Friday, September 29, 2006

Saying No to Norbit

Call me prudish or hypercritical, whatever - but I do not find bodily function/ body part jokes in movies amusing. From the fart jokes on every day to tv and the ubiquitous PG-13 movies up to and including the vomiting walrus in "50 First Dates", and all the boob shots, crotch kicks and endless crap in between, I just don't find any of it funny. I am always disgusted and frankly, offended. I am well aware that it's just not fashionable to be genuinely "offended" by anything these days nonetheless, these are gut reactions, and I don't choose my response to this idiocy. Most times I'm prepared to laugh along just because the word "comedy" is a part of the movie description, however sometimes, I am caught by surprise when my laughter stops short and I am appalled into silence

Last night, I watched the trailer for a new Eddie Murphy movie called "Norbit" (a synopsis can be found here at Worst Previews. Trust me, the trailer more than earned it's spot on this site.). Again, I watched the trailer prepared to laugh simply because it mentioned Eddie Murphy and who doesn't know the name Eddie Murphy means comedy? I was quickly let down as it seems Eddie is up to his old tricks from the Nutty Professor, but instead of playing an enormously fat man, he's playing an enourmously fat woman, forgetting that Martin Lawrence and Tyler Perry have already run that lame joke into the ground and it wasn't funny the first time. OK, Medea isn't as bad as Big Mama but as far as I'm concerned, Perry treads a thin line at times. The morals and feel good endings don't always justify the cheap laugh means in Perry's movies either.

But back to Norbit (link goes to the official site for the movie, MeetNorbit.com.) The trailer alone is so hideously disrespectful of black people in general (I'm tired of "black" movies playing to the lowest common denominator) and particularly large black women -please note: I'm a large, black woman- so I was distinctly not amused. After watching the trailer I only had one question.

Me to Ye Old Matey: Eddie Murphy's wife divorced him, didn't she?
Ye Old Matey: Yes.
Me: Now I know why.
Ye Old Matey: Why?
Me: Have you seen the trailer for his new movie?
Ye Old Matey: No. Why?
Me: When you see it you'll understand.

If you haven't seen the trailer, you're lucky. I'm sure it will be everywhere soon. I feel sorry for the parent who has to explain this one to their preschooler and for the squick factor coming for any multi-generational family who winds up viewing this trailer together.

If you find this sort of thing funny, then more power to your funny bone. To each his own, live and let live, yet my opinion stands. Sight unseen, I feel more than comfortable saying Eddie Murphy has done, could have done and should have done better than this latest monstrosity.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Civil Parameters - The Decision

Part II
Well, I made my decision and it wasn't easy.

My last post entitled Civil Parameters describes a situation I found myself in this past week. I was confronted with, what I felt was an odd choice. I could either submit to having my hand photographed and measured for a "hand print" and have a job, or I could see myself to the door and find another place to work.

I started the road to my final decision by asking a few of the people who's opinions matter to me most. Ye Old Matey, my mother, my daughter, a family friend and finally, I wrote a blog entry opening this query up to wider circle of friends and blog pals. My mother and her friend were of the opinion that "it's just a part of modern technology." Both of them are in their 50's and although they can use PC's, they both come to me for computer and tech help. My daughter's response was, "Like in the movies? Way cool!" I gave her a mini-lecture on civil liberties and she thought for a moment. "Well, it's not like they keep your information forever." When I informed that they did, she advised against it. Anyone I asked in the 24- 40 age group immediately recoiled. It was too bad, they said, but you should find another job, seemed to be the group consensus.

The responses from my friends and family noted, I did what I do best. I started researching the internet for more information.

I started out with a Google search for "hand scan." I found this website for Peninsula Time Clock, Inc. It shows a model of the machine that looks closest to what I was asked to use.
From the website:
This scalable hand geometry reader is the future. Eliminate the headache of badges and add the security of biometrics with our HP. Employees simply enter an ID number then place their hand on the reader, once verified the system handles the rest.

This reader virtually eliminates "Buddy Punching" and "Employee Time Theft" Never worry about your employees losing their ID Cards again!
I can see why employers would want to jump on the bandwagon. But why would every day people accept this. It was this article, presented in Q&A format that really creeped me out. The main focus of the article seemed to be how best to convince reasonably skeptical human beings to accept this technology with as few questions as possible.
[Biometric scanning] must be instantaneous, undiscriminating, and non-intrusive.
In other words, as long it's fast, doesn't hurt anyone physically, and encompasses everyone regardless of race, color or creed, then humans will have no problem with it. I find the fact that humans are seen as so easy to please, and the fact that it may just be true, frightening. However the article did end on this cheery note:
[R]egardless of your personal views on this subject, biometrics is due to become a large and integral part of our lives. It will take years for widespread use (look how long DVDs have taken) but will eventually become commonplace.
I couldn't help but notice that this article and others like it take great pains to detail how biometrics can be used for your convenience or protection but gloss over privacy and civil liberties issues as unimportant. The tone tries to assure you that"your government and corporations know best" and makes sure to remind us that it's a certainty, coming to a town near you. I found several articles that take this same tone, however this was the first I found to go from glorifying biometric identification to stating an outright lie:
Critics, even the ACLU, are not opposed to using biometrics for identification purposes providing that the information and technology remains strictly controlled and regulated.
I repeat, this is false. The ACLU has spoken out vehemently against the use of biometrics to the point of tesifying before Congress and consistently opposing various biometrics applications. There have also been various other protests by civil liberties groups across the globe against the use of biometrics and other human tracking devices such as RFID. RFID tags are usually used in stores to track and prevent theft of products. Recently thought, it's been proposed that they should be used to track products from their creation to how they are used inside your home.

After the first few articles it was obvious which same two groups that want to use these measures the most: governments and corporations. They are bound and determined to have complete control over not only your information but you, personally. They want to know everyhing. Who you are and where you are every moment of your life. What you buy, what you eat, and how often; how much you make, who your friends are, what you read and where you work, travel and live. Your facial dimensions and retinal scans; your fingerprints and hand dimensions; your gait, foot dimensions and footprint; even your DNA.

The United States is mandated by the controversial Patriot Act to "develop a technological standard for biometric identification." How sad they must be that at least 100 other countries have already implemented biometric data into a national identity card. Despite national protest, Australia has mandated that everyone have the biometrics card by 2010.

The articles I read that were pro-biometrics also made it a point to assure me that although the occasional slip may occur it was certain whoever wanted my data would do the utmost to make sure it was safe. The idea is to make identity theft a thing of the past. However they fail to mention that lots of information in huge databases only make cases of identity theft easier to commit. Not to mention, once security is breached, the hackers haul is much grander than if they had stolen a purse or wallet. Instead of one or two people being affected, thousands or even millions must now take steps to re-secure themselves.

There have been so many data loss scandals that Robert Ellis Smith, a writer for Forbes.com, suggests 2005 should be dubbed "The Year of the Stolen Laptop." Unfortunately 2006 doesn't show any sign of being much better. The long list of data loss scandals in his article only scratches the surface.

Attrition.org, a site dedicated to documenting computer security issues has an entire section devoted to data loss issues. Privacy Rights Clearing House.org maintains a chronological list of data loss scandals from ChoicePoint to the Veterans Administration and a few less publicized incidents in between and beyond. The lists on both sites site have some very big names indeed. On every list or in every article linked, you are sure to find companies that you have heard of and do business with that have had massive leaks of confidential data.

The saddest part about all this is Congress merely quibbled over, but never got around to passing a bill that would have made it mandatory for corporations to let you know that your information has been compromised and to see what information they have collected. Furthermore, there are no real penalties or compensation a company must provide to you if your data is mishandled. Maybe if companies had to pay out, say, $1,000 per person per incident and $5,000 plus related costs if the information is actually used fraudently, companies (and the government) might start spending their money on securing their data.

I suppose it's much easier to administer innacurate and intrusive personality tests to potential than it is to check references. It must also be easier to enforce draconian and demeaning measures on existing employees than it is to provide true security against data loss. I say easier but since it's all a matter of costs you would think it must be cheaper to treat people like objects. However it's been proven again and again that our government and employers are shelling out big dollars for the illusion of security while exacting more and more control over our daily lives. The fact that securing our data isn't really a factor, especially when it's so easily bought and sold legally, albeit without our permission, is quite telling in regards to where the true priorities for these entitites lie.

No entity deserves that much control or knowledge over any living person. Corporations, despite their legal status as such (which should be revoked mind you) are not people.

Lastly, before I made my final decision, I thought of the words of Ben Franklin:
Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.
And so, with all this in mind, I made up my mind not to go back. I made my 8:00 a.m. call and made my apologies. They agreed to try to reassign me on Monday.

I don't have a job but they don't have my handscan. I need a job, but they don't need to know that much about me. I can always get a job, but I would never have been able to get that piece of myself back.

Meanwhile, I not only have the prospect of another temp job on Monday, but I also have an interview on Wednesday for a "permanent" job.

Wish me luck.


(This post has been edited for typing errors and to add pertinent links. The overall content has not been changed. Deborah 09/10/2006)

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Civil Parameters



I quit my job at the beginning of August after working there for five weeks.

When I interviewed there, the place seemed pleasant enough. It was a clean, safe working environment. The people seemed personable, friendly and professional. The work would be challenging and rewarding.

It became apparent that a bit of a show had been put on while I was touring during my interview. After the first day some unofficial office rules became apparent. The moratorium on open toed shoes was livable but the first time someone finally told me that talking to fellow co-workers was verboten; that I was being too friendly and chatty, I was appalled. Apparently stopping to ask a coworker about a book on her desk during lunch break was unacceptable because it wasn't work related. I had also clocked in five minutes early two days in a row instead of the requisite fifteen minutes. Although the employee handbook simply stated that I was supposed to be in my seat and ready to work, and I had never failed at this, the "unofficial rule" was that everyone had to be there fifteen minutes early. An unpaid fifteen minutes early.

There were dozens more rules like this and it wasn't long before I broke a rule of my own. I quit the job before I had another job. I decided I could do temp work for a while. I've fallen back on temping a few times between jobs. It's a way to keep your skills current and learn new ones; get fresh ideas and new work experiences; and it’s a way to keep the dreaded “gap” from your resume and still get paid. It's a way to make contacts and more times than not, will lead to a full time job. Temping would also allow me keep my time flexible because I would need some time off. My mother was having surgery and I was to be her recovery nurse. This was something I had made arrangements for at the job I quit but something a new employer wouldn't be likely to be able to give.

With my mother's recovery now behind me, I’ve been taking longer temp assignments while still searching for a “permanent” full time gig. Today was the first day of a two-week data entry assignment. Everything was going very well. The environment was again clean and safe. The coworkers and supervisor were genuinely friendly and I was able to catch on to my assigned tasks within the first hour. Data entry is not brain surgery but I have a geeky knack for it and it's not a bad temp gig if you can get it.

The temp agency informed me that the start time may have been 8:00 or 8:30 and to make sure to ask what time I was to be there the next day. This is something usually covered by the agency but they have other temps working there and the shifts are flexible. I caught the supervisor as she was walking by and we confirmed an 8:30 start time.

"Oh," she mentioned as though she'd forgotten, "tomorrow we'll go to H.R. and get some pictures of your hand so you can use the hand scanner to clock in and out."

My professional demeanor broke and I must have looked as shocked as I felt because she immediately assured me that, "It's no big deal."

"It's no big deal," she repeated as I finally remembered to close my mouth. I went from being shocked to appalled as she explained how the machine worked.

"You just put your hand on the machine and then it beeps and then your name and the time you clocked in shows up on the screen. That's all there is to it. That's how all our employees do it. It's no big deal, is it?" she queried cheerily to the two employees sitting closest to me.

They both nodded their agreement. She continued her cheery stare and under her gaze the young lady sitting next to me quietly stated, "No, it's not a big deal anymore."

The supervisor walked away and into her office. I stared at the girl next to me and she broke into a wry grin that had no trace of humor.

"I know exactly what you're thinking. I didn't like it at first either. No, when I first started, I didn't like it at all. I was very uncomfortable with it. I was the last person in the building to actually sign up. She (the supervisor) was real mad too and kept on me until I did sign up."

The woman sitting directly across from us chimed in, "I didn't like it either but no one asked me. If we didn't do it, then what?"

"Well it's not as if you'd quit your job, especially if you've been here for a while," I said, quietly but angrily. "But it seems to me it's tantamount to blackmail. ‘We get to use a piece of your body for our time clock or you don't work here anymore?’ That's horrible."

The two women nearest me obviously didn't like it much. But they were accustomed to it after two years and they didn't think much about it anymore. They both admitted that it bothered them sometimes, but their attitudes asked the question, ‘What else could you do?’

I waited until 15 minutes before the end of the day before I went to the supervisor.

"I wanted to talk to you about the hand scanner?"

"What about it?"

"Well, frankly, I find it…distasteful and appalling?"

"Really? You're the first person who's ever objected to it," she said. I thought she had to be lying. I had just heard two of her employees tell me abjectly that they hadn't like it, with everyone else in our row of half cubicles nodding their agreement. It wasn’t until later that it dawned on me, of course no one ever objected in her hearing. I probably was the first person who’d been bold enough (read stupid enough) to actually say anything negative directly to her.

I thought maybe, because I was temp it wouldn’t be necessary. Maybe she had made a mistake or maybe the agency would intercede on my behalf. I couldn’t just accept this without at least asking to use a regular agency timesheet.

"Well, this is going to be such a short assignment. It's not like I'm a permanent employee. Since I'll only be here two weeks, is this really necessary?"

"Yes, even our temp workers have to use the system. It's just the way we do it. H.R. won't waive the system for temps."

"I'm sorry but I just don't know…I wasn't told about this at the agency, and if they had I probably wouldn't have accepted the assignment. As it is, I’m obligated to finish the assignment."

Temp Agency 101: Abandoning an assignment is unforgivable unless you were in a car wreck or died. You are forever termed "unreliable" and will not be reassigned. They have to pay you for time already worked, even if you abandon the assignment; but most will also bust you down to minimum wage.

"Well it's your choice but there isn't a way around it. Either you do [the hand scan] and you work here or you don't work here." Her voice was kind but her smile was frozen into place at this point.

I finished the day. My two co-workers were sympathetic with my ambivalence about returning and we said end of assignment goodbyes then.

"Well if I don't see you again, it was nice knowing you, but we'll understand why," the girl next to me said as I walked away.

I called the agency. They told me that because of the circumstances and the fact that I was not informed first, I am not obligated to finish the assignment. If this makes me uncomfortable enough not to want work there, they will not treat it as an abandoned assignment. I will be reassigned as soon as possible, no harm no foul. I have tonight to make up my mind. If I'm not going back, I have to call them at 8 a.m. to let them know.

Like everyone else, I have bills to pay. I was counting on this two weeks worth of work and although the agency may make an honest attempt to reassign me, they truly may not have an assignment for a week or so. I'm registered elsewhere but it's nice to know where and when you're going for a two-week stretch.

Still, I can't help but feel betrayed. The agency knew about this before they sent me and they didn't tell me. What's more, the employer really couldn't care less. If they treat their regular employees in this manner then, as a temp, I am plankton on the food chain.

Before I left, the supervisor made a last ditch effort to assure me that the hand scanner was ‘no big deal’. She took me to see the hand scanner and showed me how it worked using her own dainty hand. She explained that it does not read your fingerprint. It measures the parameters of your hand. You put in your code, put your hand down and voila, no one else can clock in for you.

I asked her if they would delete my information after my two-week assignment is up, but no, they have to keep the information on file with HR for "legal purposes" and then if it's not used for a long period of time it is archived. Besides, what if I temp for them again? I wouldn't have to reenter my info, I'd be all set up.

How convenient for them, I thought dryly.

Funny how they have all my information; name, address, telephone number, cell phone number, social security number, my previous job information, my professional and personal references and even my credit report but that's not enough to prove I'm trust worthy or even job worthy. Legally they can even demand my pee if they want it. Yet I can keep my urine to myself for this one job. They only want my hand scan and if I'm not willing to give up this last bit of myself, then tough luck. All else I've given is null and void. Yet I'm supposed to trust them with all this information including my hand "parameters" just for the privilege of doing their data entry work for two weeks.

My hesitation and distaste must have still shown plainly on my face because she repeated her earlier mantra.

"Really, it's no big deal." She then showed me how they even keep a bottle of hand sanitizer nearby with a brief demonstration of said Purel with Aloe. In addition to every day germs I suppose it's also handy to cleanse away the dirty feeling of being raped of your civil liberties and self-respect.

This situation reminds me of a quote from Barbara Ehrenreich's book, Nickel and Dimed.
When you enter the low-wage workplace--and many of the medium-wage workplaces as well-- you check your civil liberties at the door, leave America and all it supposedly stands for behind, and learn to zip your lips for the duration of the shift. The consequences of this routine surrender go beyond the issues of wages and poverty. We can hardly pride ourselves on being the world's preeminent democracy, after all, if large numbers of citizens spend half their waking hours in what amounts, in plain terms, to dictatorship.
So, I have a choice to make, surrender or move on. Hope for something better or accept the good and button my own lip. I mean at least I'm free to talk and wear open toed shoes again; but how long can I continue to espouse my blatantly liberal ideals if I’m not willing to live up to them.

How far do I compromise my own values? Is it worth it for such a short assignment? Is it worth it for anyone just trying to keep a job?



(This post has been edited for typing errors. The overall content has not been changed. Deborah 09/10/2006)

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

The Soft Lob


In a ball game, a soft lob is an easy pitch. When politicians do press conferences, reporters who are friendly to the interviewee will toss out a "soft lob" question. Something easy to answer or something that will make their friend look good.

Other times, politicians need a way to try out an idea. They may toss out a "soft lob" question on something like, oh, lets just say, "Hey, maybe George Bush should have a third term as President," and see if folks laugh themselves silly. However should anyone not laugh themselves silly and actually think the idea deserves some merit, then maybe, just maybe, where there's a will, there's a way.

No, I'm not just whistling Dixie folks. I think we have been soft lobbed. How successful the pitch was, still remains to be seen.

Now mind you this "Continuity Presidency" issue started out as a hoax published by "The Register" on April Fool's day this year so I know after a few Google searches you'll be saying that Deborah's off her gourd and taking a hoax way to seriously. The premise of the articles hoax is that Bush prepared a special memo and somehow secretly had passed into a law a measure that circumvents the 22nd Amendment and allows a President to serve more than two terms.

To make matters worse, some folks mixed this up with some legislation that did actually get passed which is fondly called by our fear mongering press the "Doomsday Bill". The Doomsday Legislation only re-orders the House of Representatives should another 9/11 type event come along and take out at least 100 members of the house. However as far as we know, this does not effect the Presidential Line of Succession or elections in progress in time of disaster or attack.

So since this is a proven hoax, why should we care about it?

Well, I laughed it off as well, until Rockey Vaccarella came along. Rockey Rockey is the guy who drove his "FEMA" trailer from Louisiana to D.C. to tell George Bush what a great job he and FEMA have done so far helping the Katrina Victims. Rockey not only thinks they did a great job but he has another wish for George Bush as well:
You know, I wish you had another four years, man. If we had this President for another four years, I think we'd be great. But we're going to move on.
It was not the mainstream media mind you but the bloggers they disavow as unreliable who asked the real deal questions: Why would a guy still broke from the hurricane and living in a trailer spend a ton of money on gas to drive his FEMA trailer to Washington. Also, isn't it illegal to move a FEMA trailer and most of them are said to be too flimsy to be lived in, let alone driven that far. Also, how did he actually get to meet George Bush and why was W suddenly at the White House when he was supposed to be at his ranch in Crawford, Texas doing his annual hide out from Cindy Sheehan?

After a bit of digging it was a blogger who found out that Rockey Vaccarella is more than likely a GOP plant. He's definitely a registered Republican and has run for state office as such. Vacacarella had a trip agenda that just happened to have his "spontaneous" meeting with W penciled in before he ever started out on his "landmark" journey in his FEMA trailer "replica". It's an "honorary" FEMA trailer because the trailer, like Rockey is not the real deal. Mr. Rockey Grassroots supporter of Bush was really an Astroturf planned and staged photo-op just like the aircraft carrier landing, the fake Thanksgiving Turkey, and the Jackson Square speech after Hurricane Katrina.

And that brings me back to the soft lob. Did they go to all this trouble just for a Katrina Anniversary photo-op? Nah, that's gravy on the potatoes but I think the soft lob was really an attempt to see if there is anyone out there who will entertain the notion of George W. Bush as President for another term should a "national emergency" unfold. I'm pretty sure that this article from April 3 is a bit of hysteria from the Register Article, it does make a great point that a third, even fourth term is not unprecedented in U.S. History.

I know I'm hard on King George and Co. on this blog. The fact that I don't like W much should be apparent. However when his administration goes to these lengths to purposely deceive us, how can we possibly support them? Why should we believe them when the Bush admin says they wouldn't even think of pursuing a third term?