August 30, 2007

Workers of the world, take your vacation!

All summer I've been reading about how indispensable American workers feel about their place in their work environments. So much so that fewer and fewer employees are managing a full week of vacation -- just the occasional long weekend here and there, and even then, checking the Crackberry to make sure they aren't missing anything.

Newsflash: unless you are a neurosurgeon who is the only one in the country who can perform a particular type of surgery, chances are you can take a break and not be missed. I don't care what you do. Europeans take a state mandated minimum of four weeks of vacation a year, and while they may not score highest in the overrated "productivity" race, they have more balanced lives.

TV shows will air; trains will run; newspapers will be written, produced, distributed, read, and recycled; food will be packaged and delivered and sold at supermarkets; the stock market will have its jolts with or without you; houses will or won't sell regardless; widgets will roll off the line no matter who's staffing the joint. Products and services will not grind to a halt because you went to the beach to chill out. I promise.

If you want, take two weeks. Call in sick. Remember that the folks who make up your "employee benefits" handbook are the employers. They aren't in it for your sake. This being a capitalist society and all that, the object of the game is for Big Business to suck the life out of Little Employee for as much and as long as the Little Employee will concede.

Yes, we all have bills to pay. No, we don't want to lose our jobs. But if we don't get time off, our jobs have us. We lose control -- and that, my friends, is a very bad feeling, one that reverberates into other parts of our lives, making us hypercontroling where we have the remotest chance of succeeding -- as with small children who ask, "why?" To which the answer is, "I'm the mommy/daddy. That's why."

Losing control in one area is a feeling that spreads like wildfire. It makes for dreadful relationships. It makes for the kinds of families that end up with one parent getting alternate weekends and Wednesday nights with the children and the other parent having primary responsibility the rest of the time.

It isn't pretty. Granted, it is difficult to coordinate having two working parents off from work at the same time as their children are free. No one ever said it was easy. But I think it's necessary. How else are your kids going to know who you are, or care?

I didn't realize until I joined the work world, where I was favored with three whole weeks of vacation from my job, that my childhood had been unusual: we spent the month of August in Lake Placid; my father closed his office from Christmas through New Year's, and we traveled extensively through the winter and spring. Three weeks -- considered generous -- wasn't going to do it for me.

This is a private sector problem. Whatever else I may have against Big Brother, federal employees get off work at the drop of a hat. Congress takes rather lengthy recesses, though it chooses not to mandate any vacation for its constituents. There's something wrong with that picture, just as there is with Congressional attempts to overhaul health care when they have never had to face an HMO, so they don't know what the rest of us are up against.

I digress. My point is, no one ever said on her deathbed, I should have spent more time at the office. So, if you have more vacation coming to you, make a plan, any plan, to take that time off. Stay home and paint your toe nails. Sleep until noon. Eat ice cream for dinner. Whatever. The world won't grind to a halt without your presence at work.

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August 17, 2007

I spy, trouble from the sky

As if Big Brother's newly "legalized" upgraded ability to wiretap any international conversation wasn't enough now the eye in the sky is on you. Or me.

As The Wall Street Journal would have it, in a Page One story on Wednesday: U.S. to Expand Domestic Use of Spy Satellites. So, just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't watching you. Seems to me, no matter how many toys Big Brother steamrolls over Congress, results are not forthcoming. The terrorist-catch success rate isn't even on a par with major league baseball batting averages.

(Do not ask how pathetic I find the idea that Big Brother would employ someone, with my tax dollars, to listen to my friend Maura and I, baby boomers both, whine about our aging bodies, her father's wretched wife, or my mother's latest inanity, or chat about where can we go within 2 hours of Zurich so she can get stoned and I can find a great spa the next time I cross the pond.)

What to do? Throw more money away! Add more toys! Play to the adage, "boys will be boys; all that changes is the size of their toys." Because if there is anyone in government displaying the least sense of logic or maturity, I am missing the point. That great sucking sound is my tax dollars, down the rabbit hole.

And what is down that particular rabbit hole is nothing that interests Alice. She would rather stay above ground, adjusting to her new migraine meds, hoping that the one pill that makes her larger will be counteracted by the one pill that is said to make her small. Side effects R us in Wonderland. Sometimes Alice gets the good ones.

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August 09, 2007

Hocus, Focus

So, the public opinion poll takers want Alice's opinion of "investment products and services." For $200, cash, and three hours of her time. Alice falls for the offer of cash and leaves the sanctity of air conditioning in her apartment on an 95+ degree day to place test-market dummy. Big mistake.

Alice used to have a friend in advertising who called focus groups "fuck us" groups. Alice is mightily pleased to have succeeded in doing just that. She can't help thinking the guy "leading" the group -- its so-called moderator -- got just what he deserved.

He neglected to inform the group when the meeting began that they were all to assume they were clients of a particular brokerage house who possessed a certain type of account. Two big errors, right there.

Yes, Alice is a client; no, she neither possesses that type of account, nor does she know its fee. As a financial planner, she counsels her clients against these all-under-one-roof offerings. She know that focus guy defined the account terms incorrectly: error 3, and Alice hasn't finished her first bag of pretzels. Focus guy made a mistake in beginning by asking the group how they felt about their banks.

Alice had a run in with her bank that very day: it would be happy for her to roll over her CD by phone, but not to take her instructions to cash it out and put the proceeds in Alice's checking account. For that, Alice must get her ass to the branch. So, how does Alice feel about her bank? Two words: "It sucks."

You want more details? You don't? Well, you shouldn't have asked at all, because it's hot; you haven't provided enough food, and Alice is cranky that you have kept her waiting. Alice has not had a decent enough dinner to prevent her blood sugar level from compelling her to tell all.

How would Alice feel about getting rid of her bank account? Does the brokerage house have a safe deposit box on Alice's corner? I think not. And thank you, Alice's bank probably doesn't suck any worse than the rest of them, and it does have proximity going for it. Then, too, there is Alice's rule separating church and state:

Don't give Alice direct access to more money than she needs at any given time. The bank is for day-to-day operations; the brokerage house is for long-term investing. Let's not confuse the two. Let's enforce some discipline into whatever part of Alice's chaotic life we can. Alice won't even accept a debit card from her bank: the ATM card is for cash-only business. Her checkbook is inscribed in free verse as it is; let's not compound the problem.

Focus guy doesn't get it: wouldn't it be simpler for Alice to have all her finances in one place? Are you out of your fucking mind? She doesn't care if her checking account is off by $500 or so. She would care, big-time, if her investments got entangled in the mess that is her day-to-day situation. Thanks again, and no thanks.

Wouldn't Alice like a debit card to have access to the cash in her investment accounts? No, no, and no. If you missed that, Alice will sing it for you. Failing that, Alice will slap you silly until you get the point.

Three hours like this. Alice knows that behind the corner is a representative of her brokerage house, along with a fuck-us group person. She hopes the brokerage rep is brighter than the fuck-us person.

It is Alice's strong opinion that the fuck-us group moderator should be out on his ass. The next time you want her opinion, it's not going to come nearly so cheaply.