Friday, February 17

The ugly fan: sports parent

I was at a women's college basketball game the other night. It was a contest between two Division III schools, a modest rivalry. I was rooting for the home team.

The opposition is fairly local so there were plenty of parents in the stands. Plenty of very vocal, very loud parents. I've noticed that the parents for the home team players are enthusiastic and vocal, but not mean nor mean-spirited. I think I'm sufficiently objective here.  I like basketball and have friends on the coaching staff, but I don't have a kid playing.

When I taught at another university, there was a much stronger rivalry with the opposition team and the attitude seemed to stem from the kind of behavior and peculiar brand of "sportsmanship" espoused by the then coach.  That coach is still on the bench, so there's no doubt in my mind his philosophy prevails.  Like the players, the parents take some of their attitude and behavior cues from the coaching stuff.  And the parents of players for this school have always struck me as mean.

It's not as though any of these girls are going to become pro basketball players. While D III players may have height, there's a reason they play at a D III school.  These parents, though, they know basketball.  I imagine these moms and dads have been through plenty of summer camps with their girls.  And it's good that they're informed, but I don't think that means they have to be so hateful towards the officials nor towards the opposition's players.

I've noticed that D III officials tend to be less than remarkable.  It seems they are either towards the end of their careers or just starting their careers and trying to get enough experience to move up to D II.  Still, the sort of vitriol I heard spewed at this game wasn't necessary.

Parents have long had a reputation for being bad fans.  And even the kids know it.  Check out this blog post on "What Makes a Nightmare Sports Parent--And What Makes a Great One."

The parents from the other night's game reminded me of some lines from Taylor Swift's Mean:
And all you've ever gonna be is mean.

Why you gotta be so mean?
Meanness doesn't accomplish a thing.  The kids don't play any better; the officials don't officiate any better; the coaches don't coach any better.  Mean people in the stands just embarrass themselves.  Why you gotta be so mean?

Thursday, February 16

"Getting the worker is becoming a problem"

Unemployment claims are down.  That may only mean that fewer people are still getting unemployment or more people have dropped off the unemployment rolls.  It doesn't necessarily mean that unemployment is actually down.

Obama's approval ratings are up.  I'm sure there's a correlation.

And there are jobs to be had.  If you're a machinist or have specific manufacturing skills.  Some time ago we made technical jobs less than attractive, or simply shipped them off to far-flung countries for a variety of reasons, some of which might make sense and are reasonably good. . . but not the point.

Here is a small manufacturing company in Georgia who can't hire the people he needs.  Now.  I suspect he's not alone.

I remember a conversation some time when several of us were talking about the seeming collapse of the vocational or technical school, and not just because jobs were going elsewhere.  Somewhere along the line we made important jobs seem unimportant.

Every Friday morning I'm grateful for the guy who drives to my house to pick up my trash and recyclables.  Not sexy; not glamorous, but absolutely necessary.  When my garage door decided not to open any more, I was immensely grateful for the guy who came over and made some recommendations that not only improved what I had but cost less than I thought it would.  And when I needed some work done on my driveway, the man who gave the estimate talked about planes and leveling and all kinds of math stuff to make sure the work they did worked the way he expected.

I think we forget how technical some of these jobs are.  I know the guys who work on my car need to know more about different things than they did a decade or so ago.  And as cars get more electrical and technical, the kinds of skills and knowledge they will have to have will continue to get more complex.

If I were a high school guidance counselor, I'd been steering some of my students to vocational technical programs.  Good pay and important work.  Nothing to be ashamed of.

If I were a parent of a high school or college kid, I'd suggest investigating the possibility of an internship or a summer job at some place off the typical radar to learn some skills that might be useful some day.  And if that kid already likes to tinker with stuff, even better.

If I were an employer like this guy in Georgia, I'd work with some of my retired employees to build that training program and implement it now.  Stop trying to find skilled workers that don't exist.  Pay those retired folks a fair wage to help train and mentor folks with capability but no formal training.  Pay those trainees less than someone who has the real deal skills and get 'er done.

If the new normal is that there aren't workers with the needed skills, then the new normal is to train those folks the way you need and want them trained.  Innovation + entrepreneurialism.  Nothing wrong with that.


Tuesday, February 7

The government is me; I am the government

It's an election year.  Again.  Interminable, yet necessary.  As an American, I live in a democratic country.  And one of the great things is I can say what I'm about to say without fear of getting thrown in jail.

There are a lot of news stories just now about the federal government: two of the big stories are about Syria and about  health insurance, contraception, and the Catholic Church.  Economic soothsayers spend a lot of time examining signs and portents that indicate something about the economy, so they pant with anticipation waiting for reports on employment, GDP, housing, etc.  In my nearly bankrupt state of Illinois, there are budget conversations.  Governor Quinn wants to spend more money.  Apparently he has a money tree somewhere in Springfield.

We ALL grumble about the federal government.

We have to stop grumbling.  Why?  We are the federal government.  We, the taxpayers of the United States, are the federal government.

So if you are a tax-paying citizen of the United States of America, the next time you say something about the federal government, stop and substitute "I."  You might say "The federal government needs to do something about immigration reform."  Say this instead: "I need to do something about immigration reform."

How do you do that?  1)  Be informed.  Not just one newspaper or TV channel.  The new is filtered in a variety of ways for a variety of reasons.  Get your information from more than one legitimate source.  2) Think for yourself.  We are far willing to jump on a bandwagon or succumb to groupthink.  3) Do your homework.  Don't take news readers or other people's summaries or opinions without doing a little fact-checking.  The Internet is an amazing thing.  You can get the text of bills before Congress online; you can get just about anyone's actual speeches and position statements online.  4) Vote. 5) Run for office yourself.  6) Vote. 7) Get involved with your community, even if it's just with your children's PTO or PTA.  8) Vote.  9) Read or re-read The Constitution. 10) Vote, but remember to be an informed, skeptical, and critically thinking voter.

And remember: we are the people; we are the government.