Vincent Safuto’s Weblog

Notes and observations

Bouton called ’em as he saw ’em – and we’re fortunate he did

I will say this: “Ball Four” was the most consequential book I ever read.

Throughout my life, I’d remember a situation, and how author, pitcher, washed-up major leaguer and iconoclast Jim Bouton had described it, and realize that he was one of the greatest philosophers of our time.

He tore the cover off baseball and sports, to the rage and dismay of any. That makes him a hero of mine.

In 1969, while we were all goo-goo for the Mets, here was this has-been fireballer laboring for a lousy expansion team in the far Northwest, the one-season Seattle Pilots, taking notes, sending tapes to a writer named Leonard Shecter (another of my heroes) and watching the antics unfold around him.

He was up and he was down. On a July day in 1969, he took the mound for his first start of the season after months of begging, and was, as he wrote, “creamed.” Eventually, the hapless Seattle Pilots tied the game, then it went into extra innings, then it was halted for “curfew.”

The next day, his friend and roommate Gary Bell picked up the game and lost it, and then lost the next game that same day.

You remember stories like that. Bouton told you he sometimes screwed up with the knuckleball, the pitch that was saving his career. On one occasion, on the Fourth of July in Kansas City, he threw one to the batter with the bases loaded, the ball spun, and the batter hit it over the centerfield wall.

The pettiness of the contract negotiations, the stupidity, the childishness of grown men playing a game while American society is fragmenting around them made for a surreal book. Ballplayers found entertainment where they could, when they could.

The baseball establishment shit a brick. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn tried to get Bouton to blame Shecter for the book, and even tried to get it banned.

Bouton said kids read it by flashlight under the covers, and he sighed at the thought that it changed sports books forever. You had to reveal more than “Ball Four” did about drinking and carousing to get a publishing contract after Bouton’s book came out.

In a way, we’ve gone backwards. We worship sports and jocks, and TV sports announcers spout nonsense so much that I prefer to watch hockey games in person or with the sound off just to avoid the babbling that goes on in the booth.

Players are interviewed about the charities they’ve started with their millions, and they get upset when they screw up and we figure it was bound to come out someday that this “hero” was really a bum.

Oh, Jim, you did it. You showed us reality. I can’t wait for your expose on how Heaven is just a giant racket, and the angels are selling cut-rate wings.

Thank you, Jim Bouton, for all you did.

 

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July 13, 2019 Posted by | Life lessons, Vinny's Book Club | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Apollo 11” a feast for the eyes

I’ve seen them all.

“Spaceflight” was a 1984 PBS documentary updated to recall the 1986 Challenger and 2003 Columbia accidents. Countless documentaries about the Apollo moon program have followed, including “For All Mankind” and too many others to list here.

I even have Spacecraft Films’ DVD set of the Apollo 11 mission, including pre-launch films, TV coverage and, of course, that magical moment on the “Sea of Tranquillity (sic).”

So why bother with another movie about Apollo 11? Because this one actually does have scenes you’ve never seen before. Scenes from the National Archives that were shot for an unmade documentary of the behind-the-scenes work to get Apollo 11 to the moon were hidden in film often undeveloped. The project was canceled, but MGM, with whom NASA contracted, shot the film anyway.

The result is stunning. The scenes are amazing. Not just the shots of the Saturn V rolling to the launch pad on the crawler as engineers and technicians watch closely or walk alongside, but the shots of people. Real people, gathered to watch a rocket launch.

People grab coffee and Krispy Kremes, snap film pictures with Kodak cameras, shoot movies with those little cartridge-filled movie cameras and generally don’t look like people from 50 years ago. There’s the old cars, though, and the high-tech of those days.

Did you ever notice in those old videos that when the three astronauts are done suiting up and are leaving for the van to go to the launch pad that there’s a guy holding a fire extinguisher following close by? Why? In case the suits catch fire?

There’s no narration, no talking heads, no interviews with Gene Kranz. Just some commentary from back then by Walter Cronkite, some diagrams to explain the mission and the amazing shots that told the story.

The movie looked amazing on an IMAX screen. It should be just as good on a regular movie screen. I might buy a new TV and the 4K DVD version when it comes out.

I highly recommend “Apollo 11,” especially for the young folks who think we’re making up stories about these men who went to the moon and rode monstrous rockets into the sky. You won’t feel like you’ve seen it before, that’s for sure.

March 1, 2019 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , | Leave a comment

It’s time to save local journalism, not do more useless studies

I’m going to say this, and I know it’s probably not a good idea, but I’m beyond caring.

The announcement below is all well and good, but while the reports and research are done and the meetings are held and the speeches are given, newspapers and websites are being destroyed by their owners.

Experienced, knowledgeable people are taking buyouts; skilled reporters, editors and researchers are being laid off; and the very people who make local news local are heading out the door of what’s left of the newspapers because they’re afraid of what’s next.

Every round of layoffs and cutbacks is pitched as “a pathway to growth.” Look, if there’s no one to write the stories, it doesn’t matter what you put on the website. Many local news websites are full of out–of-town stories that really belong under the “state” or “national” or “world” tag, but we pretend they’re local so the website doesn’t look empty.

In Manatee County, you know that the school district blew a computer upgrade out its rear end because we at the Bradenton Herald told you. The school district wasn’t about to tell you on their own about the Indians whose visas expired and that the company they hired was bankrupt. The Bradenton Herald told you that.

If we don’t have any reporters left, what’s the point of putting out a website with no local news or an online Xtra edition? I ache for newspapers around the country and for the residents who see their local newspaper shrinking as far-off corporate masters wreak havoc and destruction. Some of these papers once terrorized local government officials, and now the officials laugh at them.

I love journalism, and I love the news. We need the news. We’ll end up like Venezuela, not in the way President Trump says we will, but in the way of other countries where journalists are arrested, jailed, tortured and killed. You may hate the free press, but you’ll hate it more when the sole source of news is government press releases.

If Facebook, Google, Craigslist and the Knight Foundation want to do local journalism a favor, give all that money — that’s going to be wasted on local worthies to study local journalism — to local newspapers so they can keep their reporting and editing staffs intact.

Ecosystems, collaboration, partnerships. Knight Foundation, can’t you see that these newspapers are dying? Are you that blind? There are none so blind as those who will not see. You aren’t seeing the little picture that illustrates the big picture. Edward R. Murrow, who wasn’t a trained journalist, knew that and worked accordingly, and look at what he accomplished.

I know my career is doomed. I had a good run, and I wish I could do more. I hang on by my fingernails and hope for the best while fearing the worst. My community is being turned into a news desert, and if the feared merger takes place, you might as well stick a fork in Florida journalism, because it’ll mostly be over.

I will visit the grave, leave flowers and shed tears, but then I’ll have to move on.

For goodness’ sake, don’t waste this money. Give it to papers so we don’t end up an eight-page, one section sheet with five pages of ads for hearing aids. Please, do something good with the money. Please.

Or there will be nothing left to rebuild.

Knight Foundation putting $300 million toward rebuilding local news

On Tuesday, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation announced a $300 million commitment toward rebuilding local news ecosystems during the next five years, with details on where the first $100 million of that money would go.

“We’ve all been on the ropes for the past 15 years as news organizations are battered by declining revenue and declining trust,” said Andrew Sherry, Knight’s vice president of communications. “We and other foundations and news organizations have tried a lot of different things.”

What Knight sees now, he said, are both the greatest need to help local news and the greatest opportunity with strong, scalable organizations that can best transform the landscape.

(Disclosure: My coverage of local news is funded in part by Knight, and Poynter is a partner with the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative, also known as Table Stakes.)

Since 2007, Knight has spent about $30 million a year on journalism initiatives. They’re now ramping that up, Sherry said.

Today’s announcement and the direction Knight’s heading was hinted at in an end-of-year Nieman Lab prediction by the Knight team entitled “A year of local collaboration.” The prediction noted many of the organizations getting funds today and the themes their work includes: local news ecosystems, national-local partnerships, multidisciplinary partnerships and collaboration among media funders.

“In 2019, we’ll see an increase in multidisciplinary collaboration among sectors, institutions, and news organizations working to better serve local audiences.”

Organizations aimed at strengthening and rebuilding local news are getting some of those funds. They are:

American Journalism Project: $20 million for this venture philanthropy initiative that will, according to the press release “provide transformative grants and support to local, nonprofit civic news organizations to ensure their long-term sustainability.”
ProPublica: $5 million to create more partnerships with local newsrooms and expand the Local Reporting Network.
Report for America: $5 million to grow the program that pairs young journalists with newsrooms that share the cost with the community to cover underreported issues.
Frontline: $3 million to help establish five geographic hubs in partnership with local newsrooms.
NewsMatch: $1.5 million toward a matching campaign supporting nonprofit newsrooms. Last year, NewsMatch raised more than $7 million for local news and investigative journalism.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press: $10 million toward helping local newsrooms defend reporting.
Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund: $10 million, previously reported, toward helping newspapers transform for the digital age.

Knight is also putting money toward news literacy initiatives ($5 million for the News Literacy Project); the expansion of solutions journalism ($5 million for the Solutions Journalism Network) and community listening at the local level ($2 million for Cortico.) It’s investing $35 million into researching and research centers that “will study the changing nature of an informed society in America and will help build an emerging field of study to address pressing questions about the health of an informed society and citizenry in the digital age,” according to the press release. Universities participating in that project will be announced mid-year, Sherry said.

Want more on the transformation of local news? Join the conversation in our weekly newsletter, Local Edition.

In January, Facebook announced $300 million over three years toward stabilizing local news. Partners include Report for America, the American Journalism Project and Table Stakes.

The Knight funding should be a boost to help programs working to rebuild local news scale, Sherry said, and a signal to individuals and foundations of where to contribute money to help local news.

Knight is concerned about declines in trust for media and other democratic institutions, he said, “but we think that local news is actually the best place to start rebuilding it.”

February 20, 2019 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The greatest adventure of them all

When I was a kid growing up, a big part of what was going on when I became aware of the world around me was the space program.

To me, it seemed like this great, wonderful TV show that had everything a little boy loved: big rockets, heroic men (not enough women, though some made major contributions and only now are being recognized), very limited TV coverage that made every mission into a big deal, and a feeling that you could be into technology (hey, it was high-tech then, kids) and be cool.

I remember a party at my friend John Komendowski’s house across the street on 80th Street where there were several centerpieces that were paper-folded versions of the lunar module. (One kid at the party stole one, I recall, and John wanted to know who knew what.)

Because “current events” wasn’t really talked about much in school (we were mired in the history of 15th-century martyrs; I went to Catholic school), you had to go beyond school to learn about what was happening. I still remember a book I got from the Our Lady of Hope School library titled “Rockets and Spacecraft of the World.”

Way beyond New York City, I learned, there was a big world and I needed to learn about it, and there were these amazing people doing amazing things.

Sadly, my science education was so lacking. Today, the buzzword in schools is STEM, but I fear that as in my days in school, it’s just an acronym for school administrators to advance their careers. Despite my immediate supervisor’s efforts, in December 2017, I did a story on the Manatee County Library (my paper doesn’t cover the library anymore, as part of our focus on local news) and how it was lending telescopes and binoculars thanks to a program from the Library Foundation.

The library offers all sorts of stuff for teenagers, including Area 52, where it definitely isn’t your grandparents’ library. They can work on robotics, animation and computer technology. I remember one person at the library telling me about a kid from Mexico whose first language was an Indian language no one else knew. But he quickly picked up on the technology and started making drawings, then shooting them with a digital camera, then putting them together for a humorous animated cartoon.

Today, the people who are working for NASA and SpaceX and Blue Origin and those other space efforts look back at the space missions of the 1960s and 1970s, and see inspiration for what they are doing. We will go back to the Moon, to Mars and beyond. Just the other day, the Japanese space agency landed a probe on an asteroid, and it will return a sample to Earth.

In the works are sample return missions to Mars, boosters for new human missions to the Moon and right now little kids of around 10 or 11 are watching YouTube videos, and maybe seeing rockets like the Falcon and the Falcon Heavy, and wondering if that’s their future. Just as I saw the mighty Saturn V and wondered if my future was somewhere in there.

Someone once told me that she thought “Apollo 13” was just a movie and didn’t know that mission and its accident really happened. But there’s a cure for now knowing, and I’ve taken it for years. It’s called going out there on your own and seeking knowledge.

In his famous speech at Rice University in Houston in September 1962, President John F. Kennedy said:

“Those who came before us made certain that this country rode the first waves of the industrial revolutions, the first waves of modern invention, and the first wave of nuclear power, and this generation does not intend to founder in the backwash of the coming age of space. We mean to be a part of it — we mean to lead it. For the eyes of the world now look into space, to the moon and to the planets beyond, and we have vowed that we shall not see it governed by a hostile flag of conquest, but by a banner of freedom and peace.”

I know a lot of people who today are eager to retreat and be ignorant, and wallow in useless arguments and patriotic jingoism. I know the folks who think I’m a moron, a dope, an idiot and more, and you all should know that you’ll be dealt with in due time.

Go ahead, brag about how ignorant you are, how you haven’t read a book or newspaper in 20 years, or how educated people like me are really idiots in disguise.

The space program freed me from the limitations imposed on me by my teachers, parents, siblings and others, and I still dream about doing great things, though my best years are probably behind me. Still, just as those who dreamed of reaching the Moon and beyond never gave up, I will never give up.

Face it, people. You can’t break me. So stop trying. I will achieve.

I remember when I was in the post office and so many people told me to quit college and just give up, admit defeat and be a postal drone. You all were wrong then, and you’re wrong now. And I have a long memory.

On Friday, I will be seeing a movie about a man who never gave up. He led the first manned landing on the moon and opened up the doors to the future.

I, for one, take my inspiration from that “First Man.”

October 9, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, Observations with Vinny | , , , , | 1 Comment

Carl Hiassen tells it like it is

I know no one’s even going to bother to read this, but I present it just in case.

Usually, Carl Hiassen writes columns about the politicians on the make in Florida, the con artists, the bogus nonprofits and a lot more, but this one comes from the heart.

His only brother was murdered in the offices of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md., with several of his colleagues. While the president talks about how people in the news business are bad and evil, the reality is quite different.

One of the dead was a woman who considered herself a part of the family of the U.S. Naval Academy. Her youngest daughter was getting ready to attend the academy’s prep school and dreamed of joining her siblings in graduating from the academy and serving as officers and leaders in America’s Navy.

I bet you didn’t know that. I bet you didn’t give a f—ing shit, right?

We in the news business keep having to say that we are not the enemy of the American people and this country. I have worn a military uniform and did my extremely small part, and I still remember how people howled and laughed at me and said that I was joining “the Retard Corps.” Yes, I remember that, and more.

Your local newspaper is being killed by the death of a thousand cuts by people on Wall Street and in the corporate offices who wouldn’t know a comma from a semicolon, but wait until the newspaper is gone and no one is covering your city commission, county commission or school board, and keeping an eye on them.

In Manatee County, the Bradenton Herald has put out articles about how a botched software upgrade has created a costly administrative mess. The school district would rather we print their press releases about some new bureaucrat, but we like to dig deeper. Or how about that “guardian” who turns out to have radical anti-government views and believes in all sorts of wild conspiracy theories, including the desirability of shooting SWAT team members in the head?

After our reporter called the district about his social media postings, suddenly action was taken.

Oh, that’s right, that shit-heels rapper just died. Let’s hit our knees and mourn for some guy with more tattoos than brains.

Look, journalists tell you the stuff you might not want to hear. After the government bodies in your community go totally corrupt, who are you going to call? There might not be anyone to answer the phone. And if the CEOs of some major newspaper companies have their way, there won’t be anyone to answer the phone, there won’t be anyone to investigate the story and there won’t be anyone to edit it for publication either online or in print.

I am not an enemy of the people. If you think I am, let me know.

September 9, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The news business | , , , , , | Leave a comment

The frustrations of having a very drunk rider in the car

Dealing with a very drunken person can be a challenge, as I learned the other day.

I received a ping on Lyft for a passenger named “Dave,” and that he’d be in the parking lot at the “Roo” in Ellenton.

I drove over there and found a man who claimed to be 65 years old, about 6-feet, 2-inches tall, and who staggered over to the car and said he was Dave.

He got in the car in the front seat, and announced that he was a Vietnam veteran of the Marines, and that he was very drunk and wanted to go to another bar.

I started driving and asked him what his MOS (job) was in the Marines. He got really upset and said he didn’t remember and hated when people asked that question, so he probably wasn’t a veteran at all.

Dave was the first passenger I came very close to ejecting from my car, or stopping a law enforcement officer and asking for help. He was very loud, very belligerent and very disrespectful.

He talked about the size of his “thing,” and then said, “You wanna f— me?”

I said I had zero desire to do any such thing. As we neared his destination, he yelled, “You stupid f—, I said I wanted to go to a bar, not home. Take me to Gator’s.”

I said that his destination was the apartment complex off State Road 64, and he said, “I don’t wanna go there. I’m not drunk enough yet. Take me to the bank so I can take out some money.”

At the drive-through, I let him out to use the ATM, and then let him back in the car.

He continued to curse at me and call me stupid. We stopped at a dive bar in the worst part of Bradenton (14th Street West near the Salvation Army) and he finally exited the car, with a final “F— you.”

I complained to Lyft, but the reply I got back was mostly boilerplate and misidentified Dave’s gender. Since I didn’t give Dave enough stars, I’ll never have him in the car again, but the drivers of Lyft and Uber need to know to avoid him and not give him a ride.

Actions have consequences.

July 14, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , | Leave a comment

Is getting hit in school all it’s cracked up to be?

I have had some contact recently with fellow students from my old Catholic elementary school, Our Lady of Hope in Middle Village, Queens, NY, and a recent article in a newspaper made me wonder about how things have changed.

The article noted that a father slapped his children, ages 3 and 5, in front of a police officer who had retrieved them after they had wandered into traffic, and the officer arrested the man.

It made me wonder because I grew up in a time when, supposedly, children were hit regularly by adults, and there are people who swear they are better people for being hit by adults when they were younger.

At our beloved OLH, it was not uncommon for teachers to smack kids around. I was hit by a couple of teachers and was very upset about it all. Mind you, this was a time when you could get into a schoolyard fight and not end up with the police arresting you. Punches were taken and given seemingly without a word.

Look, when the big game before classes was called “Kill the guy with the ball,” getting a shot to the puss wasn’t that big a deal.

The teachers probably didn’t know this, but we students knew who among them tended to resort to hitting when they didn’t get their way. One teacher in particular was feared for her tendency to not only hit but also raise her voice.

The story that went around one year was that at the practice for the veneration of the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the school, she’d hit all the participants after they kept messing up.

One of the most popular teachers was a fellow who I later met again in 1999, at our 25-year reunion. I couldn’t get out of my mind the thought that one day, I had messed up and he had taken me into the hall, chewed me out and slapped me across the face a couple of times. I do remember coming back into the classroom and crying at my desk, and getting sympathy from a female student.

At one point during the 25-year event, we found ourselves standing together and I called him by his first name and asked how his life had gone. He admitted that in our eighth-grade year he was finishing his law degree, and indeed we were his final class. Maybe teaching was a frustrating option for him, I thought, and that’s why he did what he did.

In any case, I didn’t hold it against him.

One time, I was covering a school board meeting and the topic turned to the late 1960s, when pressure was building in Manatee County to desegregate the high schools. Of course, some people thought it was the end of the world, though the elementary schools were already integrated and working OK.

What stunned me was that some of the African Americans in the audience actually felt some nostalgia for the “black” high school. At the time, and at great cost, students from all over the county were bused to the “black” school, which was in Palmetto.

They remembered it as a place where they were taught by dedicated teachers, and also disciplined very harshly, with even the girls remembering being beaten by teachers for minor offenses.

I was shocked. Then again, in reading the minutes of school board meetings at the time, it seemed to be a more physical era. At one point in a school board meeting, a fight broke out, though a few people did apologize for their behavior.

Someone told me there were race riots at the “white” schools when the black kids arrived, and it took years to sort things out.

I remembered that everyone in my elementary school class was white, but that when I went to public high school I went with people of all different races.

Just going though my high school yearbook revealed the diversity of the class of 1978. Maybe we weren’t perfect, but we also were never hit in high school.

Smacking around kids who are smaller than you is not a good idea if you’re an adult, in my view. Maybe because I have so little contact with kids apart from my great-nephews and great-niece, I prefer to be their “cool” uncle than be a disciplinarian.

I could imagine the hell that would break loose if I tried to discipline those kids, since their parents might see it as interference or judgment.

When I read about kids being hit by adults, I do feel the kids’ pain. Yes, discipline is important and there must be punishments for bad behavior, but I don’t think beatings and abuse are the answer.

Resorting to talk of “the good old days” when kids were beaten is the refuge of those who want to just feel superior, I say.

 

July 3, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, Living in the modern age | , , , , | Leave a comment

University of Florida blows millions for new football facilities so players can walk less

A recent story in the Tampa Bay Times described how the University of Florida has decided that it needs a new football facility, and the reason is probably the first time I’ve ever heard such a reason used.

According to Matt Baker’s story (Florida Gators reveal updated plans for $65 million football complex):

“The most expensive component will be the $65 million football-only facility. UF initially announced its plans for the structure in September 2016, but space limitations confined it to a less-than-ideal plot of land just north of the track stadium.
“The new proposal puts it where McKethan Stadium currently stands, allowing it to be larger (130,000 square feet, as opposed to the initial 100,000) and connected to the indoor practice facility. Instead of three stories, it will be compressed into two to make it even more efficient.
”That last point sounds minor, but it’s not. The NCAA limits coaches’ interactions with players to four hours a day, so every second players spend walking down the hall is one they can’t spend on improving. Players waste 20 minutes walking from the locker room to practice; the new facility will drastically cut that transit time.”

In an nutshell, the university is knocking down its baseball stadium, which is in the way of the new facilities for football, so that football players have a shorter walk and can thus get more coaching, leading to more victories on the field.

Or so the theory goes.

It’s better than the plan from several years ago, which was to end several academic programs, fire the staff in those programs, and hand the cash over to the football team. The thing is that in the “arm’s race” that is college football, every university is spending ever more sums of money on new facilities. The story notes, “Don’t expect Alabama-like opulence. Its focus will be on function, and perhaps fitting the campus’ collegiate gothic look.”
And where’s the money coming from?

From the story:

“The Gators have already identified $73 million in funds ($50 million in bonds, $13 million in philanthropic support and $10 million in the University Athletic Association’s investment earnings). UF hopes to complete the rest of its fundraising by the time football construction begins.”

So the gist of the story is this: After having hired and fired all those head coaches (and at one point paying three coaches, two to not coach college football), the key to future success is to spend – in total — $180 million so football players have a shorter walk.

It makes sense in some form of reality, but not in mine.

But that’s college football in this day and age.

March 24, 2018 Posted by | Living in the modern age, The business of sports | , , , , , | Leave a comment

It never rains in Human Resources

A recent series of articles in the Tampa Bay Times about the CareerSource Tampa Bay and CareerSource Pinellas agencies has centered on the fact that some people have found a lucrative living running agencies that purport to help those in need of work in the Tampa Bay area find jobs.

Indeed, by taking the credit for hiring that did not have anything to do with, the two agencies’ staffers, one of the CEOs and his cronies managed to increase their salaries dramatically and accrue perks that would have made a Wall Street type envious, especially when you consider the lack of work and effort involved.

Of course, none of that money that was paid out in salary increases and bonuses went anywhere near the folks who were – or were not – helped to find a job. Apparently, you had to be pals with the CEO and close to the throne to be stroked with the dough.

Making money off those who need a job is nothing new, of course. The region is chock-full of nonprofits with CEOs and top executives and boards of directors who take home six-figure annual salaries (plus benefits) to get people jobs in the low-five figures with no benefits.

People often wonder why workers are so afraid nowadays of being laid off or fired, even with the unemployment rate so low and tax reform creating millions of jobs. The thing is that the people who run these job-based nonprofits and the people who work in Human Resources departments have never experienced being laid off and not having an income.

You might wonder why your employer’s HR department is full of so many nasty people. Maybe you went somewhere for a job, and the HR people were slovenly, unprofessional, smelled bad and wasted your time.

Possibly they accused you of being on drugs or stupid, or saw the gaps in your resume where you were unemployed during the recession and figured that it was all your fault that you lost that job you had for 20 or 30 years.

Many of the people in Human Resources today – as well as those who write newspaper and online job advice columns – did not experience a layoff and unemployment during the recession that began around 2007, and thus are giving advice without any experience of their own in what it’s like to look for a job.

I remember absurd job-search “classes” that I had to take, in which I was given useless and outdated advice by well-meaning people. We were still being advised to present our best selves – which is good advice – but pointless when all applications are online and the only judge is a computer that’s looking to weed out people.

I recall looking for retail jobs, and running into absurd psychological tests in which the main concern seemed to be my (nonexistent) drinking or drug-use habits. As for knowledge and experience, well, who gave a hoot?

Yet job advice columnists kept beating the drum that you needed to talk to the hiring manager about the skills you could bring to the company, when the hiring manager was not a real person you could meet and talk to but rather a computer algorithm designed to figure out what year you graduated from high school so it could round-file your application without violating federal law about age discrimination.

One of the most infuriating times I spent in a company’s HR department was sometime in 2009 when I was working for a local news website but was not making enough money. I answered an ad on a job website for a company in Largo that needed a copy editor. The firm printed promotional materials, and the trouble was that the workers they were hiring were not adept in printed English, and the materials were having to be redone over and over because of spelling mistakes.

I went to the “interview” and met a woman who definitely had a nasty attitude. After answering a questionnaire, mostly about my alleged “drug use,” the woman told me that I had to take a whole series of online tests from home to show I had the skills I said I had.

That was not fun, and neither was the woman’s warning not to try to negotiate a higher salary. I advised her that I wouldn’t cross the Skyway for less than $15 an hour, and she said $10 was the top pay for the job, or just stop wasting her time.

We argued about it, and I finally told her that it was a small wonder they couldn’t find anyone with English language skills at $10 an hour and no benefits. Considering that some of the people coming in for jobs at the company had prison tattoos (one guy had been incarcerated for so long, he didn’t know what the internet was) they should be glad to have someone who didn’t have a criminal record looking for a job.

I left and drove home, and later emailed the woman and told her I wouldn’t be continuing with the process.

Many politicians complained then that the unemployed were being too picky about their jobs, but even when I applied to places like a bowling alley and Walmart, I got treated like dirt. The Walmart interview was a trip and a half. The job was going out and retrieving shopping carts, but they treated it like I would be planning the location of a new store. The guy interviewing me had four teeth and no idea what a newspaper was. They never called me back.

At one place, the company was looking for someone with years of editing experience and knowledge of the military. They published coffee table books on America’s military – especially the Navy – and magazines for when a new Navy ship was commissioned.

The interview went well, and I was called in for a second interview where I met the CEO.

As it turned out, they didn’t want me because while I had the knowledge and experience they were looking for, my salary request of low-$40s plus benefits was too rich for their blood.

I asked the editor who interviewed me what kind of salary they were offering. About $23,000 a year, plus benefits. “I brought you in to meet the boss to show him that you were worth what you were asking for,” the editor said, “but he’s convinced that he can get your level of knowledge and experience for a lot less.”

The editor then admitted that he was so frustrated that he was looking for a new job, too.

“Sorry I wasted your time,” he said.

When you hear on a TV report or NPR about someone who has sent out thousands of applications and heard nothing, even in today’s low-unemployment era, that’s more true than you might think if you haven’t gone through what most people have gone through.

Companies have their spokespeople whine and howl about the low quality of job applicants, but in truth they often don’t even see the applications of people who are highly qualified.

I am amazed at how I am treated sometimes when I apply for a job. I am tempted to start my own business and treat my employees and applicants with dignity and respect.

Human Resources people often seem to have been trained to be nasty to everyone. It reminds me of the part of Orwell’s “1984” in which Winston Smith has been renting a room from a kindly old man and committing all sorts of crimes in there with Julia, and suddenly, after he and Julia are caught, realizing that the kindly old man has started standing up straight, removed his stage makeup and is giving orders to the police.

Smith looks at the man and realizes – for the first time in his life – that he is looking into the cold, dead eyes of a member of the feared “Thought Police.”

That’s how I feel about Human Resources nowadays.

 

February 19, 2018 Posted by | Life lessons, The jobless chronicles | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sexual harassment is about power, control and authority

In the spring of 1994, I was about as excited as I’d ever been.

Having finished college with a bachelor’s degree, I had just given notice at the Postal Service and was finishing off my final two weeks in the worst job ever.

The idiot bosses at the post office didn’t give a shit about me, but they were pretty afraid of what I might tell people. I mean, I had seen them cheating on the Price Waterhouse mail testing, I had seen mail damaged and destroyed in processing machinery, and I had been able finally to make a dent in a giant room full of damaged packages, over the objections of one supervisor. Some of those packages dated back to the previous holiday season.

I had an exit interview where I had reported a white female supervisor for dropping the “n” word everywhere, and they still had her supervising mostly black employees. Her status as a member of the KKK was common knowledge to everyone at every level, but no one cared because there were few blacks in postal management. I was offered a management job, but refused.

The one incident that blew my mind during my last two weeks was that I saw a female supervisor get groped by a male supervisor, while they were talking to me!

In the West Palm Beach General Mail Facility in that time, sexual harassment was rampant. Despite promises to new hires during orientation that sexual harassment and retaliation for reporting sexual harassment were not tolerated, what really wasn’t tolerated was reporting such activity.

Male supervisors saw the hiring of every new cohort of female employees as “open season” for them, sexually. The very, very few women who co-operated were advanced into management. Women who wouldn’t “play ball” or filed complaints were fair game for abuse and even more harassment. Complaining to the Postal Inspection Service was pointless because the Inspection Service was corrupt to the bone, had run a bogus drug informant in the facility and thus had zero credibility with the workers, and itself had a sexual harassment problem.

Nearly all Postal Inspectors were white males; the few women in the Inspection Service were brutally harassed.

I was talking to a male supervisor and a female supervisor about my plans, and how I looked forward to getting away from the post office and moron management, when the male supervisor said something, grabbed the female supervisor in a close hug (to her extreme dismay), and then walked away.

The female supervisor said to me, “Did you see that?”

“Yes,” I said.

“He does that constantly, and he keeps hiding out in the ladies’ bathroom, too,” she said, “so he can harass other women.”

“So,” I said with little interest, “you know what to do. Report him.”

“I can’t,” she said. “It’ll get worse and I’ll get busted” (back to regular work).

I don’t know how it worked out in the end, but I am sure the female supervisor realized that she would just have to put up with the guy’s sexual harassment. Today, he’s probably a high-level postal manager.

In the recent sexual harassment incidents that have come to light, I have found that the main propagator is a powerful man who has decided that it’s open season on the women under him, and makes sure that they know the cost of blowing the whistle.

As a man with no power, and someone who believes that the purpose of the workplace is to go to work and not harass women, it irks me that women have to be afraid. These men want women to be afraid, though, and it hurts the efficiency of the workplace and the company.

I learned that even in the most elevated areas of the Postal Service, there was extreme harassment going on. One woman told me that she had been working late one night with a male superior on a report that had to be submitted, and he had attacked her and groped her in the break room. Even worse, when she reported the assault to postal management – it was drilled into everyone’s head that the police had no jurisdiction in postal installations, so calling 911 was not allowed – postal management decided that even though he was a threat to women he was a manager whose numbers were good, so there would be no action taken.

When the woman continued to pursue action, she was retaliated against and eventually ordered to be in two different places at the same time, then fired.

Sexual harassment is about power. Never forget it.

December 9, 2017 Posted by | Education, Life lessons | , , , , | Leave a comment