Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Office Gossip

I promised an update and although I don't have much time today, I will write just a bit.

Yesterday, I lunched with two office mates and heard a juicy bit of gossip that directly effects my near future as well as the future of many other people here at the firm.

The short of it: We're running out of money.

There are a lot of reasons for this (including mismanagement and over-hiring) but the real cause is our new strategy. We'll be implementing this strategy starting in December.

The result: Mass layoffs are coming.

And not just in my department. In at least 1 more, but probably in all divisions.

What this means: When contracts are up, they aren't being renewed.

Instead of laying off people (which is particularly costly here in Colombia), they're just letting contracts expire. My contract is up in 3 months. Which means, I have to up the level of effort in my job search.

I'm actually pretty happy about this. I certainly couldn't continue in the same job for another year without going postal and this gives me a definitive end point. And while the uncertainty of my employment future isn't the best thing, I have several things simmering at the moment and the hope is that something comes through. If not, there's always English classes and whatnot.

Either way, after hearing that, I felt relieved. I have 3 months more to go in this job and then I'm done. That's a good thing. I'll count one year of experience in this type of company and then I can move on to something else.

Now it's just a matter of securing something else.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Quick Comment

The love affair between me and my new laptop is quickly passing that between me and my LCD HD TV.

(Real update tomorrow.)

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Corporate Retreats and the Stupid Games they Play

I was at a corporate retreat this week in Villa de Leyva. We do quarterly meetings with the national team (about 30 people) and I got the feeling that the last one wasn't particularly well received (Bucaramanga - lots of presentations, little participation). So this time, they hired 2 team building coaches to teach us how to work better as a team and facilitate the work sessions. None of us knew this, however, as no one explained the purpose of the meetings and we all walked in blind. This was evident in the intro meeting where we were asked to introduce ourselves and state our expectations. About half the people mentioned team building goals like communication, social activities, etc, while the other half mentioned substantive goals like creating a plan for the 2008 Work Plan. (I was tempted to say that I had none, but thought it best not to come across as totally arrogant). After the introduction, I fully expected to hear a small speech from one of the facilitators that would explain the purpose of the meetings (thinking that they didn't say anything on purpose) but that didn't happen. We simply adjourned for lunch.

At any rate, in the afternoon, we did all sorts of silly games which psychologists and team builders think are important but which I think are fundamentally a waste of time. For example, they started with a one-eyed tag game. You had to pursue your partner in a crowded space with only part of one eye uncovered. No explanation was given for why. Then we had to make a human box around the facilitator and run around the field keeping the box intact as she moved. This is make us work as a team. Then we had to throw colored balls into a bin in an exercise that depended on us acknowledging that only when all 4 teams had gotten all balls in the bin would we "win". This was to show us that even though we work in teams, we only win when we all win. Finally, in late afternoon, we had to climb over a wall way too high to climb. This was to show that if we all work together we can surmount seemingly insurmountable obstacles.

My co-workers seemed to be impressed. I wasn't. In fact, I found the whole thing to be juvenile and purposeless. We can indeed work as a team when it comes to leaping great walls. But that doesn't mean that we can work as a team in the office. The two are entirely unrelated because the bosses set the tone and they aren't team players; they don't trust anyone. But hey, I wasn't complaining too much because it beats a day in the office.

(Side note: Climbing over the wall was a dangerous and risky thing. They seriously should have thought better when over 50% of the team is old, fat, and weak. Because of those factors, I was the second one up the wall and had to help lift the majority of the aforementioned old, fat, and weak and let me just say, I speak Spanish but that's a whole lot of faith you're putting in someone who has difficulty communicating in the "heat of the battle" not to mention the fact that these men really did put themselves at serious risk of bodily injury. Had they fallen, they would have flattened the people on the ground providing a "safety net". Fortunately, no one got injured.)

Anyway, while Wednesday was entertaining if not mostly useless, Thursday was particularly unpleasant. The activity of which I speak is one in which we sat in two rows, facing each other. We had to speak to the other person for a minute - thanking them for whatever, telling them what we can help them with, etc. Then they spoke to us and did the same. Let me just say, I had virtually no one to thank for anyone and I didn't want to offer anything (although I did, repeatedly, and that's likely to make my work life even more crapilicious). At any rate, during this process, I had my first conversation with the new boss about my skills, abilities, and training, so that's something, right? It only took 4 months. Way to be on the ball guy.

The rest of the workshop was spent on substantive goals. The next year, the next quarter, etc. It was all very boring and only heightened my desire to leave this company and this work post haste. And, as I knew from the start, it just demonstrated once again that my personal goals (leaving the company, doing interesting work) were incompatible with the team goals and therefore there was little I was going to get out of the workshop. I knew this from the start and while I gave it my best to participate and not exclude myself on that basis (for I will undoubtedly be in this role for another 3 months), it still didn't make things very pleasant.

Really though, the fundamental aggravation was my team. I really just don't like some of them. Take Bobo the Clown for example. He's a mid-40s gentleman who frequently makes jokes that are either overtly sexual or personal about people in the team. Now, no one seems to mind, but if he did that in the US, he would be fired for creating a hostile work environment. Not only that though, he's just a drain on efficiency. I mean, there's a time for jokes and a time to shut the f*ck up and do some work, you know? He seems to never have learned that the world doesn't revolve around him and that it's ok if we just get to work.

Anyway, I had to talk with him during our 2-minute session and in this session he actually criticized me for being too focused on the job and told me his name for me is Tutankaman - yeah, the mummy in Egypt - because I don't move from my desk, I just concentrate and ignore all the bullsh*t around me. First time I've ever been criticized for being too studious. At any rate, now that I know his name for me, he proceeded to repeat the joke for the balance of the remaining time. So, since the gloves are off, I openly mocked him at the bar on Thursday night and repeatedly referred to him as Don Bobo.

On the other hand is Don Bobo's companion joke teller the Chipmunk. This is a man who I can't ever understand because he speaks as if his mouth were full of nuts. It's uncanny. He's also a wanna be stand up comedian who married and had kids early and openly regrets it. I only mention this because it's relevant background for the next story.

With these two wanna-bes is the office administrative assistant who has clear insecurities which Don Bobo always makes fun of and is generally unbalanced. I call her La Loba which is Colombian Spanish for a woman who is just looking for man so that she doesn't have to work and she can be the center of attention all the time, which is clearly what this woman wants. Everything is crisis for her. And she goes above and beyond to make sure everyone knows how crappy her life is, etc. I told her in our 1 on 1 session that she needs to calm down and tell us what she needs instead of making a crisis out of things. I doubt that it will have any effect.

Then, there is my direct supervisor who I think must be one of the least likable persons I've ever met. I think it might be because she is bipolar and isn't undergoing treatment, but that's just a theory. At any rate, I got the feeling that the entire workshop was subjected on the other 29 just because she needed some basic training in manners, team work, and treating others with respect (i.e., she needed to be un-nobbed). I avoided her all week.

In sum, these 4 characters who have a much vaster effect on the team than anyone else, essentially started to drive me crazy. I was getting nutty, really. To the point where I was on the verge of exploding or going postal on at least several occasions. So, you can imagine my total ire when, 30 kilometers outside of Bogota (about 30 minutes with traffic), the previously mentioned 4 insisted that we stop the bus and have a "break". And stop we did. Everyone got off except me and someone who was sick. I seethed for 30 minutes as they ate at one of those crappy little roadside places that serve you meat that was cooked 7 hours earlier and kept warm all day, where if you drink anything it better be bottled, and where you don't want to be found alone. Consequently, instead of arriving at home just after 7, I got in after 8.

I spoke to 2 people about the situation and they both agreed with one of them saying, in English, "Welcome to Colombia". So, if Colombia means replacing your real life for your work life, avoiding your family (the Chipmunk made plans to go out with some people last night, told his daughter on the phone that he would arrive too late to see her and that she should go to bed - yeah, family man), and spending as many hours as you can on the job, then that's not the Colombia I know or want to know. At any rate, when I got home I immediately treated myself to the most delicious hamburger that has ever been seen on the face of the earth as reward. Without that reward, I think I may very well have gone postal.

(Thank God there are two 3-day weekends on the way.)

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Turkey Condemns US Genocide of Native Americans

By Fake News Service (FNS)

Washington, DC – The United States ordered its ambassador to Turkey back to Washington for high level discussions following the Turkish Parliament’s decision to pass a resolution condemning the “Great American Genocide of Native Peoples,” a State Department official said today.

The ambassador was likely to stay in Washington for a week to 10 days for discussions with President Bush, Secretary of State Rice, and other senior government officials before heading to his next assignment in Tahiti. A leaked copy of the meeting agenda titled “Turkey: How to Slap them Upside the Head with a few cruise missiles and not incite the ire of NATO,” was obtained by the FNS although to date, the schedule only included 45 coffee breaks and state dinners with Eurobasket 07 champion Russia and the Texas oil investment group We Love Low Taxes on the Rich and Barbeque with Our Dear Friend George.

“The president is a huge, huge fan of CSKA Moscow and was totally delighted when Russia won the Eurobasket. We had to work that into the schedule and I think you’ll find that completely reasonable,” said the White House in a two sentence press release. When pressed about the Ambassador meetings, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow skirted the truth, “We are not withdrawing our ambassador. We have some very important questions to ask him and felt it was best to do so face to face. After that the President decided he could use a bit of a break from those nasty Turks and while he's in Tahiti, he can help us complete our Free Trade Agreement. Plus we hear he’s a devil with the fishing reel and the President has been dying to get him out to Camp David for a go at some bass.”

State Department spokesman Tom Casey denounced the Turkish Parliament’s resolution but maintained that the US sought to continue positive relations with the NATO ally.

“It’s ridiculous that Turkey would claim that we committed genocide against our native people. We here in the US have always stood for equality, justice, and inclusion. Racism, discrimination, genocide – these are things that other nations have done but for which we are innocent. I’m shocked really that the Turks would fail to witness the great generosity our forefathers showed in granting large tracts of land to the natives, land which has of late been proven to be particularly capable of storing our nuclear waste. That being said, the people of the United States have always felt a special kinship with the Turks even going as far as to throw several World Cup matches in order to boost their championship potential. It’s shocking and outrageous that they would repay us with a slap in the face like this.”

The US ambassador to Turkey, Ross Wilson of the Wilson sporting goods empire, invited the Turkish president to Washington for a game of dodgeball. “I think that if we all just got together and threw some Wilson dodgeballs around, we could sort this out. Plus, I’ve always wanted to paste one good on that old squint-eye. With a Wilson, of course.” Wilson conceded that he had expressed the “concern” of the United States to the Turkish president by slapping him across the face with his patented black leather dueling glove. “It’s also my best batting glove,” beamed the Ambassador as he held a long, yellow whiffle bat across his shoulder.

The US House of Representatives immediately responded by passing a resolution denouncing the Turkish resolution as unnecessarily political and “inaccurate”. House leaders, feeling that the resolution wasn’t strong enough, convened a surprised second session this afternoon and after extensive bickering between Democratic and Republican leaders, passed a follow-up resolution denying allegations of US genocide. The resolution footnoted the fact that in addition to land for natives, the US government also permitted tribal groups to have casinos which one Representative who wished to remain anonymous claimed, “more than paid in reparations whatever harm may be alleged, which I categorically deny ever occurred, by the way, and if did occur was totally justified as those primitives had all the sweet places to live already locked up. You're not recording are you?”

An unnamed senator from the North West took a “wide stance” on the issue. “Well, this is the sort of thing that happens when you send a God fearing nation like ours to bandy words and hold hands with god-less, dirty infidels. We should have nuked them bastards once it was proved we couldn’t bring them the word of God, then the Lord Almighty could have sorted them out proper himself.” When informed that the Turks were long term allies and a NATO member, the Senator replied, “How could they be allies? They worship pagan gods. The Lord doesn’t make allies with infidels and neither do we. They either convert or get some nukes up the ass.”

In an unrelated press conference, the US House of Representatives Special Master Bob Sanders, citing a “lack of demand”, announced that kabobs were no longer on the House cafeteria menu and that Baba Ganoush and hummus were also removed. He also noted that from now on "Turkish Delight" would only be sold under the name "Patriotic American Delights". Several staffers staged an afternoon sit in to protest the move but they were later seen filling out unemployment forms. In addition to not wearing the Congressional standard American flag lapel pin, one staffer stated that his boss had called him “un-American, un-patriotic, and a turban loving traitor.”

While events appeared to be spiraling out of control, some experts disagreed. “I don’t think this will go as far as some expect,” commented Ted Kaczynski, executive director of the Free Turkey Foundation, when reached at the home office in Florence, Colorado. “The truth is, Turkey is Europe’s gateway to the Middle East and it serves all parties to calm things down and move past this event. Failing that, I have the mailing address of the Turkish parliament in my rolodex. I'm just sayin'.”

Senior government level officials speaking on condition of anonymity stated that Vice President Cheney was ecstatic with the turn of events as “Turkey has so many high value targets we could strike.” The Vice President couldn’t be reached for comment as he was said to be secured in a “safe location”. His chief of staff did say, however, that the Vice President and Ambassador Wilson would be dining together and having a very long chat about “military matters.”

When reached by instant message, Turkish President Abdullah Gul stated that, “TheTurks didnt kill 1,500,000 Armenians!!!wtf!!! who gives a shit about Armenia, what the hell is an Armenian anyway?????, and I’m not saying that we did, but if we did (not), then that pales in comparison to what the Americans did to the Native peoples of North America. brb.” He also warned that any further discussion of “internal Turkish affairs,” would result in “serious consequences.”

“What business does the United States have in Turkey anyway,” he asked rhetorically. “We don’t even like your McKabobs and your coffee is a bit crap now isn’t it.”

The US embassy in Turkey urged Turks to be aware of violent reactions delivered by American cruise missiles and stealth bombers. Wilson said he regretted the warning and that it was supposed to go to American citizens and not the Turkish public. He also stated that, "the McKabob is unequivocably the greatest tasting fast food kabob in all of Turkey and if those damn Turks don't get that then we don't need 'em anyway."


Imagination Station

Imagine a world in which the President calls up a Supreme Court justice and accuses him of attempting to bribe witnesses in order to implicate the President in illegal activities. Would you, like me, think that perhaps the President was guilty of the allegations and getting desperate?

At the same time, imagine that that world, that President, was so popular that he successfully changed the term limits clause of the national constitution to grant himself an extra term. And then, a year into that term, he lays the groundwork to change that clause again so that he can have his Roosevelt moment.

Now read this link and this one the article below from El Tiempo (or this one in English from IHT). It’s not just South America’s lefties that corrupt and defile democracy and the rule of law.

A third term for Alvaro Uribe will be debated by the U party congress.
(Rough translation conducted by yours truly.)

If most of the members of the party welcome the proposal a popular referendum will be pushed for impelling a new mandate for the current president.

When establishing the event, the party president, Carlos Garcia Orjuela, told attendants that the party has a very ample agenda that goes beyond the accomplishments of President Uribe.

“The ‘U’ party was born to last because it has proposals which exceed the years of the Uribe government,” said Garcia.

Nevertheless, Garcia gave their endorsement to Giraldo’s proposal to look for a third term for Uribe, when referring to the rejection of the idea by dissidents.

“Internal democracy is like this, if the majority agrees, they will have to use this decision. In this subject, there is no conscience object,” he said.

And he added, “If there is a reduction in democracy, any danger to democracy and any permanent attack against freedom and order, imposed by terrorism it will force Colombians to endorse President Uribe beyond this term.”

After these affirmations, more than an ideological congress, the ‘U’ made a series of more direct proposals to be considered for a third term for the president.

In fact, the first point to consider was the proposal for a citizen’s referendum so that Colombians are the ones that will decide and approve or not a third term for President Uribe.

This initiative will be taken to the ‘U’ Party for them to decide whether to green light this possibility or not. “What worries me is what will happen with the country after 2010,” said Luis Guillermo Giraldo, who maintained in addition, that 54% of those consulted on this idea agreed with the re-election of Uribe.

In addition the party proposed to elevate the status of the state’s Democratic Security Policy, create a stable fiscal regime, reform the state and several of its institutions, and finally the implantation of a parliamentary regime in Colombia.

On this point, Garcia explained that there would be a Chief of State responsible for the administration and chosen by a majority of Congress for a period of 4 years.


Monday, October 08, 2007

Hero Worship and the NFL

I’m not big on hero worship. There are a lot of reasons for that (namely that we tend to put those very fallible humans on pedestals that can never be true) but I’m even more opposed to Sports Hero worship. Sports can be marvelous. Athletes do things that cause us to say, “How did he do that?” with Barry Sanders being the all time leader in those types of reactions. But that doesn’t make them geniuses. The reality is that the vast majority of athletes never finish college, not to mention approach genius level. And I don’t fault them for that or for receiving the “genius” label from a fawning media.

But this post really isn’t about athletes because all things being even, they’re not often referred to as “geniuses”. Sure the entitlement culture fully captures them, but there are other, more popular superlatives than “genius”. No, the genius label is mostly reserved for coaches these days. Especially football coaches (see: Belichek, Bill). Today I wish to debunk the idea.

I am not a genius. But, if I were to live in a house of severely retarded persons, I could easily be considered a genius compared to my housemates. Such is life in the NFL. I give you the Green Bay and Detroit examples.

Anyone following football this year has been shocked by the rise of Detroit and the return of Green Bay to football success. And it was shocking – but not because of Brett Favre’s resurgence or Mike Martz’s offense. It was shocking because opposing defensive coordinators couldn’t come up with a scheme to combat a 95% pass – 5% run offense. After a few weeks, the “genius” precursors started to appear in the average sports column. Writers started falling all over themselves at how “Brett Favre was back” and that the Lions were a team of destiny. Superlatives started to flow for the coaches of each team. Playoff tickets went to printers and dreams of the Super Bowl were not just deeply recessed in the minds of the fans, they were openly spoken of (I made up the last sentence).

And then, Week 5. Washington 34 – Detroit 3. Chicago 27 – Green Bay 20. Now perhaps the sports columnist love affair can die down for a week or two. These teams beat those teams because of one thing – a “clever” plan.

Take the Redskins. They’re playing the Lions who have no semblance of a run game so, they drop everyone into coverage and just rush four at the passer. Shockingly, it shuts down the Lions offense to such an extent that they start the second half running the football (with some success). It took 5 weeks of the season for a defensive coordinator to think, “Hey, why don’t we just drop everyone into coverage and make a career mistake-prone QB throw into double coverage all afternoon?” Enter the “genius” defensive coordinator.

Or, take the Bears. The team has clearly been devastated by injuries and I expected Green Bay to win because of that factor. But what do the Bears do? Same thing. Except….they wait until the 2nd half before realizing that Favre can only dink and dunk and that the Packers have no real run game. So, they back the guys up a bit, drop into coverage, and completely shut down a Packers offense based on the idea that the opposing defense will be blitzing the passer every down. Green Bay’s response?


No wonder everyone thinks Belichek is a genius – he’s just a smidgeon smarter than the typical idiot level NFL coach.

So, next time you see a sports coach referred to as a “genius” just remember the competition.

(This post is not meant as a slight on the NFL, football in general, or even football coaches. It's more an attack on the sports media. And football coaches.)

UPDATE: I wasn't overstating the case. Here's a Washington Post article explicitly making the genius claim.

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