Wise words from ‘the poet of the service economy’

Variations of Labor
Stories & Poems
Alex Gallo-Brown
Chin Music Press

On Twitter, Seattle poet Alex Gallo-Brown (@AlextheGB) modestly calls himself simply a “writer and labor organizer.” But he’s more than that. He has been hailed as “the poet of the service economy” by Valerie Trueblood, a contributing editor to The American Poetry Review. And Washington State Poet Laureate Caudia Castro Luna has declared that “Alex Gallo-Brown’s first collection…reminds us of the myriad ways, beyond physical exertion, that work happens in our daily lives.”

Mike Elk, founder and senior labor reporter at PayDay Report, adds that he is “a big fan of Alex Gallo-Brown’s ‘Variations on Labor.’ It’s a mix of poetry, prose, and critical analysis. Really unique as far as labor books go.”

Indeed, it is a unique book, with stories, poems, critical analysis, and illustrations (by Seattle visual artist Devon Midori Hale) that seem startingly timed to speak to the loss, confusion, and desperation now felt by untold millions of people thrown out of work by the coronavirus pandemic.

Gallo-Brown also offers words that speak to the disruption and uncertainty felt by those laboring for free to take care of their children, meals, household cleaning, or aging or disable relatives. Even the efforts required to grow into adulthood or to mourn the loss of a loved one are among the many “variations” of labor in our world, he contends.

Some of the titles within the book are almost short poems in themselves, especially when contemplated against a backdrop of the Great Depression-level unemployment that’s still rising: “He Was a Worker”; “The Job at the Technology Company Cafe”; “Relief”; “The Union Organizer”; “In the Trader Joe’s Parking Lot.”

The opening stanza to one poem, “Before Charlottesville,” contains prescient words applicable to the unsettled way many of us might feel right now:

Days pass and the self
grows louder than before,
slumps, sinks, rises
again like a dog
irritated by an instinct
something has gone wrong.

Just three years ago, according to The Atlantic, “the services sector—a broad category of the economy that now includes financial services, media, transportation and technology—accounted for 67 percent of GDP in the United States.”

Today, only the consortiums of gods know exactly where America’s Gross Domestic Product currently stands. The service sector itself is in deep excrement, and much of its gains and positions likely have been flushed down the economic drain. The biggest question now likely is not “Will there be wage gains?” It’s “Will there be wages again–and when?”

Those who previously worked, or still work, in America’s and the world’s service sectors now need all of the voices they can gather on their side: economists, politicians, diplomats, social scientists, philanthropists–the list is long and grows distressingly longer with each job lost in the pandemic crisis.

To help add one more essential voice to the panel of experts lofting prayers and recommendations for recovery, I hereby second the nomination of Alex Gallo-Brown to be “Poet of the Service Economy.”

Si Dunn

Other Books to Consider

If you like humor with a heart and a message, check out The Big Finish by Brooke Fossey. I reviewed it here in April, 2020: https://www.lonestarliterary.com/content/lone-star-review-big-finish

The tones and the messages are much different in Sutherland Springs: God, Guns, and Hope in a Texas Town. This is an eye-opening, investigative look into the causes, effects, and aftermaths of one of America’s most devastating mass shootings. I reviewed Pulitizer Prize-nominee Joe Holley’s excellent book in a March, 2020, issue of Lone Star Literary Life.

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Si Dunn is a novelist, nonfiction author, poet, photojournalist, screenwriter, and book reviewer in Austin, Texas. His books include Dark SignalsJumpand Erwin’s LawSee also his credits in the Internet Movie Database.

Worst of Times, Best of Times

Staying Sane & Entertained While Forced to Hide from the Coronavirus

Charles Dickens likely did not have a deadly global pandemic in mind when he wrote the “best of times, worst of times” opening for his novel, A Tale of Two Cities. He was contrasting life in profitable, peaceful London with grim life in revolution-torn Paris at the end of the 18th century.

With most Americans now being told to stay away from their jobs and remain sheltered for weeks in their homes or apartments, people are coming face-to-face with a harsh reality: How do we keep ourselves sane and entertained while contained within four walls almost around the clock?

What follows are short reports from five people in different parts of the United States. They describe how they have responded thus far to being confined to quarters. They have not complained of feeling like people under house arrest or like space passengers practicing for a long, mundane cruise to Mars.

For some, at least, the pandemic response has been a time for reflection and reinvention, as well as frequently seeking and needing entertainment.

“Shadow Horse” – Photo by Si Dunn, sidunn@sagecreekproductions.com

Erin J., a Boston college student, is still recovering from coronoavirus-like symptoms. She has been staying in a small living space for several weeks since her university closed and put its classes online.

“Well, I wasn’t tested for it, but I can say that the first week I slept for 16 hours a day and didn’t care much for entertainment. I’d put on anything to have noise. The second week was a little better, but I still slept most of the day and night but had midterm exams to prepare for. Took me four days to write a paragraph. I started consuming more media as a means to stay distracted and try to figure out what was going on. I found movies that were like comfort food and almost played them on loop. By about the end of the second week I started feeling human [again] and was more interested in doing schoolwork, and became more aware that I was stuck inside.

“I’ve stayed entertained by trying to find comfort in media that reminds me of the world I knew.”

***

Terry P., a writer and entertainer in Long Island, N.Y., has chosen a positive and pragmatic approach to coping with the current economic and health disaster:

“Planted a bunch of seeds and ordered a compost bin, planning a vegetable garden. Also taking piano lessons and writing a book for self-employed entertainers about how to kick start their businesses when this all ends. And watching Netflix, of course.”

***

Linda B. is a PRN (pro re nata – “as the situation demands”) worker in Austin, Texas, who currently is not doing much work, but filling time with many other activities.

“Slowly reading a serious book, What the Eyes Don’t See, about the Flint water crisis, by the pediatrician and activist who didn’t stop until the story was told and changes made. Making bread for my neighbors. Cooking new recipes. Using FaceTime, learning Zoom and What’sApp to see and talk to people I love. Staying up-to-date on happenings for my work which doesn’t need an ‘as needed’ PRN employee right now. Walking with another neighbor or [doing] something for exercise most days. Learning what it feels like to see the world “non-24″ by going to bed when I feel like it and staying there 7-8 hours no matter what hour that is. Today, 6 am – 3 pm. Recording the local news in case I’m doing something more fulfilling at the time; then watching without ads. Doing the same with movies and documentaries so that when I choose to watch TV, I can see interesting things or delete it. Learning after three weeks that I can live without touch for today. I may crack tomorrow, but for today, I’m at peace working on the ‘Mindboggler 1000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Carpathian Mountains’ I picked up on a whim at Half Price Books months ago.”

***

Musician and retired teacher Pamela F. lives in a small-ish town north of Austin, Texas, and avoids boredom by staying active on several fronts:

“Walking twice a day. Sometimes walking with the seven-year-old son of my next-door, single-parent neighbor. Trying to learn Zoom. Writing music. Using FaceTime and Facebook Messenger to see friends and relatives. Eating, and then eating some more. Small projects like cleaning out a drawer or a closet. Napping. Continuing my physical therapy regimen. Playing piano and accordion. Keeping up with friends on Facebook. Reading. Quiet time.”

***

Joe S., a Dallas-area journalist, is taking a more focused approach to using his sheltering-at-home time:

“Reading The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson.”

That’s a 547-page work of history subtitled “A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz.” Sounds appropriate and inspiring for coping with current times.

***

Catherine B., an Austin, Texas, university librarian (her school has gone to online classes) also is focusing on a central task, but is taking breaks to pursue other, more entertaining activities:

“I have been reading manuals and a glossary for a new integrated library system, the thing behind the scene that runs the online catalog. In my free time, I am sewing quilt blocks. I got excited when I found the perfect elastic for making masks. [And] Tom and I watched ‘Downton Abbey,’ the series and the movie, on DVD. We started that in early March before the social distancing. I have also made 20-second videos of rain and birds singing.”

***

Many things can be done while stuck indoors, including taking online classes, watching yoga or tai chi how-to videos, reading books previously ignored on your bookshelves, starting a home-based business, baking bread, or taking up new or lapsed hobbies. The possibilities are vast, and the time to get started currently is abundant.

Thanks for reading this effort to make creative use of some of my own inside time. And please feel free to add comments. Something posted here may someday end up in somebody’s sociology book, history book, graduate thesis, movie, or novel about these treacherous times. Who knows?

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Si Dunn is an Austin, Texas, novelist, screenwriter, book reviewer, and journalist. His books include Dark Signals, Jump, and Erwin’s Law.

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York – #bookreview

The Mob and the City: The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

 

The Mob and the City

The Hidden History of How the Mafia Captured New York

C. Alexander Hortis

(Prometheus Books, Kindle, hardcover)

 

Forget The Godfather, its sequels and numerous other, famous “Mafia” movies. This excellent book cuts straight through the hype, fictions, and glamorizations to tell “the hidden history of how the street soldiers”–not the godfathers–“of the modern Mafia captured New York City during the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.” And its author convincingly argues that “the key formative decade for the Mafia was actually the 1930s”–not “the Prohibition era of the 1920s” as numerous books and movies have had us believe. During the Great Depression-ravaged Thirties, the Sicilian mafiosi , the Cosa Nostra (“Our Thing”), rose to become New York’s top crime syndicate, with thousands of foot soldiers and associates eventually “entrenched throughout the economy, neighborhoods, and nightlife of New York.”

The Mob and the City is well-written and superbly researched. C. Alexander Hortis has dug deeply into available resources but also uncovered important new data sources, including previously secret files obtained via the Freedom of Information Act. Hortis presents a convincing case that there was (1) never really a “golden age of gangsters” in New York and (2) definitely not much honor among thieves. “The wiseguys,” he writes, “broke every one of their ‘rules,’ trafficked drugs almost from the beginning, became government informers, betrayed each other, lied, and cheated.” Hortis’s story of how New York City’s booming economy also offered the major crime syndicates “an embarrassment of riches” to exploit and plunder is fascinating and eye-opening reading.

Si Dunn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Connected Company – Restructure now or die in today’s hyperconnected economy – #bookreview

The Connected Company
Dave Gray, with Thomas Vander Wal
(O’Reilly,
hardbackKindle)

If you buy only one business management book this year, make it this one. It’s that good, and definitely timely.

Whether your organization chart stretches across continents or consists of just you, your smart phone and your computer, you can learn important insights and paths for new action from Dave Gray’s and Thomas Vander Wal’s well-written book.

“Competitive intensity is rising all over the world,” they emphasize. “Global competition and the Web have given customers more choices than they have ever had before. This means that customers can choose from an ever-widening set of choices, and it seems that variety only breeds more variety. The more choices that become available, the more choices it seems that people want.”

At the same time, like it or not: “The balance of power is shifting from companies to the networks that surround them. Connected, communicating customers and employees have more choices, and more amplified voices, than ever before. They have more knowledge than ever before. These trends are only increasing with time. This means the network—customers, partners, and employees—will increasingly set the agenda, determine the parameters, and make the decisions about how they interact with companies.”

And: “By changing the way we create, access, and share information, social networks are changing the power structure in society.”

Today, one negative tweet, blog post, or video that goes viral can wreak havoc within a company (or political campaign), disrupt careers, damage or destroy expensive advertising campaigns, and turn potential and existing customers away in droves.

In an economy increasingly service-driven, your factory-model training and mentality is now completely obsolete. You must be connected, you must stay engaged with customers and the rest of the world, and you must be able to respond to rumors and actual bad news as quickly and completely as you respond to orders from your best customers.

The Connected Company is organized into five parts that clearly spell out the problems and the achievable solutions.

  • Part One: Why change? – “Customers are adopting disruptive technologies faster than companies can adapt.” And: “Customers are connecting, forming networked communities that allow them to rapidly share information and self-organize into powerful interest groups.” To survive, you have to be more responsive to what they need and increasingly have the power to demand.
  • Part Two: What is a connected company? – “To adapt companies must operate not as machines but as learning organisms, purposefully interacting with their environment and continuously improving, based on experiments and feedback.”
    Part Three: How does a connected company work? – “A connected company learns and adapts by distributing control to the points of interaction with customers, where semi-autonomous pods pursue a common purpose supported by platforms that help them organize and coordinate their activities.”
  • Part Four: How do you lead a connected company? – “Connected companies are living, learning networks that live within larger networks. Power in networks comes from awareness and influence, not control. Leaders must create an environment of clarity, trust, and shared purpose, while management focuses on designing and tuning the system that supports learning and performance.”
  • Part Five: How do you get there from here? – “Connected companies today are the exception, not the rule. But as long as the environment is characterized by change and uncertainty, connected companies will have the advantage. There are four ways your company can start that journey today….”

The traditional hierarchy model of business structure still works when your markets remain stable. But when is the last time, lately, that that actually has happened? Companies divided into functions increasingly go awry in times of uncertainty, because those individual departments cannot adapt, change, and respond quickly enough. In the world of The Connected Company, “companies must organize differently. They must reorganize from hierarchies into holarchies, where every part can function as a whole unto itself.”

Gray and Vander Wal stress: “A connected company is flexible and resilient, able to adapt quickly to change. The path from divided to connected company is not simple or easy. But in an increasingly volatile world, it is also not optional.”

Fortunately, their book lays out some clear strategies and procedures, as well as imperatives,  for getting there.

Si Dunn

The Art of Community, 2nd Edition – Creating online success in the social economy – #bookreview

The Art of Community: Building the New Age of Participation, 2nd Edition
Jono Bacon
(O’Reilly,
paperback, list price $39.99; Kindle edition, list price $34.99)

Whether you work for a large firm or operate a one-person shop built around an online presence, you should check out this newly updated guidebook on now to build, maintain and grow online communities.

Yes, it is a work focusing on organizational management — not exactly a topic that lights fires under reader excitement. Yet Bacon’s book is written smoothly and clearly, and it is rich with good ideas and good strategies that can help businesses, nonprofit organizations, and volunteer groups of virtually any size.

Creating an online community is not simply a matter of launching a website, sending out tweets and links, and then hoping and praying a few people will show up, hang out, participate, and occasionally buy something.

There are, Bacon says, effective planning strategies that can help you successfully enter, staying in, and succeed in the social economy. And, once you are there, it is vital to keep attracting new contributors.

“When your community kicks off, you’ll be way ahead if you can get down on paper its primary purpose goals,” he writes. Prior to launch, you need to clearly define its aims and its mission, the opportunities and areas of collaboration it can offer, and what skills will be needed in the community, he says.

These planning strategies can be effective, he adds, whether you want to build and maintain an online community for marketing products or services, or supporting a cause, or even developing open source software. (Bacon, an open source veteran, favors “fixed release cycles versus the release-when ready approach,” for several solid reasons important to a community built around an open-source product.)

A key lesson in his book is making sure that you create and maintain a sense of belonging in your online community. “If there is no belonging, there is no community,” Bacon emphasizes.

This book’s first edition in 2009 drew a good response from readers, and Bacon has both updated his text and brought in new materials for the second edition.

Three new chapters cover: (1) the major social media networks; (2) measuring community so you can track “the work your community or team commits to” and keep the work on track”; and (3) case studies “to help you develop your skills as a community manager.”

In a solo business, you are your community manager, as well as the proverbial chief cook and bottle washer. You create your products or services, you market them to the world, you fulfill orders or deliver services, and you also try to build, support and grow a community of followers, some of whom buy from you and others of whom help keep you inspired, grounded or focused.

In a larger business, however, your job title and sole focus may be “community manager.” The author, for example, is the community manager for the worldwide Ubuntu community. “Community management” is now a hot topic in the corporate world, and debates continue, Bacon says, on whether it is a marketing or engineering responsibility. “I firmly believe,” he emphasizes, “that community management is a tale with both marketing and engineering story lines flowing through it. If one is missing, community can feel unbalanced, misrepresented and ineffective.”

Even though your focus will be the online world, do not plan to base your whole community-building strategy around social media, Bacon warns. Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and others are, in his view, “just tools. There are many useful tools in the world that have become new and disruptive to our behavior, but few have been immersed in the sheer amount of hype, nonsensical ramblings, and just pure, unfiltered, salty bull that social media has.”

Some of the other tools to consider, he says, include discussion forums, email lists, IRC networks, and collaborative events such as online meetings and physical events where members gather, meet and interact in person.

The goal here, of course, is to maintain good communication, “the foundation of how your members work together, share goals and ambitions, and build social relationships with one another…[w]hen your members feel like they are disconnected from the community, they lose their sense of value,” he points out.

Jono Bacon’s 539-page book can show you how to create and grow an online community into a rich source of new ideas, a reliable support network, and a strong and wide-reaching marketing force, whether you are selling something, promoting a cause, or developing and maintaining open-source software.

Si Dunn

Mitt Romney, Secret Keynesian? Read Paul Krugman’s ‘End This Depression Now!’ – #bookreview #in #economics #politics

End This Depression Now!
Paul Krugman
(Norton, hardback, list price $24.95; Kindle edition, list price $24.95)

If you’d like to watch some ultra-right conservatives break out in hives, do a St. Vitus Dance or just spontaneously combust, ask them to read End This Depression Now! by Paul Krugman.

Most of them won’t read it, of course. They will cast it aside or maybe even set it on fire. Their hearts and minds are firmly set in ideology and rhetoric concrete. No matter what Krugman says or writes, they will remain firmly convinced he is a spawn of the Devil or, at the very least, some kind of Communist-Socialist-Liberal-Radical Raider of the Lost Tax Cut.

Actually, Paul Krugman is one of America’s smartest economic smart guys, and he has some very good ideas about how to help America pick itself up–and stay standing–after getting knocked down, hard, and robbed of its wallet by the Great Recession and depression that followed.

I am an unabashed fan of Krugman, winner of a well-deserved Nobel Prize in economics. He makes clear and steady good sense in his New York Times columns, and he makes damned good sense throughout his new book.

“In the Great Depression,” he writes, “leaders had an excuse: nobody really understood what was happening or how to fix it. Today’s leaders don’t have that excuse. We have both the knowledge and the tools to end this suffering.”

We do, indeed, as he demonstrates convincingly in his book. But we also have seemingly intractable political polarization at the very time when our leaders should be gathered in the middle, rapidly hammering out compromises, and actually doing something to help the nation, not just their financial backers and parties.

Krugman lays out many solid strategies, most of them built around growth, not European-style fiscal austerity, particularly in a time of lingering high unemployment, stagnant or falling wages, and tepid consumer spending. And he looks toward the November election with at least a token effort to appear independent and bipartisan. He has, in fact, strongly criticized economic mistakes made by both sides.

If Obama wins, Krugman writes, “obviously it makes it easiest to imagine America doing what it takes to restore full employment. In effect, the Obama administration would get an opportunity at a do-over, taking strong steps it failed to take in 2009. Since Obama is unlikely to have a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, taking these strong steps would require making use of reconciliation, the procedure that Democrats used to pass health care reform and that Bush used to pass both of his tax cuts. So be it. If nervous advisors warn about the political fallout, Obama should remember the hard-learned lesson of his first term: the best economic strategy from a political point of view is the one that delivers tangible progress.”

On the other hand: “A Romney victory would naturally create a very different situation; if Romney adhered to Republican orthodoxy, he would of course reject any action along the lines I’ve advocated.”

But that’s not all. In Krugman’s view: “It’s not clear, however, whether Romney believes any of the things he is currently saying. His two chief economic advisors, Harvard’s N. Gregory Mankiw and Columbia’s Glenn Hubbard, are committed Republicans but also quite Keynesian in their views about macroeconomics. Indeed, early in the crisis, Mankiw argued for a sharp rise in the Fed’s inflation target, a proposal that was and is anathema to most of his party. His proposal caused the predictable uproar, and he went silent on the issue. But we can at least hope Romney’s inner circle holds views that are much more realistic than anything the candidate says in his speeches, and that once in office he would rip off his mask, revealing his true pragmatic/Keynesian nature.”

To which Krugman adds: “I know, I know, hoping that a politician is in fact a complete fraud who doesn’t believe any of the things he claims to believe is no way to run a great nation. And it’s certainly not reason to vote for that politician!”

The upcoming election is still just a distracting sideshow to what America needs now. We need jobs, spending, revenue, investments in education, and re-training for the long-term unemployed. And, yes, we need for a lot of Krugman-style clear-thinking and common sense to miraculously infect the brains of our economic and political leaders.

Get, read, and heed this book.

Si Dunn