Monthly Archives: May 2006

How do Workplaces get so Bad?

I woke in a cold sweat around 2am last night. I'd been having a nightmare that I was stuck back in my old job – the worst workplace I'd ever been subjected to. In the nightmare it was slightly worse than the reality, I was actually stuck. My chair was made from some sort of goo that was swallowing me and like a tar baby, the more I struggled, the more it sucked me in. My cow-orkers were laughing at me. I wasn't sure if it was because I was being swallowed by my chair or because I had the audacity to think I could do better.

When I woke up I couldn't remember the nightmare at first, then pieces of it started coming back to me. There was an almost overwhelming sense of dread that went with the remembering because what was coming back to me was that the reality of this place was hardly any better than the nightmare. It was almost every stereotype of a bad workplace rolled into one: below average pay, boring work, no future, managers who enjoyed ruling through fear rather than leading, a focus on blaming rather than problem solving, staff with low/no aspirations, people who focused on having a job rather than a career that might lead somewhere, and supposed peers who were more likely to attack you than stand together against bad management and broadly speaking, everyone there had a fucked-up attitude.

Including me.

I was angry all the time there. And not in a good way like on this blog. It was deadening, soul-destroying, spirit-crushing tedium, day in and day out that made me hate the fucking world and hate myself for being there. I always felt like I was in a better place than the other people, I had the saving grace of a more positive outlook than the deadwood around me so things were OK. The trouble with shitty workplaces like this is that you lose perspective. You think "I'm better than these fuck-knuckles so I must be OK." Then you finally (Inshallah) escape and you realise fuck-knuckle+1 is not a very good place to be. In my case, I think it took about a year of working in more "normal" environments to get my proper attitude back.

Two examples to show how low on the aspiration/attitude front these cow-orkers were. One: upon hearing the sort of contract rates it was possible to get and I would be getting once I escaped (about double the rate you got as a permanent in this shit hole) one of these fucktards said "How can you justify getting that amount?"

How can I justify it??? The stars come into alignment allowing me to make a bit of cash for a change and I have to justify it? How about I'll take as much as I can whenever I can because when these bastards have a chance to screw me down, they'll do it without blinking. You're clearly getting what you're worth – what you can "justify". While there are executives out there making (stealing) hundreds of millions I can justify plenty for myself. Stay in your tiny little world and don't waste your fucking breath passing judgement on me. I'm not interested.

A second example: cafes around here often have these free promotional postcards that occasionally have nice images on them. Usually they are advertising some product or event but occasionally they are "art for art's sake." One that caught my eye was the following piece by Sydney artist Nick Bleasel

Cheerful Whistling Permitted 

I stuck in on my monitor as a bit of a lark, you know "lighten up people, have a bit of fun." Most people there actually got it (which surprised me) but one particularly dreary cow-orker took it down when I wasn't there. When I asked what happened she said she took it down because she didn't want people whistling because it would distract her. That was pretty much the only time I totally lost my shit in that workplace and vented at her for quite some time along the lines of "Don't ever touch things on my desk NOT EVER! Not under any circumstances! I don't care how miserable your life is, stay over in your corner! This is my desk and you have no right to touch anything on it ever!"

And she truly didn't see what was so fucked up with her attitude towards "cheerful whistling". I've been out of there for about three years now and every day that passes life seems better. I am still in contact with a former team member who escaped about a year after me and if either of us is ever feeling down about a given situation, the other always says: "Is it as bad as working in the shit hole?" To which the answer is always "No." So it served some purpose.

Nothing else ever seems as bad. I have contracted in a few places since then, each had their problems but none nearly as bad as this place. Upon leaving one place, a friend provided me with the following wisdom that explains quite well how workplaces get so bad in the first place:

Start with a cage containing five monkeys. In the cage, hang a banana on a string and put a set of stairs under it. Before long, a monkey will go to the stairs and start to climb towards the banana. As soon as he touches the stairs, spray all of the monkeys with cold water. After a while, another monkey makes an attempt with the same result – all the monkeys are sprayed with cold water.Pretty soon, when another monkey tries to climb the stairs, the other monkeys will try to prevent it. Now, turn off the cold water. Remove one monkey from the cage and replace it with a new one. The new monkey sees the banana and wants to climb the stairs. To his horror, all of the other monkeys attack him. After another attempt and attack, he knows that if he tries to climb the stairs, he will be assaulted.Next, remove another of the original five monkeys and replace it with a new one. The newcomer goes to the stairs and is attacked. The previous newcomer takes part in the punishment with enthusiasm.

Again, replace a third original monkey with a new one. The new one makes it to the stairs and is attacked as well. Two of the four monkeys that beat him have no idea why they were not permitted to climb the stairs, or why they are participating in the beating of the newest monkey.
After replacing the fourth and fifth original monkeys, all the monkeys which have been sprayed with cold water have been replaced. Nevertheless, no monkey ever again approaches the stairs. Why not?

"Because that's the way it's always been around here."

And that is how organisational policy begins.

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It’s a Fine Time to be Paranoid

People sometimes make the mistake of asking me what I'm thinking. This is usually a mistake because I'll actually tell them. Very few people appreciate getting an insight into my mind – more often than not it scares them. I have been able to think of two aspects of my mind that cause this way of thinking that I have been repeatedly told is weird.

One is that my brain stores a huge amount of trivia and minutiae and I am quite good at reproducing this "knowledge" in quite some detail with very little encouragement. I have come to think of this as having velcro lining the inside of my skull. This mental velcro grabs stray bits of information and holds onto them for later. You never know when it will come in handy.

The second part is my thinking process tends to involve rapid word/image/concept association so when I think of one thing I make quick mental leaps from a to b to c to end up in outer Mongolia in a fashion that normal people find quite disturbing. So don't ask me what I'm thinking. I'll probably tell you.

What brought this to mind today was a magazine article being passed around at work. It had the heading "Spring clean your life". Many of the people I work with currently are into the whole "self improvement" thing, they don't stray too far into hippie territory (a good idea around me – read some of my back catalogue if you want to know why) but they're always open to ideas. While I approached this article with some trepidation, it was actually pretty good.

It essentially revolved around the teachings of the Greek philosopher Epicurus (I won't bore you with details, look him up on Google or Wikipedia if you're interested). The central idea was that if you simplify your life your mental health will improve and you'll be happier. Then I started thinking of mental health and how often then terms paranoia, schizophrenia, bipolar and split personality are used wrongly. Then I thought "don't we live in a perfect time to be paranoid" – as in suffering a mental disorder that makes you think you can hear voices and everybody is out to get you. Which is a complete misuse of the term paranoia.

I'm sure we've all heard the joke that the American Society of Psychiatrists have issued a press release saying that thinking the government is always watching you and listening to your phone calls is no longer a sign of paranoia. That gets truer every day. And who are the real beneficiaries of hands-free mobile phones? The crazy people who walk down the street having conversations and/or arguments with people nobody else can see or hear. They must feel better now that everybody is doing it.

Speaking of which, where have all the really crazy people gone? (Note how I'm avoiding saying they've all joined the Bush administration – except when I said it just then.) I've seen some fascinating ones in the past – guys walking down the street shaking their fist at the sky having full-on argument with God. Now all I see are people with no manners and no common sense using their mobiles to have conversations on really personal matters in really public places. Although it's still funny when they devolve into screaming at the person on the other end, apparently unaware of how many people are watching them.

And while I'm on the topic, don't listen to funny things on your iPod when out in public. You look like some sort of sick freak sitting there with a twisted smile or, worse, giggling insanely. And don't play racing games on your PSP while using public transport. Nobody can resist swinging their arms about when trying to make hard turns (even though it has no effect on the steering in the game) and you'll end up hitting someone. Plus, I don't like it when people are having more fun than me.

But to get back to my previous point, paranoia seems the perfect response to the world today. The US government has made it clear you have no rights and they are monitoring you. All the time. And they'll imprison you for no reason other than suspicion. And keep you locked away for years without charging you with anything let alone bringing you to trial (or, god forbid, actually convicting you of something). And if you live in a western democracy you can spend all your time being paranoid that some insane jihadist is going to strike out of the blue and kill you. If you live in an Islamic country you can be paranoid that the US is going to start bombing the shit out of you.

And if none of that worries you, there's always the next earthquake / tsunami / hurricane / volcano / act of god to be paranoid about. It truly is a fine time to be paranoid.

But I'm not paranoid, I'm angry. But Epicurus tells me I shouldn't be angry, I should be happy. But where would that leave my faithful readers? Stuck with hearing about how happy I am 365 days a year? How much would that suck? So I have to sacrifice my happiness for the sake of my readers. I'm willing to do that.

As it turns out, I can stay angry and still be fulfilled according to Epicurus. Seriously. Epicurus offers five fundamental routes to pleasure and I get all five from this blog:

1. Adventurous Pleasures: explore the unknown, try something new, meet new people. I feel like I'm getting all of these.

2. Mission-Oriented Pleasures: hone a skill, aim for a goal. Well, I'm honing my writing and aiming to post every day of the year.

3. Imaginary Pleasures: awaken the artist within. This blog is the best self-expression I've had in years.

4. Communicative Pleasures: write and create and share. I think this one speaks for itself.

5. Speculative Pleasures: ask yourself "what if?" I'm not sure where this blog is going yet but I sure am enjoying the journey.

So it's all good. I'm angry and fulfilled.

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Filed under General Angriness

Apropos of Nothing in Particular

My desk calendar notes that today is "Spring Bank Holiday" in the UK. I first read that as Sperm Bank Holiday. Now that would be a special holiday. I think I need to go have a lie down.

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Angry at Shallowness

Going through the regular workday morning ritual of ironing my business shirt for the day (sometimes I get it together enough to iron all my shirts at once – but not often) I had a bit of a domino effect happen with my angriness. First I was angry at having to iron a shirt – it's a sucky job. Then I was angry at having to wear a shirt an tie to work. Then I flashed back to how the crappy washing machine had put oil stains on some of my clothes, including a few business shirts. These were the only ones that really pissed me off. With the casual clothes, unusual stains could be written off as "character" but I can't go to work with a stained shirt. Then I realised what I was really pissed off about.

Shallowness.

Specifically, I was thinking about the belief that how you look in the workplace is of vital importance to your work. Admittedly, I don't want to go into a bank and be served by someone wearing stained sweatpants and a torn t-shirt. To be frank, I'd rather not go into banks at all but that's a different issue. When you have a "customer facing" role that's one thing. But when you work in an office where nobody else sees you, what the fuck is the point of wearing a business suit? I've had it put to me before that business dress promotes as professional environment and casual clothes promote a casual (or lazy) environment. Uptight bosses don't want slack staff so they enforce a strict dress code.

Let me offer you this wisdom in return: bollocks! Quality work is the product of a complex range of factors: the quality of workers, the quality of management, the extent to which people want to do their work (as opposed to simply picking up a paycheck), the level of support and security workers feel, the quality of tools available and the clarity of communication regarding what is/should be going on. Nice clothes won't get you anywhere if you don't address the core issues. So why is the dress code so often the focus of a company's management?

My opinion? Doing things right is hard. Telling someone what to wear is easy. Challenging pre-conceived ideas is hard. Supporting the status quo is easy. So much of what it takes to be successful is open to interpretation and/or needs to be adjusted to suit individual situations and people. A business suit is the same in any environment. Measuring the quality of someone's work accurately requires engagement and focus from management, they have to care about what's happening. Telling someone what to wear simply involves looking and pointing.

This shallow obsession with appearance obviously goes far beyond what you wear to work. But like most other manifestations of shallowness, this one revolves around being lazy and passing judgement rather than actually seeing a person as an individual. And it's the one I have to deal with four days a week (casual Friday, woohoo!) so today it's what's making me angry.

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In Defense of Being Angry

One recurring theme I noticed in my recent forays into the right wing blogosphere was a questioning of why the left are so angry. The nature of the blogs posing this question led me to put them into two broad camps: those who genuinely didn't understand the anger and couldn't relate to it and those who were simply being supercilious twats who considered they had the high morals ground. To the second group, the obnoxious pricks who couldn't challenge a diseased weasel for moral or intellectual superiority: fuck you in the neck with a butter knife (this copyright term used with kind permission of Sandra). But because some people genuinely don't seem to understand what engenders this sort of anger, I thought I'd try to explain.

The simplest explanation I can think of is that those in power really ought to understand that if those outside the power group feel (rightly or wrongly) they are being deprived of something important to them, they will get angry. You don't have to agree with the disenfranchised masses about what they deserve but if you can't even see what's driving them you don't score very highly on the perception scale. Not to mention the empathy scale. The scale of anger is often (though not always) in proportion with the perceived offence but the level of anger tends to rise with the passage of time if the causes are not addressed and/or new reasons to be angry are added.

That's a little abstract and I could tie it to concrete issues but what's the point? They are political issues and people on the left and right both have a tendency to toe the political line rather than look at things objectively. The fact that: stealing an election; launching an unjust invasion based on lies; continuing to lie; being apparently unable to face reality; trampling on the right of your own citizens when you get bored with trampling on the rights of other countries; repeatedly breaking the law; applying abhorrent double standards to almost everything imaginable; promoting indiscriminate abduction, torture and murder; wasting the lives of your own soldiers and billions of dollars; not even come close to caring about killing tens of thousands of foreigners; are all seen as forgivable because they're done "your guy"… well, I can't think of any sensible or moral response apart from anger.

You know one thing that really bugs me, apart from all the big things? The denial of past behaviour. The consistently pretending "hey, we were completely supportive when Clinton was president." Clinton got heaps of shit for saying gays should be allowed in the army. Bush gets thousands of soldiers killed simply because of mismanagement and conservatives say ex-generals shouldn't speak out. Clinton gets heaps of shit for admitting he smoked dope. Bush gets a free pass for not admitting that he's a coke head and a drink driver even though everyone knows it's true.

There are times when polite disagreement doesn't cut it.

And I'd like to spend a moment defending anger itself. Anger doesn't have to be bad. Anger doesn't have to mean violence. Properly applied, anger is an effective way to reduce stress. If you can lead a life without stress, bravo! Just don't gloat about it to me or I'll punch you in the face. Wait… I think that's bad anger. I'll punch a punching bag. If you happen to be like 98% of the population and have to deal with stressful situations a daily basis, living in denial will make your stress worse, not better.

It'll build up until you die from a stroke. And isn't venting occasionally more fun than a blood vessel exploding in your brain?

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Filed under General Angriness, Politics

All Hail The Foreskin King!

Well, I won't bore you at too much length with how I've been obsessing over my site state this week but the big news as far as I'm concerned is that if you enter "foreskin blog" in Google I appear in the top five results. I always wondered what I would be famous for and now I know. I'm thinking of getting a t-shirt printed up: "I appear in the top 5 Google results for 'foreskin blog'" Mum would be so proud.

Using sexual terms in blog posts continues to be a good way to be a good way to appear in search engine results and the ever popular "nude sex" remains my calling card. But this week, to my eternal delight, "fully clothed sex" appeared twice in the search results. The disturbing thing is some of these search terms give you too much of an insight into how fucked up people can be. I'm not going to pollute your minds with the worst ones but trust me, they're bad.

I'm probably happiest when people use search terms that I have actually covered in posts, like this week there was "toilet etiquette" (several times) "hanging toilet paper", "drug abuse", "brake lights stay on" and "hippies and crystals". And lots of Stephen Colbert and Daily Show searches. And I do hope the people searching for "what makes people angry", "example of an angry man" and "I am fucking angry all the time" found what they were looking for.

And yesterday I found out what happens when someone puts a link to your blog on reddit and it doesn't really take off. You get about 200 extra site visits. Woo! Apparently if you hit their front page you end up with thousands or even tens of thousands of extra visits. Still, I hit a new high of over 300 visits in a day so I'm happy.

I hope at least some new readers find a reason to stick around.

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Filed under General, Internet

Anger Management For Four Year Olds

One of my favourite humour sites is McSweeney's Internet Tendency. Some truly weird approaches to humour on this site, almost dada-ist in nature. Today they hit the mark for me with the story of a four year old entering an anger management class It maintains my angry meme nicely.

Also, in line with my recent political rantings, check out the explanation of why there aren't many right wing observational comedians.

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Filed under General Angriness, Internet

I’m Still Angry at Hippies

Q1: What's worse that hippies prattling on about "spiritual healing"?

A1: People who form cults built around hippie spiritual healing concepts.

Q2: What's worse than silly new age cults?

A2: Silly new age cults that charge money for "energy conversion sessions"

Q3: What's worse than religious/hippie cults ripping people off via bogus new age crap?

A3: Cult leaders who sexually assault little girls.

http://www.theage.com.au/news/national/girls-molested-during-sessions/2006/05/25/1148524807764.html

Guess what happens to child molesters in jail dickhead? Get ready for some "enlightenment" you really aren't going to like.

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You Always Hurt The One You Love

Christian love or S&M fetish? You be the judge. Salon.com is one of my regular reads and they have a feature article on an apparently growing trend among some Christians known as "training up" or more commonly known as corporal punishment. You have to watch an ad to read full articles on the site but I think it's worth it.

Read it here.

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Sometimes it’s the Little Things

While I've spent a bit of time recently getting angry about political issues on the world scale but it's important not to lose touch with the little things that make me angry. Partly because these are the things I have to deal with on a daily basis and partly because the scale of the big world-wide bullshit oftentimes scares the crap out of me. So a lot of the time I'd prefer not to think about the big things.

I feel compelled to tell you today about how pissed off I usually end up after a trip to the supermarket. The angryfying incidents usually start as soon as I get there and don't stop until I leave. The first challenge is, of course, getting a parking space. Apparently everyone in my suburb gets the urge to go shopping at the same time because I have a bastard of a time finding a parking space whenever I go there. That's bad enough but have you ever noticed how the quest for a parking space tends to turn people into psychos?

Honestly, I'm not that aggressive towards other people in real life, despite appearances on this blog. The parking confrontation is bad enough when it's ambiguous who "found" the space first so it's not clear who should back off. But it really drives me crazy when you have been waiting for a car to come out of a space for a while then some nutjob swoops in and wants to fight you for it. And in many cases I mean literally fight. So you're put in a situation where you have to choose between engaging in an aggressive conflict or giving up a space that is rightfully yours by any standards of public decency. It's a fucking car space, not your ancestral homeland – get over it.

I think the car park thing is universal but the next part may be peculiar to me. I may have mentioned before my addiction to a particular caffeine laden fizzy beverage. Of all the variety of colas available there is only one I will drink out of preference. When there is an occasional special at the supermarket on my poison of choice I will attempt to stock up – get a couple of weeks' supply to save money. But the flavour I like is always the first to disappear from the shelves. This is not my imagination or some weird persecution complex. Maybe some of the other things I say are, but this is the simple truth.

My favourite is always, always the first one gone. And no word of exaggeration, at least 2/3 of the time when I go looking for an advertised special THEY DON'T HAVE ANY IN STOCK! The other four variations of the brand will be there in abundance but not mine. This is some bullshit conspiracy and when I track down the people behind it they are in trouble.

It goes beyond fizzy caffeine delivery systems too. There is a particular bread I like. It's thick cut and by some magical process (probably some evil chemical process) when you toast it, it goes crunchy on the outside and stays soft on the inside. It's totally awesome, fully living up to its advertising hype. And it's never in stock when I look for it. The same breadmaker has five other variations and they're always there. It never fails that my favourite is the only one out of stock. And so the whole trip to the supermarket is a waste of time. Yes, the only things I live on are bread and cola.

And then there's the checkouts. I have some insane, bizarre psychic power that enables me to pick the worst of all possible checkout queues to get in. If there are six lines, I'll pick the slowest. If I notice another line moving much faster and move over to it, after I get there it will slow right down and the line I used to be in will start moving faster. So I stay in one line knowing that changing lines is useless but then I see if I had changed to another line I would already be through.

So I've decided those cameras they have everywhere aren't to stop shoplifters. They use them to see me coming so they can get ready to fuck me over.

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Filed under General Angriness, Home Life