Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Tale of Two Bosses

The School of Hard Knocks

In college they taught me about management science, production flow, systems analysis and labor unions. But they never really taught any of us about the psychology of management and how to deal with management failure. I suppose it was assumed that if you worked for an idiot, you would simply seek to change jobs. Sometimes, that is easier said than done, and the end result is that we all end up stuck with some real losers for a long, long time.

My realization and recollection of what makes a good manager has changed over the years. Way back in my teens, it was usually a happy go lucky peer that was my equal, fun to hang around and we all did pretty simple tasks which we were all competent at. That all changed when I entered the real job market and realized that there wasn't a system to weed out the folks that snuck their way into positions of authority when no one was looking.

Back in 1985, I had a job at an insurance company called "Statewide Insurance". They specialized in non-standard auto policies, which is a politically correct way of saying 'high risk drivers'. The claims manager at this company was named "Jim". Jim was probably in a his 60s, wore an awful looking toupee and ran the claims department with an iron fist. He expected good job performance, and if you slipped up or made a mistake, there was hell to pay. More than once, every claims adjuster was reprimanded in his glass office where all the other employees could hear and see the verbal beating. You didn't mess with Jim and you sure as hell didn't screw things up on the job. While I respected Jim, I never much cared for him as a person. It was sort of like walking on pins and needles when you were around him.

I eventually left Statewide Insurance to go to work for J.C. Penny Insurance which was bought out by Metropolitan Property and Casualty Insurance about 3 months after I started. This was a great lesson in corporate culture. When one insurance company purchases another insurance company, they don't want the company infrastructure, they want the 'book of business'. They want the income generating aspect, but they don't want the buildings, salaries and pensions of the previous company. The manager of the claims office at J.C. Penny knew this and jumped ship as soon as the sale was complete.

This opened the door for "Alice", the assistant manager to move up into the number once spot. Now, Metropolitan wasn't really interested in how this office ran. So they did not care if Alice was qualified and were not interested in interviewing for a new manager. They just let Alice take over the reins. Alice was always a nice and friendly person, very jovial and caring. But when she became Manger, she disappeared. Literally. Once she got the top job, she would come into work around on the phone for about an hour (to her family back east), go to lunch at 11:30am, return around 1:00pm and leave for the day around 2:30pm.

While she was in the office she refused to read any of her mail, e-mail or authorize any settlements to claimants. This went on for almost three months, with plaintiff attorneys threatening to sue because we would not make counter-offers or settle any claims. After three months under the 'Met Umbrella' the word came down from Metropolitan that they were closing our office and moving the book of business to their regional office in Sacramento.

Since insurance companies don't want to move more paper than they have to, much less assign new claims adjusters to read the files and become familiar with them, we were instructed to close every file we could, by 'any means' we could (which meant pay the claimants anything within reason to close the file). This type of situation is a windfall for claimants and their attorneys, but not in our case. Because Alice still wouldn't authorize any settlements over our $2,000 individual settlement authority.

It appears that Alice had a phobia about making bad decisions so she didn't make any decisions at all. She had the mindset that she couldn't be held responsible for decisions she had not made.

This got to the critical phase when the office was slated to close within a month and we still had a boatload of cases with demand packages from attorneys to settle, but no Alice. So I called up Sacramento and asked what I should do. The regional claims managers told me to forget about Alice's authority, just close the damn cases up to the policy limits which was $40,000. Which I started doing, but without Alice's approval.

After the office closed and we all went our separate ways, I heard through the grape vine that Alice had sued Metropolitan for workers comp and misrepresentation of some sort. Didn't really surprise me. Alice had no real interest in working, she just wanted a gravy train to ride.

So here I sit 25 years later and as I think back to those times, I have a much different recollection of Jim. He wasn't so bad after all. At least he got things done and you always knew where you stood with him. I learned from Alice that the worst managers are the ones that never show up and the one that never make any decisions.

I sort of wish I was still working for Jim. It turns out that there are a lot more Alices in the world than I realized.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Essential Cinema - 47


Joan Crawford ... Louise Howell
Van Heflin ... David Sutton
Raymond Massey ... Dean Graham
Geraldine Brooks ... Carol Graham
Stanley Ridges ... Dr. Willard

Curtis Bernhardt

Silvia Richards (screenplay) and
Ranald MacDougall (screenplay)

Joseph A. Valentine

An emotionally empty woman's slow descent into madness.

How people act and how they relate to others isn't an instantaneous thing, it develops slowly over time.

I came across this LaserDisc while shopping in a thrift store with my wife. LaserDiscs are sometimes tucked in with the old vinyl record albums and you have to hunt for them. This looked like a real treasure. Joan Crawfod in a 1947 film noir classic and it is in really good shape. The wife and I watched it that evening and we were pleasantly surprised at how good a film it is.

First of all, this is the first film that Joan Crawford did after making "Mildred Peirce", the role for which she won her best actress Oscar. So there were high expectations for this film. Watching it today, the film walks a fine line between being a bit campy and a little on the scary side. I don't know if it is intentional or not, but Joan comes across as being a bit crazy in this role. Looking back through the window of "Mommie Dearest" and "What Ever Happened to Baby Jaine?", you can sort of see where her whole persona as a really messed up person may have started.

The marketing and liner notes for this film lead the viewer to believe that Joan's character is some sort of crazed stalker that hunts down her lover (Heflin) who has spurned her. However, once you start watching the film, you quickly realize that is not the case at all. The ad campaign by the studio was meant to be much more scandalous than the actual content of the film. The reality is that Joan's character, Louise Howell, has schizophrenia which slowly manifests itself over her lifetime, to the point where she goes totally insane at the end of the picture. It is probably one of the first Hollywood attempts at psychological drama based on modern psycho-analysis, since most of the story is told in flashback as her doctor attempts to unravel what has lead Louise Howell to the psycho ward.

The film is shot in classic film noir style, with high contrast black and white imagery, every room has the shadows of venetian blinds on the walls, dark spiral staircases and Joan dressed to the nine's with broad shoulder pads and tight fitting dresses. For me, half the fun of watching these films, is looking at the shadows cast in the scenes and trying to figure out where all the light sources are. I often refer to these types of films as the Caucasian fantasy films of the 1940s and 1950s. The characters are extremely wealthy, they always have servants, they go to a lot of cocktail parties and they live in multiple houses in gorgeous locations. There isn't an Hispanic, Asian or African American in sight.

When viewed in the context of when it was created, I don't see a lot of cons in this film. Although, the relationship between Louise Howell and her husband, Dean Graham (Raymond Massey) seems a bit of a stretch. She obviously doesn't really love the guy, and why he sticks by her, even at the end, either shows him to be the most devoted man on earth or a real idiot. Again, the viewer will have to decide. this work is a great walk down memory lane and a peek at some classic acting and cinematography.

Click the Film Title Graphic or here to watch the trailer for this film on YouTube.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which is located on the LaserDisc Database.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for this film. The listing of all the LaserDiscs that I have reviewed on IMDB can be found here.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Future As Farse

Faster / Stronger / Better ?

I was walking down the hallway at work yesterday when I passed a cart laden with boxes of paper. On top of one of the piles was a CD-ROM laying exposed without a cover or case.

I sort of smirked to myself, thinking "What a security breach". I had no idea what was on the CD, but knew it could be volumes and volumes of almost anything. The complete Encyclopedia Britannica, Plans for a Nuclear Device, the racy honeymoon photos of one of my co-workers. The possibilities were endless.

Technology has progressed so fast in the past 20 years that it has leap-frogged most people's ability to comprehend the change.

When I go into Walgreen's Drug Store to browse the 'old folks aisle', where they have solutions for ailments that you never knew existed as a young adult, I always swing by the battery wall, to see how much the cost of SD-Cards has dropped. SD-Cards are the little plastic chips that fit into computers and digital cameras that can store data.

About 6 years ago, a 128K SD-Card ran about $80. Today a 4Gig SD-Card runs about $30. That would be a 300% increase in capacity for a third the original cost. Never mind that the little SD-Card (they are about the size of your thumbnail) can hold 4 CD-ROMs and that the 32 Gigabyte SD-Card (that would hold 36 CD-Roms) is on the horizon.

These changes are happening so fast, that no one really notices anymore.

While browsing my favorite websites this morning with my cup of coffee (we used to read the 'paper' but that is so analog these days). I came across this little story tucked inside a sarcastic tech blog I read called "Geekologie". It is about a new carbon material called "Graphene". I suppose this is another take off on the carbon components known as Nano-tubes that I read about last year. To quote from the article:

"It is the thinnest known material in the universe, and the strongest ever measured. Like diamond, graphene is pure carbon. It forms a six-sided mesh of atoms that, through an electron microscope, looks like a honeycomb or piece of chicken wire. Despite its strength, it's as flexible as plastic wrap and can be bent, folded or rolled up like a scroll."

Now I am sure that the pitfall of "Graphene" at this point is that it is super expensive to make, much less make in large quantities. But then again, so were 128K SD-Cards 6 years ago.

The potential of something like "Graphene" are endless. High tension wires that can transmit power and communication and never break or sag. Automobiles that are crash resistant and weigh less than $500. A trendy work shirt that can double as body armor.

In his science fiction masterpiece "RingWorld", author Larry Niven hinted at something like 'Graphene'. It was a thread no thicker than a human hair and it was unbreakable. Tied between two stones, it could be hurled at an opponent and instantly decapitate them. Science Fiction...gotta love it.

My point here is that I hear about this on a Nerd Blog that also features see-through bikinis and new ways to improve the performance or your 1978 Nintendo NES system. It isn't real mainstream news on CBS and CNN anymore.

Technology is just 'there' and it is changing our lives without any real forethought of how it works, or if it is a really good idea in the societal sense.

Twitter is a great concept for global consciousness and communication, but do we really want adolescents using it as a cheap form of psycho-therapy while also giving predators the ability to stalk our children? Creating technology comes with responsibility. That concept seems to be lost in the modern world.

Even though I try and keep up with what is going on and coming down the pike, I realize that my grandson's world will be so far different than mine, that I won't even be able to comprehend it when he is my age.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

First Prejudice

He Isn't One Of Us

Since I am a member of the Caucasian Anglo-Saxon race, being discriminated against was never something that was a big deal when I was growing up. We were the ones that were always taught by our parents to be tolerant and not look down or act differently toward others. the only contact I ever had with prejudice or racism was from the other children in grade school who didn't like that my father was a higher rank than theirs, or the occasional racial explicative uttered by the children who didn't have 'good' parents.

There wasn't anything in my racial or ethnic background that was going to hinder me. After all, I was a white man in a white man's country. The sky was the limit. At least that is what I thought.

I grew up in a very guarded and controlled world as we moved from one military base to another. It was all "Father Knows Best" and the "Brady Bunch", whether you liked it or not. So when I eventually flew the nest and went to college there were some surprises in store.

I went to college at Oregon State University (OSU). It was an angelic little place, in a small town nestled in the Willamette Valley, between the Cascade Mountains and the Oregon Coast Range. The school and town could have been drawn by Norman Rockwell. But school, by it's very nature, is a learning process and what I learned at OSU was mostly in the realm of social interaction and not from books or professors.

Oregon State was mostly populated with kids from Portland and some from Eugene. Many of these youngsters had never left home before, much less left the state. Their idea of being worldly was the trip they took to Disneyland in 1966. So I found it rather odd, while attending many a college party, that I got asked the same questions over and over.

1) What part of town (Portland) do you live in?
2) What high school (in Portland) did you attend?
3) What does your father do for a living and where does he work?

I got asked these questions repeatedly during my first year in college and it finally dawned on me why they kept coming up. These kids from Portland were trying to pigeon hole me into a category that they could understand. Finding out where you lived denoted your economic class in their world. Was I from the elite part of town or from the trailer park on the south side of the railroad tracks.

The school I would have attended was another form of categorizing, since some schools were considered 'cooler' than others and there were lots of scholastic rivalries in Portland. You didn't want to leave town and start associating with folks that were your previous rival.

Finally, where your father worked denoted economic class, a certain amount of clout (lawyer, CEO, architect) and also whether or not your parents were divorced. Living with your divorced mother who was a secretary wasn't the same as living with your married Aerospace Engineer daddy and his blond trophy wife.

These three things pretty much summed up the type of person you were and whether or not the person asking the questions wanted to associate with you. They were a sort of test to determine if you were cool enough and acceptable enough and they weren't timid about asking. It was like a police officer asking for your license and registration.

Since I didn't fit in any of their categories my peers didn't really know what to make of me. They sort of put a question mark next to my name and treated me like a foreign exchange student. I didn't fit into their neat and compartmentalized world. Because I knew more than they did and didn't have any preconceived notions, I was discriminated against.

It was my first taste of prejudice. It is an ugly thing, and I really feel sorry for the folks that don't realize that they even have it.

Friday, July 10, 2009

My-MP3 [Time Tunnel]

Artist: John (Johnnie)Williams
Album: Televisions Greatest hits Vol: 2
Song: The Time Tunnel
Released: 1966

One of the perks of having an AppleTV unit is being able to browse the old television shows that are available for download from iTunes. I ran across this little gem and downloaded the first episode to see if it was still as cool as I remembered back in 1966.

In essence, it is. While the show and the acting are way out dated, this was a real stretch for television. A massive government funded experiment for time travel that goes arye, episode after episode. I am sure many of the sets were recycled for "Vogage to the Bottom of the Sea" and other Irwin Allen classics.

The theme song is actually pretty far ahead of it's time, composed by what must have been a very young John Williams, before his "Jaws" and "Star Wars" fame.

Track List:
The Three Stooges
Merrie Melodies ("Merrily We Roll Along")
The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show
Huckleberry Hound
Mighty Mouse Playhouse
Courageous Cat and Minute Mouse
The Pink Panther Show
The Road Runner Show
George of the Jungle
Jonny Quest
Looney Tunes ("The Merry-Go-Round Broke Down")
Peanuts ("Linus and Lucy")
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood ("Won't You Be My Neighbor?")
The Odd Couple
The Courtship of Eddie's Father ("My Best Friend")
The Mary Tyler Moore Show ("Love Is All Around")
That Girl
Love, American Style
The Honeymooners ("You're My Greatest Love")
I Married Joan
The Monkees
The Brady Bunch
The Partridge Family ("Come On Get Happy")
My Mother the Car
Car 54, Where Are You?
It's About Time
My Favorite Martian
Jeopardy! ("Think Music")
Hogan's Heroes
Gomer Pyle, U.S.M.C.
The Rat Patrol
12 O'Clock High
The Time Tunnel
Voyage To the Bottom of the Sea
The Adventures of Robin Hood
Bat Masterson
Wagon Train
Have Gun – Will Travel ("The Ballad of Paladin")
The Virginian
The Rebel
Peter Gunn
Route 66
I Spy
The Avengers
The Saint
Hawaiian Eye
The Green Hornet
The Outer Limits
Dark Shadows
Ben Casey
Medical Center
NBC Mystery Movie
ABC's Wide World of Sports
The Jackie Gleason Show ("Melancholy Serenade")
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour
Monty Python's Flying Circus

None (instramental)

My - MP3 is an ongoing experiment into obscure music that you may not have heard before. Clicking on the song graphic will take you to the MP3 file of this song. Clicking the "My-MP3" title will take you to my music blog containing all the songs in the collection.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Essential Cinema - 46

The Andromeda Strain

Arthur Hill ... Dr. Jeremy Stone
David Wayne ... Dr. Charles Dutton
James Olson ... Dr. Mark Hall
Kate Reid ... Dr. Ruth Leavitt
Paula Kelly ... Karen Anson
George Mitchell ... Jackson

Robert Wise

Michael Crichton (novel)
Nelson Gidding (screenplay)

Richard H. Kline

The US Military goes looking for germ warfare in outer space and gets more than they bargained for.

Scientists can really screw up the world, and in the end, are often the only ones that can save it.

I stumbled across this Widescreen LaserDisc copy on ebay and snatched it up as soon as I could. I had been looking for it a for a long time, having only seen the film once when I was in my teens. It had made a lasting impression on me back then and I wanted to see if it still held up 30 years later.

I wasn't disappointed. This is a really excellent film. I have always been a big, big fan of Robert Wise, and this film is an excellent example of why he is such a good director. This film was born out of the paranoia of the late 1960s and early 70s when the idea of scientifically induced genocide was becoming as much a fear as nuclear annihilation. I previously reviewed another film in this genre that came out about the same time called "The Satan Bug". This film is by far the better of the two, with much better scientific detective work and pacing.

The viewer has to pay close attention to the script and the acting to really understand what is going on in the film. The plot keeps you guessing on several levels until the end of the film, which is pretty climatic. As an added bonus, if you click the graphic of the title to the film, you can view the Trailer for the film that I have uploaded to YouTube. In the trailer, Robert Wise indicates that the real star of the film is the set of the Wildfire scientific laboratory where most of the films takes place. He isn't kidding either. Even though this film is over 35 years old, it does not look dated by scientific standards. I found it amusing that at the end of the trailer, it indicates that 'No one will be seated during the last 10 minutes of the film' if that would give something away or be distracting. It wouldn't, but it is an interesting piece of hype that surrounded the film when it was first released.

I really can't think of too many cons in this film. The acting, cinematography, script, set design, sound, are all impressive. The only quirk in the film that I found a bit annoying was Jackson's seeming incomprehension of what the "Nuclear Key" that he was assigned to wear was to be used for. For some reason he keeps thinking that it is his responsibility to blow up the Wildfire station if something goes wrong. He is constantly reminded by his peers, that he is the only one that can shut off the self destruct.

I am surprised that Hollywood has not tried to remake this film, but I doubt they could do it justice or really improve on this 1971 version. There was a made for television remake of the film in 2008, but I didn't see it, nor would I really care to. Some films are just meant to stand on their own and be classics. This is one of them.

This film is a part of my LaserDisc Collection which is located on the LaserDisc Database.

Clicking on the "Essential Cinema" title will take you to the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) entry for this film. The listing of all the LaserDiscs that I have reviewed on IMDB can be found here.

Clicking here will take you to a listing of all the "Essential Cinema" reviews in my Blog.

Friday, July 3, 2009

First Friday Flashbacks

We all have times in our lives when the surreal takes over and you realize that others live in a totally different reality. Sometimes, this can be really scare. The following is not fiction, it is a true story.

I Like My Job

First Published July 16, 2008

(Edward Hopper / Office at Night)

While sitting in my private office (the restroom stall) and contemplating geometric patterns (staring at the tile floor) it dawned on me that the quality of our office life is a relative thing. While I sometimes can't stand my current job, the fact is, it is better than some of the ones I had in the past. Much better as a mater of fact. I have to keep reminding myself of that.

Case in point. The Arizona Department of Insurance. This was my first job in the 'public' sector after I bailed out of the Insurance Adjuster racket. Insurance is a nasty business that reduces everything down to dollars and cents (even human life), and after 5 years of it, I couldn't take it anymore.

So I went to work for the State and found it to be a strange animal indeed. In this backwater of the economy, talent, ambition, and drive had no real bearing or relevance. It is a system of clicks and political favors that lumbers into the future based on guaranteed budgets from the tax payer coffers.

One of the primary pastimes of my new coworkers was to gripe and bitch about how bad things where. It was almost a sport, with each co-worker upping the other on why their job sucked more or less than someone else. This really puzzled me, since most of them weren't really working at all. At least not based on the standards of the private sector from which I had just come. Needless to say that morale was non-existent here.

After about six months on the job, I was required to go to a seminar on Insurance Fraud that was being held by our Division. It was one of those participatory sort of trainings where we all had to stand up, tell everyone our name, our job, description, how long we had worked there and something 'interesting' about ourselves. When it came time for me to 'perform', I rattled off my statistics and then for the final question, remembering how much folks seemed to be miserable around the office, I stated, "I actually like my job.", to which everyone in the room sort of snickered. I thought nothing of it until later that afternoon.

Around 2pm, the head of my Division came to my office and said, "The Director wants to see you."

"What for?" I asked, "Whats up?"

He didn't know, so we both walked down to the Director's office. There in her office, that could have housed 40 staff in cubicles, sat the chain smoking, Pepsi drinking 40 year old shrew that had paid her political dues to get to where she was. Behind her stood her every present 'deputy director'. It was like being seated in front of Der Fuhrer at the Reichstag.

She asked me what I had meant by my 'little joke' at the training that morning.

"Excuse me?", I responded, "Little Joke?"

"The comment you made about 'liking your job', were you trying to be funny?", she asked.

At that point, I realized that these people were living in a very paranoid and surreal world. I spent the next 10 minutes 'explaining' my statement and why I was grateful to be working their instead of in the private sector where you didn't know from one day to the next if you were going to have a job. They finally seemed to believe me and released me back into the 'cube-farm' to continue my investigatory duties.

This job had many other memorable moments, one of which can be found here, but in the end it was a learning experience and springboard to bigger and better things. I am still working in State Government, and the winds of change in the office ebb and flow depending on who the Governor is and what cronies need jobs. At least I can say that 'I like my job' without having to fear for my life, at least for the time being.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Dream Is Over - Part 3

In Conclusion

The myths of our youth no longer have relevance and we have little faith in a system that has become corrupt several times over. Add to this the delusion of the populace from massive (both legal and illegal) immigration and the cultural dilution from global communication. You end up with a modified core belief that you don’t trust institutions, either corporate or governmental and the result is the banding together of political blocks in the global sense and not the geo-political sense (contained by borders on maps). The end result is a type of worldwide Balkanism where factions pit themselves against one another due to ideological/economic beliefs or worse yet, religious beliefs.

We need to break away from the primeval core belief that life is all about getting ahead and beating the other person, tribe, state, and nation and create a new core belief that we are all in this together as one planet.

Knut Gingrich, a disgraced right wing political leader here in America recently chastised President Obama for stating that he is a ‘Citizen of the Word’. As if stating so indicates that he is for ‘One World Government’ or something. It concerns me much more that Knut and his ilk are so fearful and protectionist of losing the power base that they have created on the backs of the taxpayers and working class that they will use fear and the media to try and convince us that it is still ‘us against them’.

So the dream may be over. The compression of the world’s societies and criminal ineptitude of those in power may finally be reaching an end. The dream was of a bright future with endless possibilities. The reality is the future is going to be bleak when viewed in the terms of our past expectations. However, I am finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel.

I am looking forward to a time in our future when we will finally learn that those things we have been told to long for and struggle towards were not worthwhile or a good idea. There are more important things than collecting stuff and having more money and power. I have to assume that is where we are headed. Because to stay on the same path we have been on for the last 50 years makes me shudder.

The dream should be for a happy life, a simple life, a life without fear. One of the more profound things that I have come across recently is my daily trek to a website called This is a photography blog where old photographs are posted in high resolution. Photographs from the Civil War, the Great Depression, World War I, are all there, in extreme detail. I have often found myself gazing at the faces in these pictures.

The confederate soldiers preparing for battle, the share-croppers in the dust bowl, the street venders in 1901 New York. In their faces I see the same dreams and hope that I see today. Things really haven’t changed over the years. We all still hope for the same things. Only the trappings of our time have changed, and gotten faster and more condensed.

Hopefully, we will all come to the conclusion that it isn’t about winning. It is about living together and having faith in each other and not in ivory towers and governments.