Sunday, September 27, 2009

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Failure of Workforce Darwinism

Not too long ago I was in a checkout line at Publix, buying cigarettes. Yes, I am an evil smoker, but to my credit I have been trying repeatedly to quit – I’ll get there soon. Anyway, the cashier looked to me and asked “you still smoke these?” I replied yes, which prompted this woman to decide that it was her duty, her mission in life to inform me that cigarettes were terrible for me. Wow, what a revelation. What would ever I have done without such insight? Sarcasm aside, if the cashier is capable of this type of judgment call, what other judgment calls does she make on a normal basis?

Just a few weeks ago a coworker of mine, Dawn, was in a Starbucks drive-through. Starbucks was having a two-for-one promotion that day, so Dawn decided to take advantage. Once at the window, she was asked for a coupon for the promotion. Dawn was not aware she had to bring it with her, but all parties present were aware of the deal. At this point I understand if it’s necessary for an outlet to submit coupons for redemption, but in this case it was apparently acceptable for Dawn to pull up the online information on her phone and show it to the cashier. Okay, so no physical coupon was necessary. Why then was it necessary for Dawn to prove that she had seen this ad, when all parties present were aware of its existence?

Two days ago, at 4:30pm, I called a group contact and asked about a contact arrival time. It was a day before the event. She mentioned to me almost in passing that the number of attendees had jumped from 151 to 175. She also decided to mention that the balloon arch and deejay would be at the hotel between 9 and 10. A Deejay. Mind you, I have board meetings taking place all around the ballroom this group had rented, so needless to say I was concerned about the noise. More to the point, I was just a little perturbed that she may not have told me any of this had I not called her. I won’t even get into the next morning when the on-site contact decided to go from buffet to plated, added coffee in the morning (that I was told previously was not in their budget) and audio-visual equipment (that I was told they owned). I also won’t talk about the contact’s somewhat snippy reaction when I informed her of the billing changes.

These are just three examples. I cannot be alone in observing a continuation (and in some cases decline) of the quality of goods and services since before the recession. The people in the examples cited have seemingly defied employment redundancy, cheated survival of the fittest. With the current unemployment rate, it’s amazing who actually does still have a job. So then, why do they? Employers have a staggering amount of choice right now, so why choose for less than the very best? It would seem that one of the few good things that could come from an economic downturn would be the increase of quality in good and services. One would think that competition would be at its healthiest. Why does this not seem to be the case right now?

Maybe it’s too difficult for some employers to fire people. It could be that they’re afraid to let go of anyone else while likely running on skeleton crews. Once someone has been let go, there isn’t always a guarantee their position will remain in place. When others take up the slack, and stretch themselves past their limits, some employers take that to mean it’s possible to function without that position in place. Maybe this is where some of the quality has declined.

Then I had to wonder if unions had an impact on this. As much of a Democrat as I am, I strongly feel that workforce unions had their place back in the days of Norma Rae, but those days are long over. Nowadays unions primarily force people into joining them, take their wages, lower the quality of many establishments and wield artificially-inflated political power over many Democrats (and a few Republicans). I then wondered if unions were having an impact on the apparent absence of workforce Darwinism. Below is a list of so-called right-to-work states, which for obvious reasons tend to be less unionized:













North Carolina

North Dakota


South Carolina

South Dakota






I decided to check the unemployment rates by state, and cross reference:

Unemployment Rates for States

Monthly Rankings, Seasonally Adjusted
Aug. 2009
Rank State Rate




4 UTAH 6.0




8 IOWA 6.8





12 KANSAS 7.1

14 HAWAII 7.2






19 TEXAS 8.0



23 ALASKA 8.3

24 MAINE 8.6



27 IDAHO 8.9

28 NEW YORK 9.0


30 ARIZONA 9.1






36 INDIANA 9.9

37 ILLINOIS 10.0

38 GEORGIA 10.2

39 ALABAMA 10.4

40 FLORIDA 10.7


41 OHIO 10.8



44 KENTUCKY 11.1



47 OREGON 12.2


50 NEVADA 13.2

51 MICHIGAN 15.2

As of September 18th, 2009 – source: United States Department of Labor,

According to the Department of Labor then, the national average unemployment rate is 9%. Right-to-work states average 8.27%. Though it’s interesting that RTW states have a lower unemployment rate, I don’t feel it’s significantly lower to the point of drawing any conclusions. (I am interested in the seeming lack of impact on heavily unionized states, but much more research would be needed to draw any conclusions on this as well).

So if union versus non-union, at first glance anyway, seemingly has little impact on the multitude of shining resumes in line for work, and the apparent lowering of quality of goods and services, what is it?

Could it be that cost-cutting has lead to lower wages, the use of cheaper materials and general corner-cutting? The old saying is that if you pay peanuts you get monkeys, but if peanuts are the only available food, would the strongest most able bodies not reach them first?

Could it be that Darwinism is negated by disgruntled workers who function more efficiently and make better judgment calls when not over-worked and deprived of the tools needed to do their jobs? If this is true, then maybe the cream really is rising to the top, and then spoiling.

I’m not saying there aren’t goo workers out there. I’m just wondering why, in a time when so many skilled, well-qualified, experienced workers are willing to anything to just get their foot in the door, Starbucks associates asking to physically see a coupon before offering their promotional goods.

I think more research would be needed, but it seems like I would be dealing with fewer scattered, disorganized individuals if something weren’t amiss.

Me Look Pretty One Day

Good Morning, to all three or four of you who read this. Over the weekend I'm going to try to make this blog a little easier to read - larger font (slightly), relevance archiving, pictures, etc... Until then, thanks for reading! If anybody has any ideas of what they might like to see, let me know!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

In Comfort Zones, On Paper

I just threw away half a ream of paper and it got me thinking.

Why do we still use paper? Give me an example of an application that absolutely, positively requires wood pulp from trees. Surely publishers make bigger returns on digital work, surely money could have gone digital years ago. Are digital copies and backups for files not more reliable and easier to organize? I can think of a hundred means of identification more reliable than a signature. Who writes checks anymore?

I have a co worker who insists that we distribute event information in multiple places throughout the hotel. When information is revised, we distribute more pieces of paper. We have a meeting twice a week that is formatted such that we have to bring stacks and stacks of paper, roughly a ream, to be thrown away after an hour. For each group I host with rooms I distribute coversheets, group resume's, to every manager. And yet, I know mostly they go unread. All this information can be found in our systems. I admit, you can touch, see, hear, smell paper. But it's no more real than compressed data. It's just comfortable.

I'm not saying paper is only for the wasteful and those who missed the computer revolution, (you know who you are), I'm just pointing out the reason people insist on having paper as a "backup" in these situations. It's comfort. It's what they're used to.

I admit to a certian level of comfort in plucking a volume from a bookshelf and thumbing through the pages that trumps scrolling a mouse. But I think that's only because of experience using books - I'm old enough to remember life before Google. But it's unnecessary. A digital copy with a further backup will long outlast a piece of paper.

This is the same comfort zone that leads so many people into a harmful fear of change. Many people insist prayer should be in schools, but it makes no sense to the non-Christians. Are we so caught up in our own comfort zones that we're willing to sacrifice those of others if their belief system differs from ours? Couldn't one argue that this is quintissentially un-American? But then, so many parents grew up with prayer in schools, so constitution be damned. There are those who believe gay marriage is an assault on traditional marriage, but really it's an assault on their perspective on marriage. The Defense-of-Marriagers would rather sacrifice the comfort and happiness of others to remain in their unchanging world.

Many people spend their whole lives in one city, but eventually anything else escapes their comfort zone and they lose out on the perspective gained from travelling. All these things may seem unrelated to that ream of paper I just threw out, but they aren't at all.

Racism, homophobia, xenophobia, sexism, all stem from a fear of change, a fear of anything that contrasts with one's perspective, however narrow or seemingly wide.

One could argue that religion, when taken out of context can be used as the ultimate comfort zone. Ultimate forgiveness, eternal life, and the warmth of routine ingrained in every aspect of our daily lives can seem soothing to some. There's peace in ritual. But if one injects true spirituality and self-questioning into the religious mix, (regardless of the religion), you are catapulted into the wandering place, a place the Christian Bible describes a desert. No trees grow there.

So here we all are, standing at opposing sides of the wandering place, throwing rocks at each other and refusing to budge if someone from another point of view tries to butt their way in. There has to be a middle ground, but we'd all become very unformfortable before we could get there. But maybe we'd be better people for it. Maybe we'd grow a little.

And maybe we'd stop wasting so much damn paper.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Politicians Really Are Human, Even If They're Not Always Recognizable As Such

I'm as weary of hearing and reading about South Carolinian politicians in the news as anybody. This is especially annoying for those of us who call South Carolina home, and more so for those of us who happen to know a few of those who have been raked over the coals these past few months.

First of all, I am a Democrat. Mostly this is for lack of other options, but more than being Democrat I am not a Republican. But after reading the paper this morning, ( I feel the need to chime in here.

Rather than Sanford, I'll start with Rusty Depass, and get this off my chest. ( in case you live in a cave). (And if you do, please send me a map, it sounds like a nice place). Rusty is my sister's Godfather. I am proud, not ashamed of this. However, I have the advantage of having known him, however in passing. My mother on the other hand, is an excellent judge of character, has been a close friend of his, and making him Mandy's Godfather was her choice - an excellent one at that.

Here is a man who is irreverent, who made an offhanded, inappropriate comment in a medium to which he was still getting accustomed. My mother feels a little guilt for nudging him into sticking around on Facebook, but really he should have thought before he typed. That being said, I challenge anybody to think about everything they've ever posted on MySpace, Facebook, their blog, or even typed in a text or email - and ask yourself if you would like for it to be all over the newspapers and on display in news network crawlers.

It was not a smart choice of words. But I'll say this and move on to Sanford: there isn't a racist bone in Rusty Depass's body. The comment wasn't even meant as racist. I doubt Rusty was thinking about the racial connotation when he typed it, but more a rebuttal from an irreverent, humorous individual. And he is humorous. He's got a wonderful sense of humor - but even the best comedians sometimes miss the mark and say things off-color (no pun intended). He is a kind, caring, intelligent man who did not deserve having the riot act read to him on a national stage.

Okay, now Sanford. I will start out by saying that I am not a fan. I never really have been a fan. I don't think I ever will be. I will even confess to a little schadenfreude I experienced over his initial vilification. But now it has been taken too far. An affair is an affair. I admit, he dug his own hole deeper than it had to be, but we cannot judge somebody on acting out of love, however it might have hurt his family. It's not our place, and not our business. We have been treating a state governor like a celebrity on TMZ. Many of us should be ashamed of ourselves. The reason this pushes such a raging hot button with me is the recent growing prevalence of revengist politics (see: Obama Healthcare Plan debacle). Sanford has spent less on private travel than any South Carolina governor in recent memory, and yet this is what they're using against him. Sanford disrupted the good ol' boy network, and now the network is retaliating. Sanford, in the beginning, went against the grain of traditional South Carolina politics, and many hated him for it. He later made some choices that I believe were designed solely to place him on the GOP map to the presidency, (simultaneously ignoring the needs of many South Carolinians), but that pipe dream has been long forgotten.

Sanford is human. He made a very human mistake. So why is it that when politicians appear inhuman, out of touch with the common person, we move away from them, and when they act in accordance with human nature, we attack? I'm not saying it's human to cheat on our spouses, but it is human to make mistakes, however serious. Had Sanford not rocked the boat, this would have been at least partially swept under the rug by now, or at least out of the headlines. It's revengist politics, plain and simple. I read somewhere once that revenge is for children and the emotionally retarded. I'll leave it at that.

Lastly, Joe "You Lie" Wilson. Okay, I have to admit, I have fewer weapons of defense in my arsenal when it comes to this NRA worshiper. But, many in my life have known him well enough to know that this was extraordinarily out of character for him. Typically he will go where the votes are, and an argument can be made for him truly representing his constituency, but depending on who you are, you might think I'm being too kind.

I believe though, that he was speaking for those he represents. Though I wholeheartedly disagree with him, and am appalled that he used Obama's supposed intent to cover illegal immigrants in his healthcare plan (in itself a fabrication likely designed by health insurance companies and their lobbyists - more on that later), to make a "stand", I get the impression he was expecting rally cries to follow his blatant disregard for the president, who had the floor at the time. He was perpetuating more myths about Obama's "plan" (that I may point out has not even fully formed as of now),  but he was doing it out of a perceived solidarity with his ilk. I say perceived, as most politicians will turn to vultures to remove a political carcass for the greater good of the party - especially if it will enhance their own career. This, unfortunately holds true on both sides of the isle.

Okay, so what's my defense? Once again, he's human. He made a human miscalculation, an error in judgement at the wrong time, in the wrong place. Politically I could not be farther from Joe Wilson without coming back around to the right from the extreme left. I agree with very few of his votes. But he is a human being.

Let's see if I'm as proned to defend him during the next campaign. I have a feeling it will get a little too human for any of us.

So ends my rant.



I thought I might post a brief bio, a 'my life in a nutshell' to get this blog going. At best you might have a better understanding of where I'm coming from, at worse you'll move on to something more interesting. Here we go.

I say that I'm from South Carolina, but I can't really be more specific than that. Trying to find my hometown is like standing on the south pole and looking for South. You seem to be at your destination, but you can't really seem to find it on your compass. I guess you could say I'm from West Columbi-ish. But that's about as accurate as I can get.

I was actually born in Florence, South Carolina, a dot on a map of South Carolina near Myrtle Beach, not really known for anything, other than maybe a place to pass on the way to Myrtle Beach. It was the town my Mom and biological Dad (hereafter referred to as BioDad) were seemingly exiled for a few years by the family business. My sister and I were both born there, but I have little to no memories of it, since we moved to Cayce (near West Columbia) when I was about a year old. Then my parents got divorced, and we moved to another part of Cayce. Then we moved to Springdale (near West Columbia) and later to West Columbia, where we moved a couple more times. It's possible my wanderlust has emerged more from force of habit than anything else, but who's to say? However I never felt at home in West Columbia. I'm reluctant to this day to call it a home town.

I spent about 18 years in West Columbia, desperately trying to formulate a plan to get as far away from South Carolina as geographically possible. It may be that this is where my interesting habit of changing my life plan (hereafter referred to as the LP - an inside joke to all those current and recovering Marriott Associates out there) every six months or so.

Anyway, at about the age of 19, after having tried college once (it didn't take) and around that time joining AmeriCorps (which sort of took) my parents and sister moved to Summerville, SC and I moved to downtown Columbia.  There I lived with Sam, who is perhaps the best friend I have ever had, if for no other reason than the fact that she knew me during one of the lowest points of my life, when I was perhaps at my most difficult to be around, and she's still there. It helps that she's one of the most creative, compassionate and  wise people I have ever known. (Sam, along with Maria and Yarnell, hold a very high bar for the definition of friendship).

I eventually moved to another part of the same building, then to a house at the other side of Columbia, where I finally found my way out. My parents had decided to help me get to England, to study Hospitality and Culinary Arts, (as sort of a default I think, since I was always finding myself in kitchens, bars, or waiting tables). I got to England and spent the next six months trying to come back to South Carolina. But after that initial period, it really took. I made some wonderful friends, met some amazing people, and worked at what is to this day the most fun job I have ever had. I've always felt at home on water, so crewing boats and guiding tours on the River Thames, walking through Eton and Windsor every day, and not even thinking about the fact that I was working 16+ hours, six days a week, did not phase me. It didn't feel like a job, it was just what I did. The pay was terrible, but I had a fantastic time. I learned to cook, did lots of coursework in various aspects of hospitality, but when the time came for me to return to South Carolina, I tried to put on the breaks. I spent the first six months back in the US trying to find a way back to the UK.

Then I fell in love with Charleston, which is where I returned - I have not lived in, and have rarely visited, Columbia since, other than to see Sam. I was enamored with Charleston almost immediately, and still am. I'll dwell on it in another posting some day. Anyway, during my five or six years in Charleston, I worked as a concierge, bartender, night auditor, banquet server, front desk agent, restaurant host, and gatekeeper - and that was at my first job back here, all within a year. Later I was (briefly a kitchen manager at a fried seafood place - that lasted three weeks), a restaurant manager for an Italian steakhouse in Mount Pleasant, working for New York Italians - quite an experience - a staffing manager for a temp service, and eventually landed at Marriott, at the Renaissance Charleston. Here I found myself once again wearing lots of hats - sales assistant, front desk, banquet captain, night audit, room service, restaurant supervision, and even covered a few shifts for my room mate in housekeeping.

But the wanderlust hit again, only this time it was egged on. I was living with a bona-fide frienemy who, when I mentioned the idea of posting for work at a Marriott in another city, told me I never would, since I was too afraid to leave Charleston. It was pretty much all the nudge I needed. I posted for two jobs, one in Atlanta, the other near DC, in Tysons Corner. I got a promotion and moved to Arlington, VA. I loved DC - I would live there again. But after a year, hating the hotel I was in, discovering I was screwed out of my salary, and simultaneously falling in love with a Rhode Islander, I found a job in Providence. I moved there, got a house with Eric, and got promoted again at a property that truly tested my patience and expanded my ability to feel regret for ever having walked through the doors of any hotel.

But, I was happy. I was with the love of my life. Though I was trying to convince him, and eventually was successful, to look to moving back to Charleston, I was still happy in our house. We made a nice home for ourselves, and no matter what happened at work, Eric could always make me feel better at the end of the day. I love him more than I could ever say with a keyboard, but I don't think he can relate to my restlessness. I've called a running total of 26 addresses my home, and have held roughly 30 jobs - many of them simultaneously, (a note to any future employers, I average about two to three years' longevity nowadays), and I think Eric has lived in about five places, and had about that many jobs. But we were happy together in our house on Wheeler Avenue in Cranston. We were carving out a pretty nice life.

But then my Dad (not BioDad) was diagnosed with a brain tumor. I moved home, and at first took a job in Savannah, but my priorities were with my family, not to a job that wanted me there 24/7. I was trying to find work at first, thinking I could find something and Eric would come down and find something, and we'd finally be in the one place in the world I've been less reluctant to call home. But Dad's condition declined quickly, and I needed to be in Summerville, helping my Mom take care of him and engaging in group therapy over a bottle of wine every night. Family from Arkansas, England, Australia, all came in to help and just be here.

Dad passed in April, and since then my LP has been changing more rapidly than ever. I think that I need a destination just to keep going, even if that destination changes continually - as long as one is there, I have somewhere to point the wheel and a reason to press the gas pedal. I never knew grief could be so tangible, so physically jarring, such a jolt to the psyche that your entire personality and way of viewing life simply shifts.

I got a job in Greenville shortly after Dad passed.  I live there now, spending weekends in Summerville playing trivia with Mom and her friend Sherry, (to say I was addicted to trivia is saying that Mother Theresa had a generous streak) and generally missing Rhode Island. Especially Eric. I think about him every day, several times a day. He;s the first thing I think about when I get up and the last person in my mind's eye before I fall asleep.

The current LP is to work through a commitment I have in Greenville, which looks to be about November, then head home to Rhode Island. Calling Rhode Island home isn't so difficult either, but I think that it's because Eric is there. I'm currently researching grant programs to return to school in the Spring. I'm narrowing the choices, but I've always been interested in history and political science. Truly though, what I decide to do will hinge on finding a balance between what I can find a grant for and what would hold my interest for more than five minutes at a time.

So that's me in a nutshell. I don't plan for this to become an online diary as much as a place to vent my views and hopefully have a few debates. Cross your fingers that this school thing pans out. There's nothing wrong with a career in hospitality, so long as you find fulfillment in it, and frankly I'm bored. It's challenging, sure, but I feel like I can make a bigger, better contribution to this world with more education and training. Hospitality simply no longer fits into my LP. I'm not the same person I was prior to the events of April, but maybe I've just now begun to realize what's really important.

Cross your fingers for me, and say a little prayer to whatever deity you think might bestow some fortune.

Thanks for listening!