12/18/2017

Getting Out While You Can Call Yourself a “Smart Rat”

Stuff ends. Eventually, everything and everyone dies. Anyone who uses the words “forever,” “in perpetuity,” “to the end of time,” or any phrase or word similar to those in relation to anything human is clueless about time, death, decay, and entropy. Businesses, and in particular corporations, are designed to be easy to kill and for the killers to get away punishment-free.

Businesses often get shutdown to protect the people with the most money and power. The bigger the business, the more protection provided to the perpetrators. The people who did the work, created the products and services, produced the products and services, and who believed in whatever "mission" the business pretended to have get sacrificed. It's the way life in this country has worked for 200+ years, with only a few moments of interruption. Corporations whine that "employees aren't loyal these days." Interpret that to mean, "You people are too smart to buy into my bullshit."

Somewhere out there in the web is a reprint of a great speech Andy Grove (one of Intel’s founders) gave to a collection of business assholes where he explained why employees did not owe those rich and powerful men one ounce of loyalty. His recommendation to employees was to consider their employers as one of many possible customers and to treat their own careers as independent businesses. One absolute rule for the self-employed is to never limit your business to a single customer. Likewise, an employee who commits all of his output to an employer is destined to be disappointed and, probably, unemployment or worse. An employer deserves exactly the same loyalty as that employer gives to employees; nor more and probably slightly less.

In my 50+ years of employment, the majority of my past employers are gone. Now that McNally Smith College of Music has joined those ranks, seven of the twelve employers on my resume have vanished. One, ex-Fortune 100 Guidant is on record as Forbe's #2 "Worst Mergers in History." Another Fortune 500 train-wreak, Telectronics, would have resulted in criminal FDA prosecution if Clinton had been a fraction of the Democrat some mis-remember him being. Two of the small corporations on my resume were absorbed by larger firms; one for a profit and one sold for clip_image002patents and equipment. The rest just disappeared without a trace. Not a one of those failed companies were well managed, but the mismanagers were all grossly overpaid for their incompetence. Most of them were grossly over-compensated for blowing up the companies they mismanaged. The fortunes created by some of those golden parachutes could have solved Greece’s economic problems.

clip_image004Here's what I learned from my first experience, back in 1972, with one of those companies. My tech-mentor, L.A. (Arnold) Stevenson, a high school dropout/genius Air Farce-trained electronics tech who is still the hands-down best educator I have ever met, "The first rats to leave the ship are the ones who can swim." That lesson taught me that the day to start looking for work was the day I got hired to a new job. That habit really came in handy when I started my own businesses.

I didn’t stick around for the bloody end of any of the companies I worked for, but I got damn close in my first engineering job. The first time that company crashed, I stayed until I’d been asked to layoff every one of my techs and mechanics; then they laid me off just before Xmas (sound familiar?). Six months later, that company rehired me as a contractor which, eventually, turned into a management job. The next time their market collapsed, I was the first out the door; leaving my employees and friends with a little more job security and a big warning notice that “the end is near.” One of my best friends tried to stick it out to the bloody end and when he was laid off the Reagan economy was in full recession and there were NO tech jobs to be had in Nebraska. He died of a massive heart attack at 35 an unemployed year later. That was also a life lesson for me.

blame-cartoonA lesson I learned the hard way from two of my defunct small company employers was “Never invest more of yourself in a business than the owners (or the people who profit the most) are investing.” For the last 15 years of my career, I regularly turned down management positions because I know enough about myself to know that my loyalty to the people who work for me will override my common sense and I will violate this rule. I will try to drag a dead horse over a mountain, even if I see the executives sitting on the damn horse while I try to move it. The simple solution to that problem is to avoid horses/management altogether. I can’t “fix” me, but I can sure as hell put some fences around my options.

Another thing I learned from Arnold was that I never wanted to be an employer. Everyone who has ever worked for me did so as an independent contractor. I don’t need the responsibility, the people who have worked for me didn’t need to be trained to be dependent on me, and I have always been too interested in too many things to want to be tied down to one business model or customer base.

I worked, weekends and nights, as an independent contractor for Arnold and he paid me about 10x what I made on an hourly rate with my day job. He constantly reminded me that he was my sole customer and that was a bad thing. That spurred me into doing a lot of electronic design work which led to my first product “invention” and a royalty check that saved my family a few years later when I was laid-off and near broke.

12/09/2017

The Best Society Possible

I’ve been a science fiction reader almost since I started reading, at least nine or ten, starting with comic books and continuing to this day. SF gives us some deluded hope that human society can evolve to something more decent than whatever toilet bowl we’re living in at the moment. It’s a delusion, obviously, but the Trekies can imagine humans might evolve into a society without superstition/religion, war, racism, and sexism, Star Wars nutjobs can keep living the silly fantasy that one fool with a spaceship could defeat the Death Star and the government with some magic powers and an oversized puppy, and a few of us can see what the world our fellow humans are really building will turn into. For me, Soylent Green pretty much hit the nail on the head as a realization of the best and worst I expect of human society and the end times of the Sixth Extinction. I don’t think the United States has a hope in hell of ever creating an assisted suicide system as humaine as the one in Soylent Green.

I know there are people who imagine happier futures than this one, but having grown up in a evangalistic family and mostly spending my life smothered in the superstitious Midwest, I’m not one of them. Using the smokescreen of religion to mask their vicious and greedy personalities, the 70-something-percent of Americans who are the core of America’s decadence would never allow a process or facility as decent and realistic as the suicide center in Soylent Green. We’re a nation that believes people should suffer to the last moment to allow the wealth-extraction system (aka American healthcare) time to completely transfer patients’ assets to the 1%.

The only gross error in the movie’s depiction of an assisted suicide facility is that in 2022 when the envionment is completely overwhelmed by human pollution, the lines in front of a building like that one would make opening day for Star Wars XXXXII look abandoned.

12/01/2017

Is There Only One Reason the NFL Is Losing Fans?

nfl_attendenceLots of people, including fans, are wondering what is going on with the NFL’s lost fan base. According to the folks who care about this stuff, the NFL’s television ratings are down 7.5% for the beginning of this season. So far, there hasn’t been a change in the bottom line for the NFL’s primary financial source, overall advertising revenue, but it seems unlikely that will last. Papa John's founder and CEO and head-douchebag John Schnatter claims that the NFL players’ protests are keeping people away from the crap Papa John’s scrapes onto a pizza pan, while Greg Creed, Pizza Hut’s CEO said, "We're not seeing impact on any of that on our business." I can’t help think lots of failing mismanagers will start to blame their companies’ poor performance NFL players, since nobody wants to blame overpaid, under-talented and generally incompetent CEOs for much of anything. We elect Presidents, governors, and fill Congress with that kind of resume.

NFL comparisonSo, politics, as usual, gets the blame; although most of the people citing politics as their reason for giving up pro football aren’t bright enough to realize that the whole issue of the national anthem at the beginning of pro games was a political statement. Before 2009, nobody knew what NFL players thought about anything political because they stayed in their locker rooms until after the anthem was played. The Department of Defense spent $6.8 million between 2012 and 2015 on "paid patriotism," to try to pump up recruitment at all sorts of professional sports events. American flag displays, military honors events, reenlistment ceremonies, and a long list of military promotions became part of the NFL’s income stream. The players getting sucked into the opening ceremony was a political statement intended to inspire young people to imitate their heroes in uniforms. Some of the players involved in today’s protests are old enough to have been on the field when their voices wouldn’t have been heard about any political issue. So, one kind of pro-war and military/industrial complex politics is acceptable, but bringing attention to the discrepancy between how police handle people of color vs. white people is unacceptable? I guess you could say that protesting during the military’s taxpayer-funded recruiting pitch is protesting the military, but if that’s your argument we’ve got a lot bigger problems than most of us hoped.

nfl viewershipI’m not convinced that the player protests are the NFL’s biggest economic problem. Pro and collegiate sports are all seeing a drop in interest, but football has probably come close to running out its string. Younger people are, on average, less interested in spectator sports. The grandstands at many stadiums resemble Fox News’ base: 50-and-over. At this rate, the decline in the NFL’s fortunes may depend on the league finding other countries to sell their product. Outside of the US, “football” means something completely different.

Chronic_Traumatic_EncephalopathyIt’s pretty obvious from the latest medical evidence that any parent willing to subject a kid to the hazards of football is a long ways from a responsible parent. It’s not just pro players who have discovered football is a dangerous sport, college players are almost as badly damaged by the sport. It should be obvious that high school and Pop Warner football is just as risky, or more, because the “care’ provided by football coaches doesn’t become more cautious as you work your way down the sport’s ladder. This issue cuts the sport (and others) two ways: a declining pool of players willing to risk their lives for money and spectators becoming unwilling to be a part of a gladiator spectacle where they might witness one of their favorite players receive a fatal injury on the field.

nxgzzzadzlgz0ybbcix2Finally, there is the other side of the fans’ perspective on the protests. The NFL walks both sides of the road; supporting the players and berating them. Those of us who agree with the purpose and intent of the players’ protest are quickly losing interest in a sport owned by men and women who are more inclined to support Donald Trump and his band of angry racists. I have never been someone the NFL could count on for income from any direction, but I did watch a half-dozen or so games on television (at my local sports bar), including the Super Bowl, for a lot of years. Last year, I didn’t see a game including the Super Bowl. So far this year, I’ve sort of kept track of Colin Kaepernick’s employment status and as long as he can’t find a team with the moral courage to hire a man who is willing to sacrifice his fame and fortune for a cause, I don’t need the NFL.