Category: Dark Ages

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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), 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

5184e7967bc7148a2c5a915e009b1230
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.

Hailing Frequencies Open.

The Social Media Microphone
Social Media gives anyone the ability to reach out to their elected individuals and express a concern, as I have done with Regional Councillor Galloway. Having said this, there are limits to be considered.

WARNING: COARSE LANGUAGE.

Given a choice, I would rather be working full-time with benefits than working part-time-to-not at all.

If there any “look on the bright side, David” aspects to the situation I am in now, the one thing I was able to find was it’s happening to me in the Age Of Social Media.

Had this happened to me in say the 1990s or even the 1980s, my ability to make my situation known and public would have been a lot harder.

During that time period, there was no consumer level access to the Internet. The best one could hope for was bulletin board systems (BBSes) linked together via FidoNet. Government and corporations would certainly not be using that infrastructure. It was the domain of the computer geek. I should know: I once ran a two-line Spitfire software bulletin board that had its own FidoNet node number.

In those days, if I had an issue with something going on in my city, I would either have to call the appropriate level of government by phone, or write a letter and wait for a response that could be weeks if not months later.

Today, social media makes such communications with elected officials both faster and easier. In the screenshot above, a regional councilmember of Waterloo proudly tweeted the construction of the tallest condominium building in Kitchener. Since affordable housing has been my favourite drum to bang over the last few years, especially since I just got out of a homeless shelter recently, I sent a reply tweet. I made a point about the lack of affordable housing in the Region, and how hard it was for men in the House Of Friendship to find an affordable place to stay in order to return to stable housing.

After sending the tweet, I thought to myself how different it would be… and more difficult…to do what I just did without social media. I would probably hear about the announcement on TV, the radio, or in the newspaper 12 to 24 hours after it was announced. Assuming I did not have the councillor’s telephone number handy, I would have to look it up in a phonebook, dial the number, and leave a message with the frontline staff who would — at their discretion — either pass on that message to the councillor, or  decide I’m some anti-poverty kook and file it under “T”….for “Trash”. Sending a letter would take a lot longer, involve more effort and likely garner the same result.

Sending my tweet reply to the councillor took just a few minutes.

Social media is a valuable tool for those living in poverty or even homeless. It’s simple to use and free to access. It gives anyone, regardless of class or income, the power to contact their elected officials in real-time to express a concern that needs fixing.

Having said this, it’s not a magic wand that grants great power to the welder nor guarantees the fix will be made.

Mr. Galloway has heard from me at least four times in the past year, and I’ve yet to get a response back about my concerns. That’s his prerogative and right. He might be elected to serve the people but he’s not my slave. There’s also the possibility he looked at my tweet, sighed, “that anti-poverty kook again”and filed it under “T” for “Trash” without needing his staff to do it for him. His agenda and mine might not be compatible, so there’s nothing I can do to change his mind. The best I can hope for is to at least try, and failing that, at least I got something immediately off my chest.

This leads to another point. When I first read his announcement, I was annoyed at the fact that once again the Region was pandering to the wealthy professional and not the more vulnerable members of society. Before sending my tweet, I got up from my desk at the library to get a drink of water. This allowed me time to cool down and compose a tweet that was direct, but not rude or disrespectful. I even attached a link I felt would better explain my concerns about affordable housing.

Social media does not give me the right to behave like an asshole towards anyone, nor should I expect it to solve my problems instantly.

Issues like unemployment, poverty, and homelessness won’t be fixed by a tweet. It will only be addressed by those who understand what the problem is and know what to do about it. This has always been the case before the creation of social media, and holds even more true in the digital world we live in now.

Thanks for reading!

David.

The Sympathy Vote

MeTooCandidates
Can a past misfortune be used as currency to land a job? Source CNN

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT

WARNING: MATURE CONTENT

I’ll probably catch a lot of heck for writing this, but it’s been said if you want the right to freedom of expression, this includes the right to offend someone.

I’ve been looking for full-time work for a long time now and it’s been one hell of an uphill battle. I’ve faced ageism and an ever changing employment market. I’ve been forced to consider options that were outside my career path in the information technology field. I’ve changed my mindset on numerous occasions to adapt to new challenges in my job search. I’ve lost friends and stressed out my family members. I’ve even begged publically — even to total strangers — for help in finding work.

Having said this, I never felt I should be given a job out of kindness or sympathy. A job is earned. You should have the right qualifications to hold down a job.

To explain my position better, I once was offered a job at a friend’s cousin’s bakery in Cambridge, Ontario, but a driver’s license was required. It was necessary to know how to drive since a part of the job description delivering baked goods to various stores and a few Sikh temples.

There were two options open to me when considering the position:

  • The first was to learn how to drive.
  • The second was deciding not to learn how to drive and move on with my job search.

I didn’t have the money to take a driver’s ed course, I was deathly afraid of being on the road with other drivers (I’ve seen how some of you buggers drive and have good reason to be scared). I’m hitting 54 in a few months and am aware my vision will not be what it is now — pretty good but god-damn it, what year did aspirin bottle print get so small? — by the time I hit 64.

After taking these considerations into mind, I’ve made the choice to not learn to drive and declined the job offer. It sucked mightily to make that decision but that’s life.

I didn’t feel the employer should pay for my driver’s ed. I didn’t feel other drivers should make me feel more comfortable driving. I certainly don’t expect Father Time to cut me some slack on the aging process. These factors were all on me and those are my issues to grapple with.

In fact, it shouldn’t matter in your job search if you were once homeless, a cancer survivor, a single parent with kids, or someone struggling with a physical or mental disability, or being a victim of sexual abuse.

According to an article on CNN, however, we have examples of some women who are, as openly stated in the article, seizing “on their past abuse to fuel political ambition”.

This approach to realize such aspirations is deeply worrisome to me, and not just because these women might get into office not because they’re qualified to run for public life but because voters felt sorry for them after hearing a sad story.

What concerns me is that those who have had a rough few rounds in life might see this as a way of getting their due. They were victims, so they should get jobs as compensation for past life tragedies. Earning employment should not be even remotely considered.

That’s called entitlement and even I would consider that a form of cheating. The hard crash going from being a “have” to a “have-not” and the struggles I’ve faced deserves compassion and understanding, but should never be a form of pity-parity in hiring.

To those who are using the #MeToo and #TimesUp banner to land a position under the guise of fighting the so-called patriarchy or as one of the women put it, “who can you trust most not to show you their penis in a professional setting? Is it the candidate who doesn’t have a penis? I’d say so.”, I call that duplicitous. Are any of them vying for the position because they’re an employment fit, or is it an attempt to use a past misfortune as currency to buy the job?

Do not misinterpret my stance as callousness. I feel very sorry for anyone who has been a victim of sexual assault or any past injustice. Those accused of committing such acts, once found guilty in a fair trial, deserve nothing less than the full maximum in their sentence.

Having said this, misfortune is not selective. Each of us have experienced a tragedy somewhere in our past. At the risk of invoking a religious image so close to Easter, that’s our personal cross to bear alone. Don’t expect anyone to care enough to simply hand you something of opportunity. In fact, expect people not to care at all.

Instead, earn opportunity through effort and experience. Meritocracy is the best cure for moving past horrific events. As Joan Rivers once put it, “the best form of revenge is success”.

Thanks for reading.

 David.

For The Little Guy, Them’s The Breaks

Tim Hortons Image
A double-double with no benefits or breaks, please. Image from the linked story’s home page.

If this story is indeed true — and I have reason to believe it is — the fallout from the folly of the Ontario government’s decision to proceed with increasing the minimum wage has begun.

Employees at an Ontario Tim Hortons in Cobourg, Ontario claim they have been told to sign a document acknowledging they are losing paid breaks and paid benefits as a result of the province’s minimum wage hike.

I’m against the idea of raising the minimum wage too quickly and too soon and wrote a post stating my reasons why, yet when I hear stories like this, I’m not sure who should I be angry with.

Should I be angry with the Ontario government for not listening to the concerns of businesses — the generators of jobs — to balance the increase against the need for businesses to make a (reasonable) profit, and instead ram the labour law change right over them?

Or should I be angry at those same businesses for using the labour law change as an excuse to promote a “take-it-or-leave-it” style of employee management? This document signing smacks of employer bullying.

No matter what party I’m angry with, one thing I’m sure of is that it will be those caught in the middle who will be hurt — those who are already doing their damned utmost to keep financially afloat in this Age Of Austerity and the Jobless Recovery.

These people have just moved closer to experiencing more workplace abuse if not outright unemployment.

Thanks for reading.

David.