Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 27th, 2019

Cruciferous blowout: Red cabbage, baby Shanghai bok choy, turnips, and horseradish

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This turned out very tasty:

a bag of baby Shanghai bok choy mue, chopped
1/4 head red cabbage, shredded
3 medium turnips cubed
2 tablespoons white sesame seeds
1 tablespoon good soy sauce
1.5 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
1 tablespoon horseradish (from the regriferated section) – optional
juice of a lemon
1/4 cup Shaoxing wine (or Amontillado sherry)
1 cup low-sodium vegetable broth

Baby bok choy mue is just smaller than baby bok choy, so you can substitute baby bok choy (or even grown-up bok choy).

Put all ingredients in a pot with a lid, bring to brisk simmer over high heat, reduce heat to simmer, cover, and cook for 20-30 minutes.

It’s quite tasty. I stirred in some cooked hulled (whole-grain) barley.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 5:16 pm

Capitalism Is Making Us Sick: An Interview

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In New York Sarah Jones interviews Emily Guendelsberger about her new book, On the Clock:

Back in 1980, Dolly Parton had it all figured out. “Working 9 to 5, what a way to make a living!” she sang. “Barely gettin’ by, it’s all taking, and no giving. They just use your mind, and they never give you credit. It’s enough to drive you crazy if you let it.” Work hasn’t changed much since Parton wrote the words of what would later become Senator Elizabeth Warren’s campaign song. Americans work more than almost anyone else in the developed world, and for many, that work is getting more and more unpleasant. The rise of automation has been accompanied with jobs that, increasingly, force workers to behave like robots.

The psychological burdens imposed by this regime can be serious, as Emily Guendelsberger documents in her new book, On the Clock, out now from Little, Brown and Company. After her newspaper closed, Guendelsberger, a journalist, took three low-wage jobs. At an Amazon warehouse in Kentucky, a call center in North Carolina, and a McDonald’s in San Francisco, Guendelsberger dealt with threatening customers and isolation at work, physical pain and emotional turmoil. Her book, a clear successor to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed, recounts those experiences alongside explorations of the history of work. Technology may have created software that monitors every minute of a person’s workday down to their bathroom breaks, but the quest to turn human workers into docile drones predates the invention of the computer. The problems workers face, then, are much larger than any single corporation — even Amazon. Here, Guendelsberger talks to Intelligencer’s Sarah Jones about her reporting, and why capitalism is making us all sick.

Sarah Jones: What really struck me most about your book is that the jobs you held — at Amazon, and Convergys, and McDonald’s — were not jobs designed to let human beings be human beings. What sort of psychological effect does that have on workers?

Emily Guendelsberger: That is the takeaway that I hope people have. The book was mostly written for people who have not had one of these jobs, to clue people in, I suppose. But I also wanted workers from these industries who read it to be able to recognize that it is all the same struggle. People in fast food should have common cause and solidarity with people who work at Amazon. I think the Fight for 15 has done a really great job of showing fast-food workers that this is one fight. It’s not just unionizing McDonald’s or just unionizing Burger King, it’s all fast food. And I think that the inescapability of the sort of computer business systems and timing and monitoring systems that I talk about in the book, I tried to draw sort of a thread between them. And it’s been really cool, honestly. The feedback I expected to get on the book was just people saying that millennials don’t have any work ethic, people don’t know how to work hard, it’s their own fault if they can’t keep these jobs, no one’s holding a gun to their head. But honestly the response that I’ve gotten from almost everybody who’s actually had one of these jobs is, wow, I didn’t realize it was this similar in other industries. I thought it was just my job that sucked.

We’ve gotten so good at technology that can quantify workers’ job performance with metrics. And since it’s pretty much the same everywhere, it’s difficult, especially for unskilled workers, to vote with their feet the way they used to be able to, and the way that classical economics says that they should be able to. You know, if you don’t like your job, you go find another job, and then the previous job can’t find workers and it goes out of business. But when the situation is the same at pretty much everywhere you go, you’re expected to be a robot — whether it’s mentally, like at Convergys or McDonald’s, where you’re supposed to suppress all of your anger and shame and rage when people treat you like garbage, or Amazon, where you have to really push your physical limits.

The mental effects are what I think is even more dangerous than the physical stuff, which is what people generally focus on when they talk about Amazon. Amazon has been getting mowed down by the press lately. But it’s not just Amazon: At other warehouses it’s as bad or worse. I found that, at least among people who had had other warehouse jobs, they tended to find Amazon to be comparatively safe and comparatively well-paying. The problem is that they hate being treated like robots, like where you’re expected to not need to talk to people all day or you’re expected to have to do this extremely monotonous, repetitive job without any sort of mental distraction.

You go into this a bit in the book, but could you tell me more about the specific coping mechanisms that you and your co-workers devised to stay sane?

Well, Amazon is the easiest one to describe, because the mental part is mostly isolation and it’s really difficult. Most jobs in an Amazon warehouse are set up so that you don’t really ever get to talk to your co-workers except on break and lunch.

I was a music theory major, I went to Oberlin, and I did a lot of singing stuff in college. Especially weird, 13th-century chant stuff. So I probably weirded a lot of people out doing some Hildegard von Bingen bangers out there. I definitely sang all the time so that I wouldn’t go crazy. I snuck in headphones at one point, and I’m sure other people do that too. But you can get in real trouble for doing that.

And at Convergys and McDonald’s, where you are in a customer-facing job, I think the coping mechanism that I ended up with and saw mirrored in my co-workers was that you just have to stop caring about the customers. Because otherwise, it leaves you kind of vulnerable, that American work ethic where you make sure the customer has the best possible experience and you go above and beyond to give good service.

There’s a perception, and I think it’s a bipartisan perception, that minimum-wage or low-wage work is typically performed by either teenagers or young adults. That it’s supposed to be your first job, a way to get paid work experience. But many if not most of your co-workers were supporting families with their pay, right?

It’s a weird upper-class idea that people who are teenagers don’t need to make a living wage; in the first place I worked with teenagers at Convergys who had children, like multiple children. But the average age of a fast-food worker is 29. And I believe that a third of them are supporting at least one dependent. If I could, I would force Congress to go have to work one of these jobs during recess, without telling people who they were. Amazon lately has been trying to counter all the bad publicity they’ve been getting with warehouse tours, and it’s just so comical, the idea that walking through it is somehow the same as working there.

The whole thing is gonna be so stage-managed.

Yeah, exactly. I went to tour a new one pretty recently. You walk around with some tour guide, and I was with another reporter who was there to write about my impression of the warehouse. And she had a PR person with her constantly, hovering over her shoulder when she was talking to workers. Don’t be ridiculous! Of course people aren’t going to be honest with you if they have some higher-ups looking over their shoulder. If people want to know what it’s like, just go hang out at the smoking area and talk to people without someone hovering over your shoulder, or go work there. It’s easy to get a job there.

Speaking of Amazon, it suffered another wave of bad press recently because of these Twitter accounts from people from people saying that they were fulfillment-center employees.

Yeah, I’ve known about this for quite awhile. It’s an interesting thing. I really dislike people dragging these people on Twitter or saying they’re bots or whatever. They’re the real people. I met plenty of people at Amazon warehouses that were very enthusiastic about it because in a lot of rural places, especially since the $15-an-hour raise, it is a better job than you can get in a lot of places. A lot of people are very grateful for it.

It’s hard to talk about because Amazon does need to treat their people better. They need to treat them like human beings, and not burn through them like they’re rental cars. But the mainstream understanding, the Twitter understanding, of what makes Amazon jobs bad is not right. It’s not about the pay or hours. People I worked with thought that they paid pretty well and had good benefits back when I was working there, when it was $10.50 an hour. [Ed. note: In 2018, Amazon raised its company-wide minimum wage to $15 an hour.] The long hours — most of the year it’s usually ten-and-a-half-hour shifts, though during peak it’s longer than that — people from the outside tend to look at that as if it’s egregious. But a lot of the people that I talked to actually liked the ten-and-a-half-hour shift because that meant they only had to work four days a week, which made child care a lot easier.

Anyway, be nice to those people! They are real. They probably are not being exactly honest, but it’s not like a PR bot or something. They are real Amazon workers who work in fulfillment centers. They are on the clock when they’re doing it. There are better fights to pick out there.

How have your co-workers reacted to the book since it came out? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Books, Business, Daily life

Jeff Bezos Mocks France

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Matt Stoller writes in Big:

Those of you who have read BIG for awhile know that I pay a lot of attention to foreign enforcers. I wrote up how the Russians are actually effective at protecting competition in search, whereas the EU is not. I’m also intrigued by Rod Sims in Australia, who is likely to take significant action.

My favorite enforcer in Europe is the German head of their cartel office, Andreas Mundt. Mundt has been the most aggressive antitrust enforcer in the world when it comes to Facebook. In February, his office attacked the core of its targeted advertising program, ruling “that the company stop automatically sharing data among the services it owns, like Instagram and WhatsApp, or websites that use its “like” and “share” buttons.”

This ruling wasn’t just about privacy. Data is a key input in advertising, so preventing Facebook from using data to undermine its competitors who sell advertising would have a big impact on the market. Mundt is also a fighter. A German court just ruledagainst Mundt using the rationale that Facebook’s collection of data isn’t a competition problem. And Mundt is appealing.

Mundt, however, is on the leading edge of enforcement. Many European officials are, like center-left Americans in the antitrust bar, still libertarian-leaning, though sort of embarrassed about it. The most recent example of European unwilling to confront power happened last month when the French decided to impose a tax on big techinstead of restructuring market power directly. The tax applies to companies with revenue of higher than 750 million euros and 25 million euros in France.

So what did Jeff Bezos do? His response is almost comical.

Virginie Lemaire recently opened her email to an unsettling message from Amazon: fees for sellers like her in France will be increasing by 3%.

Lemaire, a single mother of two, started her jewelry company Perle d’un jour in 2011. Trained as an artisan jeweler, she makes handmade custom pieces like necklaces, bracelets and rings.

The French small business owner started selling her products on Amazon two years ago and now generates one-fifth of her sales from the e-commerce giant’s marketplace.

So it was an unwelcome surprise when she found out Amazon would be raising seller fees for her and thousands of other small and medium-sized French businesses starting in October. The reason the company cited was simple: a 3% digital tax passed by the French government in July.

Yup, Amazon just passed the tax along to French businesses. That’s monopoly power, baby. Bezos can simply impose private taxes, pretty much at willThe idea of taxing monopolies, instead of breaking them up, is coming from those who like centralized power but are uncomfortable with American control of it.

Another example of this philosophy is the just leaked documents of plans to create a $100 billion European sovereign wealth fund to build European competitors to American and Chinese big tech.

The officials identify Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft, Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent among the companies Europe needs to rival. “Europe has no such companies,” their document notes.

Europeans are embarrassed they don’t have large tech companies, instead of recognizing the leverage this gives them. Financing competitors to monopolists isn’t likely to work, and it will also violate trade commitments. And conceptually it’s problematic because it mis-frames the problem as Europeans not being innovative enough to compete. But Europeans are just as innovative as anyone else. The problem is that European markets, like markets dominated everyone by big tech, are monopolized by centralized institutions.

This philosophy also misframes leverage. Europe is not some weak set of feckless states who must bow before Google or Amazon. These are countries with sovereign power, and Amazon and Google need European markets a hell of a lot more than these countries need Amazon and Google. Europe should just break these guys up, as Mundt is effectively doing with Facebook.

The reason these officials do not want to break up big tech monopolies is that they don’t fear concentrated power, they just believe that only European leaders should be able to concentrate it. Similarly, some on the left in the U.S. just do not care that Google and Facebook have monopolized advertising, thinking as they do that advertising is a dirty business. They prefer publicly financed media, a sort of ‘we like centralized power but the people in charge have to be nice people.’ This preference for centralized power goes all the way back to Teddy Roosevelt and the New Nationalists, so the debate isn’t new.

Jeff Bezos’s almost casual ability to ward off France’s digital tax shows, however, that the philosophy of ‘concentrate power but in nice peoples’ hands’ is conceptually flawed. The only way to deal with big tech is by going at their monopoly power directly. Doing so will requires more enforcers within the European regulatory apparatus adopting Mundit’s creativity and aggressiveness, and more importantly, his philosophy that concentrations of private power are intrinsically a threat to liberty.

One of the key officials who has to change her mind is Margareth Vestager, the head of the European Competition Authority (though for how much longer it’s not clear). Vestager is somewhat assertive and gets big fines from Google, but on a conceptual level she basically accepts the thinking of big tech lobbyists. This attitude came out when she was asked about Elizabeth Warren’s plan to break up big tech. She said she opposes it, and explained why. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 10:11 am

A well-prepared brush and another Yaqi razor

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This 24mm Yaqi badger brush has a fairly dense but still soft knot, and yesterday I made three lathers with it: loading the brush, working up a lather in my palm, rinsing the brush completely, and then repeating that twice more. Today, there was not the slightest sign of a lather fade during the course of the shave, so I would say the brush is now fully broken in.

Stubble Trubble’s Up & Adam is a favorite, and I’m sorry the soap is no onger made. It has a wonderful fragrance and makes a fine lather, and this Yaqi razor, an Edwin Jagger clone, did a very nice job indeed.

A rinse, dry, and splash of Phoenix Artisan’s Spring-Heeled Jack, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 August 2019 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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