Category Archives: Business

A Postcard From The Unemployment Line

Help Wanted Sign

There’s been a lot of talk in the past months about how Americans don’t want to go back to work.

I say bunk.

Americans want to work. They need to work. Not just for the paycheck, but for the pride of accomplishment and the upward mobility it provides. It’s ingrained in our DNA, all those descendants of seekers who came from all over the world to this egalitarian utopia.

OK it’s not egalitarian, it’s not utopia, and there are just as many current immigrants these days as descendants but go with me on this.

Companies are complaining they can’t get people to work for them. Imagine that. For years companies molted workers every time the economy went the least bit south, disregarding years of service and the effect on not just the workers but their families and their communities, all so the company could show a healthy bottom line to the stock market.

And I say that as someone whose main source of income these days comes from the healthy bottom line those companies show the stock market.

It’s my main source of income since like so many others I am on that unemployment line, right behind the waitress from my favorite restaurant and the guy who used to work at the gas station. OK it’s no longer a physical line, it’s the cyber-line of the California Employment Development Department website. The line stretches over a million people long at the moment. The EDD is so overwhelmed that getting a straight answer has turned into many people’s full time employment. And not just those trying to get their accounts straightened out. A new industry has popped up to take advantage of the state’s fumbling response to an unprecedented need and a massive amount of fraud. For a fee someone will robo-call EDD for you till they get through then stay on hold till an actual human answers the call. Then they patch you in.

American ingenuity at it’s finest. Find a need and fill it as dentists and cement contractors say.

Meantime there is an enormous surge in post COVID hiring needs. The most ubiquitous sign in the state at the moment is “Help Wanted”. Conservatives are blaming the state government for this shortage of workers, saying the combination of unemployment insurance and extra money being doled out to keep people afloat is causing workers to not want to go back to work.

First of all let’s get this out of the way. No one is getting money just handed to them by the state. They are getting the benefit of the money they have invested in unemployment INSURANCE, money they had no say in it being taken. For me that is over 40 years of paycheck dings every week to pay for something that up until a year ago I never put a claim in on. I’ll also add that for over half of those 40 years I was an employer so I personally got dinged twice every week. This is the rainy day fund you were taught to have “just in case”.

Well for the past year the rain has been a deluge.

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Can’t We All Just Get Along

Rodney King

Beaten to a pulp by LAPD who were later exonerated, he still had the guts to say “Can’t we all get along”

Recently there was a giant hubbub at the podcasting company Gimlet over attempts to create a workplace union. I don’t want to go into all the details but this Vulture report does a pretty good job of summing up the various positions and the backlash involved in it.

Suffice it to say, one side lost and one side won. That’s how things go in this world of ours.

What I am more interested in is the fact that at Gimlet those on the losing side felt they had to leave the company. I want to make it clear this is not a situation where the losers were people in control of policy or direction for the company. The two biggest names to leave, PJ Voight and Shruti Panamanian, were worker bees who had made the decision to oppose the unionization effort. Why they did was their own business and no one else’s. But they felt compelled to leave the company they had helped build because they had been on the losing side of the issue. Whether they jumped or were pushed is of no matter. The point is they left.

They shouldn’t have. They shouldn’t have been put in the position of having to make that decision.

Look if every time one of us loses an argument and feels they have to leave, there would be a whole helluva lot more divorced people living at the Motel 6. When did having a different opinion on something from your nearest and dearest or even just your fellow employees become equated to vacating the premises? Unless it’s a rental agreement we shouldn’t be packing our bags and heading down the highway just because we lost one simple disagreement. The Dodgers, in my humble opinion, suck. There I said it. Some of you might agree with that sentiment. Some of you I know don’t. That doesn’t mean I can’t be friends with you. I’ve got news for you, friends have disagreements all the time as all my Dodger loving friends will tell you about me.

Same goes for the workplace. Yeah, here it gets a little trickier because you do have to negotiate various levels of business hierarchy but I shouldn’t feel I have to leave my job just because you wanted a union, I didn’t, but the union won out. In fact I would argue that it’s more important that I stick around to keep the union on it’s toes or to make sure it really is working in the best interests of myself and my fellow employees.

Last year the Opinion Editor of the New York Times, James Bennet, agreed to publish an essay written, as much as we can believe a politician can write a clear and declarative essay, by Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas. In it he advocated for using the US military against BLM protesters in the wake of the George Floyd murder. I do not agree with that sentiment in the least. From what I can tell the New York Times and probably James Bennet himself do not agree with that sentiment. Nevertheless Bennet chose to publish it as an editorial about a matter of current affairs written by a serving member of the United States Senate. Some Times staff writers protested the essay should not have been run. Ultimately the uproar over that decision caused Bennet to lose his job. He shouldn’t have, just as the staff writers opposed to the publication shouldn’t have lost their jobs for speaking out, though none did. They made their feelings known, he obviously made his feelings known by running it in the first place and that should have been the end of that. Instead a well respected veteran of the newspaper industry had to be shown/head for the door because apparently unless we all speak as one we can not speak at all.

Which brings me to Liz Cheney.

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Closing Time

Fry's Electronics Palo Alto

The party’s over, it’s time to call it a day

Fry’s Electronics is dead.

This is quite literately matricide, the industry it suckled and nurtured killed it.

For those of you not in the know, if Silicon Valley was the epicenter of the tech explosion, Fry’s was the epicenter of Silicon Valley. It’s iconic stores, each decked out in an outlandishly silly individual design theme (Wild West, Aztec Temple, 50’s Sci Fi, etc) were the go to place for the equipment the people who created the new world we live in. Beyond being an electronics store, it was a clubhouse for geeks and nerds who wandered it’s aisles filled with components, computer hazari, almost porn men’s magazines, and enough junk food to fuel an all night coding jag.

If you couldn’t find what you needed there you went home and invented it.

My first exposure to the geek underground was in a Fry’s. Told by my brother in law it was the place to go for the add on component I needed for my Apple IIC “portable” computer (it had a handle on the case so you could carry it around — along with the CRT monitor) I ventured into the voluminous Old West themed Palo Alto store, buried deep in an anonymous industrial park on a side street that if you blinked you missed. Once you got past the hitching posts outside the door and the statue of a cowboy being bucked off his horse by the customer service counter you gazed out onto the new west’s version of the endless prairie, aisles upon aisles of electronic components, anything a computer jockey could ever need. In those days it was not uncommon to find a shopper pushing a grocery cart filled with every small or large widget needed to complete your own home brew computer. 

After finding everything you needed and having scanned the magazine aisle for half an hour (they carried not only computer related mags and almost porn, but every magazine then being published) you would stand on a line that stretched for what seemed like blocks to make your purchase. In the final stretch the aisle became crowded with junk food, a concession to the owners’ father who came out of the grocery industry and insisted they sell some food products “as a fall back”. A person stood at the front of the line and would point to one of the 30 cash registers lined up like a bureaucrat’s wet dream and off you would go to hand over your credit card. Incongruously for a store brimming with Old West memorabilia the registers were always manned by Indians. A few Pakistanis mixed in, but mostly Indians.

The first time I heard of this thing called Google was standing in that line and overhearing two Stanford students talking about how much better the campus search engine was than Yahoo. That kind of info gathering was the primary reason for going to Fry’s even though you weren’t there to buy components. There was more tech being spoken in those aisles than anywhere else in the world. Those older well dressed gentlemen wandering the networking equipment aisles weren’t there predatorily searching for young men with a big thing, they were looking for young men with the next big thing. Rumor had it venture capitalists paid big finder’s fees to salespeople who overheard something while replenishing the stacks of 8 bit motherboards.

Amazingly, incredibly, Fry’s was late to the e-tailing world.  Just like Sears with clothing and B. Daltons with books, Fry’s hesitated to get involved with selling over the internet. They could have kept Amazon at e-bay had they not insisted that customers needed to come into the store to buy their desired product. Instead the very companies Fry’s outfitted made them a dinosaur.

And now they are extinct.

As a convenient cover, the owners are blaming COVID, but the reality is the Palo Alto store was closed in December 2019 and in fact from what had once been a chain of 31 stores there were only 5 left when this morning’s notice was posted. Some will say the dot com bust of 2001 that forced the company to start selling appliances, TVs, and other consumer electronics was the end of the “real” Fry’s. In truth yes, in the last 20 years you were more likely to run into the mom who lives next door searching for a kid’s video game than the next Sergey Brin, but there were still some aisles that were just for the tech geeks; interlopers ventured into those spaces at their own risk. Manufacturer reps could still be found regularly prowling the aisles to see what consumers were stopping to gawk at. The magazine aisle was replaced with a magazine rack, but those magazines were the ones the tech crowd really wanted to read. And if you could find one there were still a few salesmen who could walk you through your project specs, suggest what you needed, dismiss what you didn’t, and give you a pretty good idea if you were on to potentially the next big thing. Or they could sigh deeply, point a finger, and say “Aisle 48” when you asked for a DVD cleaning kit.

A while back they pretty much stopped all their advertising but when meeting new people I’d get a true idea of how long they had lived in the Bay Area by quizzing them with “Finish the slogan…Your best buys….”.

If they answered “are always at Fry’s” I knew they were good people. Guaranteed.


Shapiro Out