Behind the scenes

I changed my underlying url today. It’s not something many other people would see, but it’s been on my to-do list for…years. I also sorted through the variety of things that are broken in unfortunate attempts to make things better. There’s a few key things broken WordPress and web-coms tools more generally in relation to Facebook. It’s rescoped some of my goals.

First Post, as short as most, with two inspirations and a lie.

Transmissions may be spotty, and accompanied by random photography, all mine.

A time for tinkering

There’s something starting here. I’m not sure what exactly, but it definitely doesn’t end here. But I’ve been putting it off for too long and it’s driving me bonkers. I’m going a bit native. I have shiny new widgets care of the IndieWeb community, beautiful contrarians whose ‘selfdogfooding’ is a generative form of participant observation. I theoretically understand how they work. I don’t yet know how to get them to work.

Simultaneously, my bio and and ego are getting a community overhaul with the XR Studio crowd.

I have some goals in mind. I’ll list them tomorrow. For today I’m flossing one tooth.

Science Fiction Day 2018

Hallmark does invent some holidays.  Sometimes that’s a good thing, for instance, today is Science Fiction Day.  Hurray! Read some, write some, watch some, play some.  I’m celebrating with option B, write some!

Please enjoy this post-holiday tribute to the day, and the fine work of the teams who discovered this gnarly fungus that eats plastic.

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The Toy Farm

Miriam Lueck Avery

When Mom bought the toy farm I thought it would be fun. I thought I’d get first pick of all the deliveries. But the piles of broken dolls and Lego bricks and fast food tchotchkes overwhelmed me. And, we needed the money from every pound of plastic mulched.

Into the trenches they went. We shoveled the heavy fungus-laden dirt over them. Once a week Mom churned it with a big backhoe.

It was two months before I saw the first mushroom ghost. Some toys, they had this plastic that I guess was delicious to our fungal livestock. Ghostly threads of fungus outlined the fashionable toys of years past. Eaten. Replaced. Remade.

I got so freaked out I tried to convince Mom to sell the farm. The pale memories of toys filled my dreams. I tried to beg out of my chores on the farm, which worked for the dead months of November and December.

But January came, and the spring cleaning bump. I couldn’t hold out any longer.

Then, one day, I found her. More eerie than the rest. Also more perfect. The curve of her cheek was dense and soft. Her hair was a delicate fan of pale threads. I thought her name was Mycella. I took her home; dressed her in real doll’s clothes. We held a tea party and invited Mom.

I wasn’t afraid anymore.

 

For the Love of Place (Dispatch from the Steinbeck Center)

Last month Chris humored me for a trip to the National Steinbeck Center, a quirky exhibit in the heart of Salinas, California. It’s densely packed, verbosely curated, and delightful. Museums are places of discovery and reflection for me, and I set upon this one with a question.

John Steinbeck is up there among my very favorite authors, and is certainly my favorite among the non-genre literary writers. My question was: why? What is it about Steinbeck that I love just so much?

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I love nearly all his books, but East of Eden has the distinction of being my second favorite novel (after Ursula LeGuin’s The Dispossessed of course). Unlike Liza Hamilton’s bible, the eye tracks in my copy of East of Eden are uneven. I’ve been toting around the same dog eared and pencil annotated Classics Edition since high school. The first few dozen pages are especially worn. When I was traveling most intensely for work, about five years ago, I would carry it with me as a cure for homesickness. Steinbeck’s ode to those dry hills, and the wet years when people forget the dry years, remains my perfect reminder of California. Continue reading

Walking the Right-Of-Way

This is a post about trains. Also about innovation. But mostly about trains.

Wikipedia: Right-Of-Way

I. A Victory Celebrated

I’m celebrating a victory for public transit. Yes, of course I’m consumed by rage about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement (maybe). But I’ve been acting locally to promote public transit in one way or another since I was 16, in the face of NIMBY assholes. Victory on local actions is what gives us the wherewithal to keep pressure on the global struggle.

So the Feds finally approved funds for the grand Caltrain electrification project after many months of struggle. Continue reading

Published! ‘Incorporating Care in Silicon Valley’…

My esteemed colleague (and mother) Jan English-Lueck and I have officially been published in the most recent issue of the Anthropology of Work Review. There you can find our article, sadly behind a pay wall.

We ask: is the vaguely California-Buddhist (but mostly utilitarian) “caring” of Silicon Valley corporations a good thing? We answer, very academically: maybe, sometimes, someday. But today, it mostly stands in agonizing juxtaposition with horrendous inequality.  If some by long-shot thoughtful stars align…yes someday it could be some definition of good. We are trying to force some alignment from our humble positions. Join us?

If you think that seems interesting, this article is worth a read.

Here’s the abstract:

The struggle for labor rights is often one of asserting embodied care. Workers negotiate for rest and safe physical conditions. In the United States, further embodied care is translated into health care and family leave benefits. In Silicon Valley, while labor still struggles in the service and manufacturing sectors, professional high-tech work constitutes another set of challenges and expectations. Startup culture draws on the university-student lifestyle—where institutionalized care includes a broad palette of wellness care, cafeterias, and structured recreation. So it is not surprising that yoga, massage, food, and managed fun made their way into high-tech workplaces of the late twentieth century. Increasingly, however, that corporate care is a requirement, not a perquisite, of progressive companies recruiting elite workers.

Effective care requires personal awareness and corporate surveillance in order to be effective. Corporate responsibility in Silicon Valley workplaces embraces discourses in which worker productivity and care intertwine. This care is not evenly distributed or available to all workers, but still points to an emerging set of corporate care practices. Knowledge workers are expected to work more intensively, and employers sustain them by providing care. That logic of care shaped the social experience of both care providers, such as chefs and concierges, and workers, who learn to be the subjects of such care. Based on two decades of fieldwork in companies from Apple to Yahoo, this article outlines the uneven evolution of Silicon Valley’s corporate care.

And here’s an excerpt, which I think is within the limits of what I’m allowed to post here. Specifically, the prologue, which I wrote based on field notes from one of the more surreal experiences of my entire life.

A deep bell sounds at the hands of a brown-robed monk as hundreds of people bow their heads over trays carefully balanced on their laps. It is the fall of 2013 and the corporate dining room of an iconic Silicon Valley company is transformed as rows of workers, vendors, and guests sit in silent contemplation. Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned mindfulness teacher, leads the room in a guided meditation over the vegan lunch of subtly spiced Southeast Asian vegetables and rice. We are participants attending a workshop designed to cultivate a wonder of food in the larger ecosystem and an awareness of the act of eating.

The teacher asks us to savor each bite. He asks us to contemplate how dietary choices like these can heal a climate-disturbed planet. He asks us to consider the life of these plants, and all the human hands—farmers, cooks, and workers—who made it possible for us to eat the plants in that moment. Thousands more watch this performance through cameras placed around the room, possibly eating on their own, in homes and offices around the world. The organizers, chefs, and workers convinced that technology and compassion could do more together than apart, invited the monks to give their peers a transformative experience and to enlist allies.

Four months later, presenters from that same corporation, while reporting on that experience and the larger effort around mindfulness at the Wisdom 2.0 conference, were interrupted by an onstage protest. Local San Francisco activists waved signs reading, “Wisdom Means Stop Displacement” and “Wisdom Means Stop Surveillance.” The company’s efforts to care for its own workers and the planet, though literally fashioned on “noble intentions” drawn from Buddhist and secular compassionate practice, are mired in an inescapable context of a system that produces economic inequality and unequal access to physical resources. Diverse stakeholders contest the values around information flows and privacy. The ubiquitous computing that fuels the Silicon Valley economy also produces a panopticon of available information, which changes the lives of its workers and the communities in which they live. Those care practices also require a degree of self-disclosure and behavioral observation to be effective. If an employer wants its workers to be at “peak performance,” it needs to know how to promote that productivity year after year, and how to help its workers attain it for themselves.

‘Logan’ Makes Caregiving Heroic

We’re used to seeing superheroes balancing saving the world with protecting their beloved.  Logan is a superhero movie of a different stripe.  Wolverine is no longer a gonzo loner reluctantly adjusting to teamwork and love triangles.  He’s now an aging icon of the sandwich generation caregiver: painfully devoted to a father figure deep in cognitive decline, and suddenly saddled with a rebellious daughter figure with special needs.  He must protect them from a hostile world, while protecting the world from their formidable but poorly controlled gifts.

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Professor Xavier and Logan (Fox)

I cannot overstate how much I loved this movie.  While my ‘Arrival’ review sits in my drafts box struggling with profound revelations and weird grammar, this one was running through my head as the credits rolled.

Like nearly one in five adults in the U.S. Logan is providing unpaid care.  Like 40% of those caregivers, he’s a guy struggling with the clash of macho culture with the drive to relieve the suffering of someone he loves.  Like two-thirds of caregivers today, he’s working to support a household.  And like 17% of caregivers today, his health is poor and getting worse.  These are all 2015 numbers from the NAC/AARP report on Caregiving in the United States. The prevalence and impact of caregiving, and the number of folks like Professor X struggling with Alzheimers and other forms of dementia, are all projected to rise steeply between now and the movie’s setting in 2029.

It has enough gore to earn its hard R rating. But there are moments of such truth and tenderness I cried, a lot.  This is a movie for the coming decade.

 

​”So many particulars. So many questions.”

So many questions, indeed. 

This poem I encountered at SJMoA this weekend reminds me of why I’m marching Saturday. We workers, paid and unpaid, need allies who don’t blatantly lie to us and convince us to act in harmful ways.

It’s a reminder that singular individuals, be they heroes or villains, are overrated. This game was made for you and me. 

A Worker Reads History, Bertolt Brecht

A Worker Reads History, Bertolt Brecht