Government’s War on Temporary Workers Continues

       The federal governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers reached its apex a couple months ago when a federal
appeals court ruled that Microsoft had to offer the same benefits to its
long-term temporary employees that it offered to its regular full-time
employees. The ruling could force Microsoft to pay back benefits to 6,000
temporary employees, but more importantly if the ruling stands it will
strongly discourage companies from using temporary workers for more than
just a short period of time.

       That would be just fine for
unions and government bureaucrats who have been trying to stop the trend
toward using long-term temporary employees. Since 1982 the number of temporary
workers has risen to 2.2 percent of the work force and temp workers and
agencies now constitute a $60 billion a year industry.

       The left-liberal line on temporary
workers is that the 1.3 million people who work as temps on any given
day are underpaid and heavily exploited. According to groups such as the
National Employment Law Project, most temporary workers would rather have
permanent jobs rather than their short or long-term temporary ones.

       As someone who has worked most
of his adult life on a contract or temporary basis, this doesnÂ’t quite
jibe with my experience and the experience of other temporary workers
with whom IÂ’ve had the pleasure to know and work. Like most job environments,
temping has a definite set of advantages and disadvantages that people
who gravitate toward the industry find accommodates them. On the negative
side, temporary workers do generally make significantly less than full
time employees on the same job site, although as in most areas people
with lots of skills can command relatively high wages. I have worked at
short term temporary positions, for example, where I was paid in the $20
/ hour range, although most places IÂ’ve worked at paid significantly less.

       Some of the other problems
with temporary work are gradually changing due to competitive pressures.
For many years few temporary agencies offered benefits such as insurance
or 401K plans, but due to the intense competition between agencies these
are now being offered more and more, although they are still not comparative
to the benefits that full time workers at companies tend to make.

       On the other side are the benefits
of temporary work, provided the money and benefits issues fit in with
your lifestyle. The obvious advantage is flexibility – if I wanted to
I could work at a different job site every month. Although people in traditional
jobs might find this to be unnerving, it is an incredible way to quickly
acquire experience and skills as well as network with people inside companies
and industries I may later want to seek full time employment with. In
my experience the opportunities for temporary workers are extraordinary
for those willing to pursue them. For skilled, hard working temporary
workers, itÂ’s generally relatively straightforward to land a temp position
that turns into a full time job after a certain period (usually 90 to
120 days) if the worker really prefers a permanent job.

       Even in manufacturing and industrial
jobs, there are plenty of opportunities for temporary workers. Shortly
after college I worked as a full time employee for a company that used
temporary agencies to essentially pre-screen workers. A lot of the people
who came in as temps eventually obtained full time jobs with the company
– but many had education and work histories that would have precluded
hiring them outright if they had come in the door and applied to be a
full-time employee. Many were semi-literate, with a lack of a high school
diploma or GED being the norm, a significant percentage had criminal records
and most had few skills or consistent work history (i.e. many had never
worked at one place for very long or had recently been fired from a long-time
place of work). The temporary agency got them a foot in the door by minimizing
the risk to the company if the worker didnÂ’t fit in. Many of those hired
in this way used the experience they gained to get their careers back
on track and eventually find higher paying jobs at other companies.

       Ironically the governmentÂ’s
war on temporary workers has led some corporations to create strict policies
making it all but impossible for temporary workers to make the transition
to full time employees. After the decision in the Microsoft case many
high tech companies that rely on temporary workers created such policies.
The fear is that by allowing temporary workers to become full time employees,
the courts, the IRS and others might at some point in the future rule
there was never a real difference between temporary and full-time employees.

       If the current ruling is upheld,
most companies wonÂ’t stop using temporary workers, but instead will adopt
all sorts of new restrictions that ultimately harm those workers with
the fewest skills and work experience as well as those people who desire
the flexibility that temp jobs offer.

      That might be a win for Washington
bureaucrats and pro-union ideologues, but it would be a tremendous loss
for millions of temporary workers.

The Computer Games Nobody’s Afraid of (Except Me)

       In post-Littleton America,
the right and the left are gradually converging on a “centrist” compromise
to throw over both the 1st and 2nd amendments in
order to achieve some mythically safe society. One of the prime targets
of this new consensus are video games that realistically depict acts of
violence.

       Numerous commentators have
noted that some branches of the military use the 3-D game Doom
as a training tool, the implication being that any game realistic enough
for the military couldn’t possibly appropriate for impressionable young
minds. Of course such comments usually fail to note that Doom is
used by the military to teach small unit tactics rather than for its depiction
of violence which is relatively unrealistic. As computer graphics technology
continues improve, these sort of games are destined to get ever gorier
and the controversy more heated.

       Contrary to the received wisdom
of pundits, however, the main impression playing these games gives is
an appreciation for just how unrealistic they are even when the graphics
look like Hollywood special. The settings are usually bizarre space stations
or underground dungeons populated with evil looking aliens and monsters.
Some recent titles veer from this formula, but are still basically unreal.
Consider the current state-of-the-art 3d shooter, Half Life. The
player is cast as a physicist takes on the hordes of an invading alien
army all the while fending off a large military unit sent to wipe out
everyone with knowledge of the aliens. Yep, better keep that game far
away from Stephen Hawking before he goes Rambo.

       Ironically the games that present
serious moral quandaries are precisely those games that the media either
ignores or, more often, actually praises: so-called “god games.” As the
category title suggests, in a god game the player gets to act as a sort
of god, often the most minute details of the game world. The classic (and
most popular) examples of god games are Civilization and SimCity.

       Civilization casts the
player as the leader of a small tribe around 2000 BC. The player tries
to guide his civilization to success over 4,000 years or so, which generally
requires defeating the other civilizations in military conquest, although
the player can also win the game by being the first to successfully build
a spaceship to colonize nearby Alpha Centauri. Along the way the
player can take a wide variety of actions of questionable morality. Want
to rain nuclear weapons on your opponents on the next continent? No problem.
Think unleashing horrific biological weapons is a legitimate act of war?
ItÂ’s in the game. Having problems getting your pesky democratic society
to go along with such war plans? Plan a revolution and switch the government
to communism and they’ll fall in line.

       SimCity is more of a
pure god game since it doesnÂ’t have any specific goal. The player is presented
with an empty map and some starting funds to create a city. The player
then goes about zoning land, building public works, raising and lowering
taxes. The game gives the player the sort of control over the Sim citizens’
lives that modern urban planners lust after. Do the people in your city
dislike the landfill on the outskirts of town? Time to bring in the mandatory
recycling ordinance. Do the environmentally minded citizens want more
open green space? Demolish the low income housing in the downtown area
and create a park for the Sim yuppies to play in.

       Just as developers of 3D shooter
games keep upping the ante with ever more detailed bloody graphics and
smarter computer opponents, so the god games are also engaged in their
own race to push the morality envelope. In the recently released Sid MeierÂ’s
Alpha Centauri players fight for control of an alien planet. Among
the many gameplay innovations are the ability to commit massive human
rights violations against civilian populations. If a player’s citizens
aren’t cooperating, he or she can order them to be nerve stapled which
turns the population into mindless drones who work harder and with fewer
complaints. To give your troops a greater chance of victory they can be
outfitted with the latest in nerve gas and genetic weapons, or elect to
build “planet busters” that make nuclear weapons look like cap guns.

      At the start of a game of Alpha
Centauri
, the computer-controlled civilizations will react very harshly
toward anyone who commits such atrocities, but this problem can be obviated
by convincing the Planetary Council – a sort of simulated mini-United
Nations – to repeal its human rights charter. After this the player may
commit atrocities with no risk of sanction from other governments.

       Unlike the politicians, activists
and busybodies who whine about the role of guns or movies or music, I
donÂ’t place a lot of stock in the ability of games to turn those who play
them into bureaucrats and fascists. What is interesting, however, is that
the moral issues portrayed by these games are simply ignored by the media.
In fact both Alpha Centauri and SimCity have been praised
for their innovative game play in mainstream newspapers and magazines.
Shooting a few monsters on a Quake II level is portrayed as craven and
perhaps dangerous, but despite the ability it gives to nuke large cities,
Civilization and its imitators are praised for their fascinating
gameplay.

       One of the reasons for the
difference in coverage clearly lays with the outlook of journalists who
generally embrace the overwhelming power of modern states, even when they
might disagree with some specific use of that power. A game where a single
person armed with a gun kills dangerous foes is clearly wrong in this
context, but a state nuking a city – well, that might be morally justifiable
depending on the circumstances. The sort of social engineering simulated
in a game like SimCity fits perfectly with the general attitude
favoring “rational” management of society by experts that seems so many
in the media find appealing.

       But come to think of it, perhaps
this is a strength rather than weakness of the god games. Yes, they allow
the player to treat the people in the simulation as mere means to an end,
but could there possibly be a better introduction to the modern state?
One of the things that has always struck me about SimCity, Civilization,
Alpha Centauri and their imitators is that no reasonable person
could possibly want to live in the worlds these games simulate. What with
taxes being constantly raised, oneÂ’s livelihood depending on whether the
state wants to fight another senseless war simply to score a few more
points, the allocation of resources to satisfy military demands while
average people live on the edge of starvation and the constant manipulation
of people to meet the ever changing needs of the state.

       What a minute – sounds an awful
like the real world, which is why the god games scare me a heck of a lot
more than any 3-D shooter.

Courts in New Jersey, Illinois upholds hunter harassment statutes

In separate cases appellate courts in New Jersey and Illinois have upheld statutes
designed to prevent anti-hunting activists from using protests to disrupt hunting.

In the New Jersey case, three New Jersey residents were represented by Anna
Charlton and Gary Francione of Rutgers Law School. Their lawsuit contended that
the statute unconstitutionally restricted the three resident’s right to free
speech. By restricting where and when the activists could protest against hunting,
the lawsuit argued, the state of New Jersey was unconstitutionally impinging
on their right to express their views to hunters.

The appellate court upheld the statute so long as it is used to establish standards
on the time, place and manner of anti-hunting protests rather than being used
to quash all anti-hunting protests altogether. As the court put it,

[t]his construction places a reasonable limitation on the reach of the Hunter
Harassment Statute in that it circumscribes the area where protesters may
not be free to express their anti-hunting ideas, while preserving areas outside
the immediate proximity of the hunting grounds for that purpose . . . By defining
interference as a form of physical impediment, coupled with the general and
specific intent requirements that solely implicate conduct, the statute is
not an overboard regulation of First Amendment rights.

In the Illinois case, a court there granted an injunction to the Woodstock
Hunt Club in Woodstock, Illinois, to bar members of the Chicago Animal Rights
Coalition from protesting on the road outside the club using megaphones, air
horns, sirens and other noisemaking devices. Chicago Animal Rights Coalition
member Steve Hindi was arrested in 1996 for flying a motorized paraglider over
hunters in order to scare away geese. Hindi was arrested and eventually sentenced
to probation for violating the hunter interference statute.

Previously the Illinois Supreme Court struck down a portion of the hunter interference
statute that unconstitutionally regulated the content of anti-hunting protests,
but upheld the portion of the statute that set time and place restrictions on
anti-hunting protests.

Which seems like an excellent compromise to me. Certainly animal rights activists
should have the right to protest hunting and to communicate their opposition
in public. On the other hand, this right to protest can be accommodated while
also preserving the right of hunters to hunt without activists intentionally
disrupting them.

Tony Blair Says He's Committed to Banning Fox Hunting with Dogs

The last time animal activists in Great Britain tried to ban fox Hunting with
dogs what looked like an easy win turned into an embarrassing debacle
for Tony Blair’s Labor government. Apparently it is not an embarrassment
Blair will easily forget as in a nationally televised debate Blair vowed,

It [fox hunting] will be banned. We will get the vote to ban
it as soon as we possibly can. We had one try last session. It was blocked
by the Conservatives in the House of Commons and the House of Lords
and we’re looking now at ways of bringing it forward in a future session
that allows people to have a vote and actually carry it through.

This pleased the International Fund for Animal Welfare which wants to ban hunting altogether in the United
Kingdom by Jan. 1, 2000. According to Mike Baker, executive director of
the IFAW, “Hunting wild mammals with dogs is cruel and unnecessary and
the government has recognized that it has no place in a modern Britain.”

Suspected ALF Terrorist Commits Suicide

Alex Slack, 29, of Salt Lake
City, Utah, killed himself while awaiting trial on state and federal charges
alleging he participated in raids on Utah-area mink farms. Slack had also
been a major suspect in the firebombing of a Tandy Leather store several
years ago.

Like other suspected and convicted
animal rights terrorists, however, Slack claimed only to be a spokesperson
for the Animal Liberation Front.

The Primate Tour — research lab is a "concentration camp"

The Primate Freedom Tour continues
to wind its way across the country. In a stop at the University of Southwestern
Louisiana’s New Iberia Research Center, animal rights activist Jennifer
Schneider compared the facility to a concentration camp.

“As a descendant of the Jewish
people, I must speak out against the primate concentration camp at New
Iberia (and) the scientific fraud of primate research,” Schneider said
in a prepared statement.

Although the Tour hoped to
get researchers involved in a debate, the Iberia Research Center refused
to take the bait. “It is not our purpose to debate the issues,” said veterinarian
and New Iberia director Thomas J. Rowell. Not that Rowell didn’t do a
good job of deflating the animal rights claims with brochures and media
interviews that led to highly favorable coverage.

A reporter for the Baton Rouge Advocate highlighted the important work being done at the facility by
noting that, “research at the center has helped to ensure the safety and
efficacy of polio vaccines, led to the development of vaccines for hepatitis
and types of pneumonia and influenza, as well as contributed to knowledge
about Creutzfeldt-Jakob and mad cow diseases, he [Rowell] said.”

After repeating the typical
animal rights cant about alleged animal abuse at primate facilities,
the Advocate noted that,

Similar stories were told by other protesters,
although none knew of any specific examples of mistreatment of animals
at the New Iberia facility. Rowell calls some of the protesters objections
“a complete misconception.” “You have, what, a sixth-grade school teacher
that’s leading the effort?” he asked. “I’m not sure what experience he
has in science and what we do in the line of research support.”

In fact, the New Iberia’s handling
of the tour is almost a textbook case in how to defuse animal rights activists.
Rowell wisely chose to hold a press conference about the Primate Tour
a few days before the protesters arrived so that the media would be well
aware of the type of research and monitoring that goes on in his facility.

In addition, Rowell tried
to kill the activists with kindness. At his press conference he told the
assembled reporters that Primate Freedom Tour members had a right to protest
his facility and said an area near the research center would be made available
for the protesters. During the protest the university offered the protesters
water coolers, portable toilets and awning to block the sun, but the activists
refused the offer. Tour research director Rick Bogle refused the assistance,
saying, “We cannot accept it because the money they used to
purchase it has blood on it … it came from the sale of innocent primates
into torture and death .. it’s blood money.”