Crying, “Wolf!”

Last year, a newspaper article published the salary of my employer’s CEO—  over $3M.  That’s not $3M over the lifetime of his employment, nor is it a $3M windfall reward for record profits. It’s $3M a year, each and every year! (For the record, I will never see even $1M in my entire life, let alone in a single year.)

I couldn’t believe it. I felt as though I’d been smacked in the face, considering that my immediate supervisor had been imploring the staff to be more frugal with supplies, and the supervisors above her had authorized the replacement of good quality supplies with cheaper ones of inferior quality.  

The trend continued. They removed our fast, modern copy machine and replaced it with a slow one that appeared to have been in a warehouse, unsold, for years.  They restricted overtime, and made us take “comp time” instead of pay, when the workload required an extra hour or two. Meanwhile, the CEO resigned, and a new one came. Cost-of-living raises for the rank and file were delayed, then suspended, and we knew why.

Another CEO (there are more than one?) resigned from the same company with a $7M compensation package, and when hundreds of the staff complained bitterly, the administration published a ten-point bulletin in defense of CEO salary packages. Among other inane defenses was this: That’s what good-quality CEOs cost, and we want good CEOs, don’t we?

Eventually, most of us got our $.25 per hour raise, and one of us got a black mark on her record for spouting off to the wrong person about the disparity between CEO salaries and the salaries of the rest of us who actually do hands-on work.  The organization I work for is huge, spanning several states, marching towards a monopoly on its product, thanks to our CEOs, presumably, but I no longer buy the austerity pitch I hear from supervisors and low-tier administrators.

In fact, I no longer buy it from anyone higher up on the food chain, certainly not from politicians who cry and moan about how the United States is going to run out of money in two days. Who are they trying to fool— each other, or the working class people who are already accustomed to the “necessity” of preserving  CEO salaries?

Book Review: Kabul Beauty School, by Deborah Rodriguez

I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down. I think it is very well-written, contrary to some reviewers who think otherwise. The narrator’s voice remains in character, and the language flows nicely. Though the writing is conversational, it does not succumb to the repetitions and irrelevant interjections that cause actual conversations to become boring.

This book is as much personal memoir as it is an account of how the Kabul Beauty School developed. The author’s personality weaves in and out of her environment in a fascinating account of cultural conflict, cultural engagement, and the remarkably unpredictable results that emerge when people do not let go of their own cultural orientation while trying to function in foreign country.

Deborah retains her American perspective on just about everything; she continues to smoke and drink in a Muslim society, looks forward to celebrating Christmas, and feels little need to adjust her behavior with men in deference to the prevailing attitude of quiet feminine subservience. In this way, she is different from the authors who accept the religious and cultural attitudes of their adopted countries.

At the same time, Deborah becomes profoundly involved with many of the women who attend the beauty school. She also marries an Afghan man, only a few weeks after she met him, and in spite of the fact that neither speaks the other’s language. Many readers will frown upon a protagonist who makes such a vital decision based upon none of the commonly accepted parameters that predict marital happiness, but this decision, probably more than her other decisions, displays her personality perfectly. She is a risk-taker, and willing to assume the consequences.

One wonders how it has fared over the years, but I suspect both of them will accept the influences over which neither has much control to strengthen or dissolve the marriage.

The beauty school closes and opens, and closes again, amidst accusations and rumors regarding what Deborah did or didn’t do with respect to taxes and other aspects of the business. Who knows, certainly not the reader of this book, but none of that is important to the purpose of the book, which is exactly what Deborah says it is– an account of the terrible circumstances of the lives of Afghan women, and how the beauty school gave some of them a chance to develop themselves in a way that most women of the world take for granted