Friday, February 29, 2008

Rooted Lives

I'm slowly getting in treeplanting mode and I found this interesting video. I usually post this kind of stuff on my planting blog, but this desserves a little more attention.

Below is a trailer for Rooted Lives, a documentary directed by Erika Drushka, depicting the lives of three British-Columbia career treeplanters, known in the business as "lifers".

Here's the website, a better-quality Quicktime version of the video is available here.

Tupperfan's Guide to Useless Knowledge: B-C's treeplanting season can start as early as February on the Pacific Coast (highly rainy at that time of the year) and last over 6 months, thus earning the workers wage highly sufficient to not work for the rest of the year if they want to, allowing them to pursue any personal interests and venue, ranging from arts to travelling, passing by full-time parenting. (Some treeplanting outfits gathering to veterans and lifers will even offer children daycare services)

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Who's the Boss of Me?

Been a while I posted about personal stuff.

Not that there was nothing to blog about, just that I really don't have much time. Strange how it's always when you don't have time to write that you have plenty of things to talk about. Then you wish you had tie to take a break to write everything down, and then...nothing. Because nothing's happening anymore.

That's why sometimes you have to call in sick at work.

And then blog about your job.

Allright, I'll probably quit this job in a few months, when it will be time to pack my planting gear and head up west to deliver some trees in Alberta, but I don't want to bash it senseless, so let's call this international call center company "Planetary" and it's Canadian branch would be called, hum, "Polar".

So I work for Polar since November, taking customer service calls for cell phone sold by a major grocery chain. Basically, they selected a phone company to sell their cell phone service using that comm company's network, who, in turn outsourced it to one of their subsidiaries so it would be way cheaper. And here we are!

Interestingly, I was contacted for an interview at the communication company two days after starting to work at Polar, but they couldn't hire me as they have an agreement not to steal their subsidiary's employees, which would be easy since the pay is better.

The job is not hard, and I worked in plenty of call centers, including in the cell phone industry so I quickly became a "floor walker", helping agents with answering questions, solving problems and issue, taking supervisor calls or approving credits. Decent work, pays a little better. A little later, about a month and a half into the job, my team manager suggested to apply for the opening team manager position, which I did. And I got the job!


But I'm still an agent! Why? Because our workforce is thinning so fast, due mostly to inflexible hours and low wages that it's somewhat useless to lose a good agent and have an additional TM when there's less agents taking calls than ever before, so they told me to wait until we get more employees.

So here's the funny part: Our call centre has three different contracts. Our grocery store cheap cell phone customer service, relay services for deaf people in a major, sunny, populated, celebrity-governed American state and a third contract, also for relay services for a major telecommunications company in the US. Let's call them "Hori-Zon", a service we'll call "GoUSA". Hori-Zon decided it was costly to operate its relay services in North America so they closed all the GoUSA call centers on the continent, operated by Planetary, and moved them to Planetary's Philippine centers, which are, let's agree, way cheaper to operate! So the GoUSA agents here in our Montreal center will find themselves soon without a job. Contrary to the US where the agents are simply laid-off, GoUSA agents will be transferred to new operations, including our cell phone customer service. Most of those agents are not billingual like our current staff, but 80% of our customers being anlglophones, it shouldn't be a major issue.

The issue is personal, as the TM job I've been promised, which will be necessary when all those new agents will make the move, will probably be given to one of the current GoUSA team managers. Basically, the job I've been promised by Human Ressources will be taken from me.

Not that I care, as I was thinking of going back to the bush even if I'd get the job...But let's admit it was easier to take the decision.

So, here's my situation: I have a team manager. I'm supposed to be one of them, but I'm equally bossed by the three managers in my department, as they share duties, and soon I'll be bossed by other TMs who dont know shit about the job they are being dumped into and that I would be supposed to be doing. I work for a service which is being outsourced by an outsourcer, making sure we don't have only one client to report to, but two, not counting our own hierarchy of people who never took a customer call in a call center before. I'm also being bossed by Service Assurance, who puts me back as an available agent, making sure I receive an unwanted called at the wrong time while I'm doing some follow-up for a major problem, as requested by one of my managers. And if I'm floorwalking, I'm being bossed by the same Service Assurance people to make sure my agents don't stay to long on "not ready" or taking too much time to take a call. Also, customers have a tendancy to try to get as much as they can from you, even when they know their requests are completely unreasonable.

So that makes about 8 different bosses.

Then I started getting ready for the planting season, so I first contacted last year's camp supervicor and regional manager, two bosses, to ask if they needed help. They referred me to Alberta's regional manager, as the camp superisor I went to help last summer wanted to have me. That's two more bosses. I talked to Alberta's regional manager who offered me the job, and then I got a email from one of the company's administrators to fill a bunch of online forms and training documents and send proofs of my various licenses and certification, and then report for training in Toronto at the end of april with the company's owners. That's three more bosses.

So I currently have about 15 bosses. Isn't it great? And then they wonder why everybody is stressed and pissed!

At least that girl I've met doesn't boss me...yet!

In the end though, I have the luck to be able to make choices, as I'm not bound by slavery or a mortgage, so I'm still somewhat in control of my life. But I admit I would love if I didn't have to report to that many people in my professional life. At least in planting, I might have a few bosses during pre-season, but as soon as we'll be in camp, I'll have one, a smooth dude who knows his shit, so everything should be okay.

Tupperfan's Guide To Useless Knowledge:
Did you know that phone center agents never hold their headsets in real life? But you'll often see beautiful, professional-looking people do so in ads. Do they think readers/viewers are dumb enough to not realize they are talking on the phone?!?

Time to go boss my cat. And time for her to not listen to all!

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Didn't watch the Oscars...


Friday, February 08, 2008

The American Primaries: As Seen Down There by Someone from Up Here

Pierre Foglia is a character among French-Canadian journalism. Born in France from Italian parents, he first came to Canada "by accident" while on his way to Australia, after his military service in Algeria. Moving to Canada, he became, among other things, a sports journalist, a satirist, a journalism teacher, an international reporter who went to Iraq (before and after the fall of Saddam, he got in by the backdoor at least once...) and plenty of other hot spots. He covered a shitload of Tour de France, usually by reporting more about the life around it than the Tour itself, despite being a cyclism afficionado.

Not politically-correct, agree or disagree with him, the guy makes you think, makes you feel and live his journalistic adventures. His employer, La Presse, just sent him to cover the American Primaries. Here's a homemade translation (it was an interesting exercise, I tried to stay as faithful as I could to the original text and I think I was decently successful into bringing Foglia's colourful prose) of his first column on the subject, released on Saturday:

Obama, Omama, Olabama

Auburn, AlabamaI like his name : Obama. Three short syllables rolling like smooth, hard pebbles. And starting with this “O”, inviting extasy: Oh-bama. I think it would be great on me as well: Oh-foglia.

I know what you think: When he starts a paper with this tone, it’s because he has nothing to say. It’s not false, but follow me and don’t worry, we’ll find plenty of things to say. Little ones, but hey, that's some! Let’s start with this one, at the US Air desk in Burlington Airport (Note: Pierre Foglia’s is living close to Québec-Vermont border), the lady punches her keyboard: You don’t have a reservation for today, sir…

Come on!

But you have one for tomorrow! She didn’t add: Hey grandpa, a little confused? But it was in full letters in her compassionate smile. My fiancée brought me back to St-Armand. Next morning, the coyotes showed themselves at the end of the field, it seemed to me that they were waving handkerchiefs to say goodbye. It was one of those beautiful mornings where the frost crystallize the head of trees in a delicate rustle, one of those mornings when there’s absolutely no reasons to go somewhere else. Even the U.S. customs officer was in a good mood, you have friends in Alabama?

I have friends everywhere, sir.

We were eight in the plane that got full in Philadelphia. In Atlanta, I was fucked in the ass, again, by the car rental company, Hertz this time, but they all are rascals; It’s never the model we reserved, there’s always an extra for this, one for that and a third to laugh at you, what to do? You’re there, entangled in your luggage, your bike box…you want a car or not? No choice. For those people, I support the death penalty, the one by injection that the Supreme Court just suspended because it hurts too much.

Atlanta is the biggest airport in the world., you need to take the subway to go get your luggage, like if landing in Dorval (Note: Montreal’s international airport), you need to go get your stuff in Longueuil (Note: a Montreal suburb on the other shore of the St.Lawrence river), I don’t even exaggerate. I know the Atlanta airport very well, I was sent there against my will to cover the 1996 Olympics Games. Every time a plane would lift off, I would a little too, it was taking me 3 hours and 12 minutes to get to the trampoline finale; I want my epitaph to read that I had a passionate life, sometimes even a skippy one.

So, I somewhat got the bike in the trunk, left the Atlanta airport on the 85 South (the same one I was taking when driving to the trampoline finale) and I drove towards Oh-labama,.

I like his name, Obama. I don’t like his first name as much, Barack, barrack like a shack, it’s African I know, African first names suck, Mamoud or Kipchongué, I ask you…But then, I had a friend who was named Léontin. Léontin Obama, that would be good, but you know what would be great for an American president: Léontin Trampoline.

Seriously, I like Obama. But he does fuck the outlooks. Take as an example when he says: Between Hillary and me, it’s not a racial choice, and if I become the Democratic candidate, it wont be a racial election. A white guy couldn’t say that. More Obama is defending himself from campaigning on the race issue, more he’s placing the race issue straight in the middle of his campaign. There was, in yesterday’s Atlanta Journal, a sharp analysis of his discourse, particularly one of his favourite expressions, Cousin Pookie, as in: I need you to grab Cousin Pookie to vote. A Pookie, in ghetto language, is a dumbass, a retard, the brother-in-law. A racial election or not, Obama does send negro-insiders-only messages, saying: Hey, can you help me? Bring the idiot brother-in-law to the voting station.

For the last 10 years, African-Americans almost totally disappeared from the important American issues – example, there was no “black” position on Iraq, 9/11 – but here they are now, really visible through Obama. Now Americans worry every fifth minute about what they think, what they want, how they vote, to the point to think they are more numerous than they are, 12.8% of the US population. Ah you see, you too, you thought African-Americans were more numerous.

I came to Alabama with this idea of civic rights and of Rosa Parks, of Luther King’s march, which started here. I didn’t even check, for me Alabama, like Mississippi and Georgia are all-black states. I told myself: I’ll walk around, people will tell me about Obama with huge smiles, here we are…

So, Thurdsay, I was in that little college town, Auburn. I went to bike in the morning under heavy rain. Wet, cold, the rain doubling in intensity, I found shelter in a café inside a little shopping mall by the campus. A students’ café, like in the seventies, same communal tables, old couches, except now the students have their laptops on their laps. I ordered an espresso at the counter, with some apple thing. I bothered practically everyone with my questions, the Blacks here, the Blacks there, and first, how come Blacks are voting in vast majority for the Democrats and yet Alabama has been Republican for the last 40 years?

How many African-Americans do you think there is in Alabama? asked, with a little impatience, an employee of the neighbouring contemporary arts museum, who was having breakfast while reading his paper. And he went to answer himself: 5 million people in Alabama, 75% Whites who vote Republican in the same huge majorities as the Blacks vote Democrat, this is why Alabama will be Republican again come the next election, Obama or not.

Now this old lady (white), at the entrance of a huge park (Callaway Gardens) where I biked Wednesday: Beware of primaries. Primaries are about emotions. We want emotions so badly…When the real deal will begin, will come those who will say that security is not a question of emotions, economy is not about emotions. Then, we’ll vote against our emotions. Because we’re afraid of our emotions.

The Crossroad Store guy (white) where I had my first granola bar break of the season, the bike resting on the bench: Anyone but Hillary, I hate her and her whole family.

My TV was not working. I’ll send you someone right away, said the woman at the front desk. An African-American came in, sixty-something. Excerpts of our conversation:

-Nice guy, okay, but does Obama have the qualities required of a president?

-You think Mrs. Clinton has those qualities?

-I hate that woman

-You think Bush has those qualities?

-This Bush, no, but his dad was a great president.

Phenix City, border town, twin of Columbus (Georgia), I was searching for a restaurant to eat Black, I mean by this deep-fried, breadcrumbs, baked beans, catfish (I didn’t find happiness). Two Black kids in the street, amused by my accent and my questions on Obama: Hehehe, hahahaha, hohohoho, Obama Obama. And they start to dance, Oh mama, Obama, Oh mama, Oh daddy, I’m that nigga in the alley, want some weed?

Sure. Been a while.

I'll translate the next column tomorrow.

Time to go enjoy my non-sick day off!

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The American Primaries: As The World Sees Them.

A week or so ago, someone asked a German friend how Europe was seeing the race to the primary elections in the United States. My newspaper, Montréal's La Presse which is AWESOME (Hey, I'm preachin' a little, but I've been a paperboy for it when I was a teenager, it did win many international prizes and it's heavy as a motherfucker!), allotted the five first pages of its Saturday Edition to the American primaries (And the next two to Kenya's soon-to-be genocide. I'd personally switch them around, but hey, Africa's way too far off the radar!)

Here's a few (american) pie charts I've done (a pain in the ass, as I was sick and slightly drunk when I did this chart, using the highly-advanced MSPaint), faithfully copying La Presse's charts(I couldn't find them online). It shows the media space occupied by both parties and their respective candidates on every continent.

(click for larger)

Of course, there's plenty of room for interpretation, but I think some of you might appreciate this.

By the way, on any given continent, the primaries' share of all the published or broadcasted news never reached 2.20% (it's still substential)...Europe and Latin America are leading the way in coverage (Roughly, Democrats take 1.30% in both places, Republicans a little over 0.80%).

But seriously, this was not what I was supposed to do with a sickness/drunkness buzz!

Time to go rest my painful whole.

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