Costello v Zavodnik: Promise Kept

Earlier in the week horror writer Michael David Anderson asked me on Facebook for my take on a story about a man sued for $30,000 over a $40 printer sold on Craigslist.  Before I begin my analysis of the Doug Costello/Gersh Zavodnik legal battle, I need to discuss a couple of prefatory notes:

  1. Never ask me for advice or my legal take on Facebook.  I don’t trade my knowledge without a price.  Facebook isn’t a place where the attorney-client privilege is respected, and I have clients I have to take care of.  Plus, there’s always the chance someone might construe what I say as legal advice.  However, Anderson manned up and donated to repairing Prevent a Litter’s mobile spay/neuter unit, which you should do too.  So Michael Anderson gets his article here.
  2. None of this should be construed as legal advice.  As mentioned in #1, that’s stuff you have to pay for.
  3. This involves an Indiana case.  I am a Tennessee attorney.  Therefore, all of this is analysis.  Are we clear?

Now then, let’s move on.  My take on the thirty grand printer lawsuit is simple.  Doug Costello sold a vexatious litigant named Gersh Zavodnik a printer, tried to handle the entire thing without getting an attorney, suffered for it, and will probably continue to suffer.  This is a case study in why you should get a lawyer the moment you receive any sort of lawsuit or legal threat instead of relying on Avvo, RocketLawyer, Legal Zoom or any of the other bullshit “disruptive” legal tech companies.

Back in 2009, Costello sold Zavodnik a printer through Craigslist.  The sale, including shipping, amounted to less than $75.  What Costello didn’t know was that Gersh Zavodnik is an infamous Indiana pro se (self represented) litigant, notorious for filing lawsuit after lawsuit over internet purchases.  It got so bad the Indiana Supreme Court told him “Stop it” two years ago.

Court records show Zavodnik has filed at least 123 civil lawsuits in Marion and surrounding counties since 2008. Most revolve around Internet sales and purchases gone bad.

He also is a party to 34 cases before the Indiana Court of Appeals, including 23 requesting the appointment of special judges to hear his complaints because of previous tiffs with the judges handling those cases.

The 2014 Indiana Supreme Court opinion in Gavodnik v. Harper isn’t the kindest treatment one could expect from jurists.  In the first page, the Court blasts Zavodnik as a “prolific, abusive litigant” who regularly blasts out voluminous filings placing an unnecessary burden on the Court.  In 2013 the Indiana Supremes threatened sanctions, and in the 2014 opinion they declined once again “as a matter of grace.”  However, the Harper opinion provided guidelines for courts on how to sanction abusive litigants like Zavodnik, who repeatedly files suits in order to stop people from “stealing his money.”

The only person on the receiving end of theft was Costello, who found himself liable for approximately $30,000 in damages after failing to respond to Requests for Admissions filed by Zavodnik in Marion Superior Court.  There were two sets: one asking Costello to admit he’d breached a contract to the tune of thirty grand and another asking Costello to admit he’d cause damage meriting awards of $300k to $600k for Zavodnik.

Here’s the thing about Requests for Admissions: If you don’t answer them in a certain time frame in most states, the person who sends the requests can then, as a matter of course, move to have the entire set of admissions legally admitted by law, on the record.  Costello claimed he never received any of the Requests for Admissions, but that didn’t stop Zavodnik from moving to have them all placed on record as true for the purposes of his suit.  Eventually, Costello got smart, hired an attorney after he realized the awards granted Zavodnik might bankrupt him, and then moved to have some of the admissions withdrawn.

The Trial Court granted the six figure admissions as withdrawn, because the damages were for “unspecified reasons.” However, they left the $30,000 plus award in place because it was for a specific admission.  The breach of contract was untenable, and Costello had to pay for that admission.  Hold on, we’re not done yet.

Costello and his attorney appealed the verdict, and the Indiana Court of Appeals blasted the Trial Court for not recognizing Zavodnik’s repeated history of vexatious litigation, skewered them for not adhering to the Indiana Supreme Court’s 2014 guidelines on how to deal with litigants like Zavodnik, and then remanded the entire case back to trial court with instructions to see whether this case should proceed due to Zavodnik’s “repeated, flagrant, and continuing failure to comply with Indiana’s Rules of Procedure.”

The bottom line is this story isn’t finished.  Yet, despite all the hoopla and Costello’s emotional response to Zavodnik’s work, there’s some lessons to be learned here.

  1. Watch who you do business with.  Zavodnik had a history of suing people for online purchases, and Costello still sold the printer.
  2. Hire an attorney the moment you get papers served on you.  If Costello had retained counsel the moment Zavodnik started this bullshit then most of this emotional and legal mess wouldn’t be a problem.  Yet it is, because Costello thought it cheaper to handle the matter himself.  Yes, attorneys cost money, but we also make things go away faster than those who try to handle matters on their own.
  3. Vexatious litigants like Zavodnik exist, and if you’re smart you’ll avoid them by hiring an attorney.  Most of us can make things like this go away quickly, but Costello chose to handle the matter pro se until the time potential damages were six figures.  Get the lawyer first, and the investment will be worth it.

    So there you go.  Assholes like Zavodnik will plague our legal system until more judges start cracking down and issuing sanctions.  It’s not a comfortable feeling, but it’s the truth, and the best way to avoid all the heartache isn’t to handle this matter yourself.  Hire an attorney and you’re automatically find yourself in a better condition than Doug Costello.

    And to quote noted legal scholar Enzo Amore “And You Can’t Teach That.”

Also buy Michael David Anderson’s books “Teddy” and “Wake” here.

Cut a break for the lawyer in hard times.

There’s a local, very prominent attorney experiencing rough times. People are happy to spread memes and info regarding the incident all over social media. I cannot and will not support this, and those of you who benefit from the services of an attorney, no matter how great or small the issue, honestly shouldn’t either. All you’re doing is participating in a public shaming of someone who’s fought for the rights of so many citizens in court.

It’s fun participating in online lynch mobs. I get it. You get to sit behind a keyboard and call someone an asshole, call for their firing, and create neat cat pictures featuring your jokes on a person. You have that right, and it’s one I’ll defend, no matter how reprehensible I personally may find the practice. It’s also fun exposing double standards, and who doesn’t like a great lawyer joke? Most of us have a great sense of humor, but when you’re turning on a guy going through hard times who’s probably walked a few of you from criminal charges you might want to reconsider participating in a public pillorying.

This job requires commitment to all others but yourself first. It’s a profession where those in private practice help others unsure if the final bill will ever be paid. Substance abuse is rampant as those who bend or break under pressure tend to take the easy way out. When the law school bubble burst around the time I was sworn in, I saw first hand how eager this state was to fuck attorneys and their clients. I kept to my oath, defended those charged with offenses, and never bitched about it.  I imagine this brother in the Bar was of like mind when he started his practice.

None of this changes my commitment to free speech or the open exchange of ideas. If it’s your desire to make fun of someone going through a rough patch, go ahead. Just remember it might happen to you some day, and make sure you have thick enough skin to withstand the internet assault coming with criminal charges.

Verdict in the Legion of Doom Twitter Fight

Today, in case you hate fun and intelligent conversation, Andrew King, our resident prosecutor at Fault Lines, wrote a post defending the freedom of speech of both Milo Yiannopolous and the NJ Weedman.  It was one of those times King wrote something I didn’t want to excessively drink over, throw something, or punch him regarding.  He was right, and the post merits a good read.  What I took issue with was him calling the league of us Internet super villains the “Legion of Doom.”  Specifically, because he referred to Milo as “Lex Luther.” With hair no less.

Now I’m a DC neophyte, and I remember a timeline where Luthor (not “Luther”) had hair.  But I remembered a bit where the author of that storyline declared it non-cannon.  I called King out on his shit, and it turns out I have to give him at least some credit.  He knows his comic book references.  This time I was in the right.  I was sure of it.  And I needed a third party neutral to prove me right.  So I pooled my resources and got a comics shop owner who is a DC comics guru to issue a ruling.  The response was so classic it didn’t merit a Twitter response.  I had to share it here.  The owner didn’t just settle the debate, he did so in legalese form that was so hysterical it merited a blog post.

“Plaintiff Seaton wishes to prove the Alexander Luthor storyline non-cannon in the DC universe.  In doing so, Plaintiff fails to describe an accurate description of the word “cannon,” as DC has fucked themselves with cannon regularly. See “New 52,” and “Flashpoint.”  However, the Dollar Comics Universe regularly fucks itself in the ass with canonical resets and erasures. See “Hush,” for an example.”

“Defendant King wishes to prove the Alexander Luthor story is cannon. Technically, the New 52 and Flashpoint erases Defendant King’s argument since they render the Alexander Luthor story invalid.  Plaintiff Seaton has the better argument here, but I cannot ignore the will of the writers or the company when making this ruling.”

“Accordingly, the holding of this “judge,” (which I find hysterical, by the way), is that Plaintiff Seaton has failed to meet his standard of proof the Alexander Luthor storyline, buttressed by decades of DC cannon and only erased by stupid corporate moves, is not cannon.  Therefore, Defendant King wins, and the Internet Supervillain group called “The Legion of Doom” involving Milo Yiannopolous (who’s done more for free speech than most Americans) may be called as such.  This is remanded to both assholes for work consistent with my findings.   And the next time King and Seaton engage me in this I’m charging a consulting fee.”

So I publicly apologize to Andrew King for not getting comic book cannon right.  I was wrong.  I will admit it.  And you need to read Fault Lines to get any sort of understanding of why this debate is so important.

Spring Cleaning At The Compound

Today I’m working, and Mrs. S. lets me know something that apparently slipped my mind.  Today was the day we did our “spring cleaning” and changed what was my office into our son’s new bedroom.

So I came home early, and helped get the bookshelves re-arranged and the baby bed in its new location.  I went through the mountain of garbage the office had collected.  I jettisoned old bits of my life that I didn’t need anymore (like 1L BarBri CDs), and re-organized the stuff I did need (now my deck indexes are easy to locate).

It was also fun finding a few things I missed.  I’d been searching for a wallet I’d bought about a year ago to house the coins I use for coin tricks.  By going through all the stuff I had to throw away or keep, I managed to find it, and it’s going to work better than the cheap gimmick I referred to as “Little Murray Sparkles.”

It was good to re-organize and get the house in order again.  Now, if I want to put something away I can just walk into one room and get it.  When I come home I can put all my stuff in the bedroom and not worry about where it might or might not be.  Everything’s in a great place, and it’s all organized for easy location.

On top of that, the cleaning meant I got to go through our book collection and re-organize the library.  My wife did a great job, but when it comes to organizing books I managed that like a hoss.  All my magic texts are in one place now, and all our really nice volumes of classic literature on another shelf.  The photo albums I let her sort, because that’s her thing.

In the end, my son has his own room, I can walk into my bedroom and get anything I need with a moment’s notice, and no peace in the house gets disturbed.  It was worth taking some time off today to get a little spring cleaning accomplished.

But this gives me some pause. I threw a lot away today.  Stuff some people would normally save, or try to rationalize as something to sell at a “yard sale.”  Why did I just jettison it, turn it into a situation where I got rid of this stuff when others wouldn’t let it go?  Simple:  Because I can move past that which makes me uncomfortable.  Others cannot.  I can lose the past life stuff that most people want to hang on to.

Take some time and take stock of not only your physical possessions, but also that baggage you’re carrying emotionally right now.  Take some time and do your own “spring cleaning” that will make your life easier, less cluttered.  You just might find yourself better for it.

Tim Burchette’s Budget Gaffe

Knox County Mayor Tim Burchette made a major screw-up when announcing his budget for Knox County this year.  I’m going to call him out on it.  In announcing his decision to fund the creation of a mental health facility, he made the mistake of telling the public law enforcement “had to take” the life of a mentally ill man who fired on them.  I’m not going to say this is the exact quote, but it’s damned close.

“One of the largest treatment centers for the mentally ill is the Knox County Jail, and that’s a shame.  We just had a story recently where a young man who’d come home from the war, he was mentally ill, and he opened fire on a couple of Knox County police, and they had no choice but to take his life.”

Bad move, Mayor Burchette, especially when you’re attempting to peddle your mental heath treatment facility.  It’s not the creation of such a complex that has me shaking my head.  It’s your abject decision to frame it in the context of a cop shooting, one under questionable circumstances, and use that to advance your chosen narrative of “we need better mental health facilities than a jail.”

Every time a police officer fires his or her service weapon at a person with the intent to kill, they’re making a conscientious decision to impose a death sentence on that person.  Saying they had “no choice” is a ridiculous option, especially when the cops had “less lethal” alternatives like Tasers to mitigate the incident and the individual with mental health issues.  If this person were mentally ill, perhaps suicidal, there’s a good possibility that man might have chosen to “check out” through suicide by cop.  Since police seem to be rather gun-happy these days, it wouldn’t be much of a surprise if the cops decided to assist in the suicide.

There is an issue with mental health in our society.  That’s not in debate.  Another important point to consider is we still stigmatize mental illness, so much to the point we can’t have honest discussions about the problem. I commend Mayor Burchette for his commitment to making sure the mentally ill aren’t locked in prison cells beside those incarcerated for actual crimes, but framing the discussion through a cop shooting isn’t the best tactic.

Richard Fausset’s Intellectual Dishonesty

Richard Fausset, author of the New York times piece discussed yesterday on Howell & Yarbrough, made an appearance today on the show to defend his op-ed virtue signaling his deference to gun control legislation and defending his “ability” to read the pulse of Knoxville in the wake of Zaevion Dobson’s tragic death.  I listened to a good portion of Fausset’s interview, and I commend Katherine Howell and Bob Yarbrough for letting Fausset have an equal platform discussing his views and why he wrote his Times Op-Ed in the fashion he chose.  Bob and Katherine are excellent, compassionate journalists and their show is worth a listen every day.  They’re also nice.  I’m not.

Richard Fausset is a pathetic weakling who doesn’t have the guts or the temerity to view the positive steps in Knoxville following Zaevion Dobson’s passing.  He’s got an agenda the Paper of Record wants to support, so he wrote his hit piece in a fashion insulting Knoxville, the Dobson family, and everyone who doesn’t subscribe to his personal view of groupthink.

It’s not enough for Fausett that former gang members organize tributes to Zaevion with proactive steps and talent shows with a focus on eliminating gang violence in the region.  It’s not enough Knoxville as a whole took the time to have an honest discussion on how to prevent gun violence, and specifically gun violence at the heart of gang activity, to take action in the wake of Zaevion’s death.  It’s not enough Zenobia Dobson’s getting immense support from concerned Knoxville citizens to take care of her and her needs in the wake of Zaevion’s passing.  No, the most important thing is we take action President Obama wants and regulate guns through more laws we can’t even describe yet.

His interview with Bob and Katherine reeked of deference and a sign of cowardice.  While two of the best, most courteous journalists in Tennessee tried to give him a platform explaining his insipid tripe of an op-ed, Fausett did nothing more than inflame the dumpster fire that was his exploitation of Zaevion’s death to show his support for President Obama’s continued calls for gun control legislation and utter contempt for those who believe the Supreme Court got it right in D.C. v. Heller and actually follow the law.  From moment one of the interview, Fausett actually decided to take the position of “curiosity” as to why Knoxville’s citizenry would find his work anything less than completely praiseworthy.  It’s simple: when you insult a community united after a tragedy, you’re viewed as an asshole.

In case you haven’t noticed by now, I’m not a fan of Richard Fausett, his integrity, or his ethical position on life.  He could have done the right thing and defended his piece in a fashion with thoughtful, intellectual commentary and engaged people on a discussion as to why his op-ed made a point worthy of discussion.  Instead, Fausett chose the mealy-mouthed approach of praising Knoxville, praising Mayor Rogero’s stance on gun control, and trying to make nice with everyone involved.  A “journalist” would have taken the time to stand by his work and make a point worthy of discussion.  Fausett’s stance reeks terribly of intellectual cowardice, and I’ll be glad to debate him on the issues he raised if he’s man enough to do it.

I realize this is short, but I’ll close with this personal note to Richard Fausett, because I find it worth mentioning.  You took a media cliche and ran with it to advance an agenda you believe merited attention.  I don’t blame you for that.  Corrupt, unethical journalists like you do that sort of thing all the time.  Your decision to advance the narrative of gun control legislation by picking Zaevion Dobson’s heroic sacrifice of his life and Zenobia Dobson’s current suffering only shows you’re the worst form of human being currently occupying this planet.  Please take some time, look in the mirror, and examine the contribution you’ve made to dividing this country over an inflammatory, sensitive issue just to get clicks for your article on the New York Times’ website.

Oh, and your mention on Howell & Yarbrough that people could view it “for free” if they so choose?  That’s a classic sign of an attention-seeking narcissist.  If I were your editor, I’d strongly consider whether keeping you on payroll was a good idea.  Without realizing it, your rhetoric pissed off an entire community and strengthened support for a cause you find “problematic.”  Maybe you need to take a cue from Professor Kingsfield in “The Paper Chase.”  Take a quarter, call your mother, and tell her you have serious reservations over whether you are qualified to be a journalist.

 

Dr. Joe’s Gun Control Fallacy

Today on the Howell & Yarbrough show, a frenzied discussion broke over this New York Times op-ed musing on why the death of Zaevion Dobson hadn’t sparked more gun control legislation.  Numerous points came up from the callers, all with interesting and varied viewpoints.  Regardless of my personal position on gun control, I enjoyed hearing all of the perspectives until a caller named “Dr. Joe” posed the following suggestion.  If you’re caught with a gun in the commission of a crime, you automatically get a mandatory thirty year sentence with no parole or hope for early release.  It was a bad call with terrible legal consequences, and I’m going to outline in detail just why.

From a linguistic perspective, before we begin a constructive analysis of the proposal by “Dr. Joe,” I want all of you to see a framework present in the Paper of Record’s op-ed.  A tragedy strikes, usually one involving a gun.  The public experiences initial sadness and then outrage.  Eventually, someone will take the tragedy if it involves gun violence and ask why more isn’t done to regulate guns in America.  Most tellingly, there’s usually no solutions presented absent an outright removal and ban of all guns in the United States.

Now the issue with the mandatory minimum of thirty years for possession of a gun during commission of a crime.  First, there’s already a law in place for that in most states, and even at the Federal level.  Changing the law to mandate a thirty year sentence takes the existing legal framework and places it in the realm of absurdity.

As an example, under “Dr. Joe’s” hypothetical, if an unloaded gun were in the car of a party allegedly robbing a convenience store, and that person were caught, a conviction would result in thirty years, without parole.  The gun may have been in the car for perfectly legal reasons.  Maybe the alleged perpetrator just bought the gun from a local firearms dealer before going down the rabbit hole of committing a criminal offense and knocking over a convenience store.  Since there’s evidence out there prosecutors start by charging with the most serious offense, and negotiate down from there, a thirty year sentence sounds fantastic to the layperson and those DAs seeking reelection on a “tough on crime” platform.  In reality, all this does is create more problems for the judiciary and overcrowd overflowing prisons.

A mandatory thirty year sentence if convicted ties the judiciary’s hands when sentencing rolls around. We’ve seen how this plays out with crack cocaine, and the “ten times stronger, therefore ten times the penalty” response when mandatory minimum sentencing guidelines forced jurists’ hands to sentence a person with rock cocaine to ten years when a person with the powder variety would get one.  It took decades to reverse this and inject sense into the now “Advisory” guidelines through education and continued pushing from the bar that now those who are charged with the possession or sale of crack don’t get an added “bump” to their sentence because of a misperception in the public’s eye over how the drug works.

And the added requirement of thirty years without parole will take an already crowded jail population and just make that situation even worse. Prisons are struggling to find beds for those copping pleas or found guilty in court. The prison industry is so large it’s currently facing a highly disparate prisoner to bed ratio. If you don’t allow for early release conditions then you’re contributing to the problem.

Another factor largely ignored by those who are seeking a “tough on crime” solution like the one Dr. Joe posed is the propensity of police to arrest first and ask questions later. We’ve done a great job ignoring those who “get the ride” by passing them off as filthy dirty criminals. Attitudes change drastically when you’re the person in front of the judge. If “Dr. Joe” found himself in a spot where he got arrested over a dime bag of pot and had a sentence enhancement for merely having a newly purchased gun in his car at the time of the setup, I’d wager his tune would change quickly.

Gun violence is a problem in our country. There’s no easy solution to this, and co opting the death of a teen who sacrificed his life for another doesn’t need to be used as a taking point to further one’s political agenda. Here it happened, though, and it’s worth noting and calling to attention this saddening event before other deaths are co opted for political gain.

Magic As A Tool For Networking

I love magic.  I used to do magic as a kid for stage shows and private parties.  I then sort of lost interest in magic as I’m not the fan of top hats, capes, and wands these days.  Magic remains a great tool for networking and icebreaker stuff at events, and it’s a reason why I as a conflict resolution professional keep a few dozen routines in my repertoire.  I’m going to outline in this post why you should study magic and use it as a tool for networking.

Magic teaches you relaxed confidence.  

Other areas I’d suggest considering are hypnosis and theatrical pickpocketing as the two will allow you to gain a certain sense of who you are and how you’d approach a situation without worrying about failure.  You can find a couple of great lessons in theatrical pickpocketing and hypnosis for free at the POWA Academy, and if you decide to purchase either course you can know you’ll be getting a great deal as James and Danny continually update both with free content once you shell out your hard-earned dollars.

My personal favorites are card tricks and mentalism.  A great set of materials on card routines can be found at Ellusionist.  I’m a personal fan of Daniel Madison’s work, but two other great creators are Geraint Clarke and Lloyd Barnes.  Kostya Kimlat has some great stuff there that I use regularly too, and one of his downloads is one of two effects I use regularly when I take a deck of cards with me out of the house.  If you’re going to go with something that will teach you confidence, though, I’d recommend looking into Daniel Madison’s stuff the most because he’s a fan of knacky sleight of hand moves.  If one of those goes wrong, you’re going to be in trouble, so you have a great chance with Madison’s effects to drill a reaction until you’re solid.  Then you’ll blow some minds.  A couple I’d recommend are his Angle Z routine, Three Things, and Card to Pocket.  If you get C2P down from the Madison perspective, you’ll know you can do just about anything without fear.

Mentalism is another area that’s great because you get the chance to tell someone “It’s good to have a business professional who knows what you’re thinking” and then launch into something mind-blowing.  A few effects I’ve tried and recommend are Rick Lax’s “Close Call,” Bobby Motta’s “The Informant,” and Thinking Paradox’s “Clear Choice.”  All you can adapt to a given situation, and all of them will make you the center of attention at any given event.

Magic brings out your inner performer. 

Any business professional knows you sell yourself.  What most don’t know is that you’re a performer at heart without even realizing it.  I get this in my profession, because I know there’s an element of showmanship to what I do whenever I’m in public.  If I’m trying a case or persuading someone to look at my point of view, I want to make sure I’m as convincing as possible.  That requires an element of showmanship, so I study everything I can allowing me to bring out the best performance that will benefit my clients or readership.

You’ll eventually learn nothing goes wrong by studying magic. 

One misconception about magic is that you need to either succeed or fail when you attempt a routine.  That’s not the case.  If you prepare enough, you’ll have at least two or three ways to make an alleged “mistake” in a routine go away.  Sometimes, especially with theatrical pickpocketing, you’ll learn how to turn a mistake into a benefit for you and your performance.

This translates well into the courtroom.  If I make a “gaffe” when I’m involved in a motion hearing or trial, I usually prepare about three ways out of any gaffe so I know that I can walk into a hearing without issue.  That gives me an edge most people don’t have, and one I proudly and aggressively assert for my clients.

Building a routine teaches you building structure.  

One of the benefits of learning how to develop a routine in magic is it teaches you how to build a series of events that leads to a climax, something anyone watching your performance won’t forget.  It’s a moment where you start small, plugging in a moment of truth, and then reach a big finish people won’t forget.  If you take that meta-principle, and apply it to your own business, you’ll be able to accomplish incredible, impression results that allow for a lasting impression on a person.

I use a lot of this to structure court cases.  When I start a case, I know the big, lasting impactful statement I want to leave with a trier of fact.  As I work with the nuts and bolts of the case, I work to leave an impression with every piece of evidence, every single statement, and the questions during direct and cross I want answered.  When I hit the big point I want to make, I sit down.  Sometimes that means I have to improvise a bit and deviate from the routine, but I’ve always got backups in case one bit doesn’t work for me in court.

So take some time to study magic, no matter your business. You’ll be glad you did, and it’ll make sure you gain some principles that will help you personally, no matter your profession, as long as you think about why you do what you do.

 

What I Learned From A Local Job Fair

I had some time this afternoon, and as a Professional Opportunist I’m always looking for ways to make money, so I ventured into Oak Ridge for the Anderson County Job Fair.  There’s a lot to be learned from job fairs, and I’m going to share with you a few things I learned, plus some suggestions if you’re trying to find work.  I’m not a big fan of job fairs, but they’re a good way to see what local businesses are hiring, take the pulse of a community, and see if there’s any deception afoot.  In the case of Anderson County, there’s a little bit of all that in play.

First a word about Oak Ridge.  I don’t have an issue with the town, but it gives off a vibe of sadness and despair.  Whether this has something to do with the immense lack of jobs in the region or the presence of a nuclear weapons plant in the town, I’m not entirely sure.  In recent days I’ve become far more mindful of where my mind goes in certain areas with regards to emotion, so I’m able to spot it and shift that mental frame into a more positive one.  Despite this, Oak Ridge just carries a lot of negative energy.  That said, let’s discuss the positive facts I learned.

  1. There’s a big job problem, especially in rural areas.

It’s hard to call Oak Ridge “rural,” but it’s very clear there’s a job problem everywhere.  Anderson County is about as “rural” of a city as you can get, especially so close to Knoxville, and the amount of people at this job fair were staggering.  I got there about 45 minutes before it was scheduled to open and the parking lot was already full of potential job-seekers.  The lobby was packed as well with people hungry and ready for a steady paycheck.  I hung back and observed the general tempo of the crowd, just in an attempt to see what I could learn.

The gamut of dress ran from absolute casual to full-blown business attire.  A few people even had their children with them.  I’m not sure whether this was due to an inability to afford child care for an afternoon or find someone to watch their kids, but it was definitely a sticking point in my head as I walked through the exhibition hall.  Some people carried briefcases or binders.  Many flashed stacks of resumes.

When the job fair opened everyone poured in though a narrow opening, almost like cattle, and began hitting up the various booths.  Some people were talkative.  Others simply grabbed applications and left the table without even saying a word.  One guy I saw do this kept muttering “as long as I keep applying they won’t put me in jail,” which was a rather telling statement as to what sort of legal situation he faced, as well as just how nervous he was in his current environment.

2. Everyone wants to work for the government.

The biggest demand from the job seekers was time in front of the nuke plant officials.  Once the hall opened, nearly every job-seeker made a beeline for the nuke plant table.  It’s understandable, the benefits were great and the job pool larger than just about any other table.  Yet few seemed to realize with that dearth of people coming to the table, very little of the faces would actually be recognized later on in potential job interviews.

3. Education is failing as a job market.

Most of the jobs were for rather specialized skill sets that didn’t require a higher education degree.  In fact, one of the better paying jobs only required a GED or high school diploma as educational experience.  This didn’t stop two colleges from showing up to flaunt their “track record” for job placement and shill how signing up and paying them money for a diploma would grant you keys to the world.

This presents a very interesting question.  Why are colleges hitting up potential students at a job fair?  With sliding enrollment rates, more people realizing trades and marketable skill sets are better than a piece of paper, and the continued spread of academic culture that promotes feelings over facts and perpetuates “trigger warnings” and “safe spaces,” it’s not that hard to pick out.  Yet the schools are that desperate, so much so they’re willing to try and take the money of those who have none at an event ostensibly designed to create jobs and place people with jobs.  It’s a deception, and one I’m dangerously close to exploring in depth.

4. The most sought after skills aren’t taught in higher education.

Driving a fork lift, building houses, welding, and working with the developmentally challenged were some of the most lucrative positions offered at this job fair.  However, most of the people who came to the job fair didn’t have a chance at any of these positions, because they didn’t have the requisite training or skills marketable enough to land these positions.  Most of them aren’t hard to learn; I got a chance to learn my locksmithing skills by asking an expert if I could apprentice under him.  Yet most people won’t take the time to even sort our these skills and simply choose to blame others for their inability to find a job.

Tips for successfully negotiating a job fair.

  1.  If there’s a lot of people flocking to a booth, ignore it and see if you can’t find the point of contact for the person who’s running the department you want to work with.  Standing in line for 30 minutes to an hour not only wastes your time, it practically guarantees you won’t be remembered by a hiring official sent to the job fair unless there’s something about you that sticks out.
  2. Go to the booths that look “different” and talk up the people there, especially if you notice they’re not getting a lot of traffic.  Tell them you want to speak to the “interesting” people, and they’ll fall head over heels for you at that point.  You might even get word of some interesting job opportunities better suited to your liking this way.
  3. Take a look at the flyers presented by the Chamber of Commerce.  You’ll usually be able to pick out what booths you want to visit and those you don’t that way.  Your time is valuable, make the most of it in advance by not visiting the places you don’t want to work.
  4. Leave your kids at home or with a caregiver.  If you can’t do that, ask a relative to watch them.  Finding good child care is hard, but just as it’s not beneficial to you to bring your kids to a job interview it’s not beneficial to take your kids with you to a job fair.  Plus they’ll get bored quickly, and bored kids don’t usually behave well.
  5. Dress at least in business casual.  If you don’t own a suit, buy a dress shirt.  If you don’t have slacks, buy some.  If you don’t have the money to do even that, go check out a local thrift store or ask about job clothing programs.  They usually exist.  And remember, you get a tax deduction for job seeking expenses.
  6. Have something that makes you stand out for a job hunter.  I took Bobby Motta’s “The Informant” with me and performed it for at least three people at job booths.  They get my business card and I leave an impression on them, knowing I can “read minds.”

Give it a shot.  You don’t have to be unemployed if you don’t want it.  Job fairs can produce positive results, you just have to approach them correctly.

 

Lessons Learned From Roasting Social Autopsy

Fault Lines has been generous enough to let me take a story and lampoon it or come up with some comic laden angle every Friday.  On the 15th we ran with a story on Social Autopsy where I “roasted” them with insult after insult.  For further giggles, I anchored every paragraph with a hook developed by comedian Carlos Valencia: “It Gets Worse.” What ends up surprising me is over the weekend people started picking up the post and taking it seriously!

One person picked up the post and twitted it as analysis of Social Autopsy’s problems.  Then people started applauding it as a “refreshing take” on the site’s attempt to end cyber bullying by actually cyber bulling people.  Yet another person got in touch with me on Twitter and argued that in our current climate of butthurt it might turn into a viable business model, comparing it to Peeple, another failed attempt at trying to smear character in a thinly-veiled attempt to spread “positivity.”  There’s lessons to be learned from this exercise I think worth sharing.

  1. People don’t care for the online “naming and shaming” or “call out culture” anymore.

We used to take this approach and laud it as a means of “eradicating” certain wrongthink or shun peoples’ ideas we found offensive or hurtful to others.  Now it’s something recognized as a bad idea in a country that values free speech, and people who attempt to use the technique and turn it into a business model are going to see some inevitable blowback if they try to reinvent the “reputation” wheel.

2. There is a blowback against monetizing reputation or attempting to run people out of a job in the name of “inclusivity” and “diversity.”

Justine Sacco lost her job over a tweet.  Pax Dickinson can’t get a job in tech because of a proclivity to be “trolly.” People now don’t accept this as a proper way to handle conflict, and they’re calling out those who justify this sort of idea as a means to promote a narrative of “words hurt and harm.”  It’s the inevitable response to years of using these tactics to cost people their jobs, reputations, and more.

On a recent episode of The Rubin Report, Paul Joseph Watson of Prison Planet and Infowars called the rise of this cultural libertarianism inevitable because “for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.”  I tend to agree with him.  The push against Social Autopsy, and Peeple before it, is now largely reflective of a contrarian approach to the victimhood mentality or the “call out culture” propagated by the regressive movement that tells us “You can’t say that.”

3. The moment towards making free speech cool again is gaining traction.

Companies and conferences that “no platform” speakers or executives are getting outed for their work.  Protesters that try to silence others are getting resistance.  Even the recent trends of “Chalking” areas with messages others find “offensive” or “unsafe” are beginning to see some blowback with people deliberately using “The Chalkening” to promote free speech instead of stifling it.  The reactionary, provocateur approach is slowly building up a wonderful trend of giving others a chance to speak, and real discussion to begin.

4.  Change in thought concerning speech can happen, even if it’s painful.

There are a few people who gave up on the approach that society would ever shift back in the direction of our old “Marketplace of Ideas” mentality towards free speech.  It’s understandable, and the numbing view is a cultural marker in communication.  When the shift to limit speech and shame people into groupthink began the first trend was deliberate self-censorship.  People just bought into the idea and refused to speak on topics of interest, or even just engage in a back and forth to have fun.  They knew this because of the “social consequences” model justifying this manner of behavior.  No one wants to lose a steady source of income over a few words.

As time passed the approach just became numbing to people.  We knew this cultural shift occurred, and became largely indifferent to it.  The naming and shaming life was the New Normal, and we simply analyzed it and called the practice what it was.  We didn’t really do anything about it, because the idea of shifting cultural practices didn’t seem possible.  The movement was just that powerful.

Now we’re seeing a movement begin that’s changing the way we view speech.  It’s the result of people getting sick and tired of being able to discuss real issues and real problems in our country without getting labeled “racist, sexist and homophobic.” Those terms still get thrown around, but they’ve been used so much the new movement of cultural libertarianism’s response is “you’ve used those terms so much to describe people those words lost their meaning. We’re going to continue the discussion.”

It’s a great time to be alive.  The lessons learned from the blowback over Social Autopsy prove that we’re headed in the right direction again.  Eventually we’re going to return to a cultural future where we value open, plain, honest discussion of issues instead of buying into group narratives where people stay silent at the risk of personal and professional loss.

That’s when the real discussions over issues of concern will begin.  That’s when we’ll make real progress.  That’s when we’ll see real racism, sexism, and societal concerns addressed through open and honest discussion.

Get a chance to embrace the “Wrongless Approach.” It’s a great way to live.

Want to learn persuasion and suggestion skills?  We can make that happen.