The Zimmerman case finally got me. It jumped me from behind. And that’s a fact*.
Suddenly the internet reached out and grabbed my stomach and twisted it up in knots. Yup, yup. It’s that old time feelin’ I thought I’d left behind. If I was packing heat (concealed or otherwise) I’d likely have squeezed off a few rounds because I decidedly felt “threatened.”
You know the feeling. That moment when an internet discussion and/or debate turns ugly. No longer is it about the issue at hand. It turns into a nasty round of insults, personal attacks and spates of unfriending. That sort of drama leaves me unsettled and upset, often going back to a discussion and pounding “refresh” just to review the replies. I though that sort of thing was behind me, but Zimmerman tells me it is not.
I know I’m supposed to keep politics and religion away from Facebook. I had predicted that because of fucked up laws and a no-win scenario George Zimmerman would be found not guilty. Then, Saturday, it actually happened. I hate being right.
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Advertising lies to us all day. We get it. We expect it. Show me a person who actually believes the messages contained in advertising and I’ll show you a poster child for brain bullet enemas.
We also expect it from people right to our face. Like strangers. No one’s surprised any more. Right? Certainly not me.
Even so, somehow, after I’ve been spoon fed the line of bullshit right to my face, sometimes even I still have the temerity to feign chagrin.
“Of course you need the layer of protectant sealant for the undercarriage coating.” This, and other members of the coatings family, are what eventually makes your car look like it has a peeling sunburn. And you paid extra for it. Ha ha ha!
“It only costs $5 per month to add a second line to your cell phone plan.” When the bill arrives, though, it’s $10 and when you call to point out their error, they call you the liar. That’s known as the icing on the cake. “Did you get it in writing?” they demand. I vowed that day that U.S. Cellular would eat my ass when my two years of indentured servitude were up and they still had the temerity to say, “How can we keep you as a customer?” when I called to cancel. Those are (almost) the moments that make life worth living.
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What value does our outfit add to the product distribution and consumption process? That’s easy. When one of our talented team of salespeople makes a product “recommendation,” you can rest assured that the recommendation is solely based on our interests and have absolutely nothing to do with what is good for you, the customer.
I see this every day in my job. The boss is our primary salesperson. He knows the product line. We grunts don’t, basically because we could give a flying shit and besides, we’re busy being his Girl Friday bitches and stuff.
When a customer calls in, they typically want a specific product. “I’m looking for the Widget Extreme,” they’ll say. “Your web site says it is in stock.”
The boss will stick the phone in his shoulder and his fingers will fly on the keyboard. “Let me check on that.”
Oops. We don’t have any of the Widget Extreme. But we do have oodles of the Widget Ultra. This is where salesmanship kicks in.
“Why did you want the Widget Extreme? What were you gonna use it for? Uh huh. Uh huh. Yeah, for that, we really recommend the Widget Ultra. And I can ship it out today.”
Sucker! They say there is one born every minute.
Later, when the product inventory is reversed, so do our tactics. We will say the damn exact opposite of what we said before.
I can’t help but wonder about this. What if someone calls back and wants another Ultra? And then we tell them that the Ultra sucks and we only recommend the Extreme? Isn’t is possible we could be caught in a lie?
Whatever. “Sales” is the art of tricking someone into buying something no matter what. And at that, my boss does excel.
Some things overheard in the office last week:
Hint: That’s the sound of my boss hocking up loogies and them plopping them into the wastebasket under his desk. In other news, I stopped by Staples today, picked up a new wastebasket for under my desk and will never again touch another wastebasket besides mine. Ever.
See? If I had marked that item as out-of-stock I never would have talked them into that other product.
Said by my boss after cross-selling a customer on a product our web site has listed as “in stock.” Recently customers have become increasingly combative when us innocents answer the phone, check the shelves, and say things like, “Nope. We don’t seem to have any.”
What do you mean you don’t have any? Your web site says they are in stock!
The petulant sounds of my boss when on the phone with one of our suppliers. Oh, sweet karma! It’s not often you get that up close and face-to-face with unmitigated gall.
Of course we have a retail store. We’re not an internet-only outfit. Check our web site. You’ll even see a picture of our store there.
That was my boss on the phone talking to a supplier who wanted reassurance that we don’t sell only on the web, that we have an actual retail store. (You’d be surprised how many suppliers really care about this.) In actuality the picture on our website is a photoshopped fake, our location is office space only, our shop doesn’t have any signage or even our name on the door, and there is no display merchandise available for customers to look at and there is no cash register or other means for them to pay.
No. Do not come over here. We’re not a retail store. We do all of our business on the internet. Go to our website if you want to place an order or see what we’ve got.
That was my boss on the phone talking to one of our international repeat customers who just happened to be visiting our town and wanted to stop by. From the sound of things he was rather offended by the less than warm welcome. We didn’t exactly roll out the red carpet.
I wonder what goodness I’ll hear at the office this week?
What is honesty? Telling the truth? For that matter, what is truth? Hang on. I’m about to go deep.
As regular readers of this blog will already know, this year will be my 10th anniversary of working in the ecommerce industry. Along the way I’ve learned a few things, but none more stark or challenging than what I’ve faced in terms of honesty vs. dishonesty, truth vs. lies, trustworthiness vs. deception, and facts vs. lies.
Thinking back on my “career” I realize, of course, that this phenomenon is clearly not isolated to ecommerce. Not based on what I’ve seen during my experiences. If I really think it over, I can find examples of every employer I’ve ever dealt with being lying assholes. Every single job I’ve ever had taught me important life lessons like these.
Editor’s Note: At this point the writing process went decidedly sideways. The 10,000 words that followed have been cut and saved in a draft post called “My Resume.” It detailed life lessons learned from every single job I’ve ever had and in excruciating detail. Maybe somewhere over the rainbow that post will see the light of day. Until then, however, I’ve self-corrected the diversion and will now continue with the topic at hand: honesty.
Under the context of my career, I recently realized that honesty (or lack thereof) has been the Bugaboo peeking over my shoulder every step of the way. So I’ve been thinking and pondering about it quite a bit.
My last two employers have been very religious folk. Even as an atheist I would surmise that would elevate them a cut above your average bear, at least in terms of honesty. That has decidedly not been the case.
Confused by this, I turned to the word of God for enlightenment. After all, isn’t “thou shalt not lie” one of the biggies on God’s top ten list?
Turns out it’s not. Well, not exactly.
First of all, the Bible was written by humans. It is not the direct word of God. Remember that game we played as children? Stand in a line, whisper something, then pass it on down the line. More often than not, something gets changed during the act of passing the communication along. Do you think it’s possible that anything like that could have conceivably crept into the writing of the Bible by those human hands?
Then I remembered when some public figure was raising a ruckus about having a 5,000 pound monument of the ten commandments on public lands. He was asked by a reporter if he could name all ten commandments. He couldn’t. (What a shocker.) Perhaps that’s why he needed the reminder around.
The words “thou shalt not lie” (or their translated equivalents) don’t exist in the Bible. What the Bible actually says is:
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor
See: Translations of Exodus 20:16
As an idiot layman, I’ve always taken this at face value. In other words, “do not lie.” It turns out, that for some, it’s not quite so simple.
According to Wikipedia, there are three schools of thought regarding the “false witness” commandment:
- It’s a narrow prohibition against lying in courtroom testimony
- It only applies to false statements that degrade a neighbor’s reputation or dignity
- It’s a prohibition on all lying
Wow! Who knew there could ever be so much disagreement about something as seemingly concrete as a commandment from God?
It seems to me that the Bible often works like this. One section will say, “Always do X but never do Y.” Then another section will say, “Always do Y but never do X.” Thus, you don’t simply read the Bible and do what it says. It has to be subjected to a round of interpretation first. That phase of understanding is done by humans to the word of God in an attempt to divine the real meaning. You’ll often hear people speak about how a certain text can only be understood within a certain “context” or by comparing it to other passages to get the overall meaning. That sort of thing is dangerous because it leaves things open to many varying interpretations.
As an atheist, I’m woefully free of such considerations. Some have said, “Without God there can be no ethics.” I argue the opposite. Without having to ponder and study a religious text, I can simply say, “I will not lie.” I don’t have to comb through the Bible for exceptions.
Consider the people who believe the command in the narrowest possible sense, that it only applies to courtroom testimony. The logical extension of that belief is: “It is not necessarily wrong to lie anywhere else.”
Consider the second example, where lying is only prohibited when it causes harm. I call this one the “business lie” clause. The ecommerce people who’ve engaged me in debate about the ethics of what they do frequently cite various versions of this. “I’m not hurting anyone with the lie.” The logical extension of this? “Therefore the lying is acceptable.”
I argue that my belief is actually the freest one of all. I’m unencumbered by faulty logic and justifications. I simply get to concentrate on trying to be as honest as I possibly can. In logical terms, my position regarding lying is the most ethical, not a narrower definition as allowed by some interpretation of the Bible.
By the way, guess who squeals the most when someone is on the receiving end of dishonesty? Yup. You guessed it. These very same people who lie on their websites as a matter of routine. When that happens you can bet your ass it is a Federal case. That’s hypocrisy, a close personal friend of dishonesty. They skip together through life hand in hand.
In my opinion, telling the truth isn’t about positive or negative. However, I still feel pretty darn negative about what I’ve seen in the business world and, more specifically, ecommerce. And that’s the truth!
No need to be coy this time and bury the lead. The subject line gives it all away.
A friend I left behind at the shithole company where I used to work got laid off on November 24, 2010 – also known as The Day Before Thanksgiving.
Seems like something ripped right out of the pages of A Christmas Carol, doesn’t it? That’s the risk you run when you work for Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge at Acme Widgets Corporation.
As frequently happens, however, the story doesn’t quite end there. Oh no, not by a long shot. The company always finds a way to fuck with you further and this case is no exception.
A brief recap on the place I used to work. I call the place the Shithole and my job title was “whore.”
Two of us were hired almost six years ago. Me and my friend who I will call Montgomery. We were hired in the same week.
Due to the amazing employee turnover rate, it wasn’t long until we were both the “old timers,” the longest serving employees at the company. In fact, earlier this year, we were both recognized for five years of service with an offer we couldn’t refuse.
Whenever the office threw parties (for lame birthday events or the rare employee recognition) the boss would get all soft and emotional and talk about how we were a “family.” All of us employees, of course, took extreme umbrage at such a sentiment. We took it as a severe insult. It was just too incongruous with the way we were treated which made it a totally empty word.
Montgomery was a good worker. He was the best salesperson and had a natural rapport with customers. They’d frequently stop by and ask for him by name. Like the rest of us he was forced to wear many hats. He could work phones, front office, the sales floor, and had a lot of institutional knowledge that was unknown to the rest of us. His primary duties for the last few years, though, were shipping, receiving and inventory.
I thought it was pretty amazing to watch him work. He had a routine for everything. He ran the shipping department like a well-oiled machine. Minor details like how he turned the tape around so it wouldn’t stick to itself made it clear that he put a lot of thought into what he did.
Recently, though, he had fallen out of favor with the higher-ups. We all hated the way we were treated, but he was one of the few that would talk back about it. (In my case I went passive-aggressive and got revenge in other ways, and I also channeled those feelings into my blog lest I explode.) He’d often end up in the boss’s office for 2-3 hour meetings where he said the things that the rest of us only fantasized about.
It wasn’t much of a surprise, then, when he ended up #1 on management’s hit list.
The entire operation, not counting the owners, was four employees and an office manager (who was not one of us). Near the end several of us began to suspect that a psychological war was being waged against us to induce us to quit. At times I was convinced it was true, and other times I felt I was just being paranoid. (The entire time I was constantly looking for work, though.) In Montgomery’s case I guess it turned out to be true.
When Montgomery was laid off, they gave him a “rehire” date so he could collect unemployment for a month. That was actually a nice gesture. If it sounds too good to be true, though, then what gives? Turns out they want him “on call” for production work as needed. If they ever call him and he can’t come in, that will end his unemployment. In other words, even after being let go, he’s still under their control and at their beck and call. As always, only the needs of the company matter. Fuck the “family” members.
What has happened since I left is that Montgomery was laid off. They cut hours for the other two employees. And they gave more hours to the office manager. And they still call in Montgomery to meet their needs. They’ve basically turned him into a super-part-time employee.
Behind all of this, of course, is the typical small business squealing about how the company “makes no money.” I’ve heard this shit for 10 years and the previous two companies where I worked. Two companies that are remarkably similar.
Yes, it’s true that the company is having a down year. As their IT guy I crunched the numbers and made a graph. (Yes, I have access to the big picture. That’s a side effect of writing their software.) To protect their proprietary information, I left the scale blank.
Data only goes back to 2004 when I began to get involved. The left column, in light blue, represents the historical revenue of the primary company. As you can see, 2010 is a downer year, but it is most decidedly not the worst year they’ve ever had. I know for a fact that these numbers represent profitability for the company. That means the numbers in light blue cover expenses, rent, cost of doing business, employee compensation (wages), etc. and leave income left over for the owners.
The right column, in dark blue, represents additional income from a side business they added in 2009. As you can see, that changes things a bit. Now 2010 is almost equal to the 2nd best years they’ve ever had. Even now. Even in this recession. Even as they are cutting hours and laying off people.
I believe that the reality is even more compelling. This graph only shows “revenue.” Not profit. You have to remember that the side business did not require any additional expenses. They used their existing infrastructure. They run it out of the same building so there is no increase in rent. There was absolutely no increase in compensation, either. The existing employees simply had to eat the additional workload and with no increase in pay. And, lastly, the side business is mostly “service” and has low costs and very low operating expenses.
In other words, the main business, which remaining profitable, is already providing everything the side business needs, which means the side business has a very high margin.
If I could somehow adjust the graph to show profit then I personally believe you’d see a remarkable jump in 2009 and and an even bigger one in 2010. (There is also a third service business that was layered on top of employees in 2010 which I didn’t bother to include in 2010. The 2nd revenue bar should actually be a bit higher.)
So when they call meetings to squeal about how they are personally losing money, I know they are lying to my face. I know better.
This is the thing that gets me. They don’t want to work. They find visiting their own business distasteful and anytime they stop by they can’t wait to leave. They find the office a drag, I guess, and they’re exactly right. So they need employees to make it happen for them. And they squeeze the shit out of things while lying about their profit so they make all the money while treating employees like shit and laying them off. On the day before Thanksgiving.
What is a company? In my experience, it is a place were an owner does 10% of the work and gets 90% of the money. Meanwhile those that do 90% of the work are treated like shit while getting 10% of what the company makes. There is no profit sharing so no incentive to care, beyond losing your job, about the success of the company. What kind of incentive is “my boss makes 30 times my salary” vs. “my boss makes 25 times my salary” while being a lazy ass and treating me like shit? And, “No matter how hard I work, I’ll make exactly the same.” Yeah, I wake up every day and get energized by thoughts like those. Not! And we wonder why so many of the employees we interact with during our daily lives could seemingly not care less.
So yeah, I feel for my friend. He’s unemployed and yet still under the company’s thumb. I can’t wait to see what they pull next. ‘Tis the season – ho ho ho!