Monday, 29 November 2010

Employment Market Opportunists Number 15: The Money Launderer Again

This week's dodgy e-mail came from someone's mailing list. The lead-in name is Here you go...


Worldwide association Auction Centre , based in the United States, is looking for new assistants for cooperation at distant office, in the United Kingdom. We propose flexible schedules full-time and part-time available. These careers concentrate on providing administrative representation in online auction sales.
Auction Centre presents best auction decisions, concentrated on market research and growth as well as database control.
The main duties of the job as a Representative will include but are not limited to: compiling and maintaining records of business transactions; preparing and sending out invoices and checks; performing basic bookkeeping and routine tasks such as operating the administrative and partially financial fields of the Auction Centre activities, preparing payroll, and other office activities.

Professional Characteristics:
- Giving a priority to customer needs manager
- Demonstrates a high level of personal accountability
- Thinks about the team first over individual issues

Basic Requirements:
- Internet Access
- Microsoft Office
- Basic Accounting Skills

If you are interested in this job please contact us via email.

Have a happy day,
Auction Centre Team

By now, you don't need me to tell you this is a 100% money-laundering scam. Test yourself on how many implausible things you can find. Whoever wrote had English as their second European language and French as their first ("We propose flexible schedules"). That means West Africa - nah - or the Far East. Is this Vietnamese? I suspect the "have a happy day" is a giveaway - it's an American thing, so we're looking for French with an American influence. I'm going with Vietnam here.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Reflections on Holly Golightly

Just what is it about Breakfast at Tiffany's and Holly Golightly? There's La Hepburn's look and performance, of course. There's a nicely-judged masala of silly comedy (Micky Rooney), adult stuff (George Peppard and Patricia Neal), romance, heartbreak (Holly's previous husband) and some neat legerdemain with Holly's weekly visits to the crime boss. There's the bits where Holly makes fools of the men she suckers in nightclubs and her ease with cafe society - very appealing to teenage girls of all ages - and the collapse of her dreams of marrying into wealth, which is also very reassuring to suburban teenage girls everywhere, as it confirms that they aren't missing a trick because there are no tricks to miss. Most of all there is the portrayal of life as dizzy and basically innocent fun. With handsome men. Which, oddly, is very appealing to teenage girls everywhere. It's so easy to get a bit of Holly for yourself. Say "Darling" and change your mind a lot, and avoid anything that feels remotely serious.

Holly Golightly was a role model for many thousands of women of my generation. It was a long time before I saw Breakfast at Tiffany's. When I did, I saw fifteen minutes of Holly Golightly and said "Margie". Margie behaved as if she was going to marry up to some Kensington Male, and for a long time we thought that was a real ambition. So did she, which might explain her breakdown in early middle age when it had clearly reached a point where it wasn't going to happen. First, she didn't quite have the looks to compete with the Guildford Girls; second, I'm not sure she had the tolerance for functional sex needed for the task; third, no-one raised in that household with those parents in that marriage could possibly get the idea that marriage was desirable. She thought of men as something to be manipulated and tolerated, and that's not how men think of themselves. I suspect she understood somewhere in her psyche where secrets are recognised but never spoken that her life was not going anywhere special and being Holly throughout her twenties gave her a way to pretend it was. After all, Holly herself falls romantically for a writer who has so far been supported by a wealthy sponsor. (A relationship as far as I know used twice in mainstream movies: the other one is in An American In Paris.) But whereas Holly had actually left a perfectly fine - if backwoods - marriage, Margie had never seen one. Holly had a role model for the future of her relationship with George Peppard: Margie didn't.

That generation of women could use Holly as a role-model because they didn't understand the details. Today's girls do understand the details: for one thing, there is no way they can get a flat anywhere in Manhattan (no-one can). For another, they know that her early mornings and general breeziness are sustained by taking drugs - maybe the amphetamines were better back then, but I'm betting the real Hollies all blew a little pot to come down after a night running the suckers round the nightclubs. Above all, today's girls have jobs and have had since they left education. The job might be as a Good Mother or it might be as an HR Drone, but it's a job, and likely more secure than any partner's. I'm guessing the suburban girl looks at Breakfast at Tiffany's and sees it as an historical curio: Audrey's glamour is still there, but it's the glamour of a museum piece, like a Fortuny dress in the V&A. Your contemporary suburban girl knows that modern glamour takes luck, hard work and a single-minded ambition: Victoria Beckham taught her that.

None of which stops the opening of Breakfast at Tiffany's being one of the Top Five Movie Openings Of All Time. Or one of the best constructed stories in the movies. It may be time to retire it from "iconic" to "historical curio" though.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Alasdair MacIntyre and Fantasy Moral Philosophy

There's a neat article on Alasdair MacIntyre on Arts and Letters Daily. It's broadly approving of the Great Man, which you can tell by this quote:

"Ever since he published his key text After Virtue in 1981, he has argued that moral behaviour begins with the good practice of a profession, trade, or art: playing the violin, cutting hair, brick-laying, teaching philosophy. Through these everyday social practices, he maintains, people develop the appropriate virtues. In other words, the virtues necessary for human flourishing are not a result of the top-down application of abstract ethical principles, but the development of good character in everyday life.... MacIntyre yearns for a single, shared view of the good life as opposed to modern pluralism’s assumption that there can be many competing views of how to live well."

I bet you were nodding along, if not admiring the solemn seriousness of it all. "Good practice of a profession", "everyday social practices", "appropriate virtues", "development of good character in everyday life", "single, shared view of the good life". How many questions can you beg in so few phrases? And how much naivety about people can you show?

There is absolutely no connection between being good at your trade and being a decent person. In fact, everything I know about being any good at anything tells me that the relationship is slightly negative: the better you are at your trade, the more time and energy you have put into it and the less you have for family, friends and assorted Good Deeds. I have met people with very high energy levels who can consult with McKinsey, sit on the board of a charity, snowboard at the weekend and play with the kids - but they had the salaries to afford it. I have also met people who are not very good at anything much, oh, except being parents and citizens.

What irritates me is the implicit assumption that the world is organised in such a way that we can thrive, feed our families and be fulfilled craftsmen and virtuous at the same time. How does anyone thrive on a nurse's salary? How does anyone live honestly when they have to bribe the railway clerks to buy a ticket? How does someone even learn a craft if their employer has no training programme and keeps dumbing-down the work? And who said that we would all fall in love with the girl (or boy) next door? Given the make-up of households today, the odds against there even being a girl (or boy) next door are shorter than you might think.

There is no guarantee we will meet people with whom we can develop loving relationships, or that we will find someone to employ us to do something we find satisfying. Many people have such limited opportunities and hard circumstances that religion or whiskey are the only way they can get through the interminable months. Others enter their adult years so emotionally bruised and suspicious that they could not start and then sustain the relationships needed to work and love well. And so many of us turn to substitutes. There is nothing ignoble about substitutes, if we have little chance of getting the real thing. The religious enthusiasts, New Age mystics, compulsive computer-gamers and sorrow-drowners should be left alone: it is simply impolite to tell them they are missing out without also showing them how they could start to live well despite these disadvantages.

As for the idea that we should have a shared idea of the Good Life? How excellent that sounds, until you remember that we live in a world where there is not enough of anything worth having. There's sorrow, poverty, starvation, ill-health, contempt, ignorance, hatred and anger for every man and woman alive, with some over for seconds all round. The good stuff is in short supply - sunshine in Northern Europe, rain in Chad - because that's the way of the world. It's actually better for us to have different ideas of what the good stuff is: that way more of us might get satisfied. If you like fast cars and I like works of art, we can both satisfy ourselves without competing: if everyone agrees that Pre-Raphaelite art is the thing, almost all of them are going to be disappointed.

It simply won't do to pontificate in such a circular manner with assumptions about the world that just aren't true. It's too much reading Aristotle, of course. You have to have absorbed Aristotle to use words like "virtue" and mean it. Aristotle could do it because he was writing and speaking for an elite and wealthy audience, not merchants, barbers and brick-layers. (I have a feeling he says that such people can't actually live virtuous lives because their pursuits won't let them.) Our modern philosophers are not, and it would be a cruelty to their students and readers if they did. We need philosophers who are going to deal with the real world - one in which there is not even a link between obtaining a degree in philosophy and subsequently finding employment, and no link between employment and being able to afford somewhere to live an independent life.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Why Business Insight Hurts The Head

I have a colleague who has a PhD in Algebraic Topology. He’s working on Customer Insight, which is the fancy name companies give to crawling through masses of data trying to figure out how to squeeze and extra buck out of people. The other day I asked him, by way of idle chatter, if he ever wondered why it was that he could calculate homology groups in his head but found the insight work as hurtful to the head, if not more so. Somehow it shouldn't be harder to make decent progress getting an answer from a database than with a long exact sequence.

It’s the details, we agreed. Abstract topological spaces tend to be fairly simple, because they are a) infinite and b) smooth. It’s the finite world that’s tricky: think of the thousands of pages of alleged proof of the classification of finite groups. Infinite groups are pretty much a doddle by comparison. Or classifying manifolds: it’s only difficult in four dimensions, because there’s a trick that makes it simple that works in five or more.

Business analysis is more like combinatorics. It’s finite, with a ton of fiddly details. If you’re an analyst and you don’t have a report with something like “Assign a sale to the X channel unless it’s Thursday and the application came through the internet from Scotland, when you should assign it the Y channel unless it’s for a gadget not a widget” – if you don’t have something like that, your Sales people aren’t trying hard enough. Or you have really good data stewardship.

In business we deal with a large number of tables with a large number of fields each with its own often idiosyncratic definition. Getting data for a business problem goes through the following stages:

Can we translate the problem into data we have?
If not exactly, how inexactly? How good do we think the surrogate variables are?
Can we get data for a simpler version of the problem that still gives us a good decision?
Where do I get that data?
How reliable is it?
How do I link all those tables together?
How do I get the records I want out of that monster?
What bit of syntax have I got wrong this time?
What do you mean “fieldname sally does not exist in object fred?”

And let’s not even get into incompatible date formats, converting data types, converting one set of indicator values to another, using case statements to define groupings and the fiddly syntax of SQL / SAS.

It’s way easier to calculate the homology group of the direct product of a torus with a Klein bottle.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Untitled (Photographs One)

Whenever I have taken a week off this year, the weather has turned to a grey damp mush. My colleagues have planned their own holidays around not using the same week as me. It's an office joke. Except one day on the last week off when the weather was sunny and I went for a brisk lap round Virginia Water. Armed only with the Sony Ericsson C510, I took these.

(The Red Tree)

(The Copse)

(The Red Leaves)

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Movies For The Naive: Outing "Brief Encounter"

For years I heard people talking about Brief Encounter. It was a deeply moving study of unrequited love, middle-class self-control, a Noel Coward script, excellent acting and some wonderful black-and-white photography.

Finally, I was in the room when it was on television. I settled down to watch it, and no more than twenty minutes in turned to the others in the room and said "you know this is about a gay relationship, right?"

You need some context. It was 1947. Britain had been at war for six years until 1945 and the soldiers were still returning in 1947. For those years, the British did not give up sex. Indeed, they committed adultery, casual affairs, knee-tremblers, and the men shagged foreign women while their girlfriends wrote them Dear John letters. All of which was just fine while the Germans were throwing bombs and bullets around, but not so good when they weren't. And so began one of the larger exercises in society-wide denial. The English were not, in 1947, clueless about sex, illicit affairs and one-night-stands. If today a man as good-looking as Trevor Howard met a woman as handsome as Celia Johnson, he would entertain the thought that they might fool around a little. And so would she. Newsflash: people are much the same now as they ever were.

The giveaway scene is in Stephen's flat, which Alec and Laura have borrowed for an evening alone. Stephen returns unexpectedly and Laura leaves quickly, leaving her scarf behind. Stephen sees the scarf and holds it up accusingly saying to Alec "I'm disappointed in you. I thought you'd stopped this sort of thing."

A remark that makes no sense made between two single professional men in their thirties in 1947. But which makes complete sense if it's a man's scarf. This is Noel Coward, not some hack who might very well have written the line by accident. The Master knew exactly what he was writing and what it might mean. It was his one explicit clue.

My English Literature studying companions would have nothing of it. I didn't understand that the story was about "Laura's...horror at the thought of betraying her husband and her settled moral values, tempted though she is by the force of a love affair. Indeed, it is this very tension which has made the film such an enduring favourite. The values which Laura precariously, but ultimately successfully, clings to were widely shared and respected (if not always observed) at the time of the film's original setting..." (Wikipedia).

Yes. Right. You go on believing Celia Johnson wasn't playing a man in disguise. The movie was a huge hit because it showed told an Official Truth its audience wanted spreading: "There dear, that's how it was for me when you were in Africa / Sicily / Normandy."

As if.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Employment Market Opportunists Number 13: The Franchiser

Read this and try not to gag on the fluff...

"Hi Seven Dials

I’d love the opportunity to talk to you about your CV! Your credentials are very impressive, your background and track record closely resemble some other highly successful individuals. We have worked with many such professionals and helped them realize their dreams to become successful entrepreneurs. Based on your CV, I can see that you are quite accomplished in your field and may welcome the chance to apply your expertise in a more entrepreneurial setting.

Recession has touched us all, but some industries have turned it into a business growth opportunity. Franchising is one industry where success, profitability and economic stability have actually made incremental strides. My role is to carefully select and personally invite qualified individuals to explore franchising in all its potential and you fit the profile.

With your background in management and leadership positions adding weight to your credentials, I am confident that you are likely a great fit. We know you have the initiative, skills and educational qualifications that are the building blocks of a successful business. Finding the missing link - the right franchise opportunity - will be a breeze with our help and advice. The research, qualification and application services I provide costs you absolutely nothing.

Imagine the possibility of applying your experience in a business of your own, increasing your earning potential, gaining the flexibility of working your own hours in a career you enjoy and more importantly never having to worry about losing your job again. It doesn’t have to be a pipe dream anymore! Here’s a chance at work-life balance like never before!

Please visit and find out more information about my services. Once you are there, fill out the “Get Started Today” form and I’ll give you a call within 48 hours to discuss the next steps.

Best regards,

Rachel Taylor
Franchising Coordinator"

MyFranchiseCareer is a real company.  It's a recruiter for various franchisers. Franchising is where you pay for someone to supply their branding, operations and product and then they take about 10% off the top. That's what we did at Hertz back in the day.

My MacBook Pro's Mail thought this message was Junk Mail. Right on.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Employment Market Opportunists Number 11: The Fishing Ad

It comes as a shock to many when they find out that a number of job advertisements are not advertising actual jobs at all. In the old days you could tell them because you would ask the agency about the fantastic role in the window and they would tell you it had just been filled. But while you were here, are you registered with them and what are you looking for?

Fishing ads. Here's a goodie, from Total Jobs.

Time Series Analyst needed to make a difference, London, 30 – 45k

Date posted:08/10/2010 15:21
Job type:Permanent
Company:Corporate Recruiter Network Ltd
Contact:Sarah Gray
Ref:Totaljobs/TJ/1560/SCJob ID:48735774

Time Series Analyst needed to make a difference, London, 30 – 45k
Remember when you started out with the idea to get into finance but somehow ended up elsewhere – or maybe you suddenly fancy a change and the opportunity to apply your expertise to the fabulously rewarding world of finance. Well, here is your opportunity to move from any industry into the fast paced high flying world of banking. As long as you have strong Time Series regression modelling, analysis and forecasting experience, the door is open to jump ship into a fantastic banking role giving you the means to train in finance, whilst building on your existing skills.
To apply all you need is:

* An analytical mind, set on success
* A passion for econometrics / statistics / numerical analytics
* Preferably with SAS experience, but if not then an aptitude for programming and a desire to learn SAS, if you can use SPSS syntax, STATA etc
* Strong technical Time Series ability and forecasting experience in a commercial environment
In return you will enter a team of like minded professionals in a dynamic and proactive working environment. You will receive a hefty remuneration package depending on the skills and degree of experience you bring. Grasp this opportunity with both hands and get on the spaghetti junction a role in finance offers.
Send your CV now for a discussion on what opportunities we have in your area.
Yorkshire, London, Manchester, Gloucester, Cardiff, Essex, Bristol, Durham, Nottingham, Lincoln, Herefordshire, Worcester, Warwick, Kent, Surrey, Reading, Oxford, Wiltshire…

There's a website for Corporate Recruiter Network Ltd and it looks okay at first glance. Their address is Admiral's Way in Docklands, but the photograph is of the landmark One Canada Place building. And they have about 380 jobs on file. For number-crunchers in SAS / Business Objects / SPSS and other such across Credit Risk, econometrics, direct mail and other such areas. 380 jobs. Nah. Look more closely and a LOT of the jobs look the same. And how many people are handling these jobs? Sarah Grey. The busiest employment consultant in London. There's a photograph of an office with fancy logos and all, but somehow I'm not sure I believe it.

For me, the first giveaway is that the ad looks like it's for a specific job, but ends with "send you CV now for a discussion of what opportunities we have...". The second is that they are waving "banking" in front of you. There's two types of "banking": retail and investment. The money is in investment banking and you need PhD's to crunch numbers for Morgan Stanley. If the job is paying £40k, it's in a retail bank such as where I work and it's strictly non-glamorous.

I call something fishy fishy.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Just A Phase I'm Going Through

I spent a while a few nights ago not booking a ticket to and an hotel in Paris. For a couple of days. I'd take in the monumental Basquiat exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art. Wander round. Go home. But I didn't book the ticket. Airfare and hotel would have been £400-£500. Why would I want to pay that to be aloine in Paris when I could be alone in London for free? Because that's the point: I would be on my own. I haven't been on an "away" holiday - except for a short break to see my friends in Utrecht and a trip to Nice - since I broke up with my last girlfriend. Two years ago.

The emotional truth of my childhood, adolescence and early adulthood was that I was alone, as in lonely. When my parents moved us from Bexleyheath to Teddington in the summer of 1967, the boys and girls in my class got up a collection and bought me a car for my Scalextric. We went ten-pin bowling. I don't know if that makes me popular. I'm not sure I felt as if I belonged at my own leaving do.

I was one of those children who say they don't have any friends. I didn't share anyone's life, see the inside of their homes, meet their parents. Except Geoff Mason, who was another slight misfit at Erith Grammar. We hung out from time to time, but that was it. We didn't go off on any adventures (we were eleven years old: going into central London would have been an adventure). And a guy called Derek Hasted who was into model railways and at Junior School played the descant recorder well enough to get to play the treble recorder (as I did) and later, as I've just discovered through Google+Facebook, became a guitar teacher and runs a number of guitar groups.

You can live a life on your own right up until the day it occurs to you that everyone else has a partner and you're the Old Guy With No Friends Of Their Own. Slightly creepy. I've started seeing myself as a creepy old guy, and if you don't shake that suspicion, you're done for. If someone doesn't validate you by finding you sexually attractive and pronto, you start to want not to be in other people's company. Because when you are you feel creepy. That's how I feel.

If I'm feeling ironic, I'll say that I can remember either what I used to do with attractive women, or why I used to do it, but not both at the same time. Ha ha. I've got so used to not having someone to share my sexual feelings with, I barely let myself have any, lest I remember how nasty the bitterness of sexual disappointment is. How it alters everything I say and do and how it stains everything else I feel. And then there are days when I think I would rather feel that than feel the bland nullity I usually feel. Feeling-good becomes feeling-good-because-you're-not-feeling-bad. Not feeling-good-because-you-got-laid-last-night-and-it-was-fabulous.

I have lost the sense that other people are magic. That they can and will make my life better, enhance it, add to it, and otherwise make getting out of bed a better idea. Lose that and you're left with habit as the only reason for leaving the front door.

This too shall pass, as we say in AA. And the sooner it does the better. But right now, it's where I am. And if I don't share it and name it, it will go on being where I am.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Oh Comely - The Official Magazine of Pixie Girls Everywhere

The third edition of Oh Comely is out. I found a copy of the second edition about five weeks ago in one of the many absurdly-well-stocked newsagents in Soho and Charlotte Street. (Those newsagents have magazines - mostly fashion, style and design - that you couldn't even find in Borders before it went broke. I'm pretty sure there isn't a newsagent outside that square mile anywhere near as well-stocked. Certainly not W H Smug.) It describes itself as "a magazine about people and their quirks and their creativity, rather than money and what it can buy". If it were any more cute, it would be twee, and it is so girly it could never be gay. It took me a while to understand what it is, but it's the long-awaited official Pixie Girl Magazine.

To understand that, you have to know what a Pixie Girl is. She isn't the "Manic Pixie Dream Girl" of the movies, though they may look alike. MPDG's are a male fantasy. Real Pixie Girls are, well, they look like Nadia Dahlawi and Sara Jade, who are not only the record label Young and Lost Club, but also damn near reference PG's.

The PG is feminine without being sexual, and attracted to all things slightly insubstantial (cupcakes, embroidery, folk music, non-corporate careers). Confident without being assertive, she yet has an air of uncertainty, and while she isn't a Material Girl she does like the trinkets and objects she surrounds herself with. They can be promoted without being ambitious and while they would never admit to husband-hunting, when they grow up, PG's become those self-satisfied well-off suburban wives and mothers (aka "Twickenham Wives") you see during the day in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Guildford, Putney and other such places. No-one was ever a PG at school: it's something that happens to a girl in the summer between the school and university.

The magazine has many nice moments and lots of wistful photographs of pretty girls. The essays and interviews are refreshingly not about successful people, and I could buy it just for the quirky decision tree at the back. The guiding lights / editors are liz bennett and des tan (it's a lower-case kind of magazine) and they seem to have decided that they're tired of the usual editorial tone of modern magazines, which, let's be honest, hasn't changed much since the early 1990's and is of marginal relevance to the 2010's. It's also not about money, just like it says, and that's probably what attracts me to it.

Buy a copy. Really. Enter a gentler world.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Promotion As An Anti-Climax

I have done my share of bitching and moaning about The Bank. And I will do some more when they deserve it. But a couple of weeks ago something happened that, well, in cliche-land it would have taken me by surprise, but this is the real world.

Last summer I'd taken a job below my personal pay band because I had had a couple of bad appraisals (the justice of which were mixed), I didn't fit in with any of the jobs on my grade but nor did they want to lose me, and nor did I want to be unemployed. The rules gave me three years' salary protection, but there would be no pay rises. After that, HR could cut my salary back to match the grade if they so chose.
Absent that threat, I couldn't care about grades.

So I came back from a week's break and my new line manager took me aside and told me that they were prepared to offer me a senior analyst role that was in the same pay band as I am. They have been interviewing for a couple of months and the people with more skills than me won't take the job (not enough money, not CV-enhancing enough), whereas the people who will take the job are way short on my skills. Which I knew. I said "I should just shut and say thank you, shouldn't I?" Which was what I did. What I didn't do was feel a deep sense of relief, a sudden uprush of gratitude, a lightening of the spirit or any great urge to rush out and celebrate. I didn't even rush to tell my friends. I didn't even feel a I-told-you-so victory.

Instead, my back and shoulders locked up and became so painful I had to go see my osteopath on Harley Street. And that's where my emotions are: locked. I have no idea what I'm feeling at the moment. I've spent the last fifteen months under the threat of having my salary cut, and on an fifteen month job interview. You might unwind from that in an instant, but I can't.

I've felt lost since. Before I was someone trying to remove a threat to their salary. Now I'm not. Now I have to figure out what I do next. I have to keep up the same pace I've been doing to prove myself, and maybe even exceed it. I have two newbies to train over the next few months, which I can turn into a learning and CV-enhancing opportunity. But right now I feel lost. I don't know what I'm supposed to be doing. Not for The Bank, but for me.

Wednesday, 3 November 2010

Guru Advice and The Real Seven Habits

I mentioned that all the management trainers mentioned Stephen Covey's book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. I have no intention of reading it and fortunately I don't need to. Mr Covey has provided a useful summary on his website, and it's that I'm going to refer to. The Habits are fairly simple, it's the gloss he puts on them that's objectionable, but I'm not going to discuss it.

Habit One tells you to focus on you Circle of Influence (what you can do something about) instead of their Circle of Concern (what you worry about but can't change); Habit Two tells you to develop an Personal Mission Statement, defining what you want to do, on your "plan for success"; Habit Three suggests you do what's important to you first; Habit Four, that you should stick to your true feelings and commitments, express your ideas with courage and believe there is plenty for everybody; Habit Five suggests you should listen to what people say before rushing in to say your piece; Habit Six that you value the differences between people so you can co-operate with others who can do things you can't; and Habit Seven suggests you should exercise, eat well, keep learning, make meaningful friendships and practice meditation or some other spiritual discipline. You can guess there is a noticeable lack of statistical tables contrasting the surveyed behaviour of "effective" people with that of "ineffective" people. It isn't that kind of book. It's a guru book. It's sold in the gajillions, but nobody knows how many of those copies were abandoned fifty pages in and turned to good use as a door-stop (it's a big book).

There are four rules for pseudo-guru advice. It should be unqualified in scope and apple-pie in content, so you're not likely to suffer prima facie disagreement; it should be something people don't do naturally or can't do easily, so we can get some good guilt trips going; it must have no political consequences; and it should not be an analytical discussion of the ideas involved, let alone refer to actual psychological research (therapies and advice come out as mostly ineffective when researched). One of the rules must be that you are responsible for the state of your life and for changing it. In self-help literature, the economy and politics is random like the weather. It wasn't Wal-Mart that put your Mom-and-Pop store out of business, it was your own damn inability to adapt to the times. Gurus never say "get on your bike" but only because their editor told them it would make them look unsympathetic. This responsibility thing is a huge subject that I will discuss elsewhere.

So let's get to the advice. Of course we should eat well, exercise, meditate and develop our minds and relationships. Good luck doing that when you work on an industrial estate an hour's drive from home where the only food is supplied by a sandwich van and there is nothing but grey delapidation all round. And when you get back, the kids want to play, your spouse needs attention and you have to get to bed by half-past ten to get eight hour's sleep before waking up at half-past six. Weekends? By the time you've gone shopping, entertained the kids, washed, ironed, housekept and slumped... you know the score. Here's the thing: instead of blaming the organisation of post-modern capitalism, you blame yourself. Neat huh?

An effective person only listens to someone whose co-operation they need, and they are only listening for the buying signals. The rest of the time, they no more listen than the rest of us. We don't need to. Most people state their views not for discussion but for expression. They don't mind what's called "an exchange of views" and a lot of perfectly good conversation is just that. When someone is angry with you? They don't want you to engage with what they say, they want you to witness their anger and be contrite. What matters is the tone, not the words. If you pull that reflective listening schtick on them, they will throw things at you and you will deserve every bruise.

Guru advice is often willfully naive. For instance, most people don't fret about things outside their Circle of Influence because they are silly and ineffective. They do it to sound as if they are involved in the Great Issues of Our Time ("Think Global, Act Local" is worthy of an advertising agency and was probably devised by one. It gives an entirely specious significance to acts that are utterly insignificant. It's right up there with "The Personal Is The Political", which gave feminist significance to every little fight a wife picked with her husband.) Or more sadly, they do it as a displacement activity, because they have no real opportunities to get involved in anything significant. (We're back to that thirteen-hour work day and those lost weekends again.) A few people do fret about stuff they can't affect and not for show or displacement, and they do need to see a therapist. They are also the very last people who would and they certainly won't read self-help books. Besides, every activist started off fretting about something that was only in their Circle of Concern, until they decided to get active and extend their Circle of Influence to include the cause.

While we're on naivety, as for believing there is enough for everyone? Because we live on a finite planet, the amount of anything is limited. There's an amount of "everyone" which is too many for any given resource (other than World Peace). So if you really want to think that there's enough to go around, what you're really thinking is that there's a manageable amount of competition for the available resource. That doesn't have quite the same spiritual ring to it.

A "plan for success"? This assumes that you have by now found out what you want to do with your life, that it is legal and moral and that you can make a living doing it. None of this is guaranteed. Very few people make money doing what I want to do, so I have to have a day job. In post-modern capitalism, your "plan for success" is going to be more a "plan for adaptation" as house prices whistle skywards beyond your ability to raise the funds, your employer makes you redundant, your sex life dries up because being out of work is such a turn-on... you know the score. None of that matters. If you don't have a home of your own, it's your fault, I mean, it's for you to take action. You can do it, Little Engine.

The reason the gurus get away with this stuff is that we want to believe them. They don't need to put in the qualifications to their advice, because they know we will do it for them. They don't need to deal with the political and economic issues because we don't want to either: we want to be told that it's our responsibility because we'd rather be lazy and spiritually weak than economically and politically powerless. I might almost suggest that most self-help books are bought - or at least read all the way through - by people who want reasons to blame themselves for their failure. Because the alternative is to take political action, and no-one, not even The Invisible Committee, knows what that looks like.

Besides, from my experience, highly effective people have the following traits: 1) lots of energy; 2) not dealing with people and things that don't advance their cause; 3) a do-able plan and the resources to carry it put; 4) a product or service that meets a need; 5) either actual justified confidence or the ability to blag others into believing they can do it; 6) nothing to lose and 7) a neurotic need to achieve and succeed. Achievement takes special efforts. There are no well-balanced millionaires, creative artists and scientists, political activists, award-winning sports(wo)men, war-winning generals, Special Forces operatives, CEOs or elected politicians. And if the guru tells you that those things aren't a measure of effectiveness, they really are moving the goalposts.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Employment Market Opportunists Number 9: The Money Launderer

This came to me via Total Jobs, who ought to know better. I haven't changed any names.

"My name is Joseph Lewis and I discovered your CV for the position that Roum Group LTD. is filling. We believe your skills match this vacancy the best. Currently, we are actively hiring independent agents who will represent the company in different regions. You are not required to have any extra knowledge or to be experienced in this business, and this occupation can endow additional income to you and your family as it will not require more than few hours per week. Roum Group LTD is looking for candidates who are ambitious, intelligent and have a strong work ethic to join our team. Regardless of the type of work you've been doing, if you're motivated and looking to start a career with an excellent income opportunity, you might be just who we are looking for! In addition, we provide a one month paid training period. During your training you receive online training and support. Your training is the first step to your success; therefore you must take it seriously. If we have sparked your interest and you'd like to learn more, please e-mail us your updated contact information at NOTE: This is not a sales position."

Why should your warning bells be ringing? 1) LTD in capitals. 2) "endow additional income". 3) A one-month paid training period? For "independent agents"? Never heard of in legitimate business. 4) If it's not a sales position but you're representing the company, what are you doing?

Google the Roum Group and you will find nothing.  Google "Roum Group scam" and on page two a site called you'll find a post with this...

"My name is Joseph Lewis and I represent Roum Group LTD. We have evaluated your CV and decided that your skills meet our basic requirements for a Payment Processing Agent position. Roum Group LTD. is a legally recognized organization designed to provide services to consumers, small businesses, and other organizations. Businesses are predominant in capitalist economies, most being privately owned and formed to earn profit that will increase the wealth of its owners and grow the business itself. Your performance and attention to detail can help grease the wheels of capitalism, help small business owners through tumultuous economic times, and help to enrich you in the process. We are looking for independent agents who will represent our company in various regions. The position being offered is currently based on a part-time schedule. You don't need to have any special education to work with our team, because you will be trained and receive unlimited online support during your paid training period.
On average the working hours are 2-3 hours/day. We appreciate the labor of our representatives and pay them properly. Salary depends on your activity (you will be paid min. GBP 1,500/month, but completing all assigned duties properly will increase it up to GBP 1,800)."

Payment Processing Agent mon pied. This is money laundering. And Total Jobs, who are respectable, should know better.