Inefficient “efficiency.”

Sometimes austerity involves sudden rupture: an immediate loss of services that we notice and protest against. More often it’s death by a thousand cuts: incremental destruction of the public realm, leaving us with outsourced, inaccessible, dysfunctional services. Successive Conservative governments have made these cuts in the name of efficiency. We experience this marvellous efficiency as The Four Seasons plays on an endless loop while we wait to talk to someone in a call centre with no power to act, subcontracted to someone else in a Kafkaesque nightmare of privatised, inscrutable bureaucracy, unable to resolve our problems or meet our needs. Nothing works any more.

George Monbiot on political choices.

Once upon a time, just after she retired, my Mum was brought back in as a consultant to do a review of a healthcare-related complaints helpline. Each state ran its own helpline and every single state was a dysfunctional shithow except for one. Mum’s job was to find out why.

The long and short of her findings were that every other state had implemented a “best practice” tiered helpdesk, specifically one that included a strict skill hierarchy between people on Tier 1 (who took calls) versus Tier 2 (in-office experts) and Tier 3 (who went to physically investigate incidents). The One Functional State did not; they still had different levels, after a fashion, but rotated staff between them. What it effectively meant is that, from the caller’s point of view, more often than not they’d call the helpline and get answered by someone currently on L1 rotation but who’d had the skills in T2 and T3 that meant they could immediately assist; no scripts or escalations required. The net result was that calls were resolved faster and people were generally happier with the service (and, recall, this was a healthcare-related helpline, so “happier with the service” had a direct positive health impact).

Ironically, as Mum was doing this, I’d just been “girl demoted” at work when our combined Level 2-3 IT support helpdesk got split. Myself and the one other girl on the team got somehow magically sent to Level 2.1 I only stayed in that role for a few months but, during that time, I was (successfully) resolving over a thousand tickets a month; the second most effective person was barely scraping double digits. The reason I could do this? Experience in T3, which meant I was basically doing every level of support, all at once. The reason I know all of this is because, despite the metrics, I ended up having a shittonne of downtime, which I used to, firstly, write SOPs for the (subcontracted) T1 people in vain hope of reducing escalation and secondly, when that was done, read books. Because of the latter, I got pulled up on performance management by my boss;2 this was where she made the mistake of showing me just how much I was propping up the entire system. So I did her the favor of performance managing myself out of the organization, into a promotion elsewhere.

Tl;dr, tiered helpdesks suck. But they make call center outsourcers rich so, hey.

  1. Notably, we weren’t the most junior people in the team . . . but the most junior people were men, so they got to stay. []
  2. Relatedly, in T3 I worked with a guy who’d use his flex time to take long lunches on Tuesdays to see a film at the cinema across the road. He got told by the bosses to stop doing this for “perception” reasons which, really, should’ve been my first clue. []
2021-07-26T07:46:27+10:0030th July, 2021|Tags: , |

… and one for the country.

This is the most difficult paradigm shift in our conversations about the declining birthrate — but also the most essential. Why, on a planet that’s increasingly struggling to support its current population, in a world in which hundreds of thousands are fleeing instability in search of stable homes and jobs, in a society in which we ostensibly value autonomy and independence and feminist empowerment, are we positioning a declining birth rate as a “crisis”?

[T]he United States wouldn’t have a “replacement rate” problem (or burgeoning worries of “who will take care of our aging boomers”) if we welcomed more refugees and immigrants. The fear, in other words, is of our own making, and deeply rooted in narrow understandings of how a nation can and should sustain itself. We’re so wed to the principles of exponential growth — of the “right” sort of American — that we can’t even envision how fewer births might be part of the way forward.

Anne Helen Petersen on birthrates.

Amazing how, whenever you put on the glasses, the answer underneath is somehow always racism1 . . .

  1. Or, arguably in this specific case, the way in which racist/supremacist nationalism intersects with patriarchy and the policing of women to ensure they’re birthing the “correct” number of the “right” sorts of babies. []
2021-07-20T09:53:50+10:0028th July, 2021|Tags: |


Sherwin Rosen also wrote about the Economics of Superstars in 1981, defining a world “wherein relatively small numbers of people earn enormous amounts of money and dominate the activities in which they engage”. Which is exactly what we’re describing.

In today’s world, the problem of discovery seems to be even more difficult. To get to a meaningful size of audience seems incredibly difficult.

On Twitter, the graphs are heavily skewed. For instance people with over 10,000 followers are in the 99.9th percentile of all users or the top 0.1%. Over a 1000 is at the 97th percentile. I’m not saying that’s the cut-off necessarily, but it’s a massively skewed ecosystem if a Twitter presence is what is supposed to get you to launch a “creator economy” career.

In theory, this is a bit of an indictment of the creator economy. If creators who are better aren’t necessarily the creators who are getting most of the benefits, then what’s the point? And also, if most creators aren’t able to do well, but only a few get to be superstars, is that a functional economy that one would want to be a part of?

On the creator economy.

No, in my case. It wasn’t.

Relatedly, I was talking to someone recently who didn’t believe in public funding of the arts.1 His rationale being that “people are prepared to pay for the art they want,” probably without actually realizing he was talking to someone with a failed creative career. I don’t think I quite outright laughed in his face, but it was close . . .

  1. He has a maths degree. Nuff said. []
2021-07-15T07:18:34+10:0022nd July, 2021|Tags: |


Elephants are a matriarchal culture. The juveniles are raised within 15 feet of their mom for the first seven years of their life, and they’re close to their moms and aunts all these elephants that basically teach them how to live. Because elephants are, you know, 15,000 pounds, incredibly powerful. And if you just let these elephants run wild, they’ll hurt themselves or hurt other elephants. There’s a long period when moms and aunt elephants basically teach young elephants to control themselves, to control all of this rage —because elephants are full of hormones, too — the rage and power that an elephant has. And what ended up happening is, in the game parks when you had poachers, they would kill the mother elephants and chain the baby elephants to the carcasses of their mothers. But what they ended up creating was a lot of really, really traumatized elephants, elephants who’d seen their moms killed before them, and then also had all of this rage, had all this power, and didn’t have anyone to teach them how to control it. So what you had in the game parks in the ’90s were these violent gangs of elephants that would kill rhinoceroses for sport, would attack humans, and would have huge conflicts between elephants. Elephant-on-elephant violence skyrocketed. Elephant-on-human violence skyrocketed. We’re just like these angry elephants attacking everything around them. It became a metaphor for me for what happened with trans women in my generation. We lost our elders to HIV, but also suicide, substance abuse, and going stealth, which means I’m just passing as a cis woman and then disappearing into society without any trace of your transness. We had an entire generation that disappeared from us. And so it was difficult to be transwoman. We have no elders to teach us to control ourselves and we’re in some ways running rampage, not so much on cis people, because cis people aren’t really vulnerable to us, but on to each other. We can attack each other. We can say, “You’re not doing trans right. You’re embarrassing as a trans woman to us other trans women.”

Torrey Peters on the elephants in the room.

2021-07-02T08:40:30+10:0021st July, 2021|Tags: , |

Elite rule.

Seen from 2021, [Michael Young’s The Rise of Meritocracy] shows an uncanny power of foresight. He predicted that the abolition of a hereditary elite based on inherited power and wealth could easily slip into the creation of another elite, who would feel all the more entitled to their privileges because they “deserved” them. Young also predicted that the 1960s and 1970s would see a rise in radical politics — a historic “moment” for a left-wing breakthrough. But they did not win, and society became more divided after the neoliberal counterrevolution that eroded universal welfare and replaced it with privatized solutions that increased class division.

Against his intentions, ‘meritocracy’ would be embraced by both conservative and social democratic politicians around the world, as a positive vision that society should move toward.
Young foresaw a broad spectrum of negative consequences of the gospel of “meritocracy”: the labor movement’s turn to the right, the ever-increasing social status of knowledge and intelligence, increasing inequality, the time squeeze for women who wanted both to study and have children, and the privileges the creative class would enjoy even outside the wage system. Finally, Young predicted that most people would eventually get enough of being told that they were stupid and that inequality was in their best interests and that they would thus flock to “populists.” But what Young didn’t foresee was the role of his own dystopia in this process. Against his intentions, “meritocracy” would be embraced by both conservative and social democratic politicians around the world, as a positive vision that society should move toward.

On meritocracy.

Friendly reminder that Young originally formulated “meritocracy” as a dystopia.

2021-06-30T07:10:07+10:0016th July, 2021|Tags: |

Repeating violence.

Asymmetric warfare in the nineteenth century—and perhaps still—was itself not just the collision of mismatched armies but temporalities. Early on, [Pitt Rivers Museum curator and The Brutish Museums author Dan] Hicks describes how “natives” were astounded by the British field guns that exploded once at the barrel, then again when the shell detonated a magical distance away. Museums work this way, too, although we think of them—and they frame themselves—as timeless. They shoot once at the moment of conquest, then again each time the works are seen. Ethnographic museums like the Pitt Rivers, in other words, are technologies for sustaining colonial violence. And they rose to prominence during the same era as the Maxim gun and other temporal advances made imperial “expeditions” more slaughter than battle. This march of technological progress inspired the paternalistic British style of racism: British forces in Africa tallied up their use of ammunition with greater precision than they did the enemy dead. So it was, Hicks notes, that the collection he now oversees of General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers began in earnest in the 1850s as a private hoard of weapons, arranged so as to emphasize the superiority of western arms over “primitive” ones.

On collections.

2021-06-30T06:59:49+10:0014th July, 2021|Tags: |

On a scale of one to ten…

Experience surveys, net promoter scores (NPS), and related tools basically exist to erode workers’ rights for customer service workers.

The particular gotcha here is almost always the NPS; if you had a shitty service experience but it was because of The Company and not the employee, giving top marks for every other question and still giving a low NPS will, 99% of the time, still result in the person you interacted with getting reprimanded. Remember that the goal of The Company is never to accept structural blame; it will always, always blame the worker, because the sorts of workers that are subjected to these surveys are almost always (in the eyes of The Company) infinitely replaceable . . .1

  1. This is what, incidentally, process frameworks like ITIL and its non-IT cousins are all about. It gets couched in the language of “business continuity” but underneath that it’s really focused on making sure no worker gets enough autonomy or expertise that they can then start making demands about pay and conditions. []
2021-06-29T07:22:54+10:0010th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Climate class war.

The United Nations’ 2020 “Emissions Gap” report found that the emissions of the richest 1 percent of the global population are greater than those of the entire bottom 50 percent combined. In fact, the UN found that while the bottom 50 percent could actually increase its consumption by several hundred percent without affecting human civilization’s chances of reaching the Paris Agreement’s targets for reducing emissions, the top 1 percent urgently needed to reduce its carbon footprint by 30 percent.

As noted in a recent report by University of Sussex researchers (for the Cambridge Sustainability Commission), the climate movement’s emphasis on the contribution of household consumption to climate change often neglects to specify whose consumption we should be most concerned about. As in many other matters, the rich are the problem. The Sussex researchers cite another 2020 study on the growth in global emissions from 1990 to 2015, which found that the richest 10 percent of the planet was responsible for nearly half that growth, with the richest 5 percent responsible for more than a third. By contrast, the carbon impact [of] the world’s poor was “practically negligible.”

On rich people.

Tl;dr, rich people live in giant homes (with associated exorbitant heating and cooling costs), do massively more travel than average, and do most of that travel in hugely inefficient private vehicles (cars, planes, superyachts). In other words, to secure the planet’s future, we need to abolish the rich.

2021-06-24T09:03:45+10:007th July, 2021|Tags: , |
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