Monday, November 26, 2007

Republican resignations are usually such good news, too

Former Senate Majority Leader--and current douchebag (with all due apologies to douchebags everywhere!)--Trent Lott is resigning by the end of the year. Wasn't he just re-elected, you ask? Why yes; yes he was. So why resign now? I mean, it's not like the unregenerate racist and corrupt scumbag feels any shame for being caught in scandals--that happened before his 2006 decision to ignore them and run again.
Apparently, though, being in the minority is less fun than running the country into the ditch--the ditch of Hell, that is--even though the Republicans in the Senate have no problems stopping any and all legislation they dislike. The major reasons, then, for the timing of his resignation must be 1) selfish; and 2) political.
The selfish reason is that there is new legislation coming down the pike that will increase the time a public servant has to wait before becoming a lobbyist. The new ethics rule, which goes into effect on Jan. 1 (gee, what a shocker ol' Trent will be gone by 12/31!), will delay the transformation of corrupt pols to those doing the corrupting for 2 years; there is currently a 1 year waiting period. Trent apparently can't put off the inevitable and massive income raise he'll be getting from his right wing masters those extra 365 days. Such a financial hardship, I know.
The political reason, and given Trent's history of a lack of any kind of ethical behavior in his pursuit of Republican power, we know that there is one, is that this will give his successor the time it takes to achieve the veneer (and real world advantages, too, of course) of incumbency for the November 2008 election he will then face to complete Lott's term.
In Mississippi, the governor gets to appoint a replacement to any Senate openings, and since Haley Barbour is an old-school Republican hack, we know he's been in on this since Lott decided to run again. Expect a cleaner version of Lott to fill that seat for the next 4+ years, not that that says much . . .
Mississippi. Once again reclaiming the title of the only state Alabama can look down upon!

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Check out my new ride (maybe)

I've been thinking seriously about ditching my Beetle once I pay it off (which will happen in the next month or so). I like the car, but mainly because it's cute and very blue. Driving a manual is supposed to be "fun", but I haven't gotten into it--I still feel like I'm destroying the clutch with each shift, after 4 full years! And the road noise eats up my stereo's bass like nobody's business.
Consumer Reports tells me that a Toyota Camry hybrid would be a quiet, and much more fuel-efficient, upgrade, and until today I had decided that I would probably get one. Today, though, I was alerted to this thing:
It's called an Aptera, and it's not as far out as you might imagine. Apparently, they are designing two options: one is a total electric and the other is a 130-300 mpg hybrid. There is room for 2 adults and a child (or "15 bags of groceries"), and has all the airbags anything else does, and electronics like few others do included in the price. Because of its weight and design, it is categorized as a motorcycle, which might necessitate getting a different class of driver's license (the site does not say), but I've done that before. For a $500 reservation fee (deducted from the cost or refunded if I decide not to buy one when my turn comes), I can get in line. Full electric is approximated to be $27K and the hybrid (which I would choose) is $30K--exactly the same as the Camry!
I'm sure the road noise will be pretty bad in the Aptera, so I won't gain anything there, but there is a significantly higher "wow" factor, doncha think? They are supposed to begin production any day now--seriously.
What do you think?

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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Just when you thought it couldn't get any sicker

Recruiting men and women to sign up to serve this country hasn't been going so well lately--imagine that! The traditional method for spurring volunteering for armed service has been bribery; the payment of cash bonuses to new recruits has a long tradition in the US (my own graduate work in history was/is on the subject, actually). Smirky's military, of course, is now trying to put a new spin on it. Apparently, and in a move totally devoid of both precedent and soul (again, what a shock!), the military has now embarked on a program of demanding repayment of these bonuses from anyone who does not serve out their entire commitment--including those unfortunate men and women wounded during their service to the country and unable to do so!

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Book review: The Conscience of a Liberal

Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times who has been blasting Smirky and the Gang ever since the felons took office. Originally hired as an economics writer, Krugman has been forced into the role of esteemed political writer almost by default, given the Old Gray Lady's penchant for allowing its political scribes to rot into Administration henchmen/transcribers. His latest book details a history of liberal thinking from the (first) Gilded Age to the present. Lest that sound dry and oppressively historianesque, let me assure you that Krugman's writing is clear and concise; this is a quick and fun (really!) romp through the decades--although I must also point out that the treatment of the topic is actually deadly serious. The book's main thesis is twofold: 1) Republicans are destroying this country by attempting to "repeal" the 20th century and return us to the status quo circa 1880, as far as economic thinking, governmental activity, and fiscal/taxation policies; and 2) universal health care can and should be this generation's political/social legacy.
Krugman explores the various political moves the Republican Party has undertaken through the years, noting the initial opposition to the New Deal posed by the party in the 1930s and 1940s, as well as their Eisenhower-era acquiescence. The modern Republican Party, however, was gradually taken over by what he terms "movement conservatives" in the 2 decades following William F. Buckley's establishment of The National Review in 1955. Movement conservatives, according to Krugman, include Buckley and his intellectual heirs, who contribute ideas of anti-communism and white backlash against the civil rights movement (perhaps updated to include strains of anti-immigration), combined with the larger cadre of neoconservatives following on Milton Friedman's economic and Irving Kristol's sociological theories. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, members of this new conservative movement convinced wealthy individuals and corporate donors such as Richard Mellon Scaife and Joseph Coors to finance an entire infrastructure of think tanks, magazines and other media outlets, and eventually political action committees so that these groups could pursue political means to their intellectual ends. The end result of this activity has been the growing economic inequality of society, as well as the corruption of our political processes by the right wing.
Krugman's book, though, points to a way we can fight back against these dark forces of privilege and exclusion. By pushing for universal health care (which is supported by an impressive, and growing majority of the populace), liberals can not only regain the ground lost in the political arena over the last 30 years, but more importantly, provide a vital service to the people living in this country. The beauty of universal health care as an issue, Krugman explains, is that workable solutions already exist (in many countries throughout Western Europe and in Canada), funding options are plentiful--even without raising taxes on the middle and lower classes, and we have the lessons learned from the Clinton-era efforts to institute healthcare reform to help combat the movement conservatives.
Krugman tackles many side topics confronting liberals these days as well, offering at least better definitions of our situations, if not outright solutions. He saves the best mini-discussion for the end of the book, where he describes the differences between what a "liberals" and "progressives". Essentially, Krugman defines liberals as those who believe in social equity and fairness, while progressives are people actively engaged in political means to achieve those ends.The lack of cooperation movement conservatives show for any ideas not their own, however, means that progressives have only one political outlet to pursue their objectives (the Democratic Party), and that the stigma of "partisanship" will have to be ignored. "For now, being an active liberal means being a progressive, and being a progressive means being partisan. But the goal isn't one-party rule. It's the reestablishment of a truly vital, competitive democracy. Because in the end, democracy is what being a liberal is all about." (pg. 273)
Amen, brother.

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Maybe it's weak, but I've got a reason for not writing

I have been going through some work changes over the last month and 1/2 or so. For several weeks behind my back, I had an employee wrecking my reputation with my bosses by sending continual emails detailing my supposed failings as a communicator and as a manager. Now, in a normal library environment, you would think that my superiors would give a fellow professional the benefit of the doubt and ask for my side of the story, or at least tell this paraprofessional to take up these issues (which, by all accounts except this clerk's, were trivial in nature) with his supervisor (me). Instead, all credence was given to my underling's tales of woe and fantastic disrespect and I was summarily dismissed from my position.
Lest you think this was a simple case of personality conflict (in which case I would also think a normal library management team would close ranks with someone they had invested a great deal of time/money/effort to promote in order to join the team against the wearisome complaints of a troubled employee), this same employee had gotten into serious verbal altercations with two other co-workers (one a part timer, the other another professional librarian, who was so distressed by this employee that she transferred to another location to get away from him!) within the previous 5 months. You might think this would tend to make my bosses leery of crediting this employee's point of view on any subject pertaining to his work environment, but there is a fly in that ointment. My immediate supervisor was the former manager of this employee, and had never had any problems with him--clearly his "acting out" was all my fault, right? In any case, you might think that my boss would either a) essentially recuse herself from getting involved directly for lack of proper objectivity; or b) talk to the others involved with any of these previous conflicts to see what they thought about my performance, but you'd be wrong again. Instead, I was told repeatedly that I was responsible for "correcting" my own behavior and change my methods of communicating/managing to accommodate this employee's peculiarities. When I complained to my third level supervisor (my boss's boss's boss), with whom I had heretofore had a good working relationship and a clear line of communication, that I was feeling unsupported I was told I was wrong, even though she agreed with my assessment of this employee and thought well of my abilities.
My dismissal meeting was a treat. My three bosses gathered together to tell me the news across a conference table, and they then began to attempt to soften the blow by extolling my virtues. The problem with doing that, of course, is that it is totally irrelevant to the purpose of the meeting. Why on earth would you want to tell the person you are (in essence) firing how much you think of him/her, unless it is to make yourself feel better about destroying that person's career? It certainly came across as rather cruel, especially since the compliments were of the backhanded nature. At the same time they were telling me that I had "failed" and that I didn't have the "special skills" to succeed as a manager, they tried to appear fair-minded by also telling me how they respected and valued me. (To square that circle, they appended the phrase "as a reference librarian" to every compliment to ensure that I would feel my now-reduced status. For example, after telling me I had "failed to properly anticipate and solve problems" [a rather damning assessment], they told me I was a terrific asset to the library as a reference librarian, making darn sure I heard every implied "only" or "just".)
The problem was that none of this had to be done at all. I was still under probation, meaning that they didn't need to provide either Human Resources or me a reason to fail me and send me back to my former position, and therefore didn't need to tell me any of those things. They could have simply told me "it wasn't working out" or that they were doing it "for my own benefit" because I was unhappy, and I would have been relatively OK with it, because both of those had the added value of being true. Telling me I was a failure was a simply and unnecessarily mean spirited move. The best part of the meeting, though, was when we got to the actual procedure for my dismissal. I could have forced them to go through the onerous process of formally rejecting my probation (which would then "go on my permanent record"), or I could have "voluntarily" resigned my position. Seeing no long-term benefit to the former, I chose the latter course of action, without realizing that I would then be asked to hand write my resignation then and there, as I sat across from them at that table in the conference room! As if my humiliation wasn't complete enough, right?
So I am now at a crossroads: do I stay in this position knowing I will never advance in this organization, or do I light out for new territories and suffer the traumas of interviewing and the assured pay cut of a new job in the hopes of advancing there?