Friday, January 27, 2006

Medical exams. Why?

I have a medical today as part of the rigmarole I have to go through to get a new job with an Uber Corporation. I can only assume that one of the main reasons behind medicals is that they are an ass-covering excercise, whereby I can't come along in 6 months and sue Corporation X for RSI if I am already showing signs of it now. The other of course is that they get to see if I am using drugs or drinking too much. Oops.

So, can you fail a medical, does anyone know? What happens then? Do they withdraw the offer of employment?

I really want this job! In fact, if they just gave me the benefits and percs, and left out the basic, it would probably still be worth my while getting this job. How's that for corporate whoredom!

EDIT: Well, I have a pulse, according to the test. Now I wish they would just send me the damn contract so I can thoroughly enjoy telling the current crew (employers/slave runners) where to shove it. In a diplomatic way, of course....

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Graffiti - Irish style

Amongst all the polls and analysis that have been discussed ad nauseum in recent blogs and news paper articles regarding the effects of immigration on Irish society, and what the populace makes of it, one thing has been glaringly absent from discussion and that is this: Since this new wave of immigration began back in the mid nineties, the quality of graffiti on offer on walls the length and breadth of the country has increased proportionately.

This struck me as I drove into work this morning, along a route that takes in a direct line from south County Dublin to the city centre. Wall after wall was adorned with an array of scrawls, which thankfully served to alleviate the boredom of staring at yet another D registration crawling along in front of me.

This got me thinking. I knew all along that "Johnno hearts Na’alie", as I have been told numerous times. Johnno used to be very fond of urban bus shelters, retail loading bays, post boxes, and lampposts as media through which to extol the womanly virtues of Na’alie. I have learned for instance that she is in fact a “ride”, sometimes so much so as to be termed a “slag”. This latter must be true as I have seen her moniker scribbled alongside those of “Anto” and “Tommo” on more than one occasion. The prodigiously untalented Johnno was also in favour of the irretrievably dull “black-marker-running-out-of-ink” school of graffiti, as many eminent art critics don’t call it. All of which, while interesting in a general way, is wholly unedifying.

Some people see this rise in graffiti as vandalism of the worst sort, and actively campaign for the practitioners to be punished accordingly. Johnno’s lazy brand is of particular offence. It is hard not to agree.

However, having only a vague awareness of the cultural theory behind modern graffiti, I do know that it belongs to an ancient human tradition that has precedents in both the Old World and the New. I know also that Graffiti surges in importance during times of great political upheaval and changes in a society – In ancient Rome for instance, at the height of empire and as the rot set in, it was prevalent in the streets of the capital. Modern “street” graffiti surged in usage in the USA during the seismic nineteen-sixties. It has been long used by political agitators – John Trudell named a whole album after the practice. I know that it has been used a method of territory marking from Ogham stones to gang lands today. Northern Irish murals must be products of the same impulse.

I have been searching the web (well Flickr anyway) for decent examples of Irish “street” graffiti, but there does not really seem to be much attention paid to it, which leads me to believe that the upsurge is due to immigration. So given that we are all agreed that Ireland is undergoing huge socio-economic changes, do our new exponents of graffiti have anything to actually say?

Here are some random samples I found.
Capture Capture
Iced Coffee

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The yellow-packing continues…

So, Oberstfuhrer McDowell wants to introduce a Garda reserves force who will (and I love this quote from today’s Examiner) “have powers of arrest, search and detention broadly similar to powers enjoyed by Gardaí.”

Powers enjoyed by the Gardaí! Oh, where do I begin?

What’re ye up the weekend, lads?”, queries Ordinary Punter.
“Well”, reply Garda Liam and Reservist Paidí in unison, “we thought we’d go out and enjoy a bit of auld arrestin’, some unwarranted searchin’, slap a few fines on unsuspectin’ motorists using our new random breath testin’ technique, and generally lark about. What about yerself?”
“Eh….I think I’ll just stay in if that’s the case.”

The problems with this reserve force have been well covered in the meeja and rightly so. I am absolutely against this for a number of reasons.

It is a manifestation of the worst kind of role downgrading that seems to be the modus operandi of the entire economy, public and private sectors both, right now. And where have we seen this before? That’s right: the teachers underwent a similar undermining of their role in society with the introduction of class room assistants back in 2000. It really is a cheap and nasty way of meeting election promises without actually spending any money. On paper, that is. In practice, according to Ivana Bacik (she’s likely to know more than me on this one!), it will actually increase the number of cases taken against the state for unlawful arrest, abuse of powers etc, and may also jeopardize the successful closure of many prosecutions, on which the “real” Gardaí have expended time and resources at public expense.

Regarding the case of teachers, class room assistants ended up being paid for providing the same service that teachers had actually done for free, such as after-school supervision etc. This created all sorts of tension in the staff-rooms of schools up and down the country, and probably did very little to improve the general quality of second level education, other than reducing it to “crowd control”.

The tax payer will have to cough up in some way or other for this reserve force scheme, too. Who will benefit from this scenario? Probably those lawyer friends of McDowell, as they receive case after case on their books. This could work out, in reality, to be a method of using voluntary labour to create private wealth for a coterie of lawyers, without affecting the Dept. of Justice budgets, and blinding the public into thinking that “justice is being served” and election promises met. Not that I’m paranoid in any way, you understand, but it is genius, you have to admit.

In essence, this type of scheme is akin to the rampant outsourcing going on in private companies all the time – it looks great on paper for the company concerned, while the wider tax-paying community picks up the tab. This is what is happening with the pension scenario at the moment, and all that hoopla over the impending pensions crisis requiring an SSIA type remedy to be introduced by the Irish Government. The companies get off having to supply pensions and benefit packages to Irish employees, this reduces cost per employee, while the tax payer pays at the other end. Tax payers, many of whom, are outsourced to begin with! Very creative.
In the case of the public sector, tax-payer pays any way. The trick here is not to know what we are paying for at any particular point in time - it looks great when you can say you have a budget surplus today, as politicians don't get elected on the basis of long term effects unless the policy is obvious at the time.

If those who enlist in the reserves do so on a voluntary basis, without pay, what type of person will apply? There are bound to be some who are well meaning, but my money is on those who have a grudge against neighbours or severe personality issues surrounding a need to exercise power over fellow citizens. According to coverage on Newstalk this morning they will also “enjoy” their powers of arrest when off duty, just as a rank and file Garda would. This is open to all sorts of abuse. Apparently a weekend’s training will suffice for these reservists? You can’t learn how to adequately use MS excel in a weekend, let alone understand the application of the finer points of Garda powers!

Maurice Pratt has a lot to answer for….

EDIT: See The Dossing Times for more on this reserve Gardaí conundrum.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Fore! Women, Work, and the Golfing Fraternity

This morning I attended a departmental strategy meeting.
Out of 8 senior managers in attendance, I was the only woman.
This meeting took place in a hotel renowned for its proximity to a golf course.
When the meeting was over my colleagues retired to the golf course while I returned to the office.

It is an old business axiom that real meetings take place outside the meeting room – either on the way to or the way from. Protract that exit from the meeting room by adding the circuitous route of an 18-hole golf course, and you should deduce that this is where the real meeting takes place.

I bring this golf fixation of mine up again as a result of a response left on one of my previous posts, in which I discussed the impending EU legislation seeking to ban single gender organisations. Auds asks a number of questions (rhetorical I assume) about my position on this in her message.

She asks, for instance, with regard to women’s exclusion from single gender golf clubs whether this could “tangibly affect their career?”

My answer here would have to be yes.

Yes - In a very real way. If decisions, business plans, and key appointments are discussed over the tee off, then business women who have a direct interest in said plans or appointments are at a disadvantage. Women are excluded from some of these clubs entirely, and in those clubs which allow for women members, they cannot play with the men anyway.

When business discussions are eventually brought into the board room from the golf course, the full picture, or nuance of the political backdrop against which the decisions are made, is not available to the person who has not attended these "meetings".

She may appear unprepared, not in full possession of the facts, or even as if she is playing to a different tune. If she has valid reasons to posit a different point of view to the rest of a male dominated board (these things are usually, not always, male dominated) she may not have the political backup to drive her opinions through.

Compounding this problem for women is that when kudos for jobs well done are discussed and the back slapping ensues, men (and I have been involved in a case just like this) can claim their female counterparts’ achievements as their own in the club house over a few friendly pints, while the female employee will not be present to contest this. First impression counts and the opportunity to correct this false claim will not present itself back in the office. If the slighted employee, whose hard work has just been hijacked by her colleague on the golf course, raises it as an issue she will appear petty. She cannot win.

In the professions such as law or medicine this may not prove to be much of an impediment to women’s advancement in the workplace. I don’t know. Lord knows those guys have their own little club going. However I do know that in the private commercial sectors such as Finance, FMCG, Telcos etc., being noticed for your achievements and remaining on the radar of those in power count very much towards your promotional prospects in your company. If those in power are attending single gender clubs with their young male only acolytes, leaving equally talented and hard working females in the office, how do those women retain the attention of their seniors? They have to go out of their way to do so and thereby lose the advantage of the chummy subtlety fostered in the club house. They either have to work harder or get a shorter skirt.

But don’t believe me. Here is what was quoted in a syndicated Washington Post artcicle:

In 2003, the women’s research organization Catalyst surveyed 705 women in Fortune 1000 companies about what they thought was holding them back at work. More than 40 percent said “exclusion from informal networks.” One of the most mentioned informal networks was golf.

The same American study is covered in more detail here.

Auds goes on to ask:

Would a Pioneer woman not suffer the same discrimination for not getting drunk with the lads?

In the past maybe, but not in Corporate Ireland today as far as my experience tells me. Either way there is no pub I know of today that has a rule excluding women or pioneers from entry. There is free admittance and no-body is forcing the pioneer to drink. If business is on the table, as it were, the pioneer can attend and have a Club Orange. I had a pioneer colleague who made a point of attending the office outings just to be seen to take part. Not a problem. I don’t remember any business being done at these sessions, though, other than over the counter trading of Vodka and peanuts.

The issue with single gender golf clubs is that they are actively excluding women from a place where decisions are being made on a daily basis by a group of men, who are probably often of the same organisational ranking as many of the excluded women, and that these decisions can often have a direct effect on women’s careers and working life.

Auds continues:

I welcome Portmarnock's male only policy the same way I'm glad Curves only has women in it or the ICA has a female only membership.

When Curves becomes a place where careers are forged to the exclusion of men, where brown envelopes are shoved around indiscriminately, and where women claim their male colleagues’ achievements without challenge, I promise I will take up the cudgels of any ensuing campaign and post about it here.

Curves was co-founded by a man who I am sure has made enough money out of it to soften any blow he may feel about gender imbalance. That it is marketed for women may be the ultimate exploitation of women. Curves purports to be for women only because of physiology.

Of course it is nice to have women only clubs and male only clubs. In theory. In practice you will find that the majority of business deals are forged in one and not the other. That it seems to be peculiar to Golf may be a bit of a chicken/ egg scenario. Did golf clubs become the boardroom because there are no women present, or do I find it objectionable that there are no women present because the club house has become the board room? Perhaps the solution is to ban business from the golf course. Have fun working out the legal points for that one!

Regarding the ICA, which was set up in order to redress a gender imbalance and inequality in rural Ireland, I too am glad that it exists if only for that very reason. If there was no inequality it would not exist to this day. It was reaction to clubs like Portmarnock, and its rural equivalents that brought about the ICA’s existence in the first place.

I quote from their website:

The Society of United Irishwomen was founded in 1910 as the women's arm of the co-operative movement. The first branch was formed in Bree, Co. Wexford by Annita Lett.At that time there was no outlet for women. Most lived a life of drudgery - their main function being housekeeping and childbearing.They were chattels of their husbands the law was changed as a result of lobbing by ICA.

Portmarnock, its ilk, and their place in modern Ireland, is complicated by not only a gender bias, but a post-Colonial hangover, and the two may be linked. Membership is intended to say something about position and societal rights that, I feel, is borne out of what may ultimately be the same sense of inferiority that brought about the notion of the Shoneen, or the pseudo-Anglo “horsey-set” of today (covered by the Sunday indo recently).

AUDS: Our freedom to associate with like minded people is so basic and natural to the human condition that legislation not just destroys that freedom but cheapens the idea of free human relationships and equality.

Or legislation can protect it. Freedom to associate is one thing. Freedom to willfully exclude, quite another.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

On Postcodes - the corporate view

Winds has posted about something which is bizarrely dear to my heart: post codes and the lack thereof on the auld sod. Ok, they’re not really dear to my heart but let’s say I have a more than passing interest in them.

To my mind the only reason why anyone would seek to introduce these post codes to Ireland is for market intelligence and for territory planning of residential sales routes. In other words post codes will make it easier for marketing companies to break us all into easily analysed sub-sections of society.

In the old Ireland loose categories would suffice to get an overview of a market segment, and marketeers could make assumptions about, say, the Dublin 24 area as a whole, or rural Wexford as a whole, in terms of the demographic overview, the purchasing means of the majority of households in the area etc.

Now, however, with the post Celtic tiger property boom these old segments don’t work efficiently for direct sales into the residential market.

For instance, no longer does a street in Dublin 8 signify a particular income bracket. Prestige and traditional housing are jumbled together in a category defying way. It is not easy to target sales to particular areas with this “mess” simply because it is not easy to analyse the mix of data in any sensible way.
To compound the marketeers’ problems there is the peculiarly Irish phenomenon of Vanity Addressing, whereby potential customers fill in forms by saying, for example, that they live in Firhouse, Dublin 16, when Firhouse is actually in Dublin 24.

Postcodes will make it logistically easier for the likes of UPS to schedule deliveries and should speed up the mail delivery process – apparently only 70% of Irish internal mail gets delivered the next day at present. However post coding will also make it easier for the likes of the telecom companies out there (there are about 100) to break us all up into easily scheduled calls.

An Post, who have spent millions GIS tagging every premises in the country to make their own deliveries more efficient, have said that post codes allow for increasing the volume of mail delivered (and therefore revenue), and allow for a deregulated market in the postal services sector. As if they really want that.
The fact remains that whichever company that is chosen to run the introduction of post codes will end up buying this information from An Post at a huge cost. Deregulation is coming one way or the other and they may as well make some money out of it.

ComReg advocates the introduction of post codes, despite the fact that ComReg is supposed to have the consumers’ interests to the fore. All I can see are benefits for the Telecoms and similar companies who will then have an easily locatable source of sales leads (i.e. us) to harass over the phone and at the door. Something they are achieving quite admirably as it is.

Software companies specialising in off the shelf CRM software, logistics software, and data analysis software will make a packet in the rush to leverage as much cost saving benefit as possible.

This will be good for the consumer in the short term and the cost savings should, in theory, be passed down the value chain, but in the long term they will know a hell of a lot more about us than they do currently. We will receive more junk mail and have to battle more “market research” questionnaires on our way in our front doors. This was picked up by the Carlow Nationalist and the marketing benefits are stated directly by An Post on their Geo Directory website:

As Ireland's only complete buildings database, GeoDirectory has a range of applications of use to practically every business. The standardised address features included in GeoDirectory facilitate a number of direct and database marketing applications - including address capture, validation, matching and cleaning. The location data can facilitate sales planning, penetration analysis, routing solutions, proximity analysis and risk analysis.

A look at this page tells one quickly just who is set to benefit…

As a citizen I certainly don’t want to see the introduction of postcodes.
As a corporate whore with a job to do...bring ‘em on. It would free up my time during the day to write more blogs!

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Gender biased golf clubs face EU ban



Having aired my scorn at the corporate golf culture in previous posts, it was with absolute delight that I read this morning’s Indo article title “Golf clubs to face EU ban under gender bias rules”. Imagine my chagrin then when I actually read the piece. Apparently there is a loophole to the new law, which is intended to outlaw gender based discrimination, and that is that, since it would allow for “freedom of association", and therefore by default, allow for single-sex organisations.

So in fact this new “ban”, coming into effect in December 2007, is utterly ineffective in weeding out that kind of “boys’ club” that has provided, for the major part, the glass ceilings faced by female managers in Irish corporate life.

The most famous example is of course our very own Portmarnock Golf Club (pah!), where it was ruled by the high court last summer, that upon payment of Green Fees, women could play but could not become members.

One of the things that most bothers me about this type of golf culture club is outlined in this article at The Post: the absolute hypocrisy of people in public life particularly our politicians, who on the one hand preach equality, and on the other tee off on the hallowed courses at Portmarnock.

Of particular note is former Garda Commissioner Pat Byrne. Named in the same article dated from 2003 as a member (I have no idea if he continues to be a member), but just last month the Department of Justice was found guilty of paying 14 female clerical officers working for An Garda Síochana less their male Gardaí counterparts. I’m not saying that there’s a link, as I have no idea how long these claimants had been pursuing their case with the Equality Tribunal, but it is food for thought.

Also name-checked in The Post article, is Niall Crowley, head of the Equality Authority itself. He is not a member, but his brother and uncle were at the time the article was written. Again, food for thought.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Weird Habits.....maybe too late

I have just noticed that over the holiday (when I was well ensconced in rural Ireland/ culchie-land, I was memed by Colm at In Fact, Ah . Now, I don’t know if it is too late for this, or from whence this practice emerged, but it has given me food for thought, and not to be seen as being a bad sport my habits are listed below. I never realised this about myself but I appear to be the most non-committal human ever!

Firstly, the rules, as lifted from In Fact, Ah are as follows:

The first player of this game starts with the topic “five weird habits of
yourself,” and people who get tagged need to write an entry about their five
weird habits as well as state this rule clearly. In the end, you need to choose
the next five people to be tagged and link to their web journals. Don’t forget
to leave a comment in their blog or journal that says “You are tagged” (assuming
they take comments) and tell them to read yours.

1. I become obsessed with actors and/or musicians for extended periods of time, and even though they fall out of favour with the meeja and may not be thought of as 'cool' any more, I pretend that I still like them, probably more out of an obscure sense of loyalty than anything else. During the period of obsession I will consume hours upon hours of the artist in question's output (though I use the term "artist" loosely), and then go completely cold-turkey, for years sometimes. For example, I will always have an abiding love for R.E.M., despite the fact that if I were to be honest with myself, their albums without Bill Berry have been less than stellar. Why do I persist?

2. I start courses that I don't finish. After I completed my M.A. back in 1998 I have been forced to trawl the corporate depths, owing to pecuniary difficulties. Since then I have embarked upon a huge variety of professional courses that I thought I would like to pursue as a career, but have all turned out to be quite "meh?" in my estimation.

3. I love to dabble in adventure sports but I refuse to commit to any of them as a long term hobby. Thus far I have managed to try the following: Shotokan Karate (I did this for three years so maybe this one doesn't count?); Marksmanship; Snowboarding; Skiing; Trekking (Not the star variety); scuba diving; canoeing; and Horse Riding. I am sure there are more but I was obviously that non-committal that I forgot.

4. I store things for later use when I know in my heart of hearts that they are, in fact, of no use at all. For instance, I must, at this point, have accrued Europe's largest collection of clothes hangers, despite the fact I would be considered to have a limited supply and variety of clothing. I cannot bring myself to throw them out and in the garage they shall languish for another year. Roll on 2007's New Year resolutions!

5. I spend working hours reading blogs, when in fact I should be, eh, working. That’s not really a habit or trait though, is it? Unless you count avoiding actual work as a trait.

Now , as is the tradition, I tag, and seeing as I am both in work and fairly new I apologise if I’ve memed someone who has already been tagged!

Shane Ryan
Planet potato

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Facing the Post-It Christmas Blues

So now we all slip ineluctably into the new working year and I can't quite put words on the desolation I felt last night as I tossed and turned, and generally failed to sleep in any solid way. What am I going to do without all those languorous afternoon power naps?Now I can barely remember that feeling of elation as I gleefully tossed aside all care for my workload at 12.30 on Friday 23rd December, running out the door praying silently that the lift would descend all six floors without stopping once. Now, staring back at me is every single piece of paperwork that I so exuberantly discarded, sitting in piles on my desk and festooned with pale yellow "reminder" post-it notes.

In today's Irish Independent there is an article discussing the fact that today is the most depressing day of the year, according to workers. It further posits the idea that it should be made a "duvet day", whereby coming into work would not be compulsory and that one should only stir from the bed for food and the bathroom. I fail to see how this could benefit anybody - you have to come in eventually, and the longer you leave it the worse that the pile of post-it-laden documentation gets.

Once again, planet potato's unparalleled understanding of the modern Irish culchie has it spot on regarding the return of the bog-posse to Dublin. I am one of those most discerning culchies mentioned, electing to buy salad (salad!) in the emporium of crap supply chain that is Superquinn, following yesterday's doleful drive from the arse end of nowhere. The salad, you can no doubt deduce, has been purchased due to the fact that I have made my New Year resolutions, oh yes. That I based these resolutions entirely on withdrawal symptoms from the relentless eating over the Christmas is neither here nor there. Said withdrawal from bingeing is making me feel like a refugee from Black 47, while I more closely resemble a Telly Tubby. Needless to say, girth-removal is my chief aim over the coming months, followed by changing my job to something more rewarding - I just have to figure out what that may be. Perhaps a career as an anti-post it note campaigner is my true calling in life?