Apr 12, 2018

Vacational Plans

Source: Stormberry
Yesterday we had a holiday here, so my friend Lau and I went to a beach resort, a Double Tree. The story behind this is that some weeks ago I saw some really awesome pictures of Lau at a beach hotel, and I wanted to know where it was. Lau told me that she went there with some friends from the office, because one of the girls had a membership. Well, that sounded interesting, so I asked how can I become a member, and so the friend referred me to the program.

That was several weeks ago. I thought I was going to be called at once, but then they took forever to call me. When they finally did (maybe some two months after I was referred), it was by a phone call, and the representative offered me a Day Pass for any day... in the close future, which I had to decide on at that exact moment. This was last week. Out of the blue, I decided to go on the 11th, because it's a holiday.

Through the call they made me some questions, like if I had a certain type of credit card - apparently, the program can only be offered to people with that specific type of card - and it was stressed that I had to have that card on me when I go for the Day Pass. I would not be able to apply for it if I didn't have the card. The other odd thing was that they asked me about my marital status and whether I had children, and then, on and on this husband+children thing kept coming up, like the representative couldn't get behind the idea that I would choose not to have either. So, since I am single, they made told me that I could bing "someone" with me, and I noticed a slightly clipped tone in that "someone", like: "well, I guess you have no kids and no husband because you are a lesbian. That makes me feel uncomfortable, but you can bring your lady-friend with you, if you like". It was odd.

I then received a formal invitation via e-mail, in which I was invited with "my child". I called and asked to clarify, and asked whether it was ok for me to bring someone along, but that I have no children no husband. "Yes, sure..." and again the clipped, strange tone of voice about the potential romantic connection me and "Mystery Companion" could have.

Part of the deal was to agree to a 60 minute tour around the premises. Yeah, sure, why not? I knew they were going to try and sell me the membership, and I was originally going with the idea of signing in.

I will start by nothing that I had certain expectations about the Double Tree Resort. The place was nice, really, but certain aspects of it were a bit more on the cheap side or the "family value" side.

We were received with a bottle of water, offered beverages, and then started "The Program". We were brought to a waiting place with the look that many catalogue stores have for their agents. Bright colored furniture and glass tables so that the super-crowded place looks more spacious. High ceilings paired with jewel colored divisions to keep the visitor from noticing that there is actually no ceiling and that the light fixtures hang from unsightly cables. Then some general info was taken from me, and again, my relationship with Lau was asked. Really, you want to sell ME stuff, why in the fucking hell do you need to know what my relationship is to the person accompanying me? Unless you intend to use that person to pressure me into the purchase. I know, prospects with knowledge of marketing can be really annoying.

The first representative we talked to, was there to talk to us about the benefits and to take us around. She also made some questions about our preferences and so on (our, because the idea that I might be alone and enjoy the membership alone must be incomprehensible), and some cursory data on how much on average do we spend on holiday. The program was offering seven nights a year at that given hotel, which had to be spent in a whole week or "broken" into two portions, once taking saturday to wednesday, and then thursday to saturday, or any such combination, but not, like broken into two or three weekends. And no less than three nights. And she mentioned something quite obscure about some yearly increasing of 4%, which I understood it was the membership, and that I had to give in advance three potential weeks a year when I would like to take the week I requested. If I wanted to use the benefit in another hotel in the country, I had to pay "only" $176 or so for the "move", and if I wanted to use it in a hotel in another country, that would cost me "only" $350 or so.

Different room options were shown to me, and I had to decide which I would prefer. I had to pick one and if in the future I wanted or needed a different room, I would have to pay for the difference.

Then we went around the place, which was nice, though the big pools didn't convince me, and I found the gym too small and poorly equiped. We were then shown one room, that honestly looked more like a cabin than a hotel room. It had a kitchenet and a regular fridge. And the hallways were dark. Hell, it reminded me of the hotel room where I stayed with the girls in München, and that wasn't even München!

When we returned to the chatting place, where a second seller would take over to talk prices (prices disclosed at the end: sure sign of bad), I had already formed a cap amount in my head: being an All Inclusive hotel, if they had room service and mini-bar, I was willing to go for a $500 membership a year for a room with capability for four people. And I was being generous there. Then came the Price Guy, and things went out of the window. As it happens, they sold 15 year plans, with a cost of +$12 000. Oh, butu I was in the luck, because they could offer me a 12 year plan for only +$10 000. I only had to pay up front $2800 and the rest in monthly payments for a year or in two years.

Yeah, ain't no gonna happen. Price Guy went on wild on the numbers, making all sorts of warped calculations about how it was only $908 per year (in other words, $908,00 for seven nights in a concrete cabin, without the meals or the All Inclusive plan), which was as cheap as $48 per night (what kind of maths are you using son? Didn't you read your notes? Lau and I are economists: we know numbers and money. If the cost per year is $908, the cost per each of the allowed seven nights is $129,71), which was only $10,80 per night per person. And he went on and on about how it was impossible to find a room for $10 a night, unless it was a hostel "and I know you will never go to a hostel". What was making him believe that I would go penny-counting and charging my guests for their stay? Price per person, per night is a nasty way of selling a room. And for a client that "doesn't stay at hostels" such a parsimonious calculations are futile in the gentler of cases, and insulting in the worse. Not to mention that in the end, what will be paid is that up front amount, those montly payments, and all the extras so carefully kept from the eye of the client, such as the actual meal plans and other comissions and fees... and whatever that fee might be that was mentioned in the passing, and which increases 4% per year. No, I have not lost that from sight.

When I told him that I don't like commitment and I definitively don't like the idea of the up front payment, he went a bit pety, commenting how much I would pay for my other vacations in fifteen years, so this was not that much.

"Yeah," I said "but I'll pay those vacations as they come, from the same account and the same salary from which I would pay this. Those I can decide when and were to take them, and those are more prioritary to me than this, which would be just for whenever I feel like it - a weekend getaway - so it makes no sense to me to make such a commitment on this place."

Price Guy actually tried to use Lau against me, how I could sell Lau or my other friends those days, and so on, and when I insisted in my refusal, he went nasty.

"Is it because of the money?"
"It's because of the commitment," I told him.

He tried to find me a suitable plan, but all had the same component: the up front payment. Really, didn't he get it? I don't want to up front pay anything.

In the end they worked on us for over two hours (not the 60 minutes) and got nowhere with us. Frustration was evident on them, with the first representative didn't even bothering in saying goodbye when parting. 

So here is what I think:

1. These Vacational Plans might be designed with families in mind. Maybe it could work for a family that likes to go on regular, yearly vacations with the kids to the exact same places, and have this routine settled. For them one big expenditure now to ensure the future vacations for until the kids are off to college might make sense. Some familes do like this type of solution because then they can manage their family lives in a more orderly fashion, and reduce their budget issues, logistic plannings for the foreseeable future. If a family has the means, a plan like this can ensure a place kids can look forward to go on their summer vacations, and parents get the assurance of staying on a well known place, where kids won't get lost.

From families I know, I have seen these sort of dynamics going on: Christmas vacations spent with these grandparents, mid year vacations spent with the other grandparents, a week or two at some usual family friendly resort they know well. And this goes on and on and on for years. They might yearly meet with the same other families, kids may form vacation-friends or summer-friends, and all is good.

For single people who like freedom and have the means to pay for their vacations (and for such a plan they NEED to have means), it makes no sense. If you are like me, probably the previous description of family vacations sounds like the surest and shortest way for insanity. I would go crazy in such a restricted scheme, and I am the one that ALWAYS goes to the same places for vacations. The difference for me is that I choose when I go to those places, and I have the freedom to choose not to go there. Yes, I always seek to go to Paris, and I always stay at the same hotel, and visit the same street, but I'm not committed to it. If in my next trip I decide to fligh through... Frankfurt and spend a night there, I can. I will not lose my money for the trip I didn't take that time to Paris. Even though I highly doubt it that I would willingly give up Paris, this option is open. Paris does not hold me by a contract. I have not committed myself to visiting Paris yearly for an given amount of days, prepaid, and if I don't use them, I lose them.

When evaluating this options, one must really consider one's real needs and expectations.

2. Something the representatives didn't have in mind, is that I have experience in some higher end hotels, most recently with the mind blowing Hard Rock Hotel Megapolis (Panama City). However, I have had the chance to stay also at five star hotels and in the past years I prefer to stay at four star hotels of big hotel chains, such as Barceló and Accor. I know the average range of prices for those hotels and the quality I can expect from them. In my experience, the price ultimately offered for the hotel rooms a that Double Tree - which is the budget branch of the Hilton Hotels - is way to high for what you get. I can easily name three hotels in that same area (more or less close) with lower prices that either offer the same experience, similar to a bit lower experience, or a much better experience and with a far better ocean view and beach.

Now, why is this important? Because sometimes representatives try to make you believe that you are being offered a real treat, a deal you can't afford to lose. If they are doing their best to sweeten the deal by purposefully withholding information on the price at the begining and making sure to fill your eyes with stars before, it is not a deal.

It took them two months to contact me, two moths during which I assumed they had let loose Cambridge Analytics, and they had read all my tripAdvisor reviews and seen all my pictures from all of my vacations. They didn't, which is why they tried to sell me a three star option, with some building parts worthy of a two star hotel, at higher end five star hotel prices. When you expect me to sleep in a two bed room and cook my own food in the kitchenet that's located IN the room, for around $130 a night, and precisely $908 per year for seven consecutive nights, you don't know the client you are dealing with.

3. One thing to notice when being recruited for plans like this, is who is really making the plan. As I was paying attention to their speech, I noticed that - though they were not up front with it - I was not dealing with the Hilton Hotel Chain itself, but with a Vacational Club Agency called Interval International. At no point during the promotion was I made aware of this, or about what would happen with my plan if this one hotel for which I was supposed to make the plan would cease to exist for whatever reason: the company terminates their contract with Interval International, or the hotel is closed or sold to another company with which Interval International has no contract, or if the hotel changes its category and no longer offers the same facilities.

4. Watch out about the maths. If you are not very versed in the hotel booking thing, you might not notice that oftentimes the price of the room is quite fixed. The difference between what you pay for a room for one and a room for two isn't directly proportional to the number of people occupying the room. In most of my searches, I have found that most hotels charge the exact same amount per night whether you book the room for one or two people. Clearly, with larger numbers the prices will raise because the size of the room and the expectation of use of amenities, plus the number of equipment goes up, but in general, the number of people would not impact the price of the room so dramatically. So is the price per night. A large end bill can be sold like a bargain when you dilute the amount into these tiny component, but in the end, even if you have a tiny price per person per night, you will have to pay the room for the number of days you stayed in it.

This sort of maths might come into account when you are traveling with friends, on a budget and everybody is pinching in. It might not be the case when you are traveling alone or with family, specially with kids, and it is much more dubious when you are planning your vacations for the next fifteen years. You can't be sure you will always have the full occupancy, or that everybody will pinch in. So, whenever someone goes on breaking the amount into such "perspectives", think about the actual amount you will have to end up belting out at the given moment. Price per night per person isn't the price you will end up paying. The amount you would pay in total for the next fifteen years isn't the amount you will end up paying. You will pay the up front downpayment. You will pretty much assume a loan-like payment plan for vacations with given conditions. There will be a monthly or yearly deduction of your account whether you are taking vacations or not, that you will have to count with.

Don't let warped maths get in the way of your wallet. Don't let them drag you into that. Let them talk but don't pay attention to their calculations: keep in mind the numbers you know about what you are supposed to pay.

It is alright to take a vacational plan, and it's fine if the Double Tree has what you want and what you need, and if the price is ok for you: that's fine, but before you sign for it,  make sure you know well what it is you are signing for. My final recommendation is to always stay clear from deals in which they are not willing to give you the price at once, those where the representative or seller tries from the begining to empathize with you (those friendly comments where they try to show you two have something in common and repeatedly try to reinforce it), and particularly those where they do not want to give you time to think: if they try to push you to spend now, say yes now, it's not a good deal. Think always that there is a reason why they don't want you to think it over. If it were such a good deal, then the more you think of it the more you would like it, right?

Feb 22, 2018

Feeling So In Love

Today I'm in a particular state of mind. Maybe it has been something that has been forming in me since my last trip to Hungary, when my relationship to one of my friends became deeper in some emotional levels I don't fully understand yet. I went through some hard break outs - I came out of the broomcloset to a family member, which was something I had not planned to do - and that had left me sensible. I took some risks I would have not considered before, like getting a tattoo done - the word "witch" on my wrist, nontheless, and related to this I also found incredible support from other friends of mine. My Best Friend, my Angel, my Deep and Sweet Love had also gone mellow on me, so amazing and embracing and understanding, and we shared so much this time, my love for him swelled and warmed and wrapped the whole Universe. I came so close to him again, that it may have rendered me vulnerable to the softness of life and emotions.

Then there was this other dear friend of mine, next to whom I found my Spirit spreading wings and opening up. I found myself in a strange willingness to trust, to give in and unshackle myself from my eternal defensive stance. I laid down my weapons and let myself to be soft, giving, yielding. No longer a warrior or a a member of a royal court constantly cunning and plotting to stay alive in a world of politics and treason.

I came back from this trip sensible, prone to mellow emotions, and so I have found myself more often than not slipping into melancholic emotions brought upon by the sweet sadness of remembrance. A perfect state of mind for poetry to spring from my pen, where my pen prone to such, though shall we know that my few pieces of poetry are related to love and death and thus, dedicated to Henrik.

I have found myself yearning for these memories, feeding my ears and soul with movies and music that nourish this longing, and thus I have been delving into the hopeless romanticism of "Kimi No Nawa" and its soundtrack. This topic of love remaining secret, unexplainable, unattainable, a love that pierces through barriers impossible to grasp for others, and yet there, fighting with teeth and nails to remain alive in the only temple where it can find some safe haven , has struck hard in me. Loves that are eternally locked inside me, that must go unspoken, that will live eternal in my memory.

I'm thinking about getting a second tattoo, this one featuring two ravens: Hugin and Munin, who are Odin's ravens. There is a poem related to them, which goes like this:

Hugin and Munin fly each day
over the spacious earth.
I fear for Hugin, that he come not back,
yet more anxious I am for Munin.
(source: Wikipedia)

Hugin represents the Thought and Munin the Memory. As my thought has wandered and my memory has revisited these sweet memories of mine - my loved and affairs, our sweet shared moments and the departures that had inevitable come after - I have found myself hugging tighted to Munin. Then, for things don't just happen, I tumbled upon some old unsent e-mails addressed to an old adventure of mine that has had a much larger effect on me and my life that he will ever imagine, or I'll ever confess to him. Re-reading our letters (and astonished at the impressive level of French I had then) brought me to tears. Right then I wanted to run to my friend and hide in his embrace. Regardless of the "dabbling" we have engaged in - off and on - I needed a friend that would hold me tight and lend me strenght while I weathered the storm of my emotions and memories, while I held hard into Munin's wings and muttered long spoken phrases, and tasted again the aged petals of those dusty memories of mine. I had allowed myself to be breakable and I have shattered so sweetly into shards of old memories of love. Through the distance and his words, my friend lent me support, and I folded into myself, as I have in so many other times, licking my wounds, drinking my own blood and finding sweet joy in my old wounds. Oh dear, I am human, I am soft and vulnerable, and I will bear any pain so that I can keep forever in my memory the moments I have shared with them.

As Odin fears, so do I, the day that Munin no longer comes back to me.

Jan 8, 2018

Starting the New Year

This year has started with a lot of different things of a lot of different natures. For once, for the first time in a long, long time, I actually passed out drinking for New Years. At a friend's place. Friend who is a priest and lives in a church. It was a strange case, because I did black out, but from the amount of drinks I had before I passed out, there is no way in hell I would normally pass out. To put it in another light, I passed out from an amount that would normally not even get me tipsy. Why? Honestly, your guess is as good as mine. As result of this unfortunate event, I spend a couple of days feeling sick and weak. One whole day of really fucked up hangover, and then a couple more of days feeling like food and I might not be best friends at the moment.

Quite soon after, though, I had a trip to Germany - specifically to Essen - to visit my friend Tina. It's always so good to see Tina :-)

Also, for a little while now, I've been thinking about getting a tattoo. You see, I had this "witch" tattoo done last year with henna, and it felt so right, so me, that I had to have it done permanently. I wasn't sure where I wanted to have the tattoo done - as in which tattoo parlor - and to be honest, I don't really know any reputable ones close to where I live. So I asked Tina - since she has some ink work - and she helped me get an appointment to a place in Essen. That in itself was also quite chaotic, as the original place in Düssedorf wasn't replying to our request for a speedy appointment, and then another one in Essen - Art Faktor - was also at odds.

Property of Stormberry
Before flying to Essen, I had spoked to my dear friend Jules, who turns out also was going to get his first tattoo done (on January 5th), and told me to talk to his tattoo artist, and maybe get an appointment by the end of January, since they are also quite booked. The day I flew to Essen, Tina got my appointment for the next day (January 5th), and so all was set in motion. We went to the tattoo parlor - Lebenslänglich - where I met my artist, Charly. I was nervous, a little bit, but Charly was really nice and insisted that I should have the tattoo only if I really wanted it. I did wanted it, but I was somewhat worried about the price - which was much higher than what I would have had to pay in Budapest - and then it also worried me that the original size I wanted wasn't really doable because it was too small. Another tattoo or another placement was out of the question for me: I wanted that tattoo, in that place. Charly then did some size tries, and we've got the perfect size that would still be covered by my fitbit.

Property of Stormberry
We actually went to the tattoo parlor the day I arrived because we were asked to leave some deposit, which in my case amounted to half the price of my tattoo. This was a good thing, because then I've got to meet Charly previously and was made feel comfortable.

The next day I was excited and nervous. Would it hurt? Would it hurt too much? Would it be good? Would I develop some strange reaction? It did hurt, but it wasn't anything bad at all. Some parts hurt more than others, some were barely registered as a sort of "spicy pressure" and that was was. I actually bled some, which wasn't really supposed to happen - and Charly asked me if, in spite of the instructions given to me, I had some alcohol or coffee. I had none. Some of the parts I found quite funny was that the ink seemed to splater at some points. Turns out, that was because I was bleeding. First I wasn't concerned at all: I have a lot of blood, so a few drops don't bother me, except that Charly said that the problem with bleeding could be that I bled out the ink, so the work could be ruined. Awesome. There I started to worry just a bit.

Property of Stormberry
My tattoo is still fresh, and it's still getting a scab, so we still have to wait, but I hope it will set nicely.

The tattoo in itself isn't an original design, but it is the one I wanted on my wrist. I choose also the position so that it can be easily hidden with a piece of accessory I'm already very acostumed to use. I'm not a Millenial, thus I do am used to wearing watches. As it is, I actually have to wear them not only because I am used to checking time on my wrist, but also because I have a suntan band on it, and the straps have always changed a bit the shape of it.

Now, I like that I feel there are secrets behind this marker of my generation, that we are more than the last Watch-Wearers, but that out generation, our world, our culture goes deeper than the surface of our skins.

Oct 17, 2017

Lesson from the Movie Franz

I've been picking up again with my old. beloved habit of going to the movies. I'm still not at my old pace (about twice a week or so), but I'm gaining track, which is all thanks to October being a fabulous month, full of releases I die to watch. So far I've seen Blade Runner 2049, Wind River, Wish Upon, and yesterday I saw Franz, a movie by François Ozon, and which was part of a two week French Film Festival, held by one of the local movie chains. I intended to see another movie entirely, but then I saw this was being showed. so we (I was with a friend) went for that one.

taken from google.com
My friend is a younger lady who has taken French lessons at the Alliance Française, but as far as I know, she last year deserted the lessons. I can't tell you much about my own level of French, since I followed up to level 7 from the 9 back then, and then - upon a disagreement with the management - I left the classes and decided that I can very well keep my French up with yearly visits to Paris and a daily dose of Le Figaro and Le Monde. Honestly, so far, I've been able to defend myself. But that's beside the point here. Given that she and me allegedly speak (some) French, we decided also to go for Franz as a way to give our French some practice. And there were subtitles, just to make it safe. To our surprise - and my absolute delight - the movie was also heavily spoken in German, which instantly doubled the appeal for me and my chances to practice two of the languages where my knowledge is the weakest.

Franz is a movie that deals with many important social and personal issues, such as prejudice, our tendency to hold into hurt and resentment, the need to project our pain and anger on others, even when they are undeserving of it, and also on the many subtleties of lies, deceptions and deceiving moves. At the core of the movie there is a central lie (I'm trying really hard not to spoil anything here), that once it gets revealed, two paths unfold: one living with the lie, and another living with the truth. What I like about this message is how it shows a case where the truth doesn't make you free, but enslaves you further, retrains you and ruins you, while the lie built upon it actually frees you and give you your life back.

Throughout my life I've found that lies are not as poisonous as we are often told, and that there are lies, mweciful lies intended to protect others or to protect oneself. One can always, of course, argue on one side or the other, but there are certain cases at which - I believe - the truth would add nothing.

However, not all lies are merciful or white lies, some are mean and others are senseless. It was interesting for me, how I watched this movie and the topic of lies came up in them, as I have gotten at a point with some friends whose compulsive need to lie about pretty much everything, is going out of hand. I really wonder how is it possible that I find myself with this type of people in my life over and over and over. People like this want to make me retire from the world and swear off friends forever. Then again, truth to be told, I see them more as frequent acquintances, and are not part of my close group of friends, which include exclusive and absolutely amazing people such as Shimmy Gin, Jules, Arjen, Tina. Sonja and Laura.

One thing that really pisses me off about the liers currently in my life is that they seem to think that I'm stupid enough to believe their tall tales. Do they REALLY think I will really believe what they say? Or that anyone would? People seemingly able to remember and repeat entire conversations held in the past. And they always forget their own passwords. People portraying themselves as sensible, artistic souls and can only be seen and heard behave vulgary. People who claim to always put others first and don't even care when they trample over others, nor have any qualms about being abusive and opportunistic. People who claim to have magical powers, or suddenly declare themselves to be witches, mediums and yet can't even get right  the use of chammomille.

It annoys me when people think me stupid enough to believe that they can actually hold an intelligent conversation with a pet (and I have pets, I know how pets behave), where they supposedly explain the pet what they expect from them in complex concepts ("Spot, I give you food and shelter, I expect you to respect this house and stay clear from Granny's china". Spot nods and picks a spot away from the china cabinet to sit, because he understood), or make plans bloom by just asking them. (Clearly, because a witch's voice is more powerful than the timing set by Gaia.)

I have had many compulsively lying acquintances in the past, and the result is always the same: I walk away because their tall tales get to my nerves. Their tales always keep piling and piling up to the point where I don't see why should I waste my time with people with whom I clearly have nothing in common, if they feel such a need to feed me constantly with falsehoods. Useless, irrelevant, stupid lies.

Two of my acquintances are quickly reaching this end.

Sep 28, 2017

Thoughts on Higher Education

For some time I've been preparing for this post, but many things came my way that required my attention (life happens as you know), but also, as I was pondering about the topic my ideas about it changed and morphed, and then... I decided I needed more.

The Process

Property of Stormberry
The idea to write about higher education came after I read an article in The Washington Post, titled "Equifax's security chief had some big problems. Being a music major wasn't one of them". For those of you who don't know the case, Equifax is one of the Credit Bureaus of the United States, which prepare the credit reports and credit scores of millions of Americans. These reports and scores are consulted by financial entities when people ask for loans, but also when these entities want to pick people to whom they want to sell different products, like credit cards, loans and so on. Anyway, this company got hacked this year, and the credit and personal data of 143 million Americans got loose. It happens that the Chief Security Officer, who is the top security person in the company, has no formal education in technology, cybersecurity, programming, computer engineering or any such formation. The lady has a music major.

My first reaction was - obviously - WHAT THE FUCKING HELL?  and I knew I wanted to write about that, and how I consider that this sort of thing entails something wrong in the current labour market. But then I've got thinking and other elements came to my mind and I decided to take this one step further and analyse some other elements of this question.

The Situation

After thinking some on the article, I decided to go to some statistic databases to check on what the situation is. For this I checked basically the OECD's database, and the World Bank's database. The data I use have several issues, among which I consider most important the following:

1. Many of the variables considered belong to different years (2013, 2015 and 2016).
2. We can't be sure they were collected usuing similar methodology.

These take from the comparability of the data, BUT it can still allow us to get an idea of the situation.

Source: OECD database
From what I've found, that the proportion of people with higher education is not so big. The countries with percentages include Korea (69%), Japan (59,6%) and Lithuania (54,8%). In average, for all the countries for which information was available, the 39,9% of the population has higher education. The United States is in 8th position with 46,5%.

When it comes to how much a student pays in average for higher education, the US is in first place with $27 578,29 in average, according to data from 2013 collected by the OECD. In Korea, where we have the highest rate of population with higher education, students in average pay $9 378,60, which is roughly a third of what American students pay for their education at home.

Finally, why is people supposed to pursue higher education? To get a higher chance at getting a job. In this sense, for the countries for which data was available, with the exception of Mexico, people with higher education reported a lower unemployment rate than the national average.

Source: Total unemployment by World Bank, Unemployment among population with HE by OECD
In some cases, such as Lithuania, Hungary and Latvia, the advantage of having a college degree is rather clear.

So What's My Point

In the case of the Chief Security Officer of Equifax, at one point several top officers started making noise about "not being qualified to work in Tech jobs". Twitter had some trends going on with the hashtag #unqualifiedfortech, where several of these people noted how they work in high tech positions while having degrees en entirely different areas. And this is where my issues start.

In several parts of the world getting a university degree means getting a higher chance not only to be employed, but also to have a better income. This would normally be so because when you get a Higher Education Degree you are supposed to have a Higher Education. In other words, you've acquire much more knowledge about a certain area, which qualifies you to work in it. For instance, someone who studied Medicine, is qualified to be a physician and heal people. Someone who studied Law is qualified to work as a lawyer or an attorney. To make this clear: you go to the university, and from all the options you've get, you enroll to study something that will qualify you to work in that area.

Accesing this higher education isn't either something easy of cheap in many places. Aside from the university fees, the cost of the courses, the cost of the textbooks, supplies, housing, transport and so on, often many careers make it particularly difficult for students to work next to their studies, not to mention that also often times, available jobs make it difficult not only to study next to them, but the wages they pay are hardly enough to pay for all the cost associated with education. And higher education often times implies years of living in these conditions. People with family, particularly single parents, find it very difficult to get a degree. In some countries and for some educational options, people get financial options. In some countries higher education has a subsidy, that make it much easier to pay.

In Costa Rica, for instance, at the UCR (Universidad de Costa Rica), which is a public university and the one with the highest reputation of all the higher education system, the maximum a student would pay per semester (for enrolled classes) is $287,67. Today. In most public universities here, courses are measured in "credits", which is a measure of the effort you must put in it, and also usually translate to the number of weekly hours of class you'll get. You can enroll as many courses as you want, but our government puts a cap to the number of credits you'll pay, and that maximum is 12 credits. That normally represents a full block of courses for a semester, but of you want to take on more classes to advance, you can do so for free, basically.

In for private universities here, such system does not exist, and you pay for your courses without cap. For these, as well as it happens in other countries, students can opt for education loans, which normally get to be paid after the career was concluded, or if it was abandoned by the student.

So, getting a higher education degree costs. Costs in money, costs in time, costs in effort because you actually have to study, costs in other job opportunities... So, what would be the point then, in studying, making all this effort, if - as so many opposers of #unqualifiedfortech seem to point it out - you don't seem to actually need a degree in tech to work in tech and score the highest incomes in the market within the tech industry? Because you don't need a music major or a literature major to "think outside the box" and find different ways to solve problems, which people who studied the given area aparently are not capable to do. So, how does that work exactly?

I am yet to see a job ad for filling a CEO position in a prestigious company in which "whatever college degree is accepted".

And besides, how do this people get to this positions? How do you end up in charge of the cybersecurity of a company with a degree in... philosophy? How did you qualified for that position?

Certainly, many people study something and then life force them to start working in something else. Yes, that happens and happens more often than not. I would love to see statistics about the amount of people with higher education degrees who are working in fields different than their studies. I can also agree - in the light of the previous cost and effort data and assumptions - that getting a degree for your new area might not be so easily accesible, BUT having a dab of integrity should really not cost you so much. If you know that you are going to spend the rest of your worklife in Human Resources instead of Maths as you have originally studied, the decent thing would be then to talk to your bosses, so that you can get the proper degree for it. After all, there are college choices for people who are also working, and since you are already working in the area, studies should prove to be easier.

That still don't fix the thing that still, there are people with a higher education degree unemployed, and there are jobs that should require a higher education degree filled by people who don't have it.

In my area (economics) I have met more than once people from different backgrounds trying to do my job, or even having the nerve of trying to lecture me and my colleagues about it. From their work, often times many mistakes are observed, many of which often are simple mathematical errors (a lot of people don't know how fractions work), and conceptual mistakes that could easily break the company.

Let me just put this whole diatribe in a very, very few points here, so that my message goes a bit clearer through. 

From the side of the people with higher education: getting into Higher Education demands a lot from people, not everybody gets accepted. Those who do, still have to go through it and survive and graduate. Many of these come out of the process with a debts - some more crushing than others.

From the corporative side: people without higher education degrees in the given area of the job are not only more prone to mistakes due to lack of proper knowledge, but are also more prone to let fraud pass by. Not being educated in protocols, they might allow due to lack of knowledge, a series of abuses and breaches of security that might imperil the company, the clients, the public and even larger groups and populations. People without the proper education can also be paid less, can also be convinced to take responsability over shady things made by others to profit. They can become escapegoats without even knowing so.

From the side of higher education institutions and financial entities: getting people into higher education is their business. Aparently getting them to work is not so much.

The point is that, for certain jobs background education IS needed, and there is people who have that knowledge, that studied for it. It's stupid to think that some years of experience, earned from scratch can match with all the knowledge that people can attain through education. Education is based on professors that have YEARS of knowledge, and loads of bibliography, which again comprise more years of knowledge. Theories proven and tested, experiences from all over the world... can all that be replaced with a couple of years going from messenger-to-CEO?

Now, am I here the only one to see how wrong this is?

Sep 14, 2017

What Makes You Happy

Property of Stormberry
How is it that happiness seems like such a difficult thing to get hold of? What is it about happiness that eludes many people? What is that secret that some hold that make them able to be happy? Is happiness even real? Does happiness actually exist? Or is it just a commercial fabrication instilled into us to keep up chasing a mirage and spend loads of money in the process?

Well, for starters, happiness is a real thing, and yes, you can be a happy person and be pretty much always happy. Happy can be your default state. I know that, because I happen to be a happy person (even if many of my posts are sometimes bitchy and angry). So yes, it is possible.

As you might imagine, I'm writing about the topic, because a friend of mine is in a situation where they don't seem to be able to find their happiness. My friend's case is one that many people seem to suffer: what makes them happy isn't something that's acceptable in the circle they move in. For the sake of making this easy, I'll call my friend... Emma.

Emma is the kind of girl that has had the life anyone would consider proper and perfect. Sure, she had her "tribulations", but every single element of her life followed the designated path. Grew up a good girl, went to college, studied hard, met her future husband, married him, had kids, got a good job... Shouldn't she be happy? Her husband is supportive, understanding, loving, handsome, and her kids are wonderful children. She's appreciated in her job and her colleagues and clients speak highly of her. And yet she isn't happy. Through many conversations, it has transpired that Emma is unsatisfied with her life, but debates between hating the predictable monotony of her life and the fear of losing the stability that very predictable monotony gives her.

As I listen to her over a cup of coffee (Starbucks, naturally), and her slender fingers play with the edge of the plastic lid covering her beverage, I see a person afraid of herself. She truly desires to be happy, but she wishes so hard that her happiness could be achieved with socially approved means. She sometimes hints of her dark side, a part of her that she sees as "her demons", something she must be strong enough to supress, repress, conquer, while striving to stir her whole self to be content with something that's not designed to sate her needs. She's afraid to face the fact that she is - in her nature - different from what society, and specifically her environment, is willing to accept.

Emma has been suffering silently her demons, and this year she had a sort of crisis about it. In the light of this, Emma sought help by taking a sort of "spiritual retirement" or something like that. You know, the kind of... spiritual camps or something that cost you a small fortune, where you basically pay to live in poor conditions, deprived of civilized means, exposed to daily hardships and boring meditation, to find enlightment, or yourself? Yeah, totally not my thing, and I wouldn't have pegged Emma for the type, but there you go: she paid a handsome sum to go abroad to meditate wrapped in a sheet, do chores and sleep in a cot.

The retirement was hard, but full of lessons for her, and she dutifully did the entire program, and though she enjoyed it and made new, exciting friends, she came home disturbed. Of course she didn't say so to anyone, but only talks to all that ask her about the views, the people from all over the world and the exotic flowers and fruits. Her environment treats her retreat time like that needed by the high power executives who overwork themselves to meet deadlines and reach the expected quarterly results. And Emma is so lucky Eli is such an understanding, supporting husband! Yet Eli can't really support her because Eli doesn't know the truth about her demons. And Eli ignores that Emma met her demons in the retirement camp. Her encounter with her demons came so close, and was so brutal on her soul, that some weeks after she came back, she started taking pills to control her growing anxiety. Things got so bad for her, that she sought the advise of a trusted friend, someone who knows well her environment, and who has had problems of his own, though of a different nature.

Calmer, but lacking the sparkle in her eye and the bounce in her step - my sparkling little pony, as I used to think of her - flicking and turning the lid of her hot coffee, Emma told me this wiser friend urged her to never mention the matter again. He urged her to erase everything, every last bit of "evidence" of her deviation, and hide it forever. For a while, Emma was advised to be super-dotting to Eli and her kids, and be a charm at work, and forcefully jump into the picture perfect role of the fully accomplished Mother&Wife. If not, well, of course it would be a huge scandal, that would rip her away from her children for ever, will tarnish their memory of her, and would brand her so deeply, that she would even lose her job. Yes, it seems that their company gives a huge lot of emphasis on the personal image of their executives. Why, is beyond me, but Emma did assured me that if she ever thought about divorcing - and doing so for THAT reason - she would either be exiliated to some remote corner of the company where her chances of ever getting a promotion would go up in smoke, or she would be kindly asked to "be happy somewhere else".

Emma was really trying to smile, forcing the corners of her mouth upwards while she told me how this "fake-it-until-you-make-it" plan was going to be her salvation. I stared at her in disbelief, because she isn't living in a country where such limitations exist, and work should be about what you give to the job, what you do at your job, and not about how you live your personal life.

I was at loss of words. Emma wasn't happy, she was suffering, and was trying to erase who she is and what makes her happy with pills, because her environment hates people like her. She has been carrying a huge rock on her back, and it's crushing her, but she is afraid to drop it. She's convinced that her only option is to silence her demons and deny herself. I tried to hold her cold, thin hands and ask her what makes her happy. Her sad, clouded sky eyes looked at me and she shook her head. For her, her happiness is such a complicated thing, she's no longer sure she can find it. I tried to tell her that she should take this moment and dare to be a bit selfish. She's not helping anyone by denying who she is and sinking herself deeper into sadness.

After we said our good-byes, Emma stayed in my mind. She might have been going years and years being unhappy, maybe finding here and there a moment to express herself, to be herself, only to be punished by it, made feel guilty for her transgression. She has been told to feel grateful that the people who had punished her for being who she is, had the "grace" to forgive her and given her a chance to correct her "deviation". She is convinced deeply that she is flawed, deviant. That she must tirelessly fight her nature, and if she fails, she must be punished. When I told her, that maybe, just maybe, this was her nature, and that it was ok to be that way, she smiled at me and cocked her head to the side. Of course that's what her witch friend would say. That's why she loves me, she said, because her witch friend can always say something that makes her feel good.

But that's not a solution for her problem.

But Emma, maybe it is. You only have to try.

Sep 7, 2017

To Be Desired or To Be Respected

Property of Stormberry
There's an expression in Spanish that now I have a hard time translating, "darse a desear", which could be translated as "make yourself desired". This is an expression that pretty much every single Latin American girl and woman has heard many times through their lives from family, friends, mentors and others. It aims to teach women to basically play hard to get with men, as a requirement to be considered a decent, proper lady.

In my home - thankfully - the emphasis of our education wasn't to prepare a perfect lady (me) or a perfect gentleman (my brother), but to bring up good people who can provide for themselves, their families and be able to live happily. Perhaps because my dad comes from a very poor family, there was a strong emphasis in our upbringing about being prepared for life, so that we would want for nothing. In this sense, we both were educated exactly the same way. However, being that we didn't live in a bubble, I was naturally exposed to the rest of the society, and it was in that environment where I often heard this advise either given to me, or preached to me and a group of younger girls.

This advise came with lessons about how proper ladies always must reject men when they first approach them, and make them "work for their attention". We had been told that a man would never respect a woman that said yes to their first attempt, but would cherish a woman that had made them fight for them. Needless to say that I don't agree with this advise.

It might seem like a way to gain more attention, but in truth several things happen here. For once, this advise teaches women that they must manipulate men. Whatever they come offering, it's not good enough. They must come back offering more. Even if the first offer was perfectly good and desirable for you, you must keep pushing for more. Derivated from this, it also teaches women to distrust the feelings of men, dismiss them as simply a predatory impulse. In other words: men are uncapable by themselves of true, honest feelings unless women force them to have them

Curiously, not one of the Wise Ones imparting these advises ever thought about the effect of this tactic on the worth of women's word. Just think about it: "making yourself desired" works through devaluating the meaning of the word "no" when uttered by women, because "no" becomes the synonym of "try harder". It teaches women to purposefully send mixed signals because "that's what ladies do", and all women must strive to be a lady. As result, the word of women is devaluated, because "they speak in indirect terms", and men "need a dictionary" to start and decypher what they really mean to say. So, by following this advise, you might make yourself desired, but how could you be cherished when you can't be understood? 

Furthermore, when all your words are tergiversed, when your "no" means "try harder" (so, a sort of yes), and you are technically left with no word to express or say "no" (and if you find your way to say no, then you are a bitch, a hag, a sour person, a manhater...), then how can you be respected? When you strive so hard to be a lady, by manipulating men, by going against your own desires, by working to please the public opinion about who and what you are, you chip away your own respect. Yes, you might be "respected" in regards of what society expects of you, BUT if you dare to go against it, you lose that respect. Is that truly respect?

Is it respect within a relationship when your partner knows that no matter what you say and what you decide, your will can be bent into whichever shape they want with enough pressure? A third party can also keep pushing and pushing for you to give into an illicit liaison even when you keep saying no - even if you are married and all - because your "no" worths nothing, your "no" means "try harder".

Wise Ones will argue that "a woman knows how to send a signal". Really? Do we? Since women - true ladies, not tramps - are denied the luxury of direct speach, they must resource to telepathic signals to let men know what they mean? Or are women the precursors of neuromarketing, sending subliminal signs to men? And how can those subliminal signs not be confused with, maybe the wrongly fixed idea a man might have?

Society are also fed a lot of ideas about women. They all crave marriage, they all crave children, their only goal in life is to become mothers and wives. They all measure men by the size of their wallets, and diamonds are their best friends. All women secretly or not-so-secretly desire to be housewives. These are not true. Not one of them! Yes, there are women with these desires, but these are not universal wishes shared by all women.

This advise and this view also damages men. As mentioned earlier, it teaches them to be insecure. It invalidates their feelings. It teaches them to expect rejection from women, and predisposes them to misunderstand women. They are taught that women code their speach in an ENIGMA machine, and not all of them have access to the Turing machine (was it the MARK II?) to understand it. Rejection is painful, so they have to start finding ways to protect themselves, and their feelings - which they are thought to think of as undesirable and unvaluable - and so they build strategies and shields. Either they approach the matter with carelessness, and thus become the "feared" womanizers who simply hunt down women for sport, or they really find a hard time working up the nerv to approach a woman, going slowly, to either pass through a less painful rejection process, or to try and somehow succeed into avoiding it entirely. The effort they have to make!! How that doesn't make them feel inferior?

Just imagine the blow to your self image, at feeling unable to express your feelings openly for fear of being ridiculed or brutally rejected?

Oh yes, and women are prohibited from making a first step - they must always wait and be the RECEIVERS, never the GIVERS - so, how could a regular guy ever gauge their chances, or simply be relieved of the fearsome task of approaching a girl they like? No, women must wait and men must brave up and expose themselves time and again to the pain of rejection.

Also, by teaching men that worthy women are the ones that need to be chased, you also erode their sense of "enough". Are men told how much must they chase? Are they told when to stop? Then think about it: society is teaching men that they must compete constantly. Just getting a job is not enough, they must become bosses, and then CEOs, and then make their own company, and then make it successful, and then turn it into a corporation, and then a bigger one, and then become a Fortune 500 company, and then the richest man of the planet, and then... it's a never ending chase. Men are being denied of the chance of being satisfied. Momentarily, yes, but on the long run, no.

So what happens when the "prey" falls and the chase is over? Got the prize, and then what? A new chase must be started. So, ladies, how is that conductive to being cherished? Oh, yes, you must keep working, you must keep the attention of your man, keep making up chases... well, isn't that tiresome? The constant fear that your partner's attention is fleeting, that any new shiny thing can literally steal it away from you... Because men are taught never to be satisfied, and women are taught to make themselves desired. And none of them are taught to respect themselves and make themselves respected.

Let's break this cycle. Let's dare not to think in terms of men and women, but in terms of People, and our right to love ourselves, to value our feelings, to have them respected, and to have our words respected. We all have the right to express ourselves, to speak plainly. It doesn't make us less worthy. Let's stop that thinking. Let's teach our children that their thoughts count, that their feelings count, that the toughts and feelings of others must be respected, not necessarily shared or accepted, but respected. Let's remember that before being men or women, we are all PEOPLE.