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From the Can

by Dear Jon
May 28, 2002

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Sort 142_Dear Jon-From the Can ACTUAL LETTER TO DEAR JON:

Dear Jon,

Canned spinach is probably the most vile substance I've ever witnessed. How are we to believe that Popeye (or anyone else for that manner) would gain strength from such a food source?

Doesn't like canned spinach

Note from Dear Jon to the Webmaster:

If I suggest that Popeye is on steroids, will that get the Partial Observer in the same kind of trouble as the people suggesting Ernie and Bert are gay?

[The Webmaster makes a disclaimer: The observations of Dear Jon do not necessarily reflect those of the editor-in-chief of The Partial Observer.]

Dear Spinach,

My advice to you is, whenever you are served spinach in any condition other than fresh, take your fork and spread it around the plate to give the appearance that you have eaten several mouthfuls. I learned to do this in the school cafeteria in first grade. I distinctly remember when the lunchroom monitor once made me take my tray back to the table and take at least one bite of everything. The dessert was some kind of carrot cake with cooked raisins in it. I almost threw up. I think that was when my friends taught me the fork spreading technique. I learned on that day that harmless lies for the sake of survival in an impersonal, bureaucratic world -- a world where government employees care more about compliance to regulation than they do about the gag-reflexes of kids -- are not the same as lies that are “sin.”


Dear Jon,

I work for a large technology company, which, like many similar companies these days, is "on the edge" financially, and there are definite plans to lay off many workers.

So my question is: Should I stick it out and hope things get better, or should I start actively looking for a new job before a "pink slip" might arrive?

Dear Nameless Resident of Cubeville:

I just read a headline that IBM wants to lay off 20,000 people. Whether you are an IBM employee or not, the fact is the job market is tight right now, and a lot of qualified technologists are competing for jobs. If you do start looking for work, look quietly. Two places to look are: Growth industries, and Endowed Not-for-Profits.

Growth industries are risky. Demand runs out and the industry shrinks, which is precisely what happened to technology two years ago. Not-for-Profits with secured endowments are decent employment prospects for three reasons: First, because the endowment cushions the business against economic downturn. Second, because the business is not driven by a profit motive and therefore tends to be less stressful. Third, they pay less than for-profit businesses for equal work, creating a smaller pool of applicants and a high rate of turnover. Therefore, once employed, all you have to do is show up, fulfill your duties responsibly, exercise normal interpersonal skills, and you can keep your job for life.

Not-for-profits have two kinds of employees. Those who work three years or less to dress up their resumes, keeping the door revolving so that you can apply, and those who are INSTITUTIONS.

INSTITUTIONS are those who have worked at the same not-for-profit for at least fifteen years. How many more than fifteen years nobody remembers, including the employee. They are typically the ones with the dryest humor. When a new CEO restructures, they say something like "Here we go again" and usually end up exactly where they always are with the same job description they have always had.

INSTITUTIONS have been around forever because they know exactly how much work actually needs to get done despite whatever the whipper-snapper manager says who will only be around 18 months. Institutions also know which complaints are appropriate to whom and when without crossing the line.

They are the "they" in "they say," so that when an INSTITUTION says "They say" they are referring only to themselves or to other institutions. INSTITUTIONS have learned decades earlier that no one else can make the coffee as good as they can themselves.

In the exercise of normal interpersonal skills, it is important to identify who the INSTITUTIONS are, and become likable to them. This is done by demonstrating a combination of deference, competence, and an ability to laugh dryly without calling undue attention to oneself.

When INSTITUTIONS retire, they are typically given standing ovations at staff meetings, where cake is provided. The organization discovers it can limp along without them, but that is never a choice the organization wants to make on its own.

Clearly, in your current corporate environment, you do not believe that you enjoy that kind of security. If you want to trade a pay-cut for stability, start looking into Not-for-Profits that are backed by endowments. Then you can become an INSTITUTION.

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Dear Jon Letters: Tips for Dating and Mating
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