Temping and unions

This story reminds me of a union drive when I was a temp.

Right before I starting teaching as a TA in graduate school in Memphis, 2003-2004, I spent some time as a temp at a company called Solectron that repaired laptops, printers, and Xboxes. I made about $10.50 an hour doing warranty repair on a variety of IBM Thinkpads and some Gateway laptops. With a BA and experience as a technical editor and writer, I was taking a pretty big hit to the paycheck, but jobs were hard to find and I had retreated back to Memphis, ready to accept anything that came along.

It was a bit like I would imagine working in an medieval guild; in the middle of a huge warehouse, we sat closely together at long work benches and had the laptops delivered to us on wheeled racks throughout the day. I usually worked the 7-4 shift. The job was very fast-paced. We were trained to fix a laptop in less than an hour; we practiced by taking apart and putting back together various models over and over until the motions became second nature. To this day I could take apart a T or X series in seconds. And we needed that speed, because while I was there, we went from 8 laptops fixed in a day to 10 and sometimes 12. Older workers told me it had used to be 6. There was constant pressure to increase productivity, because as I understood it through rumors that swept across the warehouse floor from bench to bench, as well as official pronouncements, that Solectron wasn’t doing well and had mishandled its contract negotiations with IBM and Compaq and HP and Microsoft, leaving scant money for temps, especially hiring them full-time. So I figured out that speed and accuracy would help me keep my job, but the chance of a raise or advancement was zero. At one point I was the fastest repairer in the IBM section, but I deliberately slowed down, realizing (too slowly for my taste, looking back) that I was getting nothing out of it.

Anyway, at one point while I was there, a union drive started. It was limited to the full-timers; the many temps would not get a vote. In any case, FTers and temps were steered into rooms where we watched some really bad anti-union videos and were lectured on the evils of unions, including the reality that the plant would close if the union was let in – what the article above calls a “captive audience meeting.” I said nothing; I needed my job a little longer until I had 18 graduate hours and could teach, and as a temp,  I couldn’t vote anyway. In any case, the union drive failed by a huge margin.

I took another pay cut when I left; teaching as a TA at the UofM, while a lot of fun, paid perhaps half that of temping, and provided no summer employment, which I always had to scramble for.

I’m not saying my time as a temp was bad – it filled a space when I really needed work, allowed me to maintain an apartment and a car, and mostly worked with a night graduate school schedule – but I was well underpaid, as I’m sure that Amazon pickers and other warehouse employees are.

Happy holidays

It’s a pretty lazy holidays for me so far. I’m sitting here with the dogs at my feet, doing some ancillary reading for a spring project. Tomorrow we go see my mother and stepfather and grandmother, which is good.

Some other good news recently – another accepted article, this time at Rhetorica (see the About page) – though I don’t know when it will appear. This one is particularly important as it’s the first time a chapter from my dissertation has made it to print. Previously I had a big idea from a chapter appear (the article on Origen) but not a whole rewritten chapter. So I’m pleased.

Solid copy, Commander

I’ve been playing the expansion to XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which is called Enemy Within. It adds a great many things, including a new alien-friendly enemy, but perhaps the largest amount of fun comes from the new MEC troopers. These poor souls have all their limbs amputated so they can be fitted into giant mechs (not that anyone ever thought of NOT amputating their limbs and creating mechs that can be run by normal, four-limbed humans). The resulting combination is so fast and deadly that it’s hard for normal humans to keep up.

Also, I went back to State of Decay and finished it by avoiding the cheap death trap entirely through the judicious use of manually backing up the saved game folder. This felt only slightly dishonest.

State of Decay

It’s quite possible that this game, State of Decay, is simply not for me. Normally I like a zombie apocalypse or two, but this one has two features that make it difficult to like.

One is permadeath, even though it is just the kind that makes you switch characters. I must have killed a few hundred zombies and convinced myself of my general competence  before one uber-powerful one came out of nowhere and kicked my ass. It was nothing I could have prepared for. Maybe it was realistic, but not fun. Sadistic, really. Why continue? I was sort of attached already to my character and his cheap death didn’t exactly win me over.

Two is offline death, where characters die and resources dwindle while you’re not playing the game. This was even more insult to injury. I am lucky enough to have a job and a life; I can’t babysit a game. I’m lucky these days to play on weekends. I’m already addicted to caffeine. I need something I can play, then stop, and return to, as I see fit, without randomized penalties.

A game that did permadeath pretty well in single player PC in recent memory was XCOM. That game allowed saving and loading, there was no offline deaths and draining of resources, and death still mattered. (And they did it turn-based, too! Kudos!)

Why can’t State of Decay manage the same?  I can understand why the developers made these  two decisions – there are plenty of young, masochistic gamers out there who will replay a game again and again after a largely randomized death. What to me is crummy design is to them a badge of realism.  I’m older, more temperate, and have less time on my hands, alas.

What particularly frustrates me, if it is not already clear, is that I would like to play more of the game. I really would. I would like to work around its weaknesses and derive enjoyment from it. But I can’t justify the attempt, and that makes me conflicted – again, not something I want in a game.

The Bat

So I finished Batman: Arkham Origins a few days ago. Despite some game-crashing bugs which have now been resolved, it is my favorite of the Batman: Arkham games, mostly because the villains, as numerous and crazy as ever, have some decent social critique of the Bat to share along the way. As Anarky would say, the Bat would seem to be part of the problem.

The plot of the game revolves around Black Mask hiring eight super-villain assassins on Xmas Eve to kill a young, more physically direct Batman, and while some of them confine themselves professionally to just trying to kill Batman (Deathstroke comes to mind) others seemingly go out of their way to cause civilian causalities (Firefly) or simply don’t care either way (Mad Hatter). This antiapathy forces Batman to start to acknowledge he is responsible, in more than one way, for the overall situation in Gotham. His refusal to take life has consequences, by allowing individuals like the Joker, who arguably need killing, to continue to go on spree after spree. Batman, for all his super-competence, has resigned himself to the role of super-villain janitor, sweeping them again and again into Blackgate or Arkham.

That’s why Batman is my favorite superhero – he places some real limits on his actions that are not based on being a Boy Scout, like Superman. He won’t kill you, but thinks nothing of sending you to the hospital first. He won’t shoot you, but he will break your legs. He won’t break the law capriciously without reason, but he is a vigilante.

Stasis theory part 2

In a previous post I noticed that certain sources have a different version of ancient stasis theory than the one I knew to be accurate to Hermagoras.

I initially thought Crowley and Hawhee’s Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students was the source of this difference – namely, the introduction of a fourth stasis, policy, that replaces jurisdiction – but apparently it goes farther back to an article by Fahnestock and Secor in 1985, “Toward A Modern Version of Stasis.” Crowley and Hawhee correctly identify their version as a “hybrid” in a footnote, but don’t mention Fahnestock and Secor. F&S have a textbook that apparently furthers their stasis model.

There is also a reference to George Kennedy’s “reconstruction of Hermagoras’ lost treatise” in C&H, but the text they’re referencing is not in the bibliography. In fact, in A New History of Classical Rhetoric, Kennedy lists the four stasis questions, and they’re the correct classical ones from Hermagoras (98-99).

Now what is the significance of this, you may ask. On one level, I’m just being nitpicky about representing something as classical – and getting the ethos that this bestows – when it is really modern. On another level, though, I wonder if the policy question actually adds anything to the theory. Still digesting that one.

VW stops making the T2


My first car was a late ’70’s Transporter with fuel injection. It developed an astounding 70 horses. No AC and the weakest of heaters. I bought it to make a cross-country trip from Arizona to Massachusetts, which it completed, before promptly breaking down during a second trip to from Boston to D.C. in the winter. It was a gallant, if high-maintenance vehicle; I sold it for what I paid for it, as rust-free VWs are rare in the Northeast. Sometimes I wonder what became of it.

pay no attention to that man behind the curtain