A Defias Of Our Own Making.

Defera Speech
A screenshot of a cutscene from “World Of Warcraft”, where a mysterious figure from the Defias Brotherhood exhorts the homeless to revolt against the King of Stormwind, blaming him for the situation they live in. Thanks to player “Vahallae” for letting me use this screenshot.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE.

“It’s time for a revolution. Anyone earning 150K? Kill’m all!”

This was an excerpt from a conversation I had with someone in the Kitchener Public Library. The topic of the conversation was about GM closing a series of plants after being given government money to remain in operation and keep the workers employed.

If you feel this remark is extreme, I agree with you. We live in a civilized society and while it’s true we have several levels of government that have grown out of touch with the voters, we’re not living in a dictatorship, not even a benign one. There’s no need to have a bloody revolution.

Such a revolution will replace one problem with a more serious one: replacing politicians who sleep in the back pockets of corporations with warlords and gangs who believe might is right and the weak must perish.

Unfortunately, this is a comment I’ve heard repeatedly spoken by the homeless and the working poor, in varying degrees of bile. It’s also why that particular remark reminded me of a questline in World Of Warcraft, a game I used to play many years ago when times were better and my income was more stable.

SPOILER ALERT. REVEAL OF A QUEST STORYLINE AHEAD.

The questline involved a player having to investigate a murder in an area known as Westfall. This area was once very prosperous but after repeated wars was now poverty stricken, full of homeless people and the working poor.

Operating within the boundaries of Westfall is an organization known as the Defias Brotherhood, a group formed after engineers and artists were not paid for restoring the Kingdom of Stormwind, after damage taken from their First War with another faction known as the Horde.

Defias exists as a hostile counterforce to what is regarded as exploitation of the socially vulnerable . They incite violence against the law, rally the poor and the homeless (as shown in this screenshot) against the ruling government of the day, and strike at caravans of trade and commerce.

If all of this is a little hard to understand — especially if you haven’t played World Of Warcraft like I used to — what basically happened was a group of lower-class working stiffs were not paid by the government of the day for work done in good faith, and a violent anti-establishment group (Defias) was formed as a result.

If one were to look past the fantasy aspects of both the questline in specific and the MMO in general, such a outcome is quite plausible. In fact, most social activist groups, ranging from the relatively benign to the overtly malevolent, came into being to address an imbalance of wealth distribution. Their portrayal of corporations and levels of government as money grabbing thieves that make the lives of the working poor and the homeless harder might not be accurate, but when there is news about a car manufacturer that closes plants down after being granted corporate welfare by the government to stay operational, or where government funding is being taken out of social programs and given instead to increase the size of a police force —- well, you can begin to see why there would be discontent among the lower income brackets.

In addition to the above, you can also see why the more hardline elements would organize into groups of dissension not far removed from the fictional Defias Brotherhood in World Of Warcraft. All that is needed for this to happen is for enough people to get really pissed off about the government, and want something done yesterday.

The working poor and the homeless have been pissed off for a very long time. Something’s bound to give.

I’m not advocating violence to force government change: I think I made that point clear already. Nor am I white-knighting any social activist movement that breaks the law and risks public safety to help the more vulnerable members of society.

What I am saying is if you do not agree with my argument that helping the homeless and the working poor is a positive investment that ensures a good ROI for society, then take heed this warning instead as another point to consider: nature abhors a vacuum.

If governments will not do the right thing by helping out the less fortunate, then there will be those who will fill in that void of leadership —  but not with laws, not with compassion, not with civility. They will make right what is wrong, as their chant states, “by any means necessary”.

Such a directive will not only fail to bring help to those less fortunate, but it will further destabilize the stability of social order we’ve come to take for granted. The last thing we need is a Defias of our own making to covet the reins of power over our lives.

Thanks for reading!

David.

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Untitled (No, that’s actually the title of the post)

A short post today, about some examples I’ve found during today’s job search of what downsizing and rightsizing has done to the workplace. When I was growing up, a dishwasher meant washing dishes and a cashier meant handling cash. That’s all.

Dishwashers do not prepare food and cashiers certainly are not responsible for tasks that involve security or heavy lifting.

Job titles and descriptions mean nothing in this Age of Austerity and the Jobless Recovery.

Enjoy, or perhaps not.

Heavy Lifting For A Cashier

Dishwasher No More

 

 

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No shit, Sherlock…..but what was the problem? From my Tim Horton’s app I use to order coffee and spare myself from the purgatory that is a lineup.

One significant change that occured after the Great Recession of 2008-09 was the reduction of labour. You see it most often at a coffee shop or grocery store: the long single lineup that coils around the establishment interior, bracketed on either side by empty cash registers once staffed by employees that were happy to serve you.

Maybe I’m being facetious with the happy part.

10 years later, one would think in this so-called “recovery” that Corporate Canada would start hiring back more staff. After all, happy days are here again, right?

Wrong. There is a reason why I often refer to this recovery as a “jobless recovery”.

Corporate Canada has instead opted to offer apps and self-serve kiosks to deal with the backlog. They argue that such services are necessary with a rising minimum wage rate and the ease of forming unions. Customers want convenience, they continue. A machine can process a transaction faster than a human.

We’re paying for this convenience in the form of price hikes to cover the cost of implementing these things, in case any of you out there missed it.

As a former I.T, professional of 20 years, I can tell you with a lot of experience such systems may be convenient, but they are also highly fallible. I’ve been asked on many occasions at one job to track down a missing EDI order, and report what happened to that order to the EDI administrator so he can fix the trading partner glitch. It’s also why I.T. goes through a very detailed audit every year, usually for a duration of up to two weeks.

I’m also not a Luddite. I have a tablet with a Tim Horton’s app to bypass the long lineups I’ve mentioned at the start of this post, but it’s no solution.

For one thing, the damn thing doesn’t always work.

One time I ordered a coffee and orange juice on that app, and I kept getting the message you see in the post graphic. It wasn’t telling me exactly what the problem was, just that “helpful” message. Since I was not in the mood to wait in the Million Man March of a lineup, I decided to call on my past I.T. experience to diagnose the problem.

While musing, I remembered one time there was a Sears EDI order on a company system that could not be completed (inventory pulled, accounts updated, shipping notice and print documentation sent). One line item in the order used stock not stored on the system but manually tracked elsewhere, commonly used for items that were not regularly sold but as a speciality order. You have to enter a “dummy” record as a placeholder in the inventory file but not enter the particulars like quantity, price, logistics handler, etc. That record was missing so I ran a query statement to insert the dummy. The order was completed and the goods were shipped.

Based on that memory, I removed the orange juice from my app order and the app sent my order without a hitch. After I arrived at Tim Horton’s to pick up my coffee, I mentioned to an employee there the problem with my order and how removing the orange juice fixed it.  The employee replied, rather sheepishly, that message will come up when they’re out of an item.

That message really needs to be re-written. “Sorry, out of stock!” will suffice.

Last Saturday I went to Sobey’s to pick up a carton of milk and a bottle of orange juice. After seeing the single long lineup at the express checkout (with other cashiers telling me they don’t take checkouts of under 12 items), I went to the self-serve kiosk. I scanned the milk, which showed the correct name and price, then placed it in the open plastic bag offered at the side of the unit. The machine squawked, “Foreign item in bag, please check”. I looked back at the screen that showed the information about the milk, then peered into the plastic bag containing my carton of milk.

Right, it’s in the database but the sensor scanning my bag denies its existence.

Since the single employee usually assigned to stand at the kiosks and jump in to rescue hapless customers like myself was not there, I took my milk and orange juice and returned to the long express line.

These are but a fraction of examples I and no doubt many of you have experienced dealing with this New World Order of customer service and satisfaction. In their mad dash to remain profitable, Corporate Canada has presented a flawed solution that not only lacks the pleasant aspects of dealing with people, but cannot be held accountable for the mistakes made.

After all, one cannot fire hardware or software, and such things are not designed to say they’re sorry.

Thanks for reading.

David.

 

In Vulnerable

What Is Wasteful Spending
Cuts do not necessarily translate into savings. Comic created on the Pixton comic making service.

The Doug Ford-led Progressive Conservative Party win in Ontario has been trumpeted as a fresh new start for Ontarians by party supporters and lamented as a dark cold era by party critics.

By the time Ford was officially sworn in as Premier of Ontario, the mudslinging from both sides of the ideological spectrum had buried deep any chance of rational debate about the issues this province must deal with.

One of these issues is poverty. Ford has made it clear he plans to seek savings for the Ontarian people in the form of “efficiencies” that will help make things more affordable, especially for the most vulnerable members of our society.

The problem is, the term “efficiencies” was often used during the Mike Harris “Common Sense” Revolution to mean government spending reduction in the form of cuts. This resulted in halving welfare payouts, downloading some services to the local level which in turn created a new generation of homelessness in major cities like Toronto, and left transit systems with a shortage of funding. It pitted urbanites against ruralites. It divided a once united province into two factions of “us” and “them” on every front imaginable.  It was a noisy time of protest, sometimes extremely violent.

In the end, the Common Sense Revolution did nothing for the everyday Ontarian. It certainly did a lot of harm to the most vulnerable members of society I spoke about earlier.

The path Premier Ford is about to take will fail for the same reason why the Common Sense Revolution failed. It’s a mistake to assume that finding money to cut — be it a CEO of Hydro and the board’s combined salaries, funding for social assistance programs, or investments in green energy programs — and giving it instead as a tax cut is going to make things better. It won’t.

If there are no programs to help the less fortunate find affordable housing, obtain gainful employment, find release from addiction, or pursue post-secondary education, having that extra $786 annually (a maximum) for those earning $42,960 and $85,923 per year won’t help. In fact, according to one economist, Doug Ford’s platform will benefit high income earners the most.

There’s a reason why the term “most vulnerable members of society” is applied to the poor and homeless. They feel the effects of sudden economic, socio-political, and environmental changes more than those who are more stable in terms of shelter and employment. When that happens, these same people remain stuck where they are no matter how hard they try to change their predicament.

Any cuts to programs in the name of efficiency-finding won’t put more money back into the hands of the everyday man. That money will instead shift to increased hospital , law enforcement, and sanitation costs that poverty invariably brings. In the long term, those costs will have to be paid for later. Most likely, it will be paid for by a tax increase enacted in the next government — just like what the Dalton McGuinty government did after the era of the Common Sense Revolution ended.

At the same time, having the poor and homeless in a state of unproductiveness robs both the provincial economy of consumer revenue and the government of tax revenue that could go back into services that benefit every Ontarian: transit, roads, electrical grid, health care, and so on.

Doug Ford is a successful businessman yet he has forgotten that sometimes you have to spend money in order to make money. Investment in social programs in the short term reduces the need for them in the long run.

Thanks for reading!

David.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Homelessness Is No Game

Bum Simulator
For those tired of flight simulator games, there’s a to-be-released game where you can play — I don’t make this stuff up — a homeless person.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE

After having been through a few rough years trying to find full-time employment and stable housing, one would think hearing about a “bum simulator” being released later this year would get me a little pissed off.

It does. It irks me that someone is trying to make money off of perpetuating a stereotype that is not only inaccurate but does a disservice to those who, like myself, have lived in a shelter or slept on buses and therefore have some experience about this subject.

While this Steam offering has not been released (it’s scheduled for October 2018 December 2018), the features of this include….and I shit you not….

  • Discovering “your inner bum powers”
  • Taming “the infamous city pigeons”
  • Solving “the mystery of sewer rat people”
  • Learning “the secrets of Alcohol Alchemy”

Had this simulator tried at least to give an accurate portrayal about what it’s like to being homeless (and perhaps sent a part of the game sales made to fund men’s shelters), I would gladly support it.

Has anyone who works at Ragged Games or Playway S.A. ever spent time in a homeless shelter? Chances are they have not, which is why they would attempt to make such an insensitive game.

Before anyone jumps down my throat about referring it as insensitive, how many developers would consider making:

  • a rapist simulator
  • an addict simulator
  • a mass shooter simulator
  • a welfare recipient simulator

in the same comedic vein as a bum simulator?

Pretty close to zero. It would be considered outrageous, immoral, and yes, insensitive.

The homeless get a pass on that consideration. They’re considered by society a nuisance at best, comedically portrayed in books, movies, and television shows. According to some, the homeless deserve the violence, hardship and suffering they get because of an inaccurate belief that they are the manufacturers of their own misfortune. It’s more often that the homeless are victims of circumstances beyond their control (such as mental illness, poverty, unstable employment, sudden medical issues that come up, and lack of affordable housing).

It is this sort of callous attitude towards the homeless and other forms of poverty that explains our failure to resolve such social issues within a lifetime.

Homelessness is not a game. Those living such a life have no magical powers. There are no fantasy beasts to slay and dropped loot to take. Trust me when I say that there’s nothing fun — or even funny — about living on the streets or in a shelter.

What I can tell you is that half of people in Vancouver who were surveyed said lack of income and lack of affordable housing main reason for being homeless.

I can also tell you that in the Youth Homeless Report of 2018, available on the Homeless Hub website, more than 6,000 Canadian youths are homeless on any given night.

Moreover, I can tell you, again from experience, that homelessness does not just mean living in a shelter or sleeping on buses. It also includes living in precarious situations with friends or relatives on a temporary basis. Because they tend not to interact with the homelessness serving systems, this is referred to as “hidden” homelessness. Hidden homelessness deflates the reported homeless rate in major urban centres. The actual rate is considerably higher.

Quoting from a key statistics report in 2016, an estimated 235,000 people are homeless in Canada annually.

Finally,  as shown in a PIT count report done in 2016, substance abuse — a trait heavily promoted in this “bum simulator” as a game feature — is actually not the most common reason for homelessness.  For adults between the ages of 25 and 49, substance abuse only accounts for 24% of homelessness. For adults 50 years and older, the most common reason is actually eviction due to financial reasons.

If facts about homelessness are not enough to set the record straight, try taking a week off to live in the street or in a shelter without accessing the creature comforts you’ve grown accustomed to. By the end of this trial, and after a good hot shower, you’ll get a better understanding about homeless life, something this “simulator” will never teach you.

Thanks for reading!

David.

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UPDATE: Ragged Games posted their reply to my blog post. It reads as follows:

1. Homeless people want to change their situation and they need our help. We wouldn’t dare to make fun of them. However, our hero is nothing like that.

2. The title of the game is NOT Homeless Simulator. It’s Bum Simulator. The hero of the game is not a homeless person. He is a bum. It was his choice to lead this sort of life (and the player can affect that if he/she doesn’t like it). He even has a home, he just doesn’t want to live there.

3. The inspiration for the game comes from our own street observations and conversations. We met a lot of interesting people, many of them positive and even happy about their situation and life choices. You can be angry, but this sort of people simply exist. We just took their stories, exaggerated them and made a world which fits them.

4. Knowing that opinions like yours will appear, we still decided to work on this game. Why? Because it brings attention to a big problem. We’re happy that our game (even before the release!) pushed you to write an article which will (hopefully) make some people think. It’s a GOOD thing. Knowing that our game pushes people to action makes us even more happy to make it.

I’ve made my replies to these points on Steam, but will repeat them in blog.

  1. In response to 1., I find it interesting that they stated their hero is nothing like a homeless person, yet if you look at the screen capture it looks like the stereotypical caricature commonly used in media. They also use the word bum which I will address in the second point.
  2. In response to 2., I’m going to skip over the point “he has a home” point which seriously requires me to suspend my disbelief. A bum is urban slang for homeless person. So is the word vagrant. If they did not mean to associate the hero with actual homeless people, they should have used a different name like “Weirdo Simulator” or “Mentally Disturbed Person Simulator”. Ah, but if  they did that, they actually might get enough backlash to shelve the project. You don’t mess with mental illness, but homeless people? Sure, why not?
  3. In response to point 3., I find it remarkable that what they returned with from their discussions with street people is diametrically opposite to what anti-poverty agencies have returned with. Homelessness is not a choice. It’s about having no choice in obtaining stable housing. As for being happy about their situation, there’s nothing happy about not having shelter. A few people I’ve talked to who were (and some still are) in this situation were seriously considering death as a merciful release from homelessness.
  4. The final point is something I can see the logic of. As someone once said, “There’s no such thing as bad press”. Any sort of attention, even something controversial, sells. That however does not mean I agree with it.

 

Within Reach

Kelly Pocha
This sort of behaviour will get you fired. So can other examples not as so clear-cut

The video of Kelly Pocha, a now former Cranbrook Dodge dealership employee, has raised some points worth discussing.

Not about the foolishness from Toronto Star Race & Gender Columnist, Shree Paradkar, who likens the actions of one ignorant person as proof how racist Canada is. I’d like to know how one person can serve as the canary in a coal mine on the state of Canada’s race relations. I’d also like to know how someone so misinformed can hold down a job at a major Toronto newspaper.

For the record, Canada is doing just fine in that department. Moving on.

The subject of this blog post is about how much influence should a company have in dictating off-the-clock activities of their employees.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe the firing of Ms. Pocha was the right thing to do. I believe diversity and multiculturalism is a strength. Would I want to deal with a company that had employees with these sort of beliefs? How would they treat customers who were racially and culturally different? Wouldn’t that backfire on the company by tarnishing their brand name?

Having said this, the line of termination is not drawn in the same place in everyone’s minds. There are some out there who have strong religious, cultural, and idelogical beliefs that make the concept of what’s appropriate conduct become “what I feel is appropriate conduct”.

Would an employee wearing a “Make America Great Again” baseball cap in a photo found on social media by his Democratic boss have to worry about his future employment?

Would a member of the LGBT community need to carefully police his or her online activities  to the point of not getting their picture taken at a Pride Parade, lest the deeply conservative Christian (or Islamic) employer finds out?

What about a jobseeker who believes in diversity and equality, but disagrees with employment equity and cultural ghettoization of urban centres into no-go zones? Someone who thinks building a wall to keep immigrants out is daft, yet is keen on the idea of having a door with a lock to weed out troublemakers and freeloaders?

Does this mean I don’t get hired by someone who runs a business or at least has control of the application selection process for an open position, all because that person disagrees with me?

Since when does having a difference of opinion impact employment?

The degrees of separation from what Ms. Pocha believes in and what Mr. Gay believes in is disparate yet easily traversable, requiring only a suspension of common sense and adopting a “feels over facts” mentality to make the impossible leap doable. The fact that social media makes that all the more easier is not only worrisome, it can be tragic.

I’ve always believed what people do in their off-time (excluding examples like Ms. Pocha) has no bearing on the work they choose to do. In fact, I wrote a blog post about that, arguing in that piece a healthy work life balance depends on this compartmentalization being firmly in place.

The problem is, not everyone has the same opinion, and this difference can translate into a reach that goes well beyond the boundaries set by employment. That’s something no company, in my opinion, should really have. This position may be harder to stand up for as companies grow more in influence than nations, where HR policy becomes more relevant than a bill of rights.

Thanks for reading!

David.

The Joke Is On Us, Revisited

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Apparently Intern Leah’s marketing of herself as a thing is not an exception but a common method of trying to find work in this Age of Austerity.

In 2014, I wrote on my job-search blog the following article. It featured a job-seeking young intern named Leah presenting herself on her CV as a Lego block figurine. While some people thought this was a creatively good idea, it did not sit well with me. I got the impression that Leah was trying to advertise herself in the same way a company makes marketing ads for a product.

Don’t get me wrong. I understand you have to get yourself noticed in the job search. I’ve been looking for full-time work in this Age of Austerity for eight years now and discovered jobs are harder to come by. The only way a potential employer will ask me to come in for an interview is if something about myself stands out. The line in the sand I draw is getting down to the level of portraying myself as some sort of product. As stated in that blog post, “I’m not a consumable product or service….I’m a person with feelings, ambitions, desires, and opinions”. The Lego block version of me you saw was done as a gag. Don’t expect to see it on any of my CVs any time soon.

I haven’t thought about that blog post again until I came across YouTube superstar Dave Cullen’s (Computing Forever) video about selfies. During one point of that video, he mentioned the corporate world demands we sell ourselves during an interview and remarked it was a form of “corporate prostitution”. Not only was it bang on, it also prompted me to revisit the subject of my 2014 blog post.

As an experiment, I did a Google Search using the words “Creative CVs” and the returned result horrified me.

Apparently Leah’s approach is no longer an exception but a growing trend for job-seekers. There were hundreds — yes, hundreds — of examples similar to hers. The following is just a tiny sample of what I found online:

Two graphics designers, one marketing himself as a pack of beer and the other a Swiss Army Knife.

A marketing professional marketing himself as a chocolate bar right down to itemizing his qualifications as ingredients.

A business professional marketing himself as a newspaper.

And probably not one of the most media friendly way to market oneself, with the bad press the tobacco industry is getting, a pack of cigarettes. Yes, that’s right: cancer sticks.

Appalling. Is this the level  job-seekers must stoop to in order to find employment in this jobless recovery?

Must job-seekers demean and dehumanize themselves through their self-promotion to the point of becoming a thing, a consumable on an expense report like toilet paper and coffee?

Must job-seekers perform like trained dolphins in order to land employment?

Has the job search become a Hellish game of flaming hoops to jump through?

Do we now need the skill of an artist or stage show producer to get a hiring manager’s attention for something as banal as a shelf-stocker job? Don’t dismiss my point. It would certainly explain nonsense like this I come across on a regular basis in my job search.

Most important, why are we doing this to ourselves? Is our pride, our identity, worth landing a paycheque? Why can’t anyone see how wrong this is!

Thanks for reading!

David.