Monday, June 24, 2013

English Majors

It's such a shame that the term "English Major" has come to imply "unemployability" in our modern, capitalist society.

I read somewhere that a degree in the humanities almost guarantees your ticket to a long and rewarding career as a Starbucks barrista.   Perhaps this is true, but it imposes an artificial perspective that a degree is only useful as a means to employment.  I think a much better perspective is that an education enriches your life in many ways; the prospect of employment is only one of them.

The New York Times ran a great piece today defending the value of an English degree.  The author focuses on the development of clear thinking and written expression as a core benefit.  I have to agree.  As a hiring manager, I rule out more candidates for poor writing and unfocused thought than for any other reason.  Were I graduating today with a degree in the humanities, I would be sure to emphasize this with prospective employers.  Well-honed communication skills are not going to develop naturally on the job; candidates either developed them as students or they are likely never to have them.

I was thinking about employability yesterday as I observed this guy above, just outside my hotel in Toronto.  He put on a Spock costume, stood in a high pedestrian zone where the ferry boats unload, and hovered around a bucket labeled "donations".  In the time it took me to eat lunch, he must have hauled in a couple hundred dollars.  Nearby, there was a guy in a black suit with red suspenders.  I don't think he looked like a TV character;  his gimmick was that he stood really still.  I think he only made about a hundred bucks during the 20 minutes I watched.

I don't know why I jumble these two topics together.  If I had a degree in English, I could probably offer a lucid explanation of why they are somehow related in my mind.  On the one hand, society doesn't owe anyone anything just because they are educated; everyone must create value in order to get paid.  On the other hand, many employers seem to overlook the value-creating abilities of clear-thinking English majors, which I see as a shame.

Spock caught my attention because his case doesn't fit either of my statements above -- I can't discern what value he is creating, but he is getting paid.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Haunted Hotels

I recently stumbled across this list of the world's Top 10 Haunted Hotels and, to my surprise, I've visited 3 of the top 10, and stayed in two of them multiple times.

While I didn't know that the Banff Springs Hotel (pictured above) had such a reputation, I was well aware (and in fact warned) about the history of the Hyatt in Taipei.  I probably stayed there about 2 dozen times on trips to Taiwan.

My Taiwanese colleagues always told me these same two stories, both of which they swore to be true.  First, the hotel was allegedly built, after great controversy, on a grave yard.  Second, in the first year after opening, three different guests committed suicide in the same room.

I admit that's a little spooky, but, if they ever make a Bed and Breakfast out of Tin Man's house in East Jay, Maine, that venue will surely shoot to the top of this list.  I am sure that imaginary reader Ryer agrees.

Friday, June 7, 2013

What's Wrong with this Picture?

While I consider myself fairly well grounded and generally capable of keeping the world in perspective, I admit that I am not immune to certain petty aggravations. I have alluded to such petty aggravations in previous posts when I was annoyed at Starbucks and when I was bewildered by our national caffeine obsession.

I snapped the photo above yesterday, while feeling both annoyed and bewildered. Naturally, it happened at Starbucks.

I went in with my 12 year-old and our brief visit was, in part, a reward for her completion of a very challenging but successful year in school. I should note that I was feeling a little disheartened that she considered Starbucks to be a destination of such high interest. As we entered, my fears about the corruptive influences of hyper-consumerism and peer-pressure were just below the surface.

Once inside, I was forced to wait in a long line of fashionistas, ordering incredibly ridiculous sounding concoctions, that took a long time to make and were, by all logical measures, way over-priced. I began to feel disappointed in the collective intelligence of my community, impatient about waiting for something I didn't personally think was worth waiting for, and pessimistic about the bleak future of humanity. But I pressed on.

After we ordered and positioned ourselves at the end of the bar where the drinks are served, I snapped the picture above.  As you can see, there was a crowd of children awaiting expensive caffeinated drinks. It struck me as wrong on every level.

In all honesty, I don't feel like I can afford to frequent Starbucks on a regular basis. Technically, I have the funds available; I just don't think coffee that costs $4/cup is a good value, and I don't think one should make a habit out of low value activities. Starbucks is convenient and always available when you need a coffee, but how can a 12 year old afford to pop in daily on the way to school?

One of those silly drinks plus a pastry (the standard order I observed) costs about $7, which is $35 per school week. I'm pretty sure you can lease a Honda for that amount.  How can 12 year-olds who have never worked a day in their lives, afford more than me, a haggard old duffer who has worked 70 hour weeks for the past 20 years?

What is wrong with this picture?

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Real People, Real Life

I love it when real people are faced with an unexpected challenge and their natural reaction is honest and admirable.  It's even better when the whole incident is caught on film, their decision process plays out on their face, and the final result is noble and just.

Imaginary reader "Aunt Rose" called just such an instance to my attention today...enjoy!