Bukowski’s Letter to Martin Against 9 to 5 Jobs

August 16 marks the birthday of Charles Bukowski and I’d like to share his letter to publisher John Martin. Martin encouraged Bukowski to write full time by offering him $100 a month for life if he would quit his job and stick to writing [1].

Hello John:

Thanks for the good letter. I don’t think it hurts, sometimes, to remember where you came from. You know the places where I came from. Even the people who try to write about that or make films about it, they don’t get it right. They call it “9 to 5.” It’s never 9 to 5, there’s no free lunch break at those places, in fact, at many of them in order to keep your job you don’t take lunch. Then there’s OVERTIME and the books never seem to get the overtime right and if you complain about that, there’s another sucker to take your place.

You know my old saying, “Slavery was never abolished, it was only extended to include all the colors.”

And what hurts is the steadily diminishing humanity of those fighting to hold jobs they don’t want but fear the alternative worse. People simply empty out. They are bodies with fearful and obedient minds. The color leaves the eye. The voice becomes ugly. And the body. The hair. The fingernails. The shoes. Everything does.

As a young man I could not believe that people could give their lives over to those conditions. As an old man, I still can’t believe it. What do they do it for? Sex? TV? An automobile on monthly payments? Or children? Children who are just going to do the same things that they did?

Early on, when I was quite young and going from job to job I was foolish enough to sometimes speak to my fellow workers: “Hey, the boss can come in here at any moment and lay all of us off, just like that, don’t you realize that?”

They would just look at me. I was posing something that they didn’t want to enter their minds.

Now in industry, there are vast layoffs (steel mills dead, technical changes in other factors of the work place). They are layed off by the hundreds of thousands and their faces are stunned:

“I put in 35 years…”

“It ain’t right…”

“I don’t know what to do…”

They never pay the slaves enough so they can get free, just enough so they can stay alive and come back to work. I could see all this. Why couldn’t they? I figured the park bench was just as good or being a barfly was just as good. Why not get there first before they put me there? Why wait?

I just wrote in disgust against it all, it was a relief to get the shit out of my system. And now that I’m here, a so-called professional writer, after giving the first 50 years away, I’ve found out that there are other disgusts beyond the system.

I remember once, working as a packer in this lighting fixture company, one of the packers suddenly said: “I’ll never be free!”

One of the bosses was walking by (his name was Morrie) and he let out this delicious cackle of a laugh, enjoying the fact that this fellow was trapped for life.

So, the luck I finally had in getting out of those places, no matter how long it took, has given me a kind of joy, the jolly joy of the miracle. I now write from an old mind and an old body, long beyond the time when most men would ever think of continuing such a thing, but since I started so late I owe it to myself to continue, and when the words begin to falter and I must be helped up stairways and I can no longer tell a bluebird from a paperclip, I still feel that something in me is going to remember (no matter how far I’m gone) how I’ve come through the murder and the mess and the moil, to at least a generous way to die.

To not to have entirely wasted one’s life seems to be a worthy accomplishment, if only for myself.

yr boy,

Hank

via Open Culture

Bryan Stevenson on Injustice

Public-interest lawyer, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative Bryan Stevenson talks about identity and injustice in the US judicial system.

I wrote some of his words that I’ve found thought-provoking.

“We have a system of justice in this country that treats you much better if you’re rich and guilty than if you’re poor and innocent. Wealth, not culpability, shapes outcomes.” [06:34]

“There is no disconnect around technology and design that will allow us to be fully human until we pay attention to suffering, to poverty, to exclusion, to unfairness, to injustice. Now I will warn you that this kind of identity is a much more challenging identity than ones that don’t pay attention to this. It will get to you.” [13:24]

“And I actually believe that the TED community needs to be more courageous. We need to find ways to embrace these challenges, these problems, the suffering. Because ultimately, our humanity depends on everyone’s humanity.” [15:24]

“the opposite of poverty is justice” [15:24]

“I’ve come to TED because I believe that many of you understand that the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice. That we cannot be full evolved human beings until we care about human rights and basic dignity. That all of our survival is tied to the survival of everyone. That our visions of technology and design and entertainment and creativity have to be married with visions of humanity, compassion and justice. And more than anything, for those of you who share that, I’ve simply come to tell you to keep your eyes on the prize, hold on” [20:27]

Stephen Brookfield on Experience

I thought I’d post this fragment from  The Getting of Wisdom: What Critically Reflective Teaching is and Why It’s Important by Stephen Brookfield. I like the way he explains how it is the depth of one’s experience that counts, and not the length.

Length of experience does not automatically confer insight and wisdom. Ten years of practice can be one year’s worth of distorted experience repeated ten times. The ‘experienced’ teacher may be caught within self-fulfilling interpretive frameworks that remain closed to any alternative interpretations. Experience that is not subject to critical analysis is an unreliable and sometimes dangerous guide for giving advice. ‘Experienced’ teachers can collude in promoting a form of groupthink about teaching that serves to distance themselves from students and to bolster their own sense of superiority.

The Human Paper-Shredder Has More Than 60% on Her Side

A reportage about an out-of-the-ordinary subject stirred conversations in Romanian Hotnews online media outlet. The Human Paper-Shredder (translated), places under the lens work, law, and behavior in Romania. What follows is not a translation of the article, although an English version would be useful, nor is it a summary. This article wants to briefly analyze users’ comments to The Human Paper-Shredder, as they show some specific job-related behavior and attitudes.

The story in brief

A secretary at Assystem Romania sues the company in 2012 for being fired. She files abuse charges and wins the lawsuit against the company one year later. Assystem is obliged to pay her salary for the months leading to the Court’s decision, and has to reintegrate her back in the organization. The company obeys the Court’s decision, and gives the former secretary the task to shred information-sensitive documents by hand. She is explicitly instructed to tear them in pieces no larger than one centimeter on either side. By hand, no scissor, no electronic shredder. Although in her pre-lawsuit position she has had all the office equipment a secretary needs, reintegration brought her to a technology-free desk, having only a pile of documents and a large trash bag. She continues this eight hours a day task while filing a complaint to the National Council Against Discrimination (CNCD). The latter fines Assystem with 20,000 RON (~ 4,500 Eur) for “discrimination, harassment, and practices against human dignity (translated)”. Upon the Council’s decision, she quits her job as a human paper-shredder. The company, through administrator Roger Coat, is appealing the Council’s decision and intends to sue the former employee for defamation.

Missing information

Throughout the article, three parties are questioned: the secretary, Council Against Discrimination president Csaba Asztalos, and Roger Coat, company representative. There are two important pieces of information I have missed from this otherwise excellent article: why was she fired in the first place (she mentions an abuse), and what would her colleagues have to say about her work as a human paper-shredder. I wonder about their reactions to a colleague manually tearing paper all day. The latter I think would be of great importance to understand the collaborative work environment in Romania.

Users’ comments

Although my faith in Romanian work ethics has been restored after seeing so many comments condemning these humiliating practices, these comments win the voting algorithm with less than double over the votes condemning the secretary’s return. Briefly, the comments follow three distinct lines: employer is right, he can make employees redundant whenever and can assign no matter what tasks; employee was right to return to work after the Court’s decision of an abusive redundancy; employee was legally right to return to work, but should have understood the company’s ‘rejection’ message and not return to work after winning in Court.

Hotnews’ comment voting algorithm uses thumbs up and down feedback, negative and positive votes canceling each other to reveal a final comment score. Comments and votes can only be cast by logged members.

One of the first comments falls in the third category (although she had the legal right to sue the company, it was ‘morally wrong’ to do so and ‘morally wrong’ to return to the company). This comment has received 139 votes (Feb. 16), with a grand score of -23 votes. This means that 81 users voted against the comment (i.e. no, it wasn’t ‘morally wrong’, she just followed the legislation), while 58 users voted for the comment (they agree the secretary was ‘morally wrong’ to have sued the company and to return to work following her Court win). This places 58% of voters for obeying legal decisions, and 41% against legal decisions (she was ‘morally wrong’). Viewing this 41% makes me wonder how can these people impose their morality on another person about whom they know almost nothing. 41% of people telling someone what is and what isn’t moral seems too much in a society that wants to catch up with other more modern, liberal societies of Western Europe.

Another comment, an answer to the previous example, condemns its author and his ‘morality equals subdued/ passive/ meek’ logic. Out of 88 votes (Feb. 16), the comment score is +22. Meaning that 33 users (37.5%) have voted negative, while 55 users (62.5%) have voted positive, agreeing that rules and laws trump subjectivity.

A newer comment saying that “a contract is a contract” has received 29 votes, with a total score of +13, meaning 8 votes (27%) disagree with “a contract is a contract statement” and 21 votes (72%) agree contractual agreements need to be followed.

It’s important to mention some biases that might occur in the comments and votes: older comments are stacked at the top and receive more votes, hotnews.ro is a platform pertaining to a more liberal crowd, and parties involved in the article can gather votes against comments they disagree with (fake accounts, friend votes etc.).

Overall, the article and its comments show more than just the story of the ex-Assystem employee. It shows inaction from her colleagues (curiously, none of them has commented the article), lack of solidarity, value systems anchored in archaic presumptions, inflaming tensions about what’s ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, and employees roughing it out during times of change.

While the National Council Against Discrimination verdict is under appeal, more information is needed to understand what has led to this situation. Nevertheless, making a person tear up documents by hand, eight hours a day, challenges every argument Roger Coat brings in defense of his decisions. Assystem is, according to its website, an industrial engineering firm with “nearly 11,000 employees”. Asked if she has encountered another human paper-shredder, the secretary said no. This leads me to wonder how does a person feel when s/he sits in an office environment having a garbage bag on the desk while colleagues go about their business in front of a computer. I think it feels degrading. And I can find no argument in favor of Assystem for not using technology to destroy their documents. A search on the internet also gave me many document destroying services, none of which includes manually tearing stacks of documents in pieces no larger than one centimeter on either side.

Links used in the article:

http://www.hotnews.ro/stiri-esential-16603947-tocatorul-uman-hartii.htm

http://www.assystem.com/en/the-company/about-assystem.html

http://www.cncd.org.ro/home-page/

How to Install Zotero Standalone on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS

After reviewing several reference management software (Wikipedia, WISC.edu, Imperial.ac.uk, Columbia.edu) I opted for Zotero. It’s simple to use, free, and open source. It has a 300 Mb limit with the possibility to buy extra space. Although 300 Mb doesn’t seem like a lot, it’s fine for the moment.

Zotero has a Firefox plugin that’s in constant connection with the server. You can also chose to have it installed locally, on your machine.

The following steps apply for a Zotero 4.0 standalone package on Ubuntu Studio 12.04 LTS, 64 bit.

1. Which package should I download?

Most of the time, zotero.org will propose a package that suits your system. If you’re not sure whether your computer runs on 32 or 64 bit chips, type this in the terminal window.

uname -m

2. Download

-> Go to https://www.zotero.org/download/ and download Zotero standalone with the browser extension of your choice.

-> extract the archive from its tar.bz2 compressed format

-> move the folder to your /opt directory, alongside other programs. You can do this in two ways

a) open a terminal window and type:

sudo mv ~/Downloads/Zotero_linux-x86_64/ /opt

This will move the Zotero extracted directory from your Downloads location to the /opt directory

b) open your Home folder -> press ALT+F2 -> *type gksudo nautilus -> click Run -> type your password -> OK

Navigate in the newly opened window to File System -> Opt

Paste here the Zotero folder you extracted in your Downloads location.

3. Make a .desktop file in usr/share/applications in order to make the system recognize that you have installed Zotero, and to be able to find it in your Applications Menu

-> open gedit or other text editor and type:

#!/usr/bin/env xdg-open
[Desktop Entry]
Type=Application
Name=Zotero
GenericName=Bibliography Manager
Icon=/opt/Zotero_linux-x86_64/chrome/icons/default/default48.png
Exec= /opt/Zotero_linux-x86_64/zotero %f
Categories=Office
Terminal=false

Be sure to change the Icon and Exec lines if you run on 32 bit

Icon=/opt/Zotero_linux-i686/chrome/icons/default/default48.png
Exec= /opt/Zotero_linux-i686/zotero %f

-> save the file as zotero.desktop somewhere on your computer and then paste it in usr/share/applications. Be sure to do this in the window of Step 2/b, that gives you root access.

Done.

I would like to reference http://anterotesis.com and his original post Installing Zotero standalone on Ubuntu 11.10. I used his steps and page comments to install version 4.0, changing somewhere along the way from terminal use to folder view.

* you might need to type kdesu konqueror or gksudo thunar if you have Kubuntu (KDE) or Xubuntu (XFCE) – read more here – http://www.psychocats.net/ubuntu/permissions

Of Birds and Beggars

It’s almost freezing outside. Close to the building, two kids are begging. The older one is seriously disabled. I guess that before he was able to tell his parents that he’d like to be a doctor or a firefighter, or an airplane pilot, they decided for him that he’ll be a beggar. So they crippled him for life by breaking his legs from the knees, turning them in the opposite direction. Holding a stick in each hand, he keeps his body in an almost upright position. Without them he could only walk on all fours.

A few people are passing by, throwing pieces of bread to the pigeons that flock together. When they leave, the younger child scares the pigeons and eats the bread.

Just another image from a country that’s not there yet…

Tips for Taking a Taxi in Morocco

Taxis are a relatively cheap way of getting around Morocco, in the city and in between cities. Depending on some things, the experience can vary from fun to frustration or panic. Here are my tips after going through all these states during my seven months in Morocco.

Petit Taxis – in the city transportation, color changes with the city

  • it helps knowing how to greet and say thanks in Darija: Salam Alaykum and Shukran. Say Beslama before you leave.
  • avoid taking a taxi at rush hour or before a call to prayer. You’ll either have a tough time finding a car or find yourself stuck in traffic, which is especially annoying when the driver doesn’t know the address…
  • have a map of the area of your destination. Have it written in Arabic, or at least the street name in Arabic. I lost track of the times when instead of getting where I wanted, I ended up in a completely different part of the city. After some frustration that I couldn’t find any driver with a map of the city – one actually pulled out a tourist map that had only a small part of the city center – I started printing Google maps of my destination. That helped a lot getting there fast and at a fair price.
  • sometimes petit taxis will stop to take someone else that goes in the same direction as you. You can tell the driver not to if you want, it’s your right, but usually it’s common courtesy to not complain. You should definitely complain if the taxi starts detouring. If the driver picks someone else, you won’t be sharing costs. So don’t expect to pay less.
  • if you desperately need a cab but there’s no empty one in sight, stalk one that’s waiting at the traffic light. If it has people inside but it’s not full, chances are you’ll be getting a ride if you’re going in the same direction.
  • taking a taxi at night usually costs you what’s on the meter + 50%

Grand Taxis – in & out of the city transportation, cars are big, white Mercedes Benz

  • know how much you have to pay for the ride. The Lonely Planet guide usually offers a good estimation. The best way is to ask other travelers, if possible without letting the cab driver intervene in the conversation.
  • wait until the grand taxi is full. It’s cheaper to travel in a full car (4+2+driver), and this is the local way to travel. Sometimes the 6th place might be hard to fill, in which case the empty (shared) seat cost is shared amongst the rest of you.
  • there are no seatbelts in grand taxis, and in between cities it can get wild if your driver goes 120 km/hour on a mountain road, rain outside and a cliff on your right. So if your driver doesn’t understand when you tell him to slow down, ask someone in the car to translate it to him (99.9% of the time it’s a him). If that doesn’t work and the image of the car tumbling down the rocks continues to bother you, pretend you have nausea and you’re about to throw up. They usually take good care of their cars. This helped me once.

pro tip #1: if you’re feeling ripped of by the price when taking a grand taxi from the airport, but you’re already on your way to the destination, argue with the driver. This tip is for the people that can raise their voice without raising their temper, which is a way of negotiation in Morocco. It helps knowing an approximate cost for your ride, so you can benchmark your negotiation.

pro tip #2: whatever happens, try to be as positive as possible about the experience. Raging and complaining with a person that doesn’t understand you helps no-one. And passers by that otherwise might want to help, will probably stay away from a person that screams, swears, and gesticulates angrily.