Category: Miscellaneous

Just like Helsinki

When Trump first trotted out his hypothesis that logging would have somehow saved the large swaths of construction from forest fires, I rolled my eyes and thought back to his campaign touted secret plan to defeat ISIL … which turned out to be consulting Generals. Which, as far as a military tactic goes is, worked about as well as all of the previous approaches (which, I suppose in his head, did not include this brilliant consulting step). Logging — which generally takes the big solid part of the tree (a.k.a. the trunk) and leaves behind all of the little bits (twigs, branches, leaves, underbrush) seems more apt to promote conflagrations — all of those little twigs, branches, leaves, and whatnot lay around, dry up … insta-kindling.

But yesterday’s proclamation that we’d be fine if we were only cleaning up the forest floor like Finland really bothers me. Not because of the obvious climate differences between a country averaging 27″ of rain (and I believe had an above average precipitation total last year) and an area that got, what, not quite 5″ in the last July-June season? Or the twenty or thirty degree temperature difference. But because of the absolute ignorance of international news. This is the sort of thing people at the White House get paid to keep track of. Finland had an unusual number of fires this last yearSweden too.

Why *I* Didn’t Report

I tried to report, but I could not get anyone to TAKE my report. When I was in University, I had an undergrad assistant-ship. One of my responsibilities was overseeing work-study students who helped out in a computer lab. General management stuff – scheduling, sorting out coverage when someone couldn’t make their shift, determining when the lab was available to students, approving time cards. One kid falsified his time card — he’d clock in, leave, and come back a few hours later to clock out. Not making a shift wouldn’t be a problem, I dealt with that quite regularly and generally covered shifts myself if I couldn’t find someone looking to pick up a few extra hours. But asking to get paid for not working was unreasonable (also a crime. It wasn’t just defrauding the University, it was defrauding the Federal Work Study Program). My mental parade of horrors went something like this: chap gets charged with fraud, loses work-study funding, has to leave school, entire life is ruined over a stupid thing he’s done as a 19 year old kid. I wanted to help the guy, so I decided to be in my office before he clocked in. Check the lab every fifteen minutes or so and confirm that he didn’t just step out for a minute. Leave a note on his time card to see me in my office. And TALK to him about it — I know what you’re doing, it’s not right nor is it legal, and there are real ramifications if you persist and I have to report you. The kid was a big guy. Over six foot tall, built like a footballer. I asked a friend of mine to hang out in my office with me.

A few hours later, and I had evidence the dude was falsifying his time card: he came back to punch out. And came into my office as requested — all innocent-like with no idea what I could possibly have wanted to discuss. My friend, unfortunately, had gotten bored and decided to ring her sister about ten minutes before his shift was over.

My office had been a dark room — an important thing, when developing negatives, is to avoid exposure to light. Darkrooms have two rooms — open the first door, enter into the antechamber, kick on the red lights, close the outer door, then open the door to the processing room. I used the antechamber as a storage area, but there were tables and chairs out there too. The inner room was my actual office – desk, chairs, coffee maker. My friend took her call out to the antechamber because my discussion with the work-study student was going to interrupt her call. And closed the door.

So here I am, in a closed room, alone with the guy (a) that intimidated me and (b) with whom I had to have an unpleasant conversation. I explain that we’ve been checking the lab every few minutes and know that he never actually worked his shift. He could call it an emergency and say he came back to cross out the “in” time now that the emergency was sorted. Or he could clock out, and I’d have to report the fraud to administration.

He proceeded to sit on me and kiss me. I could not get up. I was stuck in a rolling office chair, where attempts to push with my feet just scooted the chair around the tile floor. I wasn’t a terribly weak girl, I could bench about 30 kg which was about average for my size. But there was no shoving this guy off of the chair. I was terrified, and in my mind a little angry that my friend — who really only needed to be there for like the last half hour of the guy’s shift — had decided to stay for the full three hours and didn’t care enough to actually help me during the period of time I actually wanted help. I was kissed and groped at for minutes before I was able to injure the guy enough that he fell off the chair. And I ran out to the antechamber. The guy was furious, but he wasn’t going to do anything with my friend standing right there, or with the antechamber door opened to the hallway. He stormed off.

But I was still terrified. I rang the police — even leaving aside sexual component of the assault, false imprisonment is a crime. Assault is a crime. I reported. And was directed to campus security because, for the price of a few new police cruisers and other “support” … evidently the city police do not respond to on campus crimes. Noise complaint, ring campus security. A flaming sofa out in the public street, ring campus security (although the fire department will eventually respond). Some kid assaults you and prevents you from leaving a room, ring campus security.

Well, you know what campus security has to say about sexual assault? There’s no evidence, I have no witness, it’s he said/she said. And it’s important that we be able to tell prospective freshman about the low level of on-campus crime. Including the zero rate of sexual crimes. So in addition to abject terror, humiliation, and eeeeewwwwww that I felt, I got to add in a heap of betrayal because, about a year ago, I was one of those prospective freshman getting the sales pitch. I remember hearing about the zero on-campus sex crime stat and wondering how that was possible. The students were still kids. You could find a keg party any night of the week. And whilst neither youth nor inebriation exonerate criminal action … they are certainly factors that contribute to it.

I told several friends — primarily because I did not ever want to be left alone with the guy, and I needed them to understand why. I’m telling the Internet 23 years later because of Trump’s comments about Dr. Ford not reporting. There are millions of different reasons assault victims haven’t reported the crime. None of those reasons mean the attack didn’t happen. None of those reasons mean the attack was anything other than horrifying. And sure I managed to move on. But I will never forget how the guy looked, or smelled, or the feeling of being restrained and assaulted.

So, Trump, #WhyIDidn’tReport … why I don’t have a police report to back up my assault is that the University paid off local law enforcement to ignore on-campus crime, and campus security had a vested interest in maintaining low crime stats. Doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, just means that the so-called justice system fails a lot of people. And, hey, isn’t that the sort of thing a the head of the Executive branch should be fixing?

 

There is a difference

Today it is Jr’s “harassment” note, decades ago it was the assertion that “harassment is an ugly guy trying to get some”, but the fact remains that *harassment* there is a whole spectrum of harassment. Some dude whipping it out on the lunch queue, that’s blatantly obvious harassment without me specifically asking the individual to keep their genitalia covered. But harassment can be subtler too. The harassment I experienced frequently at work (twenty years ago) was the kind that became harassment when the guy refused to stop. A coworker asking me on a date is not harassment; a fellow student asking me to go to a dance is not harassment. Asking a dozen times *IS* harassment. Grabbing at my person and telling me how much I’ll enjoy the date *IS* harassment. And throwing them down on a bed, and attempting to disrobe them whilst covering their mouth … that’s not just harassment, that’s assault. And battery. And likely false imprisonment.

History Without Context

There’s a challenge in teaching history to young people — whilst it is not good to proceed through life ignorant of what has come before you, there are facets of history that are simply incomprehensible to a five year old kid. Explaining why some people are afraid of the police, describing the point of the military … it is a snarl of sociological and political facts, individual experiences … there’s a good and a bad side, but it is difficult to understand points of view without the entire history that created that point of view (a bit like coupling Zinn’s People’s History with Johnson’s History of the American People and calling that a balanced history lesson). I used to advocate for the inclusion of fictional works in University history classes — while the story itself may not be true, fictional works provide a picture into the reality of the time. History provides a context for books, and books provide a context for history. Arthur Miller was not randomly enamored with the Salem witch hunts.

Sadly, Anya’s teacher has begun down the path of history without context. Today (why not yesterday!?!) she taught the kids that “bad people” crashed planes into buildings in DC and NYC, as well as PA. Which left me to try explaining that it’s not like half a dozen people woke up one morning and thought it might be a lark to try flying an aeroplane … only to find it wasn’t as easy as it looks on TV. It was an organized group executing a plan. It was also a group organized partially because of terrible things done across the globe. A cause can be just without justifying any action taken in support of the cause. The validity of a cause doesn’t make the action right any more than “he hit me first” makes slugging your brother right.

A lot of nation-states, countries, and people have done a lot of terrible things to one another in the name of just causes … the events of which the teacher spoke is an egregious example.

Did you know … Sub-addressing

Sometimes you need to provide your company e-mail address – registering for a conference or training class, signing up for an industry newsletter. Unfortunately, this can lead to an inundation of unwanted mail.

Exchange Online supports something called “sub-addressing” (so does Gmail … and you can test your email service’s support of this feature by sending yourself a message from some other source. If it gets delivered, you’re good. If not … bummer!). Sub-addressing allows you to slightly modify your e-mail address to customize it for every situation – between your last name and the ‘@’ symbol, put a plus and then some unique text. It will look like Your.N.Ame+SomeIdentifier@domain.ccTLD instead of Your.N.Ame@domain.ccTLD.

When signing up for a Microsoft newsletter, I can tell them my e-mail address is Lisa.Rushworth+MicrosoftSecuritySlate@domain.ccTLD … and messages to that address will still be delivered to me. When I sign up for the NANPA code administration newsletter, I can tell them my e-mail address is Lisa.Rushworth+NANPACodeAdmin@domain.ccTLD.

Should you start receiving unwanted solicitations to the sub-address, you can then create a rule to delete messages sent to that address.

You can also alert the person to whom you provided the address that their contact list may have been compromised … although my luck with that hasn’t been particularly good. Most companies deny any possibility that they might be the source of disclosure. Even when the address disclosed is Me+YourCompanyNameHere@… because that is something someone randomly generated. Sigh!

Just say the word

It worries me — the did he / didn’t he “say the n word” question once again surrounding Trump. Not because I think he did or did not use the term, but because the discussion is meaningless. Trump will deny saying it — hell, he denies writing things that are archived in his Twitter account. He denies saying things that even when told there is a publicly available recording of him saying it. The racists among his supporters will see a wink with that denial. Some willfully blind supports will believe the denial. Opponents will assume the tape exists. Whatever.

Words are powerful, but not in the way this debate seems to imply. Not saying a specific word does not magically cure the social, political, and economic problems in this country any more than having a president say radical Islamic terrorism magically solved the real social, political, and economic problems that lead to terrorist attacks.

But what makes a single word the arbiter of racism? I had a physical education instructor who was sexist. The fact he called every girl in his class “chick” didn’t make him sexist. His belief that we were less capable because of our gender, that our time in physical education would best be spent sitting on the bleachers fixing up our nails, that we did not have the mental capacity to be taught. That made him racist. Had the man respectfully called me by my proper name every single time … he would still have been a sexist asshole who had no business teaching school children.

Someone who made his political name demanding a president show him some ID, who knowingly called Mexican emigrants a bunch of rapists, who thinks shutting down Mosques bears consideration, who refers to hut-dwellers from shit-hole countries … words are powerful, but refraining from uttering a specific word does not negate his racism. Maybe the dude was not a racist (discrimination against tenants and such says otherwise, but just pretend). Maybe Trump’s political persona is a role he’s playing. Willing injuring others by inciting racist violence. Scapegoating others for serious economic problems. Fomenting a social environment where racist actions are acceptable. Maybe that’s not racist. It’s still horrendous behavior.

Show Respect

All NFL Players ‘Shall Stand And Show Respect’ For Flag And Anthem – Wow! I wish I was an avid football viewer so *not* watching football would be a state change. Hopefully being permitted to stay in the locker room enables players to make their point. If two guys on a team of, what, fifty people aren’t on the sideline you’d never notice. Half only emerge once the anthem is over? That makes a statement too. And someone’s camera would end up in the locker room to cover the protest. Any takers on how long it is before players aren’t permitted to stay off the field after that protest makes news?

‘Show respect’ is a ill defined term too. I assume this is so you don’t have guys standing backwards, but how is hanging back in the locker room playing candy crush *more* respectful than kneeling during the anthem? And for the guys on the field, some dude who was kneeling last season is a little slouchy in his stance, the team still gets fined to avoid a presidential tantrum?

The whole idea of being forced to stand for the anthem seems anathema to the ideals of our country, even if the long history of private employment shows we can be forced into just about anything if we want to continue receiving a pay cheque. The same could be said for being forced to stand and pledge allegiance to the country 180 days a year for thirteen years. Or more – I was rather dismayed to learn that my daughter’s preschool class was taught the pledge of allegiance so they could recite it at their graduation ceremony. Now I’ve got a bit of an Anabaptist philosophy – I don’t much see the point in having someone repeat words or go through a ceremony without *understanding* what they are doing. I avoided children’s clothing with words on it – overkill, yeah, but a six month old baby doesn’t *mean* to say “I just did 9 months on the inside”, “Grandma’s Drinking Buddy”, or make a boob joke, no matter how many people find the messages cute or silly. Until she knew and understood what the shirt said, she got shirts with pictures. Or patterns. Or plain colours. So I asked my kid if the teacher explained what allegiance *is*, or even explained any of the historic principals of the United States. Of course not; they were just given words to recite. Now we’ve had some discussion of the country’s principals and failings – she votes with me two times a year (primaries and general, this is not some admission of voter fraud), we’ve discussed how to affect local, state, and federal laws (and the diminishing influence an individual has as you move from local to state to federal government). But the principals of the Republic for which the flag stands is pretty abstract to convey to a preschooler. And pledging allegiance to a flag? The essence of a nation is not bound up in its cloth banner.

Forced recitations of pledges and vows do nothing to impart knowledge, develop skills, or promote good citizenship. As an intimidation technique, forced declaration of faith and loyalty are not new, although they are generally the hallmark of an insecure society. People do not become more patriotic through such declarations, but being subject to coercion can have the opposite effect.

Sitting is the New Smoking

Some company official posted an internal article titled “Sitting is the New Smoking” to tell us all how bad sitting for prolonged periods of time can be for your health. While they make suggestions for using your break to do some exercises or suggest cube-exercises … frankly, they’ve designed a job that requires sitting for prolonged periods of time.

Some people have standing desks. Not all. Not most. My understanding is these things were purchased as accommodative equipment the company had to purchase based on medical need. If sitting is as bad for your health as smoking, did the company not just publish its own statement of medical need to support widespread purchase of standing desks?

Beyond near-term costs, though, the assertion brought to mind the Black Lung Benefits Act from nearly two decades ago. While mine operators may have been able to reduce exposure to coal dust, some level of exposure to coal is requisite in mining the stuff. A generally unavoidable environment based on the work being done caused a major medical problem that led to disability and death, and companies ended up shelling out disability payments and survivor benefits. It wasn’t quite the least they could possibly do to quell public outcry, but there are a lot of *’s on qualifying that let reasonable requests be denied or pushed off for years without retroactive payments. Even so, the payout is like eight grand a year per afflicted miner. And there are like 30k recipients (and something like 5k dependents, which can drastically increase the annual payout). That’s minimum two hundred forty million bucks in 2017. And it’s a LOT less now than a decade ago. There are nuances to determining the payer, but it is generally the mine operator most recently employing an affected individual. A significant portion of this money has been payed by mine operators.

Sitting at work is different from exposure to coal whilst mining coal. There’s no reason most jobs require sitting for hours on end. Historically there’s a component of elitism — a hundred plus years ago, low paying jobs were physically intensive, and it was a bit of an elite thing to be able to sit at work. Now the sign of affluence is a few spare hours a week to exercise, and sitting is just a norm no one has sought to change. If a company is aware of how bad sitting is for its employees, seems like said company would have a better defense against liability if they actively attempt to re-design their workplaces and jobs to avoid sitting. Sending out a mass mail telling you how bad something is or having a webinar to tell you how bad it is … but generally employing people to sit for hours at a time isn’t much in the way of due diligence. Routinely deploying standing desks, even in training classrooms, would reduce mandatory sitting among call centre staff. Walking meetings for one-on-one or small group sessions.

 

Those who do not know history …

Those who do not know history compound errors by using phrases with loaded meanings or abysmal histories. As the World Meteorological Organization’s Hurricane Committee retires names so no one has another Katrina approaching them, I assumed politicians would retire phrases which haunt their predecessors. Then there’s this guy:

With a narrowly defined ‘mission’, sure it’s true. But GW stood in front of someone else’s sign and “mission accomplished” still hasn’t escaped the new connotative meaning.