The job market: how good is it, really?

Since the middle of last year, the mainstream business media has drummed a now familiar refrain: the job market is a seller’s market, and anyone with half a wit and basic skills can write their own ticket.

This has led some employees and job seekers to adopt a cavalier attitude. The most insouciant among them have even bragged on social media about kicking back on “bare minimum Monday”. I recently cautioned against such excesses of nonchalance.

One thing about being older: you remember things. I graduated from college in 1991, just as the US economy was coming down from its late 1980s boom, and landing a job was a struggle. I enjoyed the brisk job market of the mid- to late-1990s, then weathered the dotcom crash of 2001-2. I recall the booming job market of the mid-2000s, and how it all imploded during and after the financial crisis of 2007-2009.

Employers can go from bribing people in the door with perks and signing bonuses, to firing them en masse, in the blink of a some bad economic data and a lackluster quarter or two. Ask anyone who lived through the dotcom crash. 

In the mid-2000s, I worked as a buyer in the purchasing division of one of the major automakers. In 2005, the company was spending enormous sums of money to recruit young graduates from top universities. Many were getting signing bonuses.

Three years later, at the height of the financial crisis, the company was encouraging all interested employees to accept a buyout/early retirement package. Many of the people who took this “early retirement” were still in their twenties. 

When the company did start hiring again, it replaced the attritioned workers with temp agency employees, who were paid much less, and had no company-provided benefits. So much for “investing in talent”. 

That’s why I urge a cautious approach to the job market, and skepticism toward the reports of journalists who are giddily churning out articles about the “red-hot job market”. Remember  that a.) most journalists don’t understand economics, and b.) employment data is always a backward-looking indicator.

Moreover, there are signs that the mainstream media is changing its tune already

So are many employers and job seekers. Listen to the statistics in the video below. This woman’s situation is described in the above-linked article. 


Replying to @realisticrecruiting #jobsearch #jobinterview #interview

♬ original sound – Samantha


A school shooting in Tennessee, and some questions of our unhappy times

There’s been another school shooting, this time in Tennessee. Once again, the perpetrator was a disturbed loner, born after 1990, and a product of the progressive educational trends of recent decades.

Yes, there is a generational and educational element to the school/mass shooting pandemic. (And I believe that we may all agree it’s become a pandemic now.)

In the “backward”, unenlightened 1970s and 1980s, such incidents were not common. They were practically unheard of, in fact. And GenXers like myself certainly had access to guns. In 1983, at the age of 15, I could have laid my hands on half a dozen firearms in about an hour.

But I never became a school shooter. Nor did my peers. There is a direct correlation between the rise in youthful mass murder, and the educational changes that took place from the mid- to late-1990s onward.

That’s a larger discussion, of course.

So, too, is the inevitable debate over guns. Although the NRA has gone off the rails on assault weapons in recent years, I’ve generally been a moderate Second Amendment advocate for most of my life. I grew up around guns, after all, in semi-rural Ohio.

I now have to wonder, though, if the Second Amendment will survive the post-1990 generation. We can’t restrict firearms to people over the age of 45, after all. But the incidence of unstable individuals born after 1990 is both salient and disturbing. 

And finally, the shooting in Tennessee has a trans angle. Based on what we know now, the shooter was a biological female who identified and presented as a male, and used male pronouns

Nevertheless, a biological female. Although I quickly lose patience with mainstream media attempts to demonize men in general, one statement is irrefutable: While the vast majority of men are not violent criminals, almost all violent criminals are male.

That includes mass shooters, of course. Women rarely commit violent crimes, especially violent crimes like this.

Which raises the question: was Audrey Hale taking testosterone, as part of a so-called “gender affirming care” regimen? While Hale was no doubt angry about a lot of things, testosterone might have pushed her over the edge.

Women, we should remember, do not naturally possess the amount of testosterone that often accompanies medical attempts to artificially transition them into men. I.e., gender affirming care.

There are already instances of gender affirming care going hideously awry. Doctors performed a double mastectomy on the teenage Chloe Cole after craven adults convinced her that her adolescent angst was evidence that she was “a woman in a man’s body”. Chloe Cole eventually woke up, de-transitioned, and now she’s suing the Dr. Frankensteins who ruined her body and her life. 

You don’t have to be a religious zealot, or against basic LGBTQ rights, in order to acknowledge that irrevocably altering young people’s bodies in this way is immoral, unethical, and profoundly unmedical.

Twenty-first century American physicians should not be taking part in such Mengele-like experiments on people who are barely out of childhood.  I’ll remind you all of those words attributed to Hippocrates himself, and a principle that all doctors should follow: “First, do no harm.”


USA Today’s Minnesota ‘Woman of the Year’ honoree, and men in women’s spaces

USA Today has given Leigh Finke the Minnesota Honoree title for its annual ‘Woman of the Year’ award program. Finke is a leftwing politician in Minnesota’s House of Representatives.

Finke is also a transgender individual, a biological man who transitioned to a female identity only six years ago. 

I could write a longwinded exposition on the prima facie question of “what is a woman?” I could recite the self-evident lessons that most of us learned in high school health classes, before American public education was taken over by irrational ideologues. 

But the time for proving the self-evident and glaringly obvious has passed. At this point, your view of mammalian gender is either empirical or ideological. If you side with the empiricists, no further explanation is necessary. If you side with the ideologues, no further explanation is likely to persuade you. 

One thing, however, is clear: the goalpost for transgenderism has moved over the past decade. Continue reading “USA Today’s Minnesota ‘Woman of the Year’ honoree, and men in women’s spaces”

In Nicaragua, Cold War history repeats itself

In an effort to maintain my working knowledge of the language, I listen to  various Spanish news channels with regularity. These are all video-based, but I mostly just listen on my phone while I’m doing something else. 

YouTube has made foreign-language media a lot more accessible than it used to be. I have access to a dozen Spanish-language channels right there on my phone. At last—something about the Internet that doesn’t annoy me.

Only a handful of these channels are based in the United States. Most are located in Latin America, or at least staffed by Latin Americans. Since few CNN, Fox, or MSNBC anchors speak Spanish, these channels remain blessedly free of Joy Reid, Tucker Carlson, Nicole Wallace, Jake Tapper,  Rachel Maddow, and the other blowhards who presently dominate American TV journalism. That alone makes my investment in the Spanish language worthwhile.

One of the interesting aspects of listening to foreign-language news sources, located in foreign countries, is the observation that foreigners often have different priorities. That goes for foreign journalists, as well. They regularly focus on news stories that journalists in the English-speaking world either downplay or ignore. Likewise, what obsesses CNN, Fox, or MSNBC sometimes gets only a passing mention once you venture outside the Anglosphere.

Neither the English-speaking media nor the American public are much concerned with the Central American country of Nicaragua nowadays. As one old enough to recall the final decade of the Cold War, I find this moderately ironic. During most of the 1980s, after all, Nicaragua was constantly in the news. 

During this period, the Marxist dictatorship of Daniel Ortega was in power in Managua. Ortega’s Sandinista regime looted Nicaragua’s economy, stifled free speech, and generally trampled on the rights of the Nicaraguan people. 

The Marxist Ortega also sought to make Nicaragua a full-fledged client state of the Soviet Union. In the context of the Reagan era and the Cold War, this made Nicaragua a flashpoint of proxy struggle between the West and the USSR.

Daniel Ortega on the cover of Time in 1986

The question of whether or not the West should support the Sandinistas’ armed opponents, the Contras, was one of the most heated debates of the mid-1980s. It was also the root cause of the Iran-Contra affair (1985-1987). Though not quite as serious as Watergate, this scandal marred the otherwise successful second term of President Ronald Reagan.

Nicaragua seemed to be on a better path in 1990, when a rare free election ousted the Sandinistas, and brought Violeta Chamorro to power. But Nicaragua’s period of positive change was not to last. Through a series of electoral maneuvers, Ortega and the Sandinistas returned to power in 2008 with 38% of the vote.

This time, of course, the USSR was gone. But Ortega proceeded to renew his ties with the surviving Marxist dictatorship in Cuba, and the new one in Venezuela. 

Which brings us back to those Spanish-language news sources I frequently listen to. Spanish-language news outlets don’t talk much about Ukraine. Latin American audiences are generally uninterested in that faraway conflict. But they do talk about Nicaragua, and how bad things are there at present. Life under the Sandinistas was generally miserable in the 1980s. It’s no better in the 2020s, apparently. No surprise there.

Daniel Ortega, now in his late 70s, has grown particularly vindictive in his twilight years. Ortega has recently arrogated to himself the right to strip Nicaraguans of their citizenship—for the mere crime of publicly disagreeing with him. 

Ortega’s government has also revived its old practice of persecuting the Catholic Church in a predominantly Catholic country. The Sandinistas murdered countless Catholic clergy in the 1980s. Now they’re mostly roughing them up, jailing them, and sending them into exile. 

Not flinching from the obvious, Pope Francis has labeled Nicaragua’s government a dictadura, comparable in spirit (if not in organization and competence) with that of Nazi Germany or the USSR. In response, Ortega and his Sandinista lackeys have proposed suspending diplomatic ties with the Vatican.

The Biden Administration has taken some steps to sanction Ortega; but Joe Biden is already beyond his capacity with inflation, creeping Chinese aggression, and his administration’s attempts to secure the territorial integrity of Ukraine—which was simply part of the Soviet Union when Ronald Reagan was president. 

Would Trump or another Republican president change the situation on the ground in Nicaragua? Probably not. Changing Nicaragua is something that must—and should—be left to Nicaraguans themselves.

That said, the situation in this nearby country of 6.85 million is lamentable. The people of Nicaragua should have been done with Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas a generation ago. The proverbial “scrap heap of history” cannot claim Ortega soon enough.

#RussiaIsCollapsing: wishful thinking or prescience?

Not much that is pleasant or enlightening ever happens on Twitter. I suppose I should therefore know better than to check the site first thing in the morning. But sometimes we can’t help ourselves.

This morning Twitter gave me the usual list of trending hashtags. One involves a campaign to boycott Hershey Foods over that company’s decision to name a biologically male, female-presenting spokesperson to represent Hershey for International Woman’s Day. We’ll leave that one for another time. Gender identity-related controversies, after all, have been like dandelions on a May lawn in recent years.

Trending hashtags on Twitter this morning

Of more interest at the moment is the hashtag #RussiaIsCollapsing, which has been trending on Twitter for a number of consecutive days now.

For the record: I’m rooting for Ukraine, and I despise Putin as much as anyone. I’m furthermore irked at the Russian people that, a full generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they still can’t manage to elect a reasonable leader and become a “normal” country. 

I also have no doubt that Russia is collapsing, as any Westerner would define “collapse”. I’m sure life in Russia is anything but pleasant now, for the average Russian.

But then, we should not forget that it took the Russian people more than 70 years to overthrow the USSR, one of the modern world’s worst experiments in governance. 

And one can make the case that the Russian people never really dismantled the USSR. The Soviet-enslaved peoples of East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and the Baltics were at the forefront of that dismantling. So was Mikhail Gorbachev, a man who represented a real oddity: a genuinely enlightened Russian head of state.

But the Russian people, rising in righteous fury against tyranny and injustice? Not so much.


Ivan the Terrible, Russian czar

What about the pre-Soviet era, then? Here there is even less reason for optimism. In pre-Soviet times, Russia was a czarist dictatorship. While most Western European countries were moving toward republicanism or constitutional monarchy, Russia remained mired in an uneasy state of absolutism.

Only for a very brief period–during the Provisional Government of 1917–did pre-Soviet Russia experience anything approaching real democracy. But this short period of quasi-normalcy was swept away by the Bolshevik Revolution, which began that same year. 

History suggests that the Russians can collectively endure far worse conditions before they overthrow Putin, if they overthrow him at all. Russia, moreover, being a nuclear-armed state, is capable of taking down the rest of the world with it.

Which brings us back to the Russian people themselves, and the question of what’s wrong with them. A generation after the collapse of the USSR, why have they not done a better job of becoming a normal country? 

A popular uprising against the Soviet system–in East Germany

Bare minimum Monday may come back to bite you

Bare minimum Monday is the latest thing on the Internet—especially TikTok, that wellspring of youthful oversharing. 

Bare minimum Monday means what it sounds like: doing the bare minimum at work (especially office jobs) on Mondays. 

Slacking on the job at certain times of the week is nothing new, of course. And it isn’t limited to Gen Z white-collar workers. During the 1970s and 1980s, the prevailing wisdom was that you didn’t want to purchase a UAW-made automobile that rolled off the assembly line on Monday or Friday.

But Generation Z seems to be putting its own spin on the concept, to the cheerleading of the mainstream media. CNN gushes that younger workers are using “’bare minimum Monday’ as a form of self-care”. 

So goldbricking has now become yet another version of seeking safe spaces and avoiding microaggressions. Just what the younger generation needed: yet another reason for older folks (who still do most of the hiring) to perceive them as effete, fragile, and incompetent.

Of course, there has never been a shortage of 40- and 50-somethings who believe that the younger generation is leading the world straight to perdition. I’m from the original “slacker” generation: Generation X. When I joined the so-called “adult world” as a newly minted college graduate in 1991, I endured the subtle jabs of older colleagues and bosses who quipped that “young people nowadays just don’t know how to put in a full day’s work”. And that was more than 30 years ago.  Continue reading “Bare minimum Monday may come back to bite you”

The coming AI fiction glut?

Of all the things overhyped on the Internet at present, so-called AI (artificial intelligence) ranks near the top of the list. (Right after whatever Taylor Swift, and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex happen to be doing at the moment.)

Perhaps you’re a techno-utopian and you’re already annoyed with me for being a wet blanket. This technology is freaking amazing, you say. Before you send me an email accusing me of Luddism: I’m not against all AI, as a blanket policy. But much of the AI marketed at consumers is onanistic, yet another solution in search of a problem. AI is not a monolith. There are a few gems, but a lot of coal, too. 

For example: the AI in Photoshop that allows me to create a layer mask is clearly worthwhile, and incredibly useful AI. Photoshop is a program of pure genius, that enables the artistically inept—like yours truly—to make composites and image collages with only a journeyman’s grasp of the program. (More complicated artistic tasks, like original illustration, require the hand and eye of a professional, of course.)

On the other hand, my last washing machine had an “AI” sensor that was supposed to detect overloads. The sensor malfunctioned, and basically defined every load as an overload (even a load consisting of three medium-sized bathroom towels).

I had to scrap the entire washing machine. When I purchased my next one, I  specifically selected a machine without any AI capabilities. It functions perfectly. And since I’ve been using washing machines since the early 1980s, I’m fairly certain that I have the common sense not to overload one, sans AI assistance. 

Here’s the point. Sometimes AI is useful, and sometimes it’s like the stuffed birds that briefly appeared on women’s hats in the 19th century, before everyone came to their senses. Washing machines do not need AI. Nor does the phone answering system at your cable company. A menu telling you to press “1” for technical support, “2” for billing, and “3” for sales was always more than adequate. And the number-driven phone menu is early 1990s technology. No one needs an AI voice that sounds sort of like a person, but can’t really do anything extra for you, aside from raising your blood pressure.

In recent months, there has been an endless stream of online hype articles about programs like Sudowrite, ChatGPT, etc. These programs produce walls of text that kinda sorta maybe appear to be stories for a paragraph or two. 

The result has been predictable: a vast tsunami of AI-generated fiction, flooding online magazines and Amazon’s self-publishing platform. Clarkesworld reportedly had to temporarily suspend submissions to deal with the glut. 

The AI fiction glut seems to be most acute at the level of short stories and children’s books, which are usually no more than a few thousand words. If you’re going to try to write a book using AI in the first place, after all, why stretch your attention span any more than is absolutely necessary?

Many of these books and stories seem to arise from bets. A recent Reuters story describes a book written by a man “who bet his wife he could make a book from conception to publication in less than one day.” The result was a 27-page “bedtime story about a pink dolphin that teaches children how to be honest”. Make of that what you will.

This trend is also driven by social media, especially on TikTok and YouTube. Since the advent of Amazon-based indie publishing, there has been no shortage of hustlers and scam artists who are eager to tell the unwary how they can “strike it rich!” with low-content books, and even plagiarized books. Should we be surprised that these same video charlatans have now picked up the baton of AI written books? 

The title of this post is a misnomer, of course. The coming AI fiction glut is not “coming”, it is already here. 

We might have foreseen this. Long before AI, overnight fortunes were made by peddling get-rich-quick schemes and “lose weight without diet or exercise” promises. 

Never mind that such ruses predictably disappoint in the long run. The lure of the quick and the easy has an enduring appeal. 

Red-light zones coming to San Francisco?

From public defecation to shoplifting, California’s Democratic establishment has a consistent approach to crime: deal the problem at hand by legalizing the criminal activity. Then the “crime” goes away, presto chango. Lazy governance at its best. 

And so it is with San Francisco’s recent problem of rampant street prostitution. Supervisor Hillary Ronen has put forth the idea of creating an open-air red-light district. 

Exactly what the City by the Bay needs. But San Francisco, under one-party rule, has quite literally gone to die Scheiße. Residents and visitors now make use of online maps to chart the best walking paths around the aforementioned public defecation.

If the red-light district proposal passes, common sense (a commodity in short supply in California politics) suggests that it will not go well. But what about the larger debate about sex work and free choice?  Continue reading “Red-light zones coming to San Francisco?”

Bengals fever in Cincinnati

I will confess that I am not much of a spectator sports fan. This isn’t the same as saying that I hate them, or that I look down on you if spectator sports are your thing. (I’m all for sports, mind you; but I prefer doing them as opposed to watching others do them.)

Nevertheless, the Cincinnati Bengals have been performing well over the past few years…or so I gather from what I see in the news.

Today the Bengals play in the AFC championship game in Kansas City. If they win that game, it’s on to the Super Bowl, just like last year. (The Bengals narrowly lost the 2022 Super Bowl to the Rams.) Continue reading “Bengals fever in Cincinnati”

Tanks for Ukraine, and a uniquely dangerous juncture

One day after the German government announced that it will ship Leopard tanks to Ukraine, the Biden administration announced that the United States will supply Ukraine with Abrams tanks. 

This represents a reversal of past U.S. policy, and—likely—a major blow to Russia’s effort to swallow up its smaller neighbor. 

And on the surface, that’s a good thing, surely. Only a sociopath—or a paid Russian troll—would not want to see Putin lose this war. Forget the babblings of the pro-Putin shills on the fringes of the Internet. Vladimir Putin, who runs Russia like the KGB officer he once was, is the villain here. Russia is the aggressor nation. 

This doesn’t mean that Ukraine is a perfect country, or that the present Ukrainian government is a perfect one. Before the Russian invasion on February 24 of last year, Ukraine was mostly known for the rampant corruption of its business and corporate sectors. No one in the West was saying Slava Ukraini before 2/24/22.

But Russia—in case you haven’t heard—is even more corrupt than Ukraine, from top to bottom. And Ukraine isn’t invading Russia. It’s the other way around. Continue reading “Tanks for Ukraine, and a uniquely dangerous juncture”

Lisa Marie Presley and conspiracy theories in the age of COVID

Lisa Marie Presley, age 54, passed away yesterday from cardiac arrest. I’m 54, too; so this one definitely reminded me of my mortality.

While a singer and songwriter in her own right, Presley always struggled to establish a professional identity beyond her famous patrimony. This in no way diminishes the personal tragedy of her death. But it’s difficult to think of the younger Presley without thinking of the older one.

I am just barely old enough to remember when Elvis died in August 1977 at the age of 42. I had just turned nine.  Continue reading “Lisa Marie Presley and conspiracy theories in the age of COVID”

El Dia de los Muertos

Today is el Dia de los Muertos (the Day of the Dead) in Mexico. Though it roughly coincides with Halloween and has similar themes, el Dia de los Muertos is something quite different.

Think of it as a national (Mexican) acknowledgement of the inevitability of death, with a fusion of Christian and Aztec symbols and traditions.

That’s a simplistic and incomplete explanation, but it’s a start.

I was in Mexico in 1995 during the annual observance. It is something to see, especially to gringo eyes. 

The above video is in Spanish. But even if your Spanish isn’t so good, you’ll get a feel for what the holiday is all about.

Cicadas and anxiety

There has been a lot of talk in the media of late about the upcoming emergence of Brood X, the next great wave of cicadas. And—in keeping with the spirit of these traumatized, triggered times—some people are now coping with severe cicada anxiety as they wait for the appearance of the red-eyed insects.

For me, any mention of cicadas takes me back to 1987. That was another major outbreak year. I was then 19 years old, and a student at the University of Cincinnati. As this contemporary article from the Los Angeles Times notes, Cincinnati was a major hotspot for the short-lived, unprepossessing bugs.

Cicadas were everywhere in Cincinnati that summer. They crawled on lawns, on the sidewalks of the inner city, on cars. The husks of the dead ones were everywhere, too.

The cicada mania of 1987 even inspired the song, “Snappy Cicada Pizza”.

Let’s return to the issue of cicada anxiety. I can’t say that I like cicadas, or that I would be pleased to come home and find a swarm of them inside my house. But they don’t cause me anxiety, either.

I sympathize, though, with the cicada-anxious. I have an extreme aversion toward wasps. My lifelong dislike of wasps even inspired a short story, “The Wasp”, which you can read here on the site.

Photo credit: Fairfax County, VA