The problem with human resources.

Human Resources. On page 289 of the hardcopy of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, I tripped across the following description of Russian life in 1938 in a footnote:

“*Stripped of their names and family ties, of their professions and possessions, herded together in hunger and hardship, the residents of the Gulag — the zeks — became indistinguishable from one another.  That, of course, was part of the point. Not content with the toll exacted by means of incarceration and forced labor in inhospitable climes, the supreme authorities sought to efface the Enemies of the People.

But an unanticipated consequence of this strategy was the creation of a new polis. Having been stripped of their identities … would move in perfect unison, sharing in their privations as well as their will to persist. Henceforth, they would know each other whenever and wherever they met. They would make room for each other under their roofs and at their tables, addressing each other as brother and sister and friend; but never, ever, under any circumstance, as comrade.” 

Aha! There it is. Comrade. Stripped of their identities, reduced to comrade.

In a past life as a Project Manager, I wondered why I railed at referring to individuals — people, co-workers, employees — as “resources.” How many “resources” does it take to get a project done? Individuals with work habits and knowledge ranging from novice to master or expert stripped of their identities. Reduced to a number expressed in units of FTEs. Full-time equivalent or full-time employee. How many?

Remember Einstein’s observation? “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”  

Employees reduced to ‘resources’ are a numbers game, commodities, objects. One can be swapped for another. Widgets. They can be counted but they no longer count.

And see also, Orwell: “All pigs are not created equal.

Be kind to one another.


Footnote:

A Gentleman in Moscow is an engaging and delightful read! The first half moves a little slow but by novels’ end, it feels like flying down a hill on a bicycle with no helmet and no brakes.

As I read, I folded the corners of so many pages that my book almost looks like a Reader’s Digest Christmas tree.  Folded pages on top of folded pages … oh well. Mr. Towles is very quotable. Page 68:

“Here, indeed was a formidable sentence — one that was on intimate terms with the comma, and that held the period in healthy disregard.”

Sounds like a description of the type of sentence Viva aspires to write.

A Gentleman in Moscow

– Viva’s hardcopy of A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Year-end Rumination: Pale Blue Dot

Years end and what a year this was!


This will be my most political year-end statement because it kicked off my 2017.

In the late ’80’s, a brilliant classmate from China mentioned that the Chinese cultural revolution had been horrible, bad — her parents were educators. Her mother was still living in China. Her father had died during the revolution. I stayed away from asking much. I was afraid I would learn too much about the horror she had lived through.

As the U.S. leans toward further divisions — economic, education,  generations — a cultural and/or political revolution seems imminent, so I started the year reading Mao’s Last Revolution. It is a hefty, heady tome and you will not be surprised that at years end, I haven’t finished yet. But let’s not focus on that, no. The authors — Roderick Macfarquhar and Michael Schoenhals — deserve bigly kudos for documentation of a closed communist culture in which conformance to party ideals and pledged loyalty to individuals in the political structure is a shifty business. Deception, intrigue, danger. It’s all there.

Struggle early in the revolution, early in what I’ve read.

And so at year’s end, we continue to struggle a more perfect union and I will continue to struggle Mao’s Last to the finish.


Sub-zero temperatures from my bleacher seat here in the Midwest of the U.S., so the following was a nice confluence of different points of view this year:

After the Alabama election of Doug Jones to the U.S. Senate to sit Sessions seat, Dulce Sloan on the The Daily Show with Trevor Noah said, “Or at the very least cancel winter. You know only white people like snow.”

But! but! This video of black Louisianan Da’Quan Bellard dancing in the snow made me smile, made me scream ‘put on a jacket! put on a coat!’, and made me shake my head.

And most remarkable to me, he sings along to Vanessa Carlton’s ‘A Thousand Miles‘ like Frood did back in the day. Whoa!

And Frood’s in Hawaii for the New Years holiday, and I’m sitting here frozen. SMDH.


My New Year’s Resolution? I’m going to reclaim my time too.

And I hope at the end of 2018 I can report back on what reclaiming my time means in my world.

Focus isn’t a word that figures prominently in my vocabulary. That might be a start.


Maria Popova: In Praise of the Telescopic Perspective: A Reflection on Living Through Turbulent Times, reminds us that we have puny little sorrows when viewed from the universe across space and time. I recommend. It’s a good read.

And she nods at Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot.

Approximately 4550 days after leaving the earth, the Voyager space probe turned it’s cameras to photograph the earth from a distance of about 3.7 billion miles from the Voyager. God bless Carl Sagan! He convinced NASA to take the picture because it puts the earth in a context with its place in the universe.  Scientific value? Null. Nada. Zip.

“Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity – in all this vastness – there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves. It is up to us. It’s been said that astronomy is a humbling, and I might add a character-building experience. To my mind, there is perhaps a no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly and compassionately with one another and to preserve and cherish that pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”

(my bold)

Progress on this pale blue dot is small, baby steps. A struggle.

But the progress of this small pale blue dot in our puny little solar system, now we’re talkin’ and I love this reflection from a Vonnegut work of sci-fi:

“Every passing hour brings the Solar System forty-three thousand miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules — and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress.”

― Kurt Vonnegut Jr.The Sirens of Titan


Here’s a picture of matcha tea making rings around a cup during an afternoon of conversation. It reflects the contemplative nature of afternoon tea and like crop circles so does conversation. Circle. Contemplation. Circle. Conversation. Circle, the noun, and circle, the verb.

Hardly comparable to the Grand Canyon. Yet somehow a puny little afternoon becomes, Grand. Capital ‘G’.

And very 2017 in it’s Pantone Greenery 15-0343.

Matcha

 

Note to self, fast now: Drink 2017 Pantone Greenery 15-0343 matcha; wear 2018 Pantone Ultra Violet 18-3838.


On the death of two souls I hold dear during December, with deep love and gratitude, I say:

Thank you, Richard.

Thank you, Joan.

And as needed, comfort dropped in yesterday in the form of an exclusive from Longreads:  This is How You Say Goodbye, Lillian Slugocki.


And thank you, dear readers!

Stay safe. Stay warm. And Happy New Year!

George Orwell on blogging.

For all of the references to George Orwell’s 1984 predicting the age of Newspeak, government control, war is peace, etc. the pundits forgot to remind us that Orwell captured the essence of blogging:

“It was curious that he seemed to not merely to have lost the power of expressing himself, but even to have forgotten what it was that he had originally intended to say.”

And here we are off on Vivacation! A place of peace at last for a bit of solitude and reflection with the exception of jack-hammering away a concrete pier, the coming and going of trucks taking loads of busted stuff off to where or away, the high-pitched hum of a mosquito landing strip close by …

Aside from all of these things, setting all these things aside …

We set off to make a point …

Which was …

Something something … Orwell …

Ah yes! Blogging and the power of words. Isn’t it wonderful that 33 years past the actual year of 1984, I am reading or rereading, I don’t recall — the plot, the characters, the words seem so familiar and yet so new —  the book 1984?  And that the power of words published in 1949 reach through time and capture this blogger’s lament? Timeless.

The struggle is real.

Hillbilly Elegy and Born Rich. The hopeless.

tl;dr? Hillbilly Elegy, read it; Born Rich, watch it. One documents hopelessness; the other documents no need for hope.

Come to your own conclusions. These are mine.


Hillbilly Elegy, a memoir by J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy is a memoir of growing up in poverty in the hill country of Kentucky:Ohio.  J.D. Vance escapes to a different way of life via military service and a college education and I was surprised to hear me stating my visceral dislike of Mr. Vance during a book discussion. What? Viva how can you be such a harsh judge of someone with such hard experiences in his youth?

So I went home and pondered.  Somewhere in the story of his childhood, a devastating personal story morphed into an anecdotal solution to hillbilly ills. From his observations and experience, he escaped through his own will, intelligence, stamina, desire. Hand me my cape, I’m outta here.  Government and government policies be damned. As his story grew up and and he grew away, I didn’t like him very much and did not agree with his conclusions.

Vance has written a personally prescriptive anecdote suitable to him that would make for horrible systemic policy. Everyone in his born demographic — is hillbilly even a demographic? — would need to be as smart and as driven as he is.  And to be clear, his accomplishments, his drive, his ability to put off immediate gratification for future sustaining rewards is admirable. Yes, he is a role model.

But we might not be looking for a role model. We might not be heroic. We are not all gifted with Vance’s level of intelligence, drive, stamina.  We might want our own path.  His way out could be fraught with as much failure as what we’re leaving. We might be looking for a highway that many could use to get away.

And highways are infrastructure, they aren’t personal.

So while I applaud Hillbilly Elegy and J.D. Vance’s eventual escape¹ through force of will and personality, his memoir shines in his reporting of lives lived without hope — poverty, hunger, unemployment, drugs, families broken.  (See also Glass Castle, Jeannette Wells.)

By way of compare and contrast, I watched the documentary Born Rich shortly after finishing Hillbilly Elegy.  Born Rich is a film documentary by Jamie Johnson (heir, Johnson & Johnson).

First off, I commend Jamie Johnson for  interviewing those in his demographic – lucky sperms, affluent eggs — and constructing a complete documentary, AND releasing it publicly. The über-wealthy keep a very low public profile² and Mr. Johnson stepped outside that shadow and over the line and we are all the more enlightened for it.

Although I felt like some kind of Rick Moraniss-looking-through-the restaurant-window-in-the-movie-Ghost-Busters-type of voyeur, I watched the whole thing.  And I discovered that the children of wealth have no need for hope³.

They have no want.

They have no need that can’t be bought.

No project that can’t be funded.

Hope is not in their lexicon. They have no use for it.

And so my hopeless conclusion? One group has no hope because they aren’t going anywhere.  One group has no hope because they can go anywhere. At opposite ends of the economic spectrum, both groups are hopeless.  And Viva has a low hmmm.


Footnotes:

¹March 16, 2017 – J.D. Vance is moving home to help combat the opioid epidemic. And to that we say “Bravo!”.  Mr. Vance is young and Viva looks forward to reading his reporting on new experiences and a life lived not in pursuit of escape, but in pursuit of improving lives around him.

²Exception: Trump. Go figure.

³A publishing heir mentioned that he hoped not to be cut off from the cash flow for wearing the wrong attire. I thought it was cute.