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Thursday, January 20, 2021

pay through the heart
Perhaps it’s a perverse joke that a notably heartless organization like the Internal Revenue Service should pick this Valentine’s Day as the official date for accepting 2010 itemized income tax returns.

Late last year, the IRS said it would need extra time to reprogram its processing systems because Congress acted so late this year in cleaning up the tax code… As a result, the 50 million taxpayers who itemize their deductions will have to hold off until Feb. 14 to file.

Nothing stokes the romantic juices like filling out a 1040. By candlelight, of course.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/20/2011 10:26pm
Category: Business, Politics, Society
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Monday, January 17, 2021

It’s a given that an ad’s purpose is to pry money out of your pocket. So where better for a marketer to place an ad but right in your online wallet?

As banks test new ways to make money and attract customers, they are tucking ads onto the list of recent purchases on consumers’ online bank statements. The charge for your breakfast at McDonald’s, for example, might be followed with an offer for 10 percent cash back on your next meal at the Golden Arches. There’s no need to print a coupon — just click the link, and the chain will recognize your debit card the next time it is swiped.

“The one thing these debit programs have is a significant amount of transaction and behavioral data,” said Mark Johnson, president and chief executive of Loyalty 360, a trade group for marketers. “You’re going to see a big push to make that insight more sellable.”

Behavioral datamining at the source. Might as well direct-deposit your paycheck straight into your favorite retailers’ coffers. Unless you’re laboring under the delusion that you’re making a conscious choice most of the time…

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/17/2011 09:19pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Internet
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Sunday, January 16, 2021

During my freshman year, one of my dormmates suggested we all get t-shirts made up to read: “Hubbard House: Where Men Are Men, and Sheep Are Scared”.

That idea didn’t exactly fly, even when the reference was recognized. But now, twenty years later and thousands of miles away, sheep in Britain have a legitimate reason to fear for their safety:

The ovine crime wave began, insurance company and farm union officials say, after global food prices started jumping again. With bouts of bad weather in major producers such as Russia, Argentina and Australia and increasing demand in Asia, the price for many grains is now busting through the record highs they set in 2008. But meat prices have also surged, particularly for lamb.

Because of escalating world demand and scaled-back production in such nations as New Zealand, a farmer’s price per pound for lamb here is now about 35 percent higher than in 2008. The 45 head of sheep stolen from [farmer Andrew] Allen in late September, for instance, were worth $6,400 - or twice the price they would have fetched five years ago.

Rising prices have fueled what authorities here describe as a thriving black market for lamb and mutton, with stolen animals butchered in makeshift slaughterhouses before their meat is illegally sold to small grocery stores, pubs and penny-wise consumers.

Hard to imagine a similar run on barnyard assets here in the States. Obviously you couldn’t fence the beasts (without barbed wire, anyway). And where would you set up an illegal slaughterhouse without neighbors getting wise? What’s the alternative — illegally peddling wool shearings? American criminals are more inclined toward Industrial Revolution-style larceny.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 01/16/2011 07:05pm
Category: Business, True Crime
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Thursday, January 13, 2021

I have no use for non-standard top-level domains like .biz or .travel — and neither should you — but here’s one URL that I can get behind:

http://rim.jobs

Yes, pun intended.

Go ahead and click through. The pornish-sounding name actually redirects to something eminently banal: Research In Motion’s corporate job board. Just why the Blackberry folks felt the need to claim this corner of the help-wanted Web remains a back-door mystery. (Yes, I do believe I’ve exhausted all permutations of the ass/anal jokes.)

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 01/13/2011 09:25pm
Category: Business, Comedy, Internet
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Monday, January 10, 2021

This week, the people of southern Sudan are voting on a referendum that is fully expected to call for secession from the government in northern Khartoum, resulting in an eventual declaration of independence in July. By then, the Texas-sized (not to mention oil-rich) country hopefully will have decided on a new nation-name:

Some of the other names that have been discussed are Nilotia or Nilotland, which are names derived from the Nile river. Others prefer the Nile Republic, arguing that this name would put the country on the map and build an attractive image around a world-famous asset, the Nile river. The White branch of the river runs through the region and is considered to be the country’s most important geographic feature…

But one problem is that Southern Sudaneses are not the only Nilotic people in Africa (the Nile river waters crosses territories in Egypt, Ethiopia, Uganda and Kenya down to Tanzania). Additionally, not all Southern Sudanese peoples are of Nilotic origin, as there are many ethnic groups in the region with no relationship with the Nile or its ancient civilization whatsoever.

Finally, some express preference for Cushitia or Azania, which are two ethnic and geographic names that have been applied to various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, even if they are in disuse today.

Other contenders retain the parent country name with a qualifier: South or Southern Sudan, or New Sudan. The etymological argument is that “Sudan” means “land of black people” in Arabic — an imported term from the Arab-populated north, implying that the remnant Khartoum-controlled state ought to change its name, and bequeath the more accurate descriptor to the new kid on the African block. (The disadvantage is that, regardless of historical origin, “Sudan” is currently associated with a pariah regime, and so might not be so desirable for a proto-state.) A more distant option is extending the name of the capital city, Juba, to the entire territory.

Corporate naming rights, ala sports stadiums and such, are obviously out of the question. Although considering how poor the country will be, despite the petroleum resources, it wouldn’t be the worst idea. If, say, Archer Daniels Midland got to brand-christen this chunk of the global map, its payment should be in the form of generous food subsidies. Similar for a Nikeland and the resultant oasis of free footwear for all citizens. We can always dream.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 01/10/2021 09:16pm
Category: Advert./Mktg., Business, Political
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Wednesday, January 05, 2021

Part of this new year’s transfer of power in Congress includes a semantic shift, especially where the nation’s employees are concerned:

For years, the committee was called Education and Labor. But when Newt Gingrich and the Republicans took over the House in 1994, they wanted to show that there was a new sheriff in town — and he was not a pro-labor sheriff… So it was soon changed to Education and the Workforce.

“Workforce” is a term employers are likely to use, while “labor” is more evocative of the union movement — after all, they call it the American Federation of Labor. So when the Democrats recaptured the House in 2006, they changed the name of the committee back.

Now it’s the Republicans’ turn to control the House. And they’re changing the name back to Workforce.

Or, to put it more bluntly:

No longer is it your labor. Now, it‘s big business’s workforce.

Class warfare with labor pains. The birth of fresh partisan zeal, at least until everyone inevitably settles into the standard Washington rhythm.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 01/05/2021 09:21pm
Category: Business, Politics, Wordsmithing
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Monday, December 27, 2020

hi chai
If you’re strolling through some random Chinese city and you come across this stylish graffiti, it means that the building attached to it is about to be knocked down, as part of a hyper-urbanization drive.

I’m sure the chai symbol is commonplace in Chinese, but it’s certainly exotic-looking to me, especially as street art. That’s what makes this photo stand out for me.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 12/27/2010 10:46pm
Category: Business, Photography
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Sunday, December 26, 2020

flakey weather
Mother Nature couldn’t let this year bow out without hitting the Northeast with a bona fide blizzard. As I type, the flakes are blowing past my window vertically, signifying the gusty winds that are accompanying the season’s first real snow.

If the predictions hold and we see a foot of snow tomorrow, I’m well-prepared to hole up for the next two days. The only thing I’m really concerned about is any disruption to the utilities, particularly the cable/Internet connection. I went through an extended wintry-walloped communications blackout last year, and have no desire to experience a repeat. (And there’s only so much I can do via my iPhone, assuming AT&T’s 3G network even weathers the storm.)

Regardless, I think it’s fitting that this seasonal disruption should come precisely in the annual dead-zone between Christmas and New Year’s. I think it’s generally acknowledged that it’s pretty much impossible to get anything significant accomplished between December 26th and December 31st, with everyone taking time off and generally in drain-the-calendar mode. Now, the elements are joining in to squash any hopes of year-end productivity. So be it.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/26/2010 02:43pm
Category: Business, New Yorkin', Weather
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Saturday, December 25, 2020

As you tear open your gift-wrapped goodies this Christmas Day, be aware that, as part of the deal, the jolly gentleman who delivered them is trading on your wish list:

Sharing is one of the joys of Christmas. For this reason, we share your personal information with our affiliates, non-affiliated third parties, and anyone else who has a legitimate financial stake in a successful holiday season. Mrs. Claus also likes to have a look-see.

Our affiliates include partners of Santa’s Workshop who are actively involved in making Christmas happen. They include toy-making elves, flying reindeer, and Jesus. Non-affiliated third parties might include the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, and Hanukkah Harry.

Hopefully this identity-securing is stringent enough to pass muster with California’s privacy laws.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 12/25/2010 10:41am
Category: Business, Comedy
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Friday, December 17, 2021

The recession has been hard on fashionistas, so Rent The Runway offers the ladies short-term $50 rentals for haute couture:

Dresses are organized on the site by style, designer, or occasions like “winter wedding,” “girls-night-out” or “this-is-getting-serious-date dresses.”…

The site, which has 600,000 members, launched near the peak of the recession, but according to co-founder Jenny Fleiss, that timing helped it get off the ground. “People were really thinking about cost per wear,” she said.

Now Rent The Runway is enjoying its busiest season to date. “Everyone has holiday parties and New Year’s Eve coming up — when are you going to wear a gold sparkly one-shoulder dress again?” Fleiss asked.

Leased clothing used to be strictly a guy thing, with the rented tuxedo as Exhibit A. If both you and your date are going to attend that formal bash in rentals, you might as well scope out other couples at the event for potential outfit sublets. “See how well we match together? You guys would totally rock this combo too!”

by Costa Tsiokos, Fri 12/17/2010 08:22am
Category: Business, Fashion, Women
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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

An interesting insurance-industry distinction was made in the Federal court decision declaring the unconstitutionality of the Obama healthcare law’s provision that most Americans must purchase health insurance:

Compelling vehicle owners to carry accident insurance, as states do, is considered a different matter because the Constitution gives the states broad police powers that have been interpreted to encompass that. Furthermore, there is no statutory requirement that people possess cars, only a requirement that they have insurance as a condition of doing so. By contrast, the plaintiffs in the health care case argue that the new law requires people to obtain health insurance simply because they exist.

In other words, it’s legally imperative that your wheels be protected, but not that your ass be comparably covered. Makes lots of sense.

This is a nonsensical argument to hang on, and the example above illustrates that. Although if this somehow ends up overturning ObamaCare, then I fully hope it dismantles the racket that the insurance companies run with required auto insurance — and homeowner’s insurance, and any other forced insurance premiums foisted on us. Can’t have it both ways, actuarials!

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/14/2010 10:37pm
Category: Business, Politics
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Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Talk about instant karma, or near enough:

Last month, DecorMyEyes.com owner Vitaly Borker bragged openly to the New York Times about how he aggressively cultivates negative feedback, which paradoxically boosts his eyewear business’ Google rankings and clickthru rate.

Today, we find out that those cultivation methods are criminally aggressive: Borker was arrested in Brooklyn on harassment and cyberbullying charges.

Online, his threats were “absolutely unspeakable” and “bone-chilling,” the prosecutor continued.

A pregnant woman was threatened with “physical and sexual violence” and a Colorado customer who complained was told: “I pee on your negative (comments). Now you lost your glasses b—h!”

Too bad Borker can’t claim to have been framed — pun intended…

It’s a measure of rough justice, assuming he gets what’s coming to him. There are scores of online con artists waiting to fill the void left by Borker, but so what — at least he’s out of the equation. (And yes, I halfway do expect to hear from Borker at some point over this very post, given his established Web acuity. So be it.)

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 12/07/2021 10:37pm
Category: Business, Internet, New Yorkin', True Crime
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Sunday, December 05, 2021

The attempt to give a name to the freelancer phenomenon of hours-long wi-fi workspacing in coffeeshops — “Laptopistan” — is exceedingly lame. But at least the article imparted the business strategy behind hosting such seemingly freeloading behavior:

While the people behind the screens spent a paltry $6 to $10 per day, their true value is as a draw for more profitable takeout customers, [Brooklyn-based Atlas Cafe co-owner Enrico] Lorenzetti said. From the moment the door opens at 7 a.m. until it closes at 9 p.m., the place is buzzing, a productive society, visible from the street through wraparound windows. “People come in to buy food and coffee to go, because they see a full crowd,” he said. “They think ‘Hey, this place must be good if I can’t even get a table.’”

I’ve logged my fair share of time on Starbucks‘ wireless network, notebook computer propped open the whole time. And I definitely didn’t break the bank during these work sessions: A cup of tea plus a bagel would last me for my requisite couple of hours (with a refill for which they might or might not charge a few cents). When you’re shuttling between clients all day, there’s no better mobile office setting.

However, I’ve never frequented a coffeeshop that was utterly dominated by this co-working presence. That is, it’s still unmistakenly a public place of business, and you have to “put up” with regular coffee-drinking patrons coming in, making noise, and otherwise not engaging in any sort of work-like quietude. I’m able to achieve some task-centric focus in this non-home-office, but I can’t rely on it as a fully-functioning workspace.

But again, it does the job for what it is. And if my occupying a space helps the store draw in crowd-seeking customers, it’s a win-win.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 12/05/2021 01:44pm
Category: Business, New Yorkin', Society, Wi-Fi
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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Low income + low expectations = A job for Underearners Anonymous:

“Jean” (I’ve changed names in this column to protect members’ anonymity) has a typical story. She’s attractive, ridiculously articulate and has a master’s degree from Columbia. When she “hit bottom,” the 30-something writer was earning $10,000 a year doing freelance work and falling behind on the rent. Her solution? She applied for a job at Staples.

Sounds crazy, but for Jean, minimum-wage jobs served a purpose that she had yet to admit to herself: They came with few expectations and responsibilities. “I didn’t want to be controlled,” she says. The price, of course, was poverty. Now, she says, she’s earning 10 times her old pay and has launched an acting career, but it’s been an arduous journey. “The underearner doesn’t want to do the work required to make their life better,” she says. “UA gives you the willingness.”

It’s certainly a sign of deep trouble if you’d rather retreat than double down for basic survival. But is this pseudo-religious 12-step program approach really the solution? The self-destructive mentality on display practically screams for psychiatric help.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 12/02/2021 11:32pm
Category: Business, Society
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Monday, November 22, 2021

I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that Ireland accepted an International Monetary Fund/European Union financial bailout this past weekend.

Not over sovereign-solvency or other macroeconomic implications. Rather, I lamented that the Irish no longer had their own currency, the short-lived punt, still in place. With a money-quote like that, the quips and headlines would have practically written themselves.

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/22/2010 09:35pm
Category: Business, History
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Sunday, November 21, 2021

It’s a common enough sighting on the streets of New York: An oversized inflatable gray rat, positioned in front of some business or other that’s not giving its unionized workers a fair shake. Little did I know that this symbol of labor unrest is 20 years old:

The vinyl vermin quietly marked their 20th birthday this year. The folks at Illinois-based Big Sky Balloons and Searchlights, creators of the inflatables, made their first rat for a Chicago bricklayers union in 1990.

Business was soon blowing up — the rats became an instant, unlikely symbol of corporate greed and anti-union work sites.

The company — a nonunion shop, by the way — says the majority of its business is done on the East Coast. The rats range in height from a relatively small 6-footer to the super-sized 25-footer. The costs can run upward of $8,000.

I haven’t walked past one of these strike mascots lately, but next time I do, I’ll acknowledge the anniversary by leaving a hunk of birthday cheese (signified by a candle stuck in the middle) at its feet. It’s not as good as not patronizing the offending business, but it’s really more about the symbol of protest, rather than the protest itself.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sun 11/21/2010 09:22pm
Category: Business, Creative, History
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Thursday, November 18, 2021

Today’s New York Times takes a predictably dim view of Dominican Republic youth baseball academies, known as buscones:

At academies run by investors from the United States, the players are typically 13 to 19 years old and forgo formal schooling to train. Several of the players said they would return to school if they were not signed to a professional contract…

These practices are worrisome for critics like David P. Fidler, a professor of international law at Indiana University. “Buscones in the Dominican Republic are in the business of selling children,” he said. “And it’s very disturbing that American investors would come in to profit from a system that exploits and discriminates against young children.”

It struck me that the part about forgoing formal schooling in favor of athletic development is reminiscent of another sports-development system, in another country: The Canadian Hockey League.

The CHL is the chief talent feed for the National Hockey League, and the three junior leagues that comprise it operate pretty much the same way as buscones do. The main difference is the age of entry — the Ontario, Quebec, and Western leagues typically wait until their kids are in their late teens. But indeed, not only do those players leave home, they also give up regular school in favor of full-time hockey.

So why criticize what goes on in the Caribbean, and not what goes on north of the border? The basic concept is the same. The difference is in the socioeconomic setting.

Canada is a developed country, and the kids who are drafted into the junior ranks tend to come from middle-class and higher households — therefore, there’s no characterization of those kids “being sold”. Whereas the Dominican Republic is a third world country, the kids there are impoverished, and so these actions are viewed as exploitative. It’s a double standard.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 11/18/2010 11:04pm
Category: Baseball, Business, Hockey, Society
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Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Recognizing the payout potential of a good piece of litigation, financial institutions are bankrolling the legal fees for third-party lawsuits, in exchange for a share of the winnings:

Most investments are in the smaller cases that fill court dockets. Ardec Funding, a New York lender backed by a hedge fund, lent $45,000 in June to a Manhattan lawyer hired by the parents of a baby brain-damaged at birth. The lawyer hired two doctors, a physical therapist and an economist to testify at a July trial. The jury ordered the delivering doctor and hospital to pay the baby $510,000. Ardec is collecting interest at an annual rate of 24 percent, or $900 a month, until the award is paid…

“If you want to use the civil justice system, you have to have money,” said Alan Zimmerman, who founded one of the first litigation finance companies in 1994, in San Francisco, now called the LawFinance Group. “If there’s less money, you’d have less litigation. But then you’d also have less justice.”

It’s a view of the American justice system as a jackpot-generating endeavor. Perhaps no riskier than any other venture capital targets in the business world. How long until the lawyers are eliminated at the capital-funneling intermediaries, and a big-board commodities market, open to direct investment, emerges? (I wish I were only kidding about that last part.)

by Costa Tsiokos, Tue 11/16/2010 08:51pm
Category: Business, Society, True Crime
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Saturday, November 13, 2021

super stadia shuffle
It’s nothing new for the National Football League to shake down a city for stadium construction in exchange for hosting a Super Bowl (or, alternately, to get or retain a team). But the latest application of this technique, on behalf of the Atlanta Falcons and owner Arthur Blank, has an especially mercenary feel to it:

While in Atlanta, [NFL Commissioner Roger] Goodell made clear the connection between Atlanta hosting a third Super Bowl and Atlanta getting a new stadium.

The NFL has staged Super Bowl XXVIII and XXXIV at the Georgia Dome, which was opened in 1992.

“I think this is a great community,” Goodell told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “But as I mentioned to the people earlier today, the competition for the Super Bowl is really at an all-time high, in a large part because of the new stadiums. The provisions that they have for a new stadium in this great community, I think that’s a pretty powerful force. We have a history of going back to communities when they have those new stadiums.”

Lemme get this straight — the Georgia Dome, at just under two decades old, is now considered antiquated? This isn’t a facility that was built without the modern-day amenities for a big-league box — it’s got skyboxes out the yin-yang, along with plenty of retail space, advertising signage, etc. It was constructed at the start of the revenue-maximizing era for sports arenas, and not an awful lot has changed since the ’90s in those economic terms.

It’s fairly idiotic to think that a world-class venue like the Georgia Dome has a shelf life of only twenty years. This is a pure greed move by the NFL. Having already extracted new stadiums from most franchise cities, the league is now trying to re-start the process by prematurely declaring barely-used buildings as outmoded. Essentially, they’re trying to make supposedly long-term landmarks into disposable commodities, to be recycled every few years for a cash infusion to team and league.

Obviously, it’s a questionable tactic, given the economic climate. Not to mention that newer facilities like the Georgia Dome were paid for in large part with public funds, and continue to be paid off by local/state governments even after being replaced. The NFL’s past success keyed this stadium game for years, but I can’t see how it’ll work now, especially at this artificially-accelerated pace.

by Costa Tsiokos, Sat 11/13/2010 05:56pm
Category: Business, Football
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Monday, November 01, 2021

Today’s little girl isn’t quite as attached to her dollies as her forebears were. The solution for toy manufacturers? Make their plastic pals bigger:

Girls are ditching dolls at younger ages than ever — often by their seventh birthday party, manufacturers say. Companies such as Disney and MGA Entertainment are coming out with dolls at heights of 18 to 21 inches this holiday season and designing them to look like pre-teens, not babies or adults. These dolls are meant to be played with as companions, to give modern girls a few more years of fantasy play.

It seems like a stereotypical American response — add quantity instead of qualitative improvements. Does making the pretend playmates (somewhat) truer to life really make them more appealing to kids?

I shudder to think where the toymakers got this idea. Because I suspect it sprung from observing the ultimate in life-like doll play (obviously not amongst little girls).

by Costa Tsiokos, Mon 11/01/2021 11:58pm
Category: Business, Society, Women
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Wednesday, October 20, 2021

If your workplace has a roomier, more desolate feeling of late, it’s not your imagination:

As the economy continues its long snooze, “office space is not as densely packed as it used to be,” [reports the International Facility Management Association]. Vacancy rates have risen by about 5% in almost every industry. (The only exception: The federal government.) Companies now average 295 square feet of usable space per employee. Yet most office workers are assigned between 75 and 95 square feet. Middle managers get, on average, 120 square feet.

What’s taking up the rest of the space? Collaborative work areas and amenities like day care centers and gyms account for much of it, while layoffs and stagnant hiring, the study’s authors add, have turned many offices into “ghost towns, with empty cubicles becoming increasingly common.”

Somewhat mirrors foreclosure-depleted neighborhoods, where neglected empty houses lend an eerie atmosphere. In the office, the lack of a desk-neighbor probably imparts a feeling of isolation, balanced by a desirable state of privacy. Among the considerations:

- Do you log in enough facetime, versus almost-exclusive email/voicemail contact?
- Is it worth being in the office physically, instead of telecommuting, if coworkers are so thin on the ground anyway?

A bit of a social adjustment, until companies decide to start hiring again.

by Costa Tsiokos, Wed 10/20/2010 11:50pm
Category: Business, Society
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