long you can sit with your knees jammed into your chin. Do not ever fly JetBlue. I am five feet eight inches tall and one hundred thirty-five pounds, which makes me a very average size for an American person, and I was physically unable to sit facing forward in their standard seat because my knees would not fit behind the seat in front of me and the seatbelt prongs dug into both sides of my butt.

4. When making transoceanic flights, do not leave the business class TV screen tuned to the picture of the plane going over the ocean. It may seem cool at first, but after you discover that intervals of three hours at a time don’t appear to change the plane’s position over the endless blank blue appreciably you start to lose it a little.

5. Make a big hairy deal to yourself out of trips to the bathroom with the toiletries kit they give you.

6. Accept in advance that there will be a screamy poopy nauseated baby within fifteen feet of you on any flight you are on that lasts more than three hours, especially any flight you plan on sleeping during.

7. There is no law that says you have to talk to large stinky older men sitting next to you, even if they keep trying.

8. Pay absolutely no attention to anything the pilot says, especially about “turbulence” or “mechanical problems.” Seriously, what can you do about it?

9. Accept that if you try to alleviate the paralyzing boredom of the flight by eating everything they offer you in business class, you will gain at least five pounds by the time you return home and you will suffer indigestion on the plane and also, it won’t taste very good.

10. Whatever you do, do not miss your scheduled flight, as any replacement flight will be twice as long, require at least twice as many plane transfers and will have layovers of either less than one hour (especially for international flights) or more than four hours (especially for domestic flights).

11. Believe that customs and baggage officials couldn’t care less about the quality of your life personally.

Oh, the Irony

Tuesday, June 17th, 2008

I think I confuse them sometimes by being half-woman, half-engineer!, and that’s how I end up on these e-mail chains at work. Yes, I did say “AT WORK.”



The Deification of Stay-At-Home Motherhood

Wednesday, June 4th, 2008

This just really, really irritates me.

Mother’s love worth $117,000 per year, study says

No, THAT isn’t what irritates me…actually I’d say that mother’s love, or any healthy parental love, is priceless. I think we’ve all seen how damaged people can end up being when they aren’t on the receiving end of much, or any, as children.

THIS is what irritates me:

If a stay-at-home mom could be compensated in dollars rather than personal satisfaction and unconditional love, she’d rake in a nifty sum of nearly $117,000 a year. That’s according to a pre-Mother’s Day study released in May by Salary.com, a Waltham, Massachusetts-based firm that studies workplace compensation.

The eighth annual survey calculated a mom’s market value by studying pay levels for 10 job titles with duties that a typical mom performs, ranging from housekeeper and day care center teacher to van driver, psychologist and chief executive officer.

This year, the annual salary for a stay-at-home mom would be $116,805, while a working mom who also juggles an outside job would get $68,405 for her motherly duties.

1. Personal satisfaction and unconditional love? Have the people who write these articles ever actually BEEN a stay-at-home mom? Those particular rewards do exist, of course…however, they tend to be instances of, not a continuous ecstatic flood of. They share the field with feelings of personal frustration and unconditional unappreciation.

2. What duties does a typical mom perform that equate specifically to chief executive officer? I would be willing to agree to small business owner, but CEO? I hate to recycle my own point, but it’s a relevant one–have any of these people ever actually been a CEO?

3. Hate to have to YET AGAIN burst the bubble of ignorance bobbing around so wildly in this article, but a working mom also functions as a housekeeper, van driver and psychologist. The only thing on that list that she outsources (so to speak) is the day care center teacher. And this results in a $50K pay differential? I don’t think I’m ever going to put any credence in anything that Salary.com has to say ever again about typical salaries. ‘Cause I assure you, most day care center teachers don’t make $50K a year.

One stay-at-home mom said the six-figure salary sounds a little low.

“I think a lot of people think we sit and home and have a lot of fun and don’t do a lot of work,” said Samantha Russell, a Fremont, New Hampshire, mother who left her job as pastry chef to raise two boys, ages 2 and 4. “But they should try cleaning their house with little kids running around and messing it up right after them.”

A little low? Lady, does your kids’ other parent even make that much?

Cleaning your house with little kids running around and messing it up right after you? That’s HORRIBLE AND UNIMAGINABLE! Working moms never have to deal with THAT bullshit–we keep our kids in cages when they’re home.

The biggest driver of a mom’s theoretical salary is the amount of overtime pay she’d receive for working more than 40 hours a week. The 18,000 moms surveyed about their typical week reported working 94.4 hours — meaning they’d be spending more than half their working hours on overtime.

Working moms reported an average 54.6 hour “mom work week” besides the hours they spent at paying jobs.

So the working moms are reporting their NORMAL 40 HOURS (if only that) outside the home, thereby making the entire 54.6 hours of the “mom work week” to be overtime, for a total of 94.6 hours (assuming they are not also working overtime at their paid job)…and yet stay at home moms, who are averaging 0.2 hours LESS with either IDENTICAL “overtime” hours or LESS “overtime” hours…still make $50K more?

Add “no math classes” to “never been a stay-at-home parent” and “no clue what a CEO actually does” to the list of issues experienced at Salary.com.

Russell agreed her job as a stay-at-home mom is more than full-time. But she said her “job” brings intangible benefits she wouldn’t enjoy in the workplace.

“The rewards aren’t monetary, but it’s a reward knowing that they’re safe and happy,” Russell said of her sons. “It’s worth it all.”

Because working moms know their kids are in danger and miserable at all times. OH, that must be why we lock them in cages as soon as we get home! At least we know then that they’re safe.

Please, people. You know what stay-at-home motherhood is? It’s a lifestyle choice. Just like any other lifestyle choice. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with it; there is equally absolutely nothing right with it. It deserves neither praise nor censure. It just is. Licking the concept’s ass, which as you can see above takes a lot of reality-stretching if not outright shattering, does nothing but make the ass-lickers look stupid, and completely devalues the parenting put in by parents of BOTH genders who also happen to bring in the dough to keep the little family in food, clothing and shelter.

More Laugh, Cry or Go Postal? Fun

Thursday, May 15th, 2008

I spent a day offsite again–my company is building a new, very large scale manufacturing facility and so we are buying all kinds of goodies for it from a whole slew of outside companies. On this occasion, the company in question was going to show us their pride and joy, a software package that simulates mixing behavior inside various types of stirred tanks. So we watched the demo in the morning, then they brought some lunch in and we had time to ask various questions more pertinent to our specific applications. I am only peripherally involved in this project so I didn’t get deeply engaged–I made a few comments about comparability of results involving various mixer designs but other than that pretty much just munched pizza and listened to everybody else talk.

After lunch was over, the simulation engineer asked if we wanted a quick tour of the shop. We all agreed that would be interesting and informative and got to our feet, and as we were all milling around securing laptops and dumping pizza trash he said to me, very abruptly, “Don’t be scared if they holler at you.”

I froze in mid-dump, then peeked around to insure that he was, in fact, speaking to me; he was, judging from the peculiar paralyzed looks on the faces of our corporate engineer and project manager standing right behind me. So I returned my attention to him: small guy, mid to late twenties, skinny with a pot belly, black-framed glasses, earnest expression. “I’m sorry?” I said, totally confused.

“The guys,” he said, and essayed a smile. Note: We had all gone round the room with the standard introductions that morning, but aside from that, this guy had not once made eye contact with me, and had only spoken to me in direct response to my few earlier queries during lunch; I hadn’t even thought he’d really noticed my existence. “They’re not used to seeing anyone like you on the floor.”

Light dawned. I involuntarily glanced down at myself, half expecting to see my quite boring business casual ensemble of button-down shirt, slacks and loafers completely replaced with a red leather miniskirt, platform shoes and a corset, but no–a snort issued from someone behind me and I straightened back up to stare at him. “I’m sorry I shaved off my moustache this morning–I just wasn’t thinking,” I said cheerily. He turned red, which pleased me enough to add, “Maybe you should let those poor guys out of their cages at night, you know, so they can mix with the rest of humanity more often, see a few girls now and then!”

Suspense! Did he pass out from mortification and/or apologize for being a complete and unprofessional moron? Nope to either one. Though I am happy to report that he did not inflict any more conversation upon me for the rest of our sojourn there. And did any of those shop floor savages holler, hoot, whistle, catcall or make any other vocal incursions upon my person? No, in fact they did not. Til the next time, signing off!

–Lisa, the Perky Girl Engineer

Laugh, Cry or Go Postal?

Monday, May 5th, 2008

I spent a recent day offsite–my company hired an outside company to design and build a piece of equipment for our manufacturing plant and the outside company had asked us to come down to their fabrication shop and vet the design, see what we thought of the work in progress, etc. With me were another engineer from our manufacturing group (male), an engineer from the corporate office (male), and a machine operator from the plant (female). The morning went pretty smoothly; I was able to identify some potential functional issues in the design that in the still-early phases of manufacture weren’t going to be much of a problem for them to solve, so everyone was relatively happy by the time we all decided to break for lunch.

So, we’re all sitting around the table at the restaurant waiting for our food to show up, and one of the two guys from the outside company (they were the senior director of sales and the lead design engineer respectively, both male, the speaker in this instance was the sales director) was talking about how hard it was to get good welders in any quantity. “Kids these days, they just aren’t so interested in the trade schools!” (Yeah, he was in his fifties. At least.) “Our shop foreman, our lead welder, his dad actually teaches welding, but–”

“Actually,” said the other guy, “it’s his mother that teaches welding.”

Blank silence, coupled with wide-eyed stare, then… “Really?”

“Yeah,” said the other guy. “She’s probably one of the best welders in the area.”

“Really?” said the first guy. Pause. “Seriously?” (The other guy nods, looking deadpan.) “You’re kidding!” Longer pause. “That’s amazing!” Still staring bulge-eyed at the other guy, very much as if that guy had whipped a two-headed calf out of his pocket and plunked it down on the middle of the lunch table. “I really did not know that–”

Our two engineers were looking anywhere but at me. Our operator was looking sideways at me with narrowed eyes. So I perked up, beamed at the first guy and said brightly, “Yeah, the next thing you know, they’ll be driving and voting!”

I may let how this scene ended remain a mystery. :)

One step closer to a corporatist dystopian future

Monday, January 28th, 2008

…where you can get a high school diploma by working in McDonald’s

Do I need to point out everything that’s wrong with this? Corporate sponsorship of public education is a vicious cycle. First, the government cuts funding to schools. Next, a corporation approaches the desperately underfunded school to bail it out—Nike will build you a new basketball court, in exchange for some brand-name recognition. How could any inner city school refuse? Then, the government is free to shirk its responsibility for funding, because hey, someone’s already paying.

I doubt there will be much of an outcry as the education of the underclass is slowly handed over to corporations eager for a docile, under-educated workforce. In my province, this has been going on for awhile—Ontario high school students must complete 40 hours of community involvement to graduate. The lofty rationale behind the policy (“to encourage students to develop awareness and understanding of civic responsibility and of the role they can play and the contributions they can make in supporting and strengthening their communities”) sounds nice until you read the rest of it; students, most of whom already have part- or full-time jobs, can complete these hours “in a variety of settings, including businesses, not-for-profit organizations, public sector institutions (including hospitals), and informal settings.” While I’ve been in community activist groups that have taken on student volunteers, most kids end up doing free labour for businesses.

Welcome to the future: Liberal educations for the rich, indentured corporate servitude for everyone else.