Archive for September, 2010

Other blogs you might like

September 28, 2010

A piece on Amazon in the August 2/9 issue of The Nation confirms what I’ve been suspecting about that metric of offering choices that we’ve all experienced by now:  “If you liked X, here’s some other titles you might like.”  As the author of the article, Colin Robinson, points out, the algorithms used by Amazon (Netflix and countless others) to calm the consumer’s fear that there are too many choices available “can simultaneously increase the variety of books purchased . . while decreasing the overall variety.”  He describes “[t]he loss of serendipity that comes with no knowing exactly what one is looking for.”  An ex-Amazon editor points out that it “engineers spontaneity out of the picture.  The happy accident, the freakish discovery, ceases to exist.”

I’m all about the freakish discovery (as for “Happy Accidents,” watch it instantly on Netflix; it’s a refreshing surprise), hence my perverse, Luddite affection for public libraries.  But there’s something else going on here besides the narrowness of choices provided.  While reading another Nation piece on Tea Party candidate Rand Paul supporters in Kentucky, I realized that social networking sites are offering a world equally lacking in difference.  One supporter learned about Rand Paul from his Facebook page.  “The page doesn’t just give me information about the campaign,” the interviewed man explains.  “It also connects me to other people who feel similarly to myself.”

I’m not against people getting together with others who feel the same way.  Back in the day, when people made the time to get together with their bowling league or at the Elk’s Club or with their knitting circle, they could see how small, how exclusive, their groups were. When they went to the video store, they warmly greeted the folks in their circle but also said hello to other community members who they may have quarreled with over school board or zoning issues.  Married couples might not have socialized with the divorcees, but their kids went to school together so they smiled at each other during school programs, a silent acknowledgement of how tough it was to parent, for instance, or of just how boring those programs could be.

With cyberspace, this kind of tight, sometimes uncomfortable physical dimension sewn together by shared daily experience has been overcome.  True, people maybe be feeling less isolated and more able to express their individuality (this is a perception worth debating), but this comes at the cost of bypassing those people who have different opinions.   I would argue that this trade-off is very bad.  We need to start listening to the people who disagree with us, not because we need to emulate Obama’s namby-pamby bipartisanship (which is just a ruse — notice him pimping for the Democrats, proof his soul belongs to the DNC) but because we all live in the same neighborhood, no matter how big it has grown and no matter how weird we have gotten, sitting in our homes ordering books and picking out movies on line.

Now that the recession is officially over, here are some helpful jobhunting stats

September 24, 2010

From the Economic Policy Institute, the devil is still there lurking in the details:

The total number of job openings in June was 2.9 million, while Current Population Survey data for that month shows that the total number of unemployed workers was 14.6 million. This means that the ratio of unemployed workers to job openings was 5.0-to-1, a slight improvement from the revised May ratio of 5.1-to-1. Importantly, this ratio does not measure the number of applicants for each job.  There may be throngs of applicants for every job posting, since job seekers apply for multiple jobs. The 5-to-1 ratio means that there is literally only one job opening for every five unemployed workers (that is, for every four out of five unemployed workers there simply are no jobs).

The ratio is significantly improved from its peak last November of 6.2-to-1, but there remains a severe shortage of jobs. The ratio of unemployed per job opening is still far higher than at the worst point in the last recession, when its maximum was 2.8 unemployed workers per job opening. In 2007, before the recession started, the ratio averaged 1.5-to-1.

I’m personally confident that the two library openings I applied for today will be seeing upwards of 300 applications.  As my good friend Frank points out, the system works because there are always more losers than winners.  You don’t have to draw me a picture for me to figure out these odds ain’t so good.

‘Tis Autumn

September 23, 2010

I wanted to sketch out some thoughts that I had surrounding the work of a local freelancer who has fashioned herself as one of the eat local foodies.  There is something about what she is doing that bothers me and that I confess to be bothered by whenever I see it in evidence:  a focus more on fulfilling one’s own needs at the expense of the larger issues at stake.  In this freelancer’s case, this scenario is compounded by that fact that at the same time she is fashioning herself as a leading advocate for an underdog issue.  To provide some context, what this local entrepreneur has done is create a business consulting for local food purveyors (or as a foodie might write “artisan crafters”).  If say, you make cheese and wish to get some PR in one of the local foods magazines, you can hire her to write the article and sell it to the magazine.  For me with my limited acquaintance with our local food culture, this woman epitomizes the same “me first,” or “taking the last dime,” approach that I saw on display at a local foods festival.  It’s like sustainable local food networks have been identified as the next big financial cash cow by business schools or that most everyone has swallowed the entrepreneurial capitalist spirit that many environmentalists would argue is antithetical to sustainability.  How does lawn art as crappy as any sold at Plow and Hearth or a consumer sponsored agriculture (CSA) business owner who doesn’t grow a single vegetable qualify as sustainable?  Why would someone truly interested in the local foods movement try to wring some more money from small-scale producers who are already operating on a shoestring budget?

Because I didn’t want to force myself into a dead-end rant, I didn’t want to start by writing about her.  It’s not what she does or how well she does it or how many mouths she has to feed that I find quarrel with.  She is no different from anyone else trying to capitalize on what they perceive is a flourishing market.   It’s probably just because I vaguely know the ways she’s working at cross purposes that qualifies her as my target.  Hardly fair game.  Neither did I want to enumerate all the negatives of this approach — this is a blog not some Marxist tract.  So I began my first draft by writing about what’s been obsessing me lately, hoping it would loop around to something worth publishing.  What follows is how far I got until I ran into one of those “signs from the universe” that are so perverse .

These days I have two obsessions:  eliminating stink bugs and using the apples falling in my backyard.  In between these activities I find room to follow my deplorably routinized behavior, tasks that are threaded together with the question “what are you going to do with your life?”  murmuring maddeningly.   To be frank, I can only attribute suffocating stink bugs in a recycled vitamin jar and making applesauce to my unemployed status.  The other condition seems to dog me regardless of income.

Figuring out ways to stop the stink bugs entrance into my apartment (an air conditioner, utterly useless, unsightly and irremovable, has been serving as a portal so effective that more stink bugs were pouring into my apartment than Mexicans into Arizona, so I covered it in plastic) is honestly more immediately rewarding, emotionally and physically, than sitting for long with my thoughts.  I keep hoping that a solution to at least my most pressing current dilemmas will come to me if I just refrain from pressing the question the way a kid feels a bruise.

It’s just a theory, but that’s what I’ve decided to go on.

At this point, I was in the midst of  ironing out the knotted connections between where I’d started and where I wanted to go, which I had decided had a lot to do with intent — people could work their various theories as long as they did no evil, that sort of thing.  To attack this epistemological trick, I took lots of trips to the kitchen and to my backyard, and then I  realized I couldn’t tell you much about stink bugs other than that they are not, as commonly supposed, squash bugs, that they do in fact stink and that they show up unremittingly in my apartment by early Fall, startling the shit out of me when they begin buzzing around.  This gave me an excuse to google “stink bugs.”  The first hit I got took me to a page that promised to share the secrets of how to eliminate stink bugs forever.  He confided the wrenching turmoil he’d suffered with stink bugs including how he hired an exterminator who fleeced him for $200.  At the end of his rope, he researched and experimented with several ways of ridding his life of stink bugs and he finally arrived at a conclusion that is proven to work.    And what you probably can guess by now, he would make these secrets available to you for X amount of dollars payable with a credit card or Paypal.

Sometimes you ask for a sign, you get a sign.  What this internet guy is doing isn’t much different from what I see the freelancer doing.  They are packaging information so that that they can get a piece of the pie, regardless of whether what they are selling has merit or who foots the bill.  But I believe it shouldn’t only matter what you do but also why you do it.  If you’re only doing work intended to squeeze a few bucks from the next person, it’s not work worth doing.   I know it’s an impossible high standard,  but hey! we all get to work our theories.  That’s the beauty of human existence.  Here’s hoping that a few of those theories are as beautiful as this morning’s Full Moon setting alongside the brillance of Jupiter.  If by our actions we can reduce the existence of those theories as ubiquitous and irritating as stink bugs by even the smallest number, we might accomplish something far beyond what we initially intended.

actually of a waxing moon & jupiter taken 9/21/10