the Life and Times of Warrior Woman

blonde recluse. nihilarian pronk.

Posts Tagged ‘sociology

words and the internet.

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Have you got any internet-related words that you dislike or can’t seem to take seriously?  I sure as hell do, so here are some of them.

Webinar.  OK, so I understand that this is the internet.  And that the internet is the web.  And that sometimes there are seminars conducted over the web, so it’s absolutely logical to call such a thing a webinar.  This still doesn’t make this word any better.

Webisode.  See above.

To make a blog, to write a blog, wherein ‘blog’ means a singular post.  I can’t quite figure out why I dislike this so much, because I see nothing wrong with the expression ‘I blogged about it’.  But a sentence like, ‘I wrote a blog about buckwheat once’, makes me think of an epic niche venture discussing all the brilliant varieties of buckwheat and its preparation.

Pinteresting.  I’ve only seen it used once or twice.  Thank you, God.

And this is not exactly ‘internet words’, just a small rant about… about our general shift of perspective, I guess.  Remember those good old days when a phone was just a phone, and a computer was just a computer?  Now – and it’s especially apparent in Mac users – it’s an iPhone, or a Mac, or a MacBook pro or whatever it is that they’re all called.  You’ve not just dropped your phone, you dropped your BlackBerry, and it’s not a tablet you’re clutching, it’s an iPad.

Admittedly, I do this too.  I acquired a Kindle recently, and more often than not I refer to it as a Kindle, and not as an e-reader.  Mostly because an e-reader is yet another one of those words that annoy me slightly.  I suppose that’s because a reader is a word that’s in most instances used for a person who reads, with exception of school programme texts for a specific level or occasional anthologies.

But I wonder what it says about us as a culture or a society in general.  What seems like forever ago, we defined ourselves by being affiliated to a particular political party.  Even earlier it was belief or maybe a doctrine, secular or religious.  Then it was lifestyle, subculture.  And nowadays we’ve reduced ourselves to brands.  That’s the only loyalty we acknowledge, because everything else is not politically correct.  That’s the only affiliation we admit to, because everything else makes us feel insecure.

This was supposed to be a silly post on some silly made-up words.  It’s still a silly post, but writing it made me sad all of a sudden.

I just hope we won’t wage wars in the name of Microsoft and Google.

(Obviously none of the brands mentioned are sponsoring me.)

Written by Alexandra

23 January 2013 at 12:11 am

just read: nickel and dimed.

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(General disclaimer: Even though I tag posts ‘book reviews’, I blatantly lie. I don’t write reviews, rather, I write long rambles or short notes on what the book made me think about. I’m not a critic and am usually very bad at outlining weak and strong points.  I’m also a bad reader, and unless the book is on a subject that currently interests me very deeply, I will have forgotten its contents in less than a month.)

“Or maybe it’s low-wage work in general that has the effect of making you feel like a pariah. When I watch TV over my dinner at night, I see a world in which almost everyone makes $15 an hour or more, and I’m not just thinking of the anchor folks. The sitcoms and dramas are about fashion designers or schoolteachers or lawyers, so it’s easy for a fast- food worker or nurse’s aide to conclude that she is an anomaly- the only one, or almost the only one, who hasn’t been invited to the party. And in a sense she would be right: the poor have disappeared from the culture at large, from its political rhetoric and intellectual endeavors as well as from its daily entertainment. Even religion seems to have little to say about the plight of the poor, if that tent reviva l was a fair sample. The moneylenders have finally gotten Jesus out of the temple.”

Nickel and Dimed, On (not) Getting by in America is a much-praised book by Barbara Ehrenreich.  I’ve been meaning to read it for a few years, ever since I’ve first heard about it.  It’s fairly short – I thought it much longer – so I read it in a couple of sittings in the span of three days.

The book describes Ehrenreich’s adventure in the shoes of a blue-collar worker.  For two years she’s left her life as a journalist and a writer to live “undercover” as a minimum-wage serving personnel.  She’s done various jobs – from waitressing to housecleaning to sales to serving food in an Alzheimer’s ward – in different states.  The account is very interesting indeed, and I’ve picked up a lot of new information.  I never knew, for example, that bathroom breaks were only federally mandated in the USA in April 1998.  Reads a footnote:

Until April 1998, there was no federally mandated right to bathroom breaks. According to Marc Linder and Ingrid Nygaard, authors of Void Where Prohibited: Rest Breaks and the Right to Urinate on Company Time (Cornell University Press, 1997), "The right to rest and void at work is not high on the list of social or political causes supported by professional or executive employees, who enjoy personal workplace liberties that millions of factory workers can only dream about…. While we were dismayed to discover that workers lacked an acknowledged right to void at work, [the workers] were amazed by outsiders’ naïve belief that their employers would permit them to perform this basic bodily function when necessary. . . . A factory worker, not allowed a break for six-hour stretches, voided into pads worn inside her uniform; and a kindergarten teacher in a school without aides had to take all twenty children with her to the bathroom and line them up outside the stall door while she voided."

Furthermore, I was more or less aware of the situation with the homeless worldwide.  But it never occurred to me how big the percentage of homeless people was in the USA, which is (I grudgingly admit) a superpower.  Here’s an excerpt from the first chapter and a related footnote:

It’s not hard to get my coworkers talking about their living situations, because housing, in almost every case, is the principal source of disruption in their lives, the first thing they fill you in on when they arrive for their shifts. After a week, I have compiled the following survey:

Gail is sharing a room in a well-known downtown flophouse for $250 a week. Her roommate, a male friend, has begun hitting on her, driving her nuts, but the rent would be impossible alone.

Claude, the Haitian cook, is desperate to get out of the two-room apartment he shares with his girlfriend and two other, unrelated people. As far as I can determine, the other Haitian men live in similarly crowded situations.

Annette, a twenty- year-old server who is six months pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend, lives with her mother, a postal clerk.

Marianne, who is a breakfast server, and her boyfriend are paying $170 a week for a one-person trailer.

Billy, who at $10 an hour is the wealthiest of us, lives in the trailer he owns, paying only the $400-a- month lot fee.

The other white cook, Andy, lives on his dry-docked boat, which, as far as I can tell from his loving descriptions, can’t be more than twenty feet long. He offers to take me out on it once it’s repaired, but the offer comes with inquiries as to my marital status, so I do not follow up on it.

Tina, another server, and her husband are paying $60 a night for a room in the Days Inn. This is because they have no car and the Days Inn is in walking distance of the Hearthside. When Marianne is tossed out of her trailer for subletting (which is against trailer park rules), she leaves her boyfriend and moves in with Tina and her husband.

Joan, who had fooled me with her numerous and tasteful outfits (hostesses wear their own clothes), lives in a van parked behind a shopping center at night and showers in Tina’s motel room. The clothes are from thrift
shops. *

It strikes me, in my middle-class solipsism, that there is gross improvidence in some of these arrangements. When Gail and I are wrapping silverware in napkins – the only task for which we are permitted to sit – she tells me she is thinking of escaping from her roommate by moving into the Days Inn herself. I am astounded: how she can even think of paying $40 to $60 a day? But if I was afraid of sounding like a social worker, I have come out just sounding like a fool. She squints at me in disbelief: "And where am I supposed to get a month’s rent and a month’s deposit for an apartment?" I’d been feeling pretty smug about my $500 efficiency, but of course it was made possible only by the $1,300 I had allotted myself for start-up costs when I began my low-wage life: $1,000 for the first month’s rent and deposit, $100 for initial groceries and cash in my pocket, $200 stuffed away for emergencies. In poverty, as in certain propositions in physics, starting conditions are everything.

* I could find no statistics on the number of employed people living in cars or vans, but according to a 1997
report of the National Coalition for the Homeless, "Myths and Facts about Homelessness," nearly one-fifth
of all homeless people (in twenty-nine cities across the nation) are employed in full- or part-time jobs.

After all the years of reading up on the USA, talking to people online, and even visiting the country once, I still have trouble grasping the whole idea of a ‘trailer park’.  Perhaps the idea of ‘propiska’ (a stamp in a Citizen’s ID with an address of one’s official (as opposed to rented) place of living) is too much ingrained in my mind.  But a trailer is a mobile property and therefore cannot have a fixed address and therefore cannot be used as a propiska – ergo, a person living in a trailer is homeless.

The question of safety, especially women’s safety, is only mentioned in the book passingly, even though one can imagine that women, already a group at risk, are nowhere near safe sleeping in a truck.  In fact, this was the first thought that crossed my mind when I’ve read about one of the author’s coworkers ‘lodgings’.

Another thing that strikes me odd is urine drug testing.  Where I live (and this country is not a honey meadow) one only ever has to visit a substance abuse professional to get a driving license, and even then there’s no testing unless said SAP has any suspicions.

On the other hand, all servers, dishwashers, cooks, and salespeople (not to mention teachers, nannies, nurses, &c.) have to have a ‘medical book’.  A medical book is in essence a record of mandatory medical tests and visits.  If a job involves direct contact with people, one has to visit a dermatologist, gynecologist, and GP every three to six month (depends on the position), and have blood and urine tests and fluorography performed once a year.

And then there’s this odd discrepancy (and it’s mentioned later in the book) between being very nonchalant towards people hired to care for ill, aging, or differently abled, and the need to pee in a plastic cup before acquiring a sales-job in a chain store or pass a psychological evaluation to get a position as a maid.

The book, of course, doesn’t answer the question of how to live on a minimum wage in the States, or any other country for that matter.  It also doesn’t answer the question of what to do to escape the minimum wage jobs or help others escape them.  It wasn’t the book’s intention, I realise, but I can’t help but come out of reading with this bleak little feeling.  Wal-Mart still stands.  McDonald’s has opened its biggest restaurant in history this year.  Not-so-cheap motels with questionable living conditions abound, and no one has found the method of thriving on minimum wage, nor how to get out of it — all of these articles is arbitrary advice of praying (important and comforting), ‘starting small’ (not when there’s a car repair coming up and you’ve got one dollar to your name, no), downsizing and watching your lights (not very useful when you’re (borderline) homeless), having a grocery budget and thrift shopping.

All right, I made mistakes, especially in Minneapolis, and these mistakes were at the time an occasion for feelings of failure and shame. I should have pulled myself together and taken the better-paying job; I should have moved into the dormitory I finally found (although at $19 a night, even a dorm bed would have been a luxury on Wal-Mart wages). But it must be said in my defense that plenty of other people were making the same mistakes: working at Wal-Mart rather than at one of the better-paying jobs available (often, I assume, because of transportation problems); living in residential motels at $200 to $300 a week. So the problem goes beyond my personal failings and miscalculations. Something is wrong, very wrong, when a single person in good health, a person who in addition possesses a working car, can barely support herself by the sweat of her brow. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that wages are too low and rents too high.

The only economics class I ever took was back in 2001, and I wasn’t particularly interested, so I sat at the back and napped.  I kind of regret it now, though, because I still cannot understand why inflate prices until people are not able to pay for anything any longer.  Sure, the first to go are small businesses, but in the long run the stagnation will reach the infallible corporate monsters as well.  If, like the author states, one cannot afford a Walmart clearance shirt while working at Walmart…

There’s no punchline and no conclusion here. 

[..] I was warned that my purse could be searched by management at any time. I wasn’t carrying stolen salt shakers or anything else of a compromising nature, but still, there’s something about the prospect of a purse search that makes a woman feel a few buttons short of fully dressed. After work, I called around and found that this practice is entirely legal: if the purse is on the boss’s property – which of course it was – the boss has the right to examine its contents.

It is common, among the nonpoor, to think of poverty as a sustainable condition-austere, perhaps, but they get by somehow, don’t they? They are "always with us." What is harder for the nonpoor to see is poverty as acute distress: The lunch that consists of Doritos or hot dog rolls, leading to faintness before the end of the shift. The "home" that is also a car or a van. The illness or injury that must be "worked through," with gritted teeth, because there’s no sick pay or health insurance and the loss of one day’s pay will mean no groceries for the next. These experiences are not part of a sustainable lifestyle, even a lifestyle of chronic deprivation and relentless low- level punishment. They are, by almost any standard of subsistence, emergency situations. And that is how we should see the poverty of so many millions of low-wage Americans-as a state of emergency.

[..] When someone works for less pay than she can live on-when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently-then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The "working poor," as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else. As Gail, one of my restaurant coworkers put it, "you give and you give."

(Amazon links are affiliate links.)

Written by Alexandra

19 August 2012 at 7:44 pm