Graduate careers – a critical perspective

Universities insist that they are providing students with the best education that is perfectly integrated with the needs of the labour market. This, in theory, should lead to 100% employability of graduates, immediately upon receiving their valuable piece of paper.

Looking at the people in different subjects, each one with an ambition to become the top dog in their field, it is clear that students should not rely on the promises of universities claiming to have the secret to immediate career success, nor depend on university career offices to find them the perfect job. A person’s success is a combination of luck and own career management. Depending on others leads you to an unemployment benefit line.

Students – plan and manage your own careers! NO ONE else will do that.

Otherwise, you will be swallowed by the tide of identical graduates, finishing your programme, your university, the same programme in dozens of other universities. Thousands of clones are pushed onto the labour market each year.

How to succeed – what is a good graduate career?

  1. Plan your career for the next 5-10 years.

University is not a period of life, after which comes “something else”. University is a stepping stone for the next 10 years of your career. You will have received the knowledge and skills (and degree certifying to that fact), from which you should step into full-time employment, preferably in an area related to what you’ve just studied.

I ignore useless people who moan that “they don’t know what they want to do”, as those people are wasting everyone’s time, efforts and the financial resources of family or government.

Good people, intelligent people, will have a good idea where they want to go, what they want to do.

Build a secret plan.

University (Bachelor) => Graduation => First full-time job, early experience, getting the first employer onto your CV => experience working + understanding real people (and crazy bosses) => Masters (part-time not to lose work?) => Second job or sizeable promotion within original organisation =>First mortgage … Etc.

Follow the plan.

Figure out what happens in the industry that you want to work in, what are the trends, where is the cool work, where do people earn or make money, who the powerful people are. And then, plan yourself pursuing that.

Develop alternatives in your plan. Be ready for changes – in your first few years OTHER PEOPLE will make decisions about you, so you always have to be ready for good and bad decisions made by THEM about YOU.

  1. Be aware of important trends.
  • Statistics are your enemy – every year thousands of identical students graduate and go looking for the same jobs.
  • Degree inflation – the value of lower degrees or qualifications is diminishing, as (see above) thousands graduate each year in each discipline. Soon, every cleaner or security guard will have a Bachelor (and a Bachelor in “ochrana”, that are offered, for example in Poland ;p).
  • Competency inflation – 2 languages are the norm, as are three. Four or five are desirable. You know Word? LOL – How about Visual Basic for Excel? Driving licence? Maybe a tank driving licence is still unique…
  1. Decide on the final outcomes of your education.

Be aware that there is a trade-off between quality/prestige and price. If you want to get your higher education done easily and cheaply, do not expect good jobs afterwards. There is a reason why top companies/organisations hire form best universities. Quality education = a lot of knowledge. But then, quality education = $$$$$$$$.

The chances of getting an amazing job with a bad education are remote – you would have to find an employer who does not understand the low value of your diploma and then, after appointment you still have to show your unique skills (if you have them). This combination of luck is unlikely.

If you did a low quality Bachelor, then jump in quality/prestige for the Masters. Bad Masters? Do another one in a better university. Hell, go abroad.

  1. Don’t waste time – differentiate yourself.

With thousands of clones graduating each year, you are among them, lost in the crowd. Everyone has the same degree title, similar GPA, even identical subjects on their transcripts. During your studies, pursue additional differentiating factors:

  • Learn more languages (with certificates, proving your skills – just not IELTS);
  • Gain additional qualifications/certificates, both at university and outside;
  • Work experience BEYOND what is required towards the degree (holiday work, part time work around classes, even full-time work integrated with classes) – anything to show to a potential employer that you are a “real employee with experience”;
  • International mobility (exchange) for a semester, to show intercultural and international experience and competencies (or even multiple exchange semesters in different countries, as is increasingly the norm in Europe) – show that you can live and study abroad, that you can deal with foreign cultures, languages, institutions, laws and people;
  • International double-degrees (or triple, if you can get them), where you gain a second degree while studying for a year or two at the foreign partner university – if possible seek programmes that award DIFFERENT degrees, enhancing your value to a potential employer;
  • Research towards your future career – write a dissertation on a topic that will show your future employer your interests, competencies or ambitions;
  • Take courses or gain skills towards your future career (all degrees allow for electives, or take additional courses/credits);
  • Get involved in projects outside of classes that will enhance your experiences, show your organisational skills, people skills;
  • Start projects, that will show your innovativeness and entrepreneurialism;
  • Attend conferences, events, to gain certificates, see what really goes on and, maybe/hopefully, pick up contacts of useful people, whom you can later contact about work/projects/opportunities;


And then, your CV will be INTERESTING to an employer, who will see a young person of above-average competencies, experiences, someone to whom a job offer MUST BE MADE.

You could argue that the lazy ones will get jobs too, but their chances are much smaller, as they are all IDENTICAL. You could argue that some weak graduates will get jobs because of family contacts – although true in some cases, understand that most employers need GOOD people (not children-of-friends), and will in many cases opt for the QUALIFIED CANDIDATE – you.

And after getting the job, you start on the SECOND challenge – developing your career ;p

Useless degrees – who should pay for your studies?

As years in higher education pass by, I keep coming back to a notion I picked up in a book about Japan’s economic miracle. The smart Japanese, intent on developing their economic might in the shortest possible amount of time, developed their higher education (public, e.g. state-owned and state-funded) to an advanced level. They had, however, one interesting attitude, which might come in handy in the current discussions about Western higher education – the Japanese funded lavishly those degrees that the government considered USEFUL. Engineering, mathematics, chemistry, physics, architecture, etc we all strongly and consistently supported. The same could not be said about degrees like political science, history, etc, which were deemed unable to contribute to economic development.
Of course, we will come across arguments that a technological society in rapid development “must find space/time/money for the arts” or “without knowing history we are doomed to repeat it”, but the counter argument is one of financial analytics. Concepts such as RoI come to mind, which play a major role when we consider the size of state expenditures on higher education and the ratio of expected/real returns. Therefore the question becomes one of: why would a government spend tens of millions of dollars (usually much more) on providing free education in areas that make no or very little contribution to national development? How much GDP growth can we expect from students of politics, sociology, history, art, music, drama, media, of whom each nation has tens of thousands graduating each year?
This is especially important when I recall a second bit of information – many years ago I came across a research paper in the UK, detailing the career paths of university graduates: 30% had jobs that did not require a degree, 30% had jobs that needed a different degree, and only the remainder correlated university education with later employment (I think those ratios are correct, but taken form wihtin the haze of memory). So, 60% of researched graduates could be said to have “useless degrees”.
Let us drop in one more component – the massive global economic depression, which is hitting the European Union especially hard. And even harder-hit are the EUs 20-somethings, fresh out of universities, both prestigious and not. Those frustrated, over-educated, unable to find any work people who will for the rest of their lives remain a generation devoid of optimism (and national insurance).
So, why would a government provide funding for so much “useless degrees”? Why throw away money on institutions, programmes and staff, who “educate” young people straight into unemployment and feel no remorse over this sad fact? It seems that governments have still bigger problems to sort out, before they even begin looking at such issues. Also, such policy changes will be unpopular and, especially in democratic countries, bring with them bad media (no longer just “bad press”). Yet, when we consider the economic efficiencies coupled with reduced citizen frustration, then we begin to see some logic behind the idea.
Critics will, of course, talk about the freedom of a student to choose their educational path. Yes, that freedom must exist, but CANNOT be guaranteed when the government is footing the bill. There is a solution to this “freedom dilemma” and it comes in the form of diversified funding for higher education:
– Strategic degrees, vital to the nation? Of course, the government will fund the institution, which in turn will mean that students study for free and may even receive additional funding (bursaries, social support, scholarships, etc).
– Useful degrees, providing overall improvements (as management graduates should)? Yes, but a funding-sharing arrangement akin to public-private partnerships (PPP), where institutions/companies co-fund the production of their future employees.
– Art and history? Useless degrees. If you want to study that, pay for it yourself. In case of the first funding model, the state assures a return by having a contract with each students requiring them to work within the nation, for local companies, etc.
The second model provides a simple system of guarantees – the company that co-funds a degree will expect to “get” the graduate. In the third case, no one cares – a student paid for his/her education in an unproductive discipline and that same student then faces the consequences of his/her educational folly (plus a bank debt or unrecoverable loss of own many thousands of Euros).
It would be fascinating to see the statistics of higher education shift dramatically and swiftly, as people would abandon no-longer-free “life changing” and “personality growing” and “passion following” degrees and either: go to work straight after high school or seek-out a tertiary-level education that would provide them with a steady job and for which they would not have to pay as much as for the “idealistic” degrees. The students themselves would begin to look at their life, study, career through the eyes of an investment banker (“if I invest, what do I get out?”).
Some institutions would be closed down, some would reformat their organisational units, many departments would be closed and staff laid off. But then, in a pragmatic 21st century, are universities to be the retention warehouses for the unemployable and useless, or are they to be vital institutions in the development of human capital and technological advantage that the Chinese low-cost producers cannot easily copy? If vital research in “useless” disciplines exists, then such researchers can gain funding from other sources. If a government suddenly needs 300 political science graduates or media/PR advisers, it can provide one-time, target-specific funding.
And yes, this is the opinion of a Politics degree graduate (admittedly one, who dramatically refocused his life after exiting the university, moving away from his own “useless degree”). And who did not receive government funding…

Bujda czyli reforma emerytalna

Już nie wiem czy sie śmiać czy płakać, obserwując aktualne dyskusje medialne i bitwy polityczne toczone pomiędzy zwolennikami ZUSu, KRUSu, OFE. Jedni płaczą, inni krytykują a jeszcze inni grzmią z tej lub owej ambony (wirtualnej lub nie). Obywatel i tak ma wszystko głęboko, ponieważ nie widzi związku pomiędzy pieniędzmi zabieranymi mu dzisiaj a hipotetycznymi dochodami emerytalnymi za kilkadziesiąt lat. Czyli aktualna reforma emerytalna to pic na wodę.

Jakiekolwiek składki i tak przejadane są dzisiaj, zaś my, pracujący, otrzymujemy jedynie zobowiązania od złodziei kasy, że za 15-20-30 lat cokolwiek nam wypłacą. Przecież ZUS wydaje dzisiejsze składki mas pracujących na swoje (tzn. państwa) zobowiązania wobec pracujących wczoraj a emerytów dzisiaj. Metoda dziurawego kubła: co wpłynie dzisiaj, wydadzą już jutro, zaś na NASZE emerytury będą zbierali (wymuszali) od tych pracujących za 15-20-30 lat. W funduszach jest trochę inaczej – liczy sie wartość pieniądza w czasie. Fundusze biorą od nas “składki” (też wymuszony ustawowo haracz) po czym wypłacają sobie natychmiast dywidendę (złotówka wzięta dzisiaj ma taką samą wartość jutro, ale juz nie za 30 lat), żyją na nasz koszt, za to obiecują nam, iż za 30 lat otrzymamy miliony. Nie mówią nam o tym, że sami sprzedawcy i zarządzający tymi funduszami już nie będą pracować za owe 30 lat (za to żyją przez ten czas na nasz koszt), nikt nie zna inflacji, stanu ekonomii za 10-2-30 lat, ani tego co wymyślą rządzące cwaniaki.

To jest taki biznes, jakby przyszedł do was sąsiad i poprosił o pożyczkę 20 000 PLN i obiecał, że za 10 lat odda wam milion. Dalibyście? Większość z Was dałaby, ale bimbrownikowi czy dealerowi amfy, bo ich zwrot na inwestycji jest pewniejszy i większy.

ZUS wyrzuca pieniądze na wypłaty prezesów, limuzyny, nowoczesne biurowce i bezzasadne pensje dla swoich geniuszy. Nie wspomnę o informatyzacji, która pochłonęła ciężkie miliony a doprowadziła do utworzenia kont użytkowników, byśmy mogli popatrzeć z domu na to jak mało będziemy dostawać. Ta sama informatyzacja kont wymaga osobistego pojawienia sie w urzędzie, czyli ZUSowscy informatycy nie potrafili rozpracować systemu w którym człowiek może sie sam zapisać…
OFE i inne cyrki zatrudniają najdroższych specjalistów, sponsorują rożne dziwne przedsięwzięcia oraz nie potrafią wykazać sie zwrotem na inwestycjach powyżej inflacji oraz lepszych od średniej statystycznej rynków finansowych. Czyli, jakbyśmy grali tą kasą w kasynie mielibyśmy podobny wynik.
A obie instytucje powyżej powinny uczyć sie od KRUSu czyli wiejskiej instytucji finansowej pokazującej jak bogaci farmerzy z dofinansowaniem unijnym mogą udawać biednych robotników rolnych z PRLu, taksówkarze stają sie rolnikami (z hektarem przeliczeniowym), a wszyscy mogą konkurować z normalnie ubezpieczonymi MSPowcami z racji śmiesznie niskich składek, co pozwala na dokonanie dumpingu cenowego i wykoszenie tysięcy składko- i podatko-płatników prowadzacych MSP.

Mamy bajzel, w którym wszyscy nas okradają a potem walczą miedzy sobą. Czyli “reforma emerytalna” z 2014 roku. Co będzie? Ano będzie Ziemia Obiecana. Przy zapaści finansów państwowych, postępującej globalizacji (a ta osłabia rządy i wzmacnia niemoralne, transnarodowe korporacje nie mające żadnych zobowiązań wobec nikogo) oraz postępującym debilizmie rządzących należy oczekiwać jednego – likwidacji systemu zabezpieczeń emerytalnych. Likwidacji poprzez całkowitą zapaść.

Co to oznacza?
1. Powrót do dzikiego kapitalizmu sprzed drugiej polowy XX wieku, w którym ludzie będą pracować do końca, czasami umierając przy maszynach, na złość pracodawcy (prokurator + dochodzenie + usuniecie zwłok = spowolnienie procesu produkcji).
2. Zwiększanie obowiązkowych obciążeń składkowych wśród mas pracujących, ponieważ te nie mają możliwości obronić sie przed zajęciem ich dochodów (składki pobierane są jeszcze na poziomie pracodawcy, a ten zobligowany jest ustawowo). Łatwiej jest kręcić tym na rożnych umowach. Masy będą karmione obietnicami rządzących, a ci mają tą samą mentalność co spece z OFE: “obiecam coś za 30 lat, gdy mnie już dawno nie będzie”.
3. Powyższe pieniądze będą stracone z perspektywy pojedynczego obywatela-płatnika. Nie będą należały do niego ale do państwa (co zresztą niedawno stwierdził Donald).
4. Nie będzie miało znaczenia ILE filarów nasz cudowny rząd wymyśli – każdy projekt pod ich patronatem skończy się tak samo. Odpowiednik OFE w Kazachstanie właśnie został zlikwidowany zaś pieniądze (te jeszcze nie rozkradzione) są scalane w tamtejszym nowo powołanym ZUSie.
5. Obywatele chcący zabezpieczyć się na starość będą zmuszeni zadbać sami o siebie. Owa działalność będzie musiała być ukryta przed rządem gdy ten, zdesperowany, zechce sięgnąć po inne źródła finansowania (janosikowy podatek od oszczędności a’la Grecja). I zacznie sie skup złota połączony z zakopywaniem mini sztabek w ogrodzie. Alternatywnie, będziemy inwestować w waluty (ale nieregularne zmiany banknotów lub kontrole sprzedaży/przepływów utrudnią ich długoletnie przechowywanie).

Nie wiem jak WY, ale się nie okłamuję. Podatki i składki jakie płacę postrzegam jako bandycki podatek od którego nie mogę uciec. Nie ma znaczenia jak sie będzie nazywał, jak górnolotne będzie jego uzasadnienie oraz jakie zróżnicowane formy przyjmie. Nie liczę na nic od państwa, ani na ZUS ani na Służbę Zdrowia. Wiem, że jak sam nie zarobię i nie odłożę, to nie będę miał nic na starość. Odłożyć muszę dużo i daleko, bym nigdy nie musiał liczyć na żałosny system “wsparcia emerytów” autorstwa (dowolnego) polskiego rządu.

Współczesna reforma emerytalna jest więc tymczasową bajką dla naiwnych, bo nie wyszli na ulicę i nie spalili Wiejskiej.

Na szczęście, moja branża pozwala pracować do ostatniego dnia życia a i profesorowie są opłacani coraz wyżej wraz z wiekiem (ponoć zyskują więcej doświadczeń i rozumu). W Polsce profesor może zarabiać jeszcze kilka miesięcy po śmierci, gdyż uczelnia nie musi natychmiast poszukiwać zastępcy, nadal wykazując (świeżego) nieboszczyka jak swoje “minimum kadrowe” do pół roku po jego zgonie. Tylko kto odprowadzi składki od mojego trupa?

Głupi student

Głupi student – niedawna zadyma medialna ze studentem wściekającym się o zadawane pytania na obronie, spowodowała ogólnopolską histerię nt. edukacji młodego pokolenia.

Niewiele osób zauważyło, że uniwersytety są ofiarami wieloletniego procesu (nie)edukacji, jaki uskuteczniają szkoły podstawowe i średnie. Współcześni wykładowcy dostają do obrobienia towar wybrakowany, zatruty, wypaczony, posiadający minimalne umiejętności (ale za to ogromne ambicje i oczekiwania). Trudno jest cokolwiek zrobić z takimi “studentami”, którzy nie chcą i nie umieją się uczyć, nie posiadają podstawowego zasobu wiedzy, słownictwa, ani woli do podjęcia niezbędnego wysiłku. Na uczelnie trafił rezultat współczesnego “consumer universe” uwarunkowany na prostą transakcję “pieniądze = rezultat” (czytaj: dyplom) bez jakiegokolwiek wysiłku pomiędzy. Oznacza to, że jakiekolwiek wymogi, standardy, oczekiwania ze strony uczelni i pracowników są zbyt wysokie i nie przystają do współczesnego społeczeństwa niedorobionych FBkowiczów i podobnych im NKowców. Przeczytanie podręcznika i materiałów pomocniczych, systematyczna nauka przez cały semestr, odrabianie zadań domowych (we wszelkich postaciach), otwartość intelektualna, samodyscyplina – to wszystko nie przystaje do Polski 2010+ i jej młodzieży. Nie pomagają państwowi administratorzy (mamy dwa ministerstwa zajmujące się “edukacją”), politycy (w Sejmie znajdziemy mało intelektu), media forsują ludzi “sukcesu” nie wynikającego z zalet umysłu ani jakiegokolwiek realnego talentu a ilość współczesnych wykształciuchów (absolwentów rożnej maści programów licencjackich lub magisterskich, o profilu rzadko przydatnym w życiu) nijak nie przeradza sie w jakość kapitału społecznego RP3.5.

System nie działa, a wybryki co głupszych jedynie pokazują jego wewnętrzne zepsucie. Niestety, politycy i administratorzy niczego nie zmienią – sami juz przeszli, najczęściej przez wcześniejszy system (ten mniej zepsuty) i nie muszą dbać o to co wchodzi do uczelni “po wiedzę”, a raczej po dyplom. Rządzącym rewolucja nie jest potrzebna, zaś ewolucja jest nieskuteczna.

Patrząc na ilość uczelni przyjmujących każdego, kto potknie sie na chodniku i wpadnie do działu rekrutacji, należy sie zastanowić czy aktualny kierunek, tzn. masowe kształcenie wszystkich o wszystkim, przekłada sie na wymierne korzyści dla Polski. Przecież nie można nawet powiedzieć, że państwo ma z tego podatki, ponieważ uczelnie nie płacą CIT za działalność statutową. Ilość nigdy nie przekłada sie na jakość a masowa rekrutacja wyławia takich “geniuszy” jak owy zszokowany magistrant. I będzie ich coraz więcej – i tutaj należy zadać pytanie: czy to jest jeszcze szkolnictwo wyższe, jeżeli takie głąby dochodzą do obrony pracy?

Education level commonality

Continuing the pessimistic thoughts about an absolute lack of education level commonality between nations of diverse social, economic, educational and ethical standards, it makes sense to ponder whether there exist any solution to this problem.

Once again, it is important to mention the fact that Bologna degree equivalency, equalises all qualification at a given level, regardless of their underlying education. So, a UK public university Bachelor degree is equal to a Baccalaureate from a post-soviet-state privatised higher school, where teacher still “read” their classes from faded notebooks. The difference, other than fees, is in the quality of not just teaching but also demands placed upon students (real not theoretical workloads, effort, rewarding).

A popular expectation of commonality comes in the form of oh-so-favoured learning outcomes for the given discipline. In theory, everyone who follows the same standards in developing their degrees (there are a few benchmarks available forcing widespread copying&pasting which should = commonality), should deliver the same results, not only in subject content but also in the stuff left behind in student brains (knowledge, skills, etc). Having written many such documents (and having witnessed even more being created) I can safely say that this is a fallacy – the outcomes written down in many cases have little to do with the student (graduate) profile. Yes, it is the fault of an institution (or rather hundreds of them), yet here we come to the crux of the problem – there must be a force “out there” that is able to gauge the real results of an educational programme, without relying on over-exaggerated paperwork written to satisfy some oversight agency more interested in accounting piles of printed paper than checking the reality of what is being submitted.

Internationally, this is close to impossible. We will most likely have to rely on rankings of universities, yet these are skewed in the direction of science and grants and not knowledge forced into student heads.

At the national level, where we should begin this reform process, we already have working examples (even if at different levels). I am talking about state exams, conducted on a given day to everyone involved in the particular educational programme (most popular as high school exist exams). It would be interesting to see the grades achieved by all students of a given discipline in a nationwide exam with questions defined by a committee of discipline specialists, even if following the “learning outcomes” approach (but for a national degree type). Such an exam would provide an objective benchmark and allow for proper analysis of learning processes, while cutting down to size most idealists favouring academic independence.

Of course, this would only make sense if this “state” exam was defined by the state, administered by its representatives and had a system that kept all local “gurus” far away from it. And, oh please, no releasing of questions beforehand so that mnemonic cyborgs (sorry, students) can then memorise what is required 2 days before the exam, falsifying the results.

We would be looking at a new system. But first, there would be blood in the streets and classrooms as everyone in HE discovered how much (or little) their students (and other institution’s students) really know.

Degree equivalency is a lie

As I spend more and more time in various countries, working with institutions and people of different academic levels, and as I experience the immense universe of students (from the few best, brilliant minds to the dark-grey sea of mediocrity and hopelessness), I am coming to one depressing conclusion.

While Bologna is being hailed as the key building block of academic internationalisation, it brings with it an immense danger of confused degree equivalency – degrees of the same “level” are seen as “equal” allowing students entry onto higher qualifications regardless of their original education. So, a BA from Romania is the same as a UK degree. And so on…

The problem of mistaken degree equivalency is one of actual educational quality – the end result of the educational process that is not a set of generic learning outcomes but real knwoledge-in-the-head. Here lies the crux – just because someone receives a degree in a third-world state does not mean they have the same level of knowledge, experience, hell, even academic skills, as those coming from more academic nations. My favourite group are the Asian students who, in their thousands, pursue “MBA” degrees that have nothing in common with…real MBAs – those difficult degrees for senior managers taught by the best academics and not just addiitonal “Masters-type” qualifications of little impact on actual management knowledge. When combined with hundreds of weak institutions offering such “education” we can now define the MBA market as effectively “poisoned”. A second group are the third-world academics seeking glorious employment in Western universities based on degree-level-equivalency (level 8 NQF for PhDs) and using NARICs certificate as proof of competence (when, in reality, the NARIC certificate only talks about “being similar to a UK qualification” in terms of levels but not content and quality).

So why is there no real standard? Probably because expecting quality would reduce the recruitment of international students. Yet, it is illogical, as recruitment of substandard individuals holding laughably-low academic qualifications from countries that have low or none standards actually poisons the academic environment of the accepting institution… Yes, yes, everyone should have the same chances, bla bla bla, but some have spent more time, effort, intellect and money on gaining their education, only to find themselves surrounded by those… others. When does the destruction-through-mediocrity of all things sacred end?

True, there are systems for rejecting the worst offenders – for example UK unviersities have classifications of degrees by country, university, degree, from which they accept candidates (and from many candidates are rejected outright as detailed analysis exposes the sheer illusion of “education”), while NARIC does its job of analysing equivalencies, however I strongly believe that the sheer scale of possible graduate profiles is so huge that more controls are needed. I will remember for ever Nepalese graduates of a local “BA in Politics” (I was interviewing candidates in Kathmandu for entry onto my masters degree), who did not know the difference between democracy and totalitarianism, despite “you know sir, studying, hard, for three years on that, politics, you know, course”.

More differentiation, more control, more analysis, precise and extensive rejection tables, acceptance conditions and accept/reject decision logic trees are needed. Otherwise, those of us with a decent education will soon be surrounded with substandard competitors holding paper qualifications at same level. And thus, identification of proper and improper degrees will be left to the marketplace, but that is much too late in the production cycle. There is no real degree equivalency. UK and USA education beats all.

Racism – idiots guide

During the last few months I had the opportunity of experiencing some attacks aimed at me, but utilising my nationality/background as the axis-of-assault. Racism, as we know it.
I was able to stop the initial reaction, familiar and natural to all, of a direct, brutal and physical assault – a standard, biological and violent response. Instead, I focused on analysing the underlying issues.
It took me a while to understand the deep, deeeeeep, issues. My negative reaction was not based on the (theoretically) fundamental assumption that “I = my nationality”. Instead, I understood that the attack on me:
– Focused on what I was doing at the time (e.g. was a negative reaction to my efficiency/innovativeness);
– Used my nationality as a focal point for optimising critique of my (not nationality but) efficiency/innovativeness;
My personal reactions were even more mixed – although the initial, biological reaction was enacted through the “nationality” perspective, I took some time to understand the true reality – bypassing my passport, I understood that the attack was on what I represented (modernity, progress, international rationality, global standards, quality).
Strangely, it was even more insulting, since: everything I was and did was perceived as the threat to an old/ancient/communist culture of laziness/do-nothingness, while my nationality was simply a TOOL of voicing such opposition.
So, my passport wasn’t important, but it helped to “prove” how useless I was as a challenger to “their” (pathetic, hopeless, ancient) reality. If I’d have been an alien, my “bluishness” or “brownness” or “double-headedness” would have been used. Hopeless losers have got no other vocabulary… Racism is the recourse of most loosers and idiots.

Gold or Coal – a course in economics

Many friends are fascinated by my fascination with the Discovery TV series focusing on gold prospectors and/or coal miners (Discovery shows: “Alaska gold” or “Coal”). I watch each episode looking for the economic secrets of success/failure. The little details that make your operation profitable.
The natural resource is irrelevant. The secret is in the organisation of the production process – either optimising it to the smallest output unit (gram of gold or ton of coal) OR assuring immense economies of scale, with outrageous output assuring the conversion of raw material into profitable product. I watch the programmes, fascinated by the amount of dirt moved, rock mined, sand shifted and I am always shocked by how much useless stuff must be discarded before anything valuable is unearthed.
The technology ranges from the simple but huge to specialised tools and machines created specifically for the industry. In the latter case, the machines show decades of development, incorporating centuries of experience – they are perfect for the job and must therefore cost a bundle. A fascinating issue is the presence of countless supporting units, rarely visible or used, but necessary for that “one important moment”, when not having this “thing” results in huge losses from stopped production. Both the specialised and general tools require massive up-front investment and take a long time to pay off, making the project budgets immense, requiring continuous production at sustainable levels to even maintain the organisations (not to mention turning a profit).
Alongside the financing and technology, we have the people. Here Discovery taps into the American Dream – tough, hard-working people, not afraid of taking risks, putting up their own funds, spending their lives on the pursuit of production, revenue, success. These shows are also about luck – every season the teams competing change, insinuating a high turnover resulting from unavoidable failures. For every winner, there are (not shown) countless losers.
Everyone, at some point, had to start. Start small, succeed, hire people, get new machines, get bigger, succeed even more. Entrepreneurship at its best. And each show is a business case, watched by the unwary, who therefore miss so much. I would like to see some more facts – a budget, some more analytical details, to enhance the understanding of what goes on (maybe on the Discovery website, if not in the show).
I have to hide my disdain for raping the planet, as without massive open digs (and shifting of tons of earth, rock together with uprooting entire forests) there would not be any shows, however the amount of fuel they use is outrageous – everything runs on diesel, 24/7. Truckloads of diesel. The Arabs must be happy.
Oh, and I finally know who drives all those American pickups with double wheels on the back…