Sunday, July 31, 2011

So what was the problem with Borders?

I went to the mall yesterday. Had some other shopping to do that was the real reason I was there, but could not resist stepping into the Borders Express store. It was packed. As far as I could tell, the major difference in the store's usual sales tactics was the huge "Going out of Business!!" signs in the windows. The stock was discounted, but not dramatically -- Borders did 20% off sales all the time before, it was just never on everything in the store. So why the stampede to shop there now? The illusion of bargains? If people really want to buy 6 or 7 books at a shot, why weren't they doing that back before the chain began going bankrupt?

Friday, July 29, 2011

More weirdness from bizarro land

I'm sort of watching Hardball, and they just broke to a quick statement from the Tan Man, his Orangeness John Boehner, who kept going on and on about the administration's unwillingness to "put anything in writing" when it comes to spending (or not spending) tax dollars. Just what the fuck do the Reptilians think the current federal budget is?! It's an annual exercise -- the executive branch provides a document to the Congress that lays out in great detail exactly where and how the administration plans to spend money. Congress argues it, pushes for changes, and eventually okays most of it. If that isn't putting it in writing, what is? The money the country owes now (and the teabaggers apparently don't want to pay) in fact reflects a document that Congress read and approved several months ago. So why aren't any of the moronic talking heads who get paid big bucks to pretend to know what they're talking about asking that question?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


Densifying. It's become the word du jour at Large Nameless Agency. The budget is shrinking, so what's one way to survive in these austere times? Eliminate leased office space and pack the human resources into the structures that LNA actually owns. Densify. Which in turns means figuring out how to fit a thousand people into a building designed for use by a third that number on a campus that is already chronically short of parking spaces and is inadequately served by public transit.

There has been much moaning and gnashing of teeth since the word came down a week or so ago that we would be relocating sometime shortly after the start of the new fiscal year. I view the relocation as a handy excuse for promoting telework for all the same reasons upper level management at LNA does: relieve pressure on office space, reduce the demand for parking, elminate stress from people's lives. Whether or not our manager (who really does not like the concept of telework, even though she works from home herself on a regular basis) will accept an increased level of telework by the peasants in her fiefdom is still debatable, but she may not have much choice.

In the meantime, I'll just keep looking at the countdown calendar and thinking quietly that no matter what happens, fairly soon it's not going to be my problem. Now if they'd only add technical writer-editors to the list of occupations LNA wants to offer buyouts to in an effort to entice people to retire, I'd be a happy camper.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The slide to the right

I've been trying not to pay much attention to politics lately. It's too depressing. Discussions about the economy seem to all revolve around arguments over the best way to fuck over most of us while making it look like the other party is responsible for destroying the economy, and talk about the 2012 campaign season keeps highlighting candidates who are batshit crazy while touting them as being the frontrunners.

Adding to the funk, I've been reading a biography of Herbert Hoover. Herbert Hoover, the man who gets blamed for the Great Depression and gets held up frequently as the Ultimate Evil Republican. Well, the bad news is that going by current teabagger standards, Hoover was so far left he might as well have been sleeping with Lenin.

What were some of the things Hoover advocated?
  • a shorter work week (only 48 hours) and a shorter work day
  • a minimum wage
  • the right of workers to form unions
  • the creation of labor/management councils that would give workers a say in how a company was being run (basically putting ordinary workers on the board of directors)
  • a federal old age pension
  • a nationalized electrical grid system (public power that would bring electricity to everyone)
  • nationalized trains
  • equal pay for women, i.e., what a person got paid should depend on what the job was and not on the gender of the person performing it
Like just about every other politician of his time, Hoover worried about the threat of Communism -- the Bolshevik Revolution and the civil war in Russia were riveting news -- but his perspective was that people revolt for a reason. (He did have an edge over some of his contemporaries in this regard; he had been to Russia and knew what conditions were like there before the Revolution.) If workers were making a decent living in a safe work environment and felt like they had some control over their lives, they wouldn't feel a need to listen to radicals. In short, he was rational.

At the point I'm at now, which is right around 1920, Hoover is still spending more time schmoozing with the Democrats than with the Republicans. Among other things, he was one of Woodrow Wilson's advisors.  I am becoming increasingly curious to see how he ends up as the Republican presidential candidate barely 8 years later, because, based on what I've read so far, it doesn't make sense.

Then again, 100 years ago Republicans were sane. They were the progressives advocating for equality, conservation, regulation. . .

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The black thumb strikes again

I managed to kill another plant this week. I bought some potted zinnias a few days ago at Home Depot, thought they looked really cheerful on the plant stand next to the front door, have been remembering to water them reasonably often -- I do know things dry out fast when the temps are pushing 100 -- but came home today to something that looks mummified.

Maybe I should just concede defeat and invest in gnomes instead of trying to keep something green alive in Atlanta.  Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Thinking about the economy

When was the last time you saw a mall with every retail space occupied?

I was out and about yesterday, running various errands and picking up some odds and ends I needed, and it hit me -- every place I went, regardless of whether it was a traditional enclosed mall, an aging strip mall, or a relatively new shopping center (the 21st century's return to the strip mall concept), had vacant retail space.

Then I started wondering. . . just when was the last time I saw a shopping center that did not have at least one vacancy?

I don't know about you, but I'm thinking it was maybe the Carter administration for me. The 1970s. For almost as long as I can remember, the business model has been constant expansion, just keep building more and more retail outlets regardless of the size of the potential customer base. End result was that with rare exceptions, every town in the country has a retail zone that keeps shifting. A new mall or shopping center opens; an existing one loses customers and storefronts start going dark.

The bizarre part is that investors keep right on pouring money into this endless retail shuffle, and developers keep right on building. There's a huge surplus of empty space -- commercial offices, retail space, residential rentals -- in Atlanta right now, but what was the big story in the Business section of the paper? A developer's plans for rehabbing City Hall East (which began life as a Sears store, office tower, and warehouse). It's got something like a million square feet --the sucker is huge. It's probably the largest money pit I've seen in a long time. I do think adaptive re-use of the building is a neat idea, but when high rise condos that were built from scratch are having trouble finding buyers -- what are the odds that there's going to be high demand for condos in a renovated office building? The shopping plaza up the street from us hasn't been at full occupancy since we moved here 4 years ago, but nonetheless a developer bought  the apartment complex next door and plans to level it and build a "mixed use" development (retail and residential).

I happen to think mixed use is a great idea. It makes perfect sense to try to plan development so people can live close to where they work. However, just how viable is this as an economic model? What's the point of building more retail space when there's existing space standing empty? Ditto office space and condos.

There is no answer to my question, of course. Our entire economic way of life is predicated on constant expansion, constant growth. The idea of a healthy stability, a steady state that didn't involve continual new construction and abandonment of the old, is completely alien in modern society. You grow or you die -- there's nothing in between.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


How can it be a Blue Book when it's yellow?

Second question: Does anyone still use Blue Books? I did when I taught because I love the smell of fear in a classroom, but it's been almost 11 years since the last time I had a chance to warp young minds.

Monday, July 11, 2011

The myth of the overpaid government worker

My favorite curmudgeon, good ol' BBC, left a comment on a recent post that I cannot allow to pass unaddressed. He invoked the Myth of the Overpaid Government Worker.

This myth is a favorite of the anti-government foamers. They love to invoke the image of some overpaid and underworked bureaucrat kicking back and enjoying the high life on the taxpayers' dime. So they practice deceptive statistics: they compare the average wage for a government employee with the average wage for workers in general. Because government -- especially the federal government -- does tend to have quite a few employees who have advanced degrees and work in professional positions (doctors, microbiologists, hydrologists, actual rocket scientists) wages will skew high compared to the general population. Remember -- the largest private employer in the US today is Walmart, and, the last time I looked, Walmart wasn't hiring many research scientists. It is, to trot out the usual cliche, an apples and oranges comparison.

If, on the other hand, you go by actual occupation and/or amount of education and training an employee has, government employees are consistently underpaid compared to their counterparts in the private sector. Right now, for example, the VA is looking for physicians -- the VA is always looking for physicians. Do you know why the VA has a chronic doctor shortage? Starting salary is $97,900. That might sound like a ton of money to those of us who are not doctors, but compared to what they can make in private practice? It's not competitive.

Or how about forester? According to USAJobs, the US Forest Service is hiring -- starting pay for a forester with a master's degree is $31,315. Somehow I have a hunch the foresters working for Weyerhauser and Georgia Pacific make more than $15 an hour.

The other part of the myth, of course, is that all those government workers are unnecessary. We'd all manage just fine without them.

So who do you want to fire first? National Park rangers? Local sheriff's deputies? Those overpaid doctors at the VA? Highway department workers? Forest Service firefighters? The staff at the state health department? Elementary school teachers? People complain now about the lines at Motor Vehicles or the wait times at Social Security offices -- how much longer are you going to have to wait if you fire the clerks?

There is another aspect to this whole "get rid of government workers" movement that most people don't think (or even know) about. Back in the '90s the Clinton administration made a concerted effort to shrink government. The number of direct employees dropped dramatically. It was, however, all smoke and mirrors. The direct employees went away, but the work still needed to get done, so it was turned over to contractors: Halliburton, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Lear Siegler, and long, long list of others. The Large Nameless Agency where I work, for example, got rid of many of the direct employees who had been secretaries and administrative support clerks. They wound up replacing them with contract employees who get paid more per hour than a civil servant doing the same work would receive. No savings whatsoever, but it surely sounded good to be able to say they'd reduced the size of government.

Me and the S.O.

H/T to BBC.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

This explains a lot

The AJC has a brief report on cognitive decline in the South in today's paper edition. I went looking for the article online, but couldn't find it -- I figure it explains a lot. I did find an article online that linked to the original report.

Briefly, researchers found that older people in the so-called "Stroke Belt" -- the American southeast, the red state Bible Belt -- not only have a higher risk for strokes, they're also more prone to "cognitive decline" than the rest of the country.

Let's see. Old people are more likely to vote than younger people. Older people in the South are sliding into senility faster than old people in New England or the upper Midwest. End result: Georgia ends up with prizes like Lyn Westmoreland (Congressman notable for referring to President and Mrs. Obama as "uppity"); Minnesota gets Al Franken. Another mystery solved.

Why is anyone surprised?

People like to talk about "unintended consequences" when things don't work out quite the way they thought they should. What often doesn't get mentioned is that those "unintended consequences" are remarkably predictable. Two happened to catch my eye Saturday.

First, on C-SPAN one of the guests was an economist. He got into a lot of technical stuff about why the economy is so sluggish, but then he said, in essence, one reason unemployment numbers are looking grim and growth is stalled is because so many government (local, state, federal) workers are losing their jobs. This is the entirely predictable consequence of the whole "must shrink government" movement. If policy makers respond to a budget crisis by instituting more tax cuts (i.e., shrink revenue) and then try to reduce costs by furloughing teachers, firemen, janitors, the guys who used to cut the weeds along the highways, whoever, of course unemployment numbers are going to climb and growth will stall. What drives the US economy is consumption -- and government workers are, just like everyone else, consumers. Fire them, and it may feel good briefly, but you've also just removed consumers from the economy. No private sector employer is going to start hiring if company sales are going down, not up. Nonetheless, in DC and elsewhere, all the politicians continue to blather on about austerity, deficit reduction, and making cuts in programs like Social Security and Medicare, which is akin to drilling holes in the lifeboats on the Titanic. We're already sinking, and they're too blinded by ideology to see that they're making it worse.

The other totally predictable consequence is here in Atlanta, the big Atlanta Public Schools cheating scandal. It is the entirely predictable consequence of a program that was designed in a way that makes it impossible to ever succeed: No Child Left Behind. NCLB set goals that are absolutely, totally impossible to ever achieve in the real world, the most glaringly obvious being that by 2014 100% of children enrolled in school will be performing at grade level. It's not quite like planning in live in Lake Woebegone, where all the children are above average, but it comes close.

Why was this goal impossible? Because, without even getting into issues like social disparities, different levels of resources between districts, competence of teachers, and everything else that gets trotted out in this debate, take the time to think about it for a minute. Remember your own elementary school experience? Or high school? Remember how there was always one kid, who no matter how patiently the teacher worked with him or how much money his parents spent on tutors or Sylvan Learning Centers or whatever, just did not get it? The kid who wasn't so obviously learning disabled as to be treated as such (except by his or her peers, who were really good at coming up with insults), but who was, or so it seemed at the time, just plain dense? The kid who would consistently push on the door labeled pull? That kid is always going to be there, and he or she is never going to be performing at grade level. Ergo, the program was designed to fail.

Unfortunately, even though any rational person who thinks it through logically (and, yes, I know there are probably less than a dozen people like that in the country, let alone functioning as policy-makers) is going to recognize the emphasis that NCLB put on schools to improve their test scores would have some unplesasant consequences, the Atlanta scandal is being talked about as though it's an aberration.

It's not. Cheating scandals similar to the current Atlanta mess have been found in multiple other districts around the country, from Los Angeles to New York. If you set up a requirement that is impossible to meet honestly, you know that people are going to figure out a way to game the system, to cheat, in order to survive. School districts will do things that push marginal students out, play games with enrollments so marginal students aren't part of the student body on test day (a principal in DeKalb County gamed the system by expelling 4th graders so they wouldn't be in school when the CRCT [Georgia's standardized tests] was given and then re-enrolled the following week), and, if the stakes are high enough (their jobs are on the line), get out the erasers and change answers. Because, as one teacher was quoted as saying, "I had to change their answers. Those kids were stupid."

Naturally, no one is talking about ditching the whole mess, at least not locally. If anything, student test scores are going to be weighted even more heavily in teacher evaluations and school funding in coming years. What are the odds that the students are going to get any brighter?

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Stones River National Battlefield

If you've ever driven through Tennessee on I-24 from Nashville to Chattanooga, you've been to Stones River National Battlefield -- you just didn't realize you were driving right over it. It's a little hard to visualize Civil War combat when all you're seeing is strip development and fast food chains.

At one time this battlefield was listed as one of the most endangered historic sites in the country. Not anymore. It got taken off the list because it went from endangered to mostly obliterated. Looking at all the hideous, stucco over styrofoam cornices on the buildings in the strip malls on steroids lining the roads around the park, I'm guessing the development happened within the past decade. The original battlefield was several thousand acres in size; the remnant that got preserved is about 700 -- not bad, but definitely a case of just barely better than nothing. What's left is interesting, but it was really hard to resist making snarky jokes to the interpretive rangers about "Well, at least the guys here didn't have to worry much about eating moldy hardtack, not with a Red Robin on the corner."

I've said before I'm not a big fan of the cannonball parks. Battlefields are always incredibly depressing, and Stones  River is no exception. It's another one where there's a really high body count and not much to show for it. Like Antietam, it gets labelled as "tactically indecisive." It got described in the north as a victory because Lincoln really needed one so that's how the story was fed to the press (some things never change), but realistically it falls into the "just barely" category.

I'm not also not real keen on reenactors, mostly because almost all of the ones I've encountered have been busy channeling the spirit of J.E.B. Stuart, Stonewall Jackson, or some other traitor. I've never gotten the attraction of wanting to glorify the guys who were serving as cannon fodder for rich white guys trying to hang on to their exploitative lifestyle by preserving chattel slavery. Stones River, however, had reenactors dressed in blue. Amazing.
Several of the reenactors were definitely on the portly side, which reminded me both of a cartoon I saw recently (caption: "Reenacting: an excuse for fat middleaged men to wear uniforms") and, less humorously, a section of a book I read not long ago on infectious disease. Compared to men of fighting age today, the typical Civil War era soldier was undernourished, undersized, and wracked with disease. When you see actual uniforms from the war, quite a few look like they were worn by children. Huge numbers of potential recruits in the North had to be rejected because they were too sickly: they were obviously consumptive or worse (the South was desperate enough for cannon fodder that their standards were a little looser). It's no wonder infectious diseases like typhus killed thousands and so many more died of septicemia when wounds became infected: they were already immunocompromised.

The Visitor Center at Stones River is quite nice with an interesting little museum, a small theater where they show a film explaining the battle, and a good bookstore. I was thrilled to see that Eastern National has relaxed its stance on souvenir spoons -- they used to be considered too tacky -- so I was able to get a magnet, a lapel pin, a hiking staff medallion, and a first: a souvenir spoon from an Eastern National store in a national park. (Eastern National is a nonprofit that works with the Park Service, and everything that goes into their stores is supposed to have park approval -- so no tacky stuff allowed.) Also stocked up on postcards and bookmarks, of course, and, believe it or not, actually bought a book -- "My Brave Mechanics": The First Michigan Engineers and Their Civil War. Park staff, both in the bookstore and at the front desk, were knowledgeable and helpful, although I don't think the VIP at the front desk was too thrilled with my effusive praise for a specific Michigan engineer -- Orlando Poe. I got the distinct impression his personal sympathies lay with the gallant lads in gray fighting for the Lost Cause.

I, on the other hand, don't have a whole lot of use for that Lost Cause when this was the result:

Stones River National Cemetery is across the road from the Visitor Center. It was part of the battlefield.
The cemtery was established in 1865; all the burials are Union soldiers. Many had been buried where they fell on the battlefield so digging them up for re-interment didn't require moving them very far. Union dead from other battles were also disinterred and moved to the cemetery. Confederate dead were buried elsewhere.

Stones River NB also has the oldest Civil War memorial, the Hazen Brigade Monument. It was erected in 1863, well before the war ended. It has an oddly unfinished feel to it -- it looks almost like they wanted to do an obelisk but ran out of time and/or materials.

If a person likes to walk, Stones River does have trails that loop around through the woods and fields and take you past points of interest, like the Slaughter Pen (a natural rock formation where Sheridan's men dug in to hold off the Confederates) and some remnant earthworks. One of the nice things about Stones River is that it doesn't appear to have turned into a mecca for dog walkers like Kennesaw Mountain (Kennesaw supposedly has one of the highest visitor counts in the country; I figure 99% of those "visitors" are local suburbanites looking for a convenient place for Fido to piss). You can do a nice little hike, enjoy some history mixed with nature, and not have to worry much about stepping in dog crap.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Still another mystery

What's the point of robo-calls from collection agencies?

I swear that it's a rare day that I don't come home to find a message on the answering machine from some outfit attempting to dun someone I've never heard of for unpaid debts. The message always says something to the effect of "This call is for Joe Schmoe. If you are not Joe Schmoe, hang up now. By continuing to listen to this message, you are acknowledging that you are indeed Joe Schmoe. This call is being made for purposes of collecting a debt. Call this number 888-no-one-will-ever-answer to make arrangements for payment."

After being the recipient of numerous messages for Mr. Schmoe and other deadbeats, we tried calling the toll free number to ask them to please purge our phone number from their robo-call list. It was a slow afternoon -- the S.O. sat there listening to Muzak for a long, long time (half an hour? 45 minutes?) and no human ever picked up the phone. We just wanted them to stop annoying us, but what if we'd actually been Joe Schmoe and wanted to send them money? Why waste energy making dunning calls if on the rare occasion someone responds, no one's home at the collection agency to tell the debtors where to send the checks?

And for sure why waste resources on robo-calling? What the odds that random phone calls to people completely unconnected to the debtors are ever going to result in them actually finding anyone? Or are they operating under the theory that if they call everyone in the 404 area code, sooner or later good ol' Joe will actually pick up the phone?

What about the ladies?

I've been watching a new science fiction series -- Falling Skies -- that's got some big names behind it and has a decent cast (Noah Wylie, Will Patton, that guy from Wings whose name I can never remember. . .) and a fairly standard plot line: aliens invade, they're not friendly, and groups of brave humans form a resistance. War of the Worlds redux. We've seen it all before: the tensions betwen military minds and civilians who are still trying to grasp the idea that sometimes you have to kill the enemy, the trying to survive on the run while scavenging for supplies, the stock characters like The Reluctant Hero and the Mad Scientist. Nothing out of theordinary, nothing particularly compelling, but there is some potential for mildly entertaining television, so I'll stick with it for another episode or two because it beats watching reruns of House Hunters.

And, just like I do everytime I encounter one of these end-of-the-world entertainment vehicles, I find myself wondering, "Doesn't anyone live in the real world?" The ragtag band of survivors (aka "the Second Massachusetts," a resistance unit) numbers 300 strong -- where are they getting their water from? Who's keeping the Boston municipal water supply going if they're still turning on taps and flushing toilets? And why would the system work when the power is apparently out everywhere --they're doing the usual lighting up everything like a Christmas tree using only candles and oil lamps. And just where are they getting the zillion candles from? Did they find the Mother of All Yankee Candle stores to raid?

Which brings me to the thing I really wonder about:  why is it that in post-apocalyptic survivalist fiction, be it televised or between the covers of a book, when they do go out scavenging, we never hear some young woman yell as the foraging party departs, "Hey, guys, don't forget the Tampax!"

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Another WTF moment

In the parking deck at work. This behemoth of a vehicle

proudly labeled "Hybrid."

So that means what, exactly? It gets 7 miles to the gallon instead of the usual 5?

Monday, July 4, 2011

And how do you plan to spend the holiday?

The every-other-year pool in this apartment complex is open this summer. Last year it had maintenance issues, so sat there looking forlorn and unusable for the entire summer. This year it's looking good.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The stupid is running deep this morning

Open lines on C-SPAN. What's the first thing I hear? Some fool blathering on about how wonderful it is in the states that don't make corporations pay much in taxes and have things like right to work laws in place, you know, such veritable Edens as Mississippi, Alabama, and the third world clone in which I reside, Georgia. 

Let's see: low corporate taxes, no unions, worst school systems in the country, highest poverty rates, decaying infrastructure, highest murder rates, mortality rates for women creeping steadily upward, . . . what else can the red state South brag about?

If cutting taxes to the point where they're nonexistent is such a wonderful thing, why, on an international level, do the Nordic countries always get high marks as being the best places on the planet to do business?

Friday, July 1, 2011

You're not my type

I'm an INTJ. Almost no one is my type.

I speak, of course, of that darling of the psuedosciences and manipulative management techniques, the Myers-Briggs Type Inventory. I first encountered Myers-Briggs as an undergraduate at Michigan Tech in the 1980s. At the time I was majoring in social sciences with a Science, Technology and Society concentration -- and within that concentration my focus was on technology and work. That meant taking a fair number of business courses as electives. If the school had been doing declared majors and minors at that point in time, I'd have described it as "major in STS with a minor in industrial sociology." Sort of.

In any case, one of the business professors was thoroughly enamored of Myers-Briggs. She loved it. Of course, this was the woman who was so good at what she did that when I made the mistake of taking her class on "leadership," a course that required massive amounts of teamwork and cooperation, I got to watch it splinter so badly that 20+ years later there are participants from that class who still aren't speaking to each other. I don't think we did the Myers-Briggs in class, just talked about it a lot and how it related to other tools and theories management can use to manipulate workers create a good working environment, like Maslow's hierarchy of needs. I didn't actually take the Myers Briggs until I went to counseling to talk through what I wanted to do after Tech: leap straight into the workplace or go to grad school. And, if grad school, which made the most sense: law school or going for a graduate degree in history or sociology?

I don't know if the Myers Briggs results influenced the grad school decision at all. I do know the conclusion that I was an INTJ who fell so far into the psychotic loner quadrant that it's amazing I ever emerge from my cave to interact with anyone didn't come as much of a shock. It's also not much of a surprise that I am at my happiest working at a task that allows me to work independently, no "team members" annoying me with their stunning incompetence, and that is relatively structured (i.e., clear beginning, process, and end).

I've been thinking about the Myers Briggs lately because I've been observing a co-worker slowly sliding over the edge into complete meltdown and possible padded room territory, and a lot of it comes down to a simple (and common) misunderstanding of human nature. We all on some level believe everyone else is just like us, and, when we hit reality, too often the explanations we come up for why people aren't behaving the way we think they should are just flatout wrong.

Now, I don't know if it would have made much of a difference to my crazy coworker if Large Nameless Agency had a halfway decent employee orientation or a better training program, but it certainly wouldn't have hurt if LNA did a few of the things some of my previous employers did, like subjecting all the peons to a session with Myers Briggs in the name of "team building." (Similar exercises at LNA are strictly voluntary, with a minuscule number of sessions offered considering what a humongous bureaucracy the agency is. The overall management philosophy when it comes to orienting people to either the agency or a specific job is more along the lines of "Let's toss you into the shark tank and see how fast you can learn to swim.") Dubious though I am about the principles underlying Myers Briggs, it is useful to have it hammered into you that everyone is Different: different cognitive styles, different things that motivate them, different responses to being around other people. Or, to put it in Myers Briggs jargon, different people have different preferences. Bottom line, if people don't behave the way you expect them to, don't take it personally.

If my crazy coworker had at some point encountered Myers Briggs, when she started with the journal she might have picked up on the fact that her new coworkers were not particularly social people: they're pleasant enough, they're friendly in an off-handed way, but they're not real big on getting together for lunch, gathering in a crowd around the coffee pot for idle chatter, or socializing much in general, and that they're like that with everyone. They're a rather reserved bunch overall. Considering that people tend to drift into occupations that match up with their emotional and cognitive needs, it's not surprising that people who work at a job -- copy editing, for example -- that requires working alone in a quiet space would tend to be more than a tad private.

Unfortunately, my coworker took it personally. She's one of those bubbly, highly social people who thrives on small talk and idle chitchat -- she doesn't want to just say a casual good morning and get on with work; she wants actual conversations. Even more unfortunately, she interpreted people's being rather off-handed in their social interactions, their lack of interest in lingering over the coffee pot, and their polite refusals to go bowling or get together outside the workplace as "they don't like me. They don't want me here."

It's bizarre. Even worse, it's become a self-fulfilling prophecy. She keeps reinforcing it. Because she thinks no one likes her, her behavior is getting stranger and stranger, so people want to spend even less time interacting with her. The less time people spend with her, the more convinced she becomes that not only do they not like her, there's an active campaign to get rid of her. The downward spiral continues. She sees plots and cabals where none exist, and the rest of us just kind of shake our heads in disbelief and contemplate the potential joys of teleworking so we would no longer have a ringside seat for weirdness.

Retirement's definitely looking better and better.