Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Precautionary President

One of the more Orwellian concepts of the Twenty-First Century has to be the so-called “Precautionary Principle”. The harmless-sounding concept is described by proponents as a simple extension of ‘better safe than sorry’, and is most commonly explained as actions taken in the absence of complete scientific proof when there is significant risk of serious harm if the action is not taken. Such advocates point out that this is similar to the reasoning for insurance, locking doors and inoculations – a small action taken to ward against more serious possibilities if you do ignore the danger. The disciples of Precautionism claim that they represent a reasonable sense of caution. And President Barack Obama has been an eager acolyte for the cause, whether the venue is Climate Change, American Imperialism, the Corporate Greed Culture, or the Need for More Guilt among Ordinary Americans. President Obama is all about “We Can’t Wait”.

The main problem is that the Precautionary Principle is self-contradictory in practice. The stated premise for the Precautionary Principle (PP for short), is that once a reasonable argument exists that a certain action is necessary to prevent a serious danger or likely event which would cause serious harm, it is necessary to act immediately to mitigate that danger. The reader may note that key words are ‘reasonable’, ‘necessary’, and ‘serious’ – all words which have subjective meanings. As a result, the decision on just when an argument is reasonable rather than merely an opinion, what defines the necessity of an action rather than its advocacy, and when the possible consequences of continuing on the present course are serious enough to require change are variables that even the most intelligent people may differ upon. Conclusive evidence has been the standard for many years, precisely because demonstrated proof of cause and effect, not only of the problem but of the proposed solution, is the only valid means for establishing a valid consensus. Anything else is no better than mob psychology. PP is self-contradictory, because in actual practice it is invariably applied to demand radical and risky change, on nothing more than emotional contention. It’s not that conclusive proof is not used in the theory, but that no real tipping point exists at all; the activists decide what they want to do and make what amounts to a mix of Chicken Little paranoia and Hitlerian thug tactics to get what they want.

PP’s self-contradictory practice can seen in how activists in the Ecology and Trade Regulation debates are demanding radical action with no substance whatsoever to either their claim of imminent danger, or that their demanded actions will have the effects they claim. Climate Change radicals, for example, not only refuse to provide defense of their sweeping claims of imminent catastrophe if humans don’t abandon their cars, living standards, and capitalism, they become apoplectic if anyone suggests they demonstrate how their proposed actions will actually improve the Earth’s climate to any extent – the theory of Climate Change is practiced as Modern Fascism, and there’s just no pretending otherwise. In fact, every major social effort based on PP is practiced in the Fascist mode, where government acts in thuggish manner to demand compliance, where evidence which contradicts the party line is suppressed and opponents marginalized and harassed, and where the true focus of the effort is political gain.

The Precautionary Principle guides Barack Obama in his major decisions. Rather than go to the trouble of weighing all of the rational options, their costs and known or likely effects, Obama simply chooses policies which benefit his friends and crafts his argument to support what he wanted to do in the first place, as was the case with the first Stimulus Bill – almost a trillion dollars stolen from the American people in order to help his cronies. When he does not have a chosen plan, Obama listens to the people who can make or break him to make his decision, which is why he is having such trouble coming up with a plan for Afghanistan or how to address consumer confidence. Like the Precautionary Principle, Obama is not concerned with the evidence in any major issue, nor with the cost of his intended actions, since he plans for others to pay for his policies.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Career Calculus

When I was a teenager, my friends and I gave little thought to what we would do for work. We all had vague ideas about what sort of careers we wanted, but no specifics. Part of this came from a lack of experience with the working world, but some of it came from the sense that we were still in development, which implied that once we were finished with our preparation we would find our proper role, where we ought to be. Of course, the real word does not work that way, and most of us discovered that as we finished college and tried to find work in our chosen fields. Top students enjoyed multiple job offers from prominent companies, good rewarding jobs that many people would have found satisfying, but most of us had to search and struggle to find any offers at all. Turns out that you have to have the experience to get anything but entry-level posts, and even the entry-level jobs were a matter of several applicants for each job. It was difficult to stand out, and to get a serious look you had to stand out. I mention this here, because from my experience and the stories I have heard from friends and colleagues over the years, most of us have had to work at jobs that were not our first or second choice. Not that the jobs were bad, but they were not the career path we expected.

I have always been aware that my perspective was unusual. I could not always tell if this gave me an advantage or a handicap. For instance, I have long heard that the average tenure at a job lasts somewhere between three and four years, so in 26 years of working I ought to have had about eight jobs, but in the actual case I have worked for only four companies. In three of my jobs, I stayed an average of over eight years, generally because I am a strong believer in loyalty to my employer. I have also worked in three different industries, which again is off the normal track, although I used similar skill sets in all of my work.

So after a person has worked for a while in a job, and they either choose or need to find a new position, what they find is that there is a range of choices. Two such ranges, actually, which is where the calculus comes in. Normal math is about finding a specific answer, but Calculus produces a range of possibilities, and your answer lies somewhere within that range. This is how a job search works – you determine the range of positions in which you have interest, and determine the range of positions which you fit, and the intersecting range provides your options.

So far I’m playing Captain Obvious. Everyone knows that they won’t apply to every job that is available, and that not every company they apply to will show interest in them. But understanding why you select a company for application, and why companies choose certain people for interviews and final-selection interviews, will help you refine your search effort to target jobs where you have a better chance of winning the job, as well as jobs you will be more likely to enjoy.

There are basically five stages in the hiring process:

1. Company posts a position
2. You apply for the position
3. Your qualifications are screened
4. You are interviewed for personality and skills ‘fit’
5. An offer is extended, and following negotiations accepted (if the offer is not accepted the offer falls into the 4th category, as something was not a good fit)

The fun part is that you have to prepare for four of the five stages, and to understand that you have little direct control in any of them. Instead, you may influence the decision through your choices and presentation. If you’re like me, you will send out a lot of resumes that never get response, but some will see a return, but not immediately. I sent out, by my count, over a hundred applications in two months, got calls from 8 recruiters or placement firms, met with five different such firms in interviews, had 11 phone interviews, 8 face-to-face interviews with real companies, 3 second interviews, and finally a job offer that was good enough to accept. The significance of the numbers was that my early efforts were kind of broad, but I soon learned to target my resume to specify what I did really well; Credit & Collections. That cut out a lot of jobs that I could technically do, but where my experience was not enough to make me a top contender. I still sent out my resume to jobs that were not C&C positions per se, but only one of my company interviews was for a position not tied to Credit & Collections work. And I was one of very few candidates chosen for interviews in those applications:

Co. 1: One of 4 interviewed, not invited to second interview
Co. 2: One of 3 interviewed, only 1 offered second interview, received offer and accepted
Co. 3: One of 2 interviewed, received second interview, withdrew when offered job at another company
Co. 4: One of 4 interviewed, not invited to second interview
Co. 5: One of 2 interviewed, received second interview, withdrew when offered job at another company
Co. 6: One of 3 interviewed, accepted job offer with another company before second round
Co. 7: One of 4 interviewed, offered second interview but accepted job offer at other company so withdrew

It’s interesting to see that in those situations, no more than four candidates got an interview, and twice only two were considered. It pretty much makes you a finalist right from the start if you are considered. So the trade-off is that you get a smaller pool of companies for your targeted applications, but the response for specializing is a much better rate, and those interviews are pretty close to the goal.