Archive for November, 2010

Teamwork

November 2, 2010

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I just started a new job. I am working in a processing center. In my younger days, this type of place was called a “warehouse”, but in these days of verbal inflation one has to use the prevailing terminology. I basically work as a shipper. It’s easy work, but surprisingly tiring.

Today I went to a company orientation. This is required of all new hires. There were about six of us in a conference room. A woman from the Human Resources department had each one of us introduce himself or herself to the group. We each had tell about something interesting we had done during the summer. I said that all I had done all summer was look for a job.

The woman then showed us a video of the company CEO. He told us that we were not employees, but “team members”. He also said that we didn’t have managers, but a “leadership team”. He then talked about how much he liked to fish. He said that fishing made him realize that we need to conserve our rivers. He then showed pictures of his family, including his photogenic daughters, which was nice.

The HR woman then divided us into groups. Each group had to take some objects, such as string, paper, etc., and construct something that would float on water. The purpose of this exercise was to teach us about teamwork. I remember that when I was at Coca-Cola, the company would periodically make us do these sorts of teamwork exercises. We would be divided into groups, which would then have to construct things or carry out certain tasks. A lot of companies seem to be doing these sorts of things nowadays. It’s not clear to me why they do this. I can only guess that it’s deprogramming for people who read Ayn Rand novels. (One can imagine how Harry Roark would react to one of these exercises. He would break out the dynamite.) I’m proud to say that the little raft my team made floated. Of course, it would have been hard for it not to, considering the materials we were using.

The HR woman then showed us a video about safety. The advice it gave was pretty sensible (lift with your legs, never twist your body, hold things close to your body when carrying them, etc.). We each then had to sign a document saying that we had watched and understood the video. The HR woman then went over an informational booklet about the company. I did the best I could to stay awake.

Afterwards a woman who attended the orientation with me drove me back to the warehouse – er, I mean processing center. She had recently graduated from college with a degree in geology. She was a single mother with two children. Like me, she had spent months looking for a job. She told me that she must have sent out over a hundred resumes. She took a job at the, uh, processing center because she was desperate. She didn’t seem to care much for her job, pulling product from the shelves. She called it “robot work”. I tried to console her by telling her that the company treats its employees – er, team members – better than other places I’ve worked for. Indeed, some of the places I’ve been at treated people very badly. This didn’t seem to make her feel any better. And when I thought about it, I realized there is now reason why it should.

Dave Zirin

November 1, 2010

Dave Zirin recently came to the University of Oregon to promote his new book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love. In his talk and in the question-and-answer period, he covered a wide range of topics: from the greed of team owners to the problem of head injuries in football. Among other things, he pointed out the absurdity of private ownership of sports teams. He cited the example of Clayton Bennett, who bought the Seattle SuperSonics. When the city refused to give him half a billion dollars for a new arena, he moved the team to Oklahoma City, thus depriving Seattle of a team that had been a part of the local culture for forty years. Zirin argues that the only way to prevent this sort of robbery is to have public ownership of teams.

Since he was at the UO, Zirin had to take some potshots at the new Jaqua Center for Student Athletes. This gaudy and ostentatious building is supposed to house resources to help athletes with their academic studies. (Non-athlete students are not allowed in the upper floors.) Zirin ridiculed the amount of money that was spent on this monstrosity, and he argued it would be better to simply encourage athletes to go to the library, rather than isolating them from other students. The Jaqua Center was paid for by Phil Knight, at a time when the university has had to make its staff take pay cuts. Zirin pointed out that Knight could easily pay the state of Oregon’s budget shortfall ($3.5 billion) and remain a billionaire. Zirin then launched into a criticism of college sports in general. He pointed out that in most states college football coaches are the highest paid public employees, while three quarters of college football programs lose money. He cited the example of UC Berkeley, which raised tuition in order to pay for the refurbishment of its football stadium. Zirin feels that this state of affairs can’t continue indefinitely. He also expressed pessimism about the future of football as a sport, arguing that the high rate of serious injuries is causing the popularity of the game to decline, just as the popularity of boxing has declined.

Dave is the most perceptive sportswriter at work today. His talks are worth seeing by anyone who cares about sports.

The Town

November 1, 2010

I will never let anybody speak badly of Ben Affleck to me again. The Town is one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen in years. It’s set in the Charlestown neighborhood of Boston, a place that I remember with some fondness. (My old friend, Tony V., has a supporting role.) The film is directed by Affleck and is based on Chuck Hogan’s novel, Prince of Thieves. It tells the story of a Charlestown criminal, Doug MacRay (Affleck). When MacRay and his friends rob a bank, they take a bank manager, Claire Keesey (Rebecca Hall), as a hostage, but they later release her. Later, Doug meets Claire in a laundromat. She is unaware that he was one of the robbers. The two strike up an affair. Doug’s hot-headed associate, Jem (Jeremy Renner), is displeased when he learns of the relationship. Doug and his criminal gang all grew up together, and their feelings of loyalty towards one another are strained when Doug decides he wants to go away with Claire and start his life over again. An FBI agent, Adam Frawley (Jon Hamm), also learns of the affair and tries to use it to trap MacRay.

The Town is basically a cops and robbers film that is very well done. The characters are believable; they remind me of people I met when I was living in Boston. (I also like that they made the FBI agent a dick.) The robbery scenes are slickly done, and the acting is very good. There is one thing that bothered me about the film, however. At the beginning, it is claimed that Charlestown produces more bank robbers than any place else in the world. I have since learned that this hasn’t really been true since the 1990’s. I can only suppose that the film makes this claim for dramatic effect, though this seems a bit a silly to me. I would have liked it if the film had spent more time exploring Boston’s criminal underworld, rather than making dubious claims. Still, I highly recommend this movie.