Bullshit Jobs by David Graeber. Book about the phenomenon of jobs that the people working them regard as meaningless, most in office environments. Graeber categorises them into five categories:
- Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants
- Goons, who act aggressively on behalf of their employers, e.g., lobbyists, corporate lawyers, telemarketers, public relations specialists
- Duct tapers, who ameliorate preventable problems, e.g., programmers repairing shoddy code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags don't arrive
- Box tickers, who use paperwork or gestures as a proxy for action, e.g., performance managers, in-house magazine journalists, leisure coordinators
- Taskmasters, who manage—or create extra work for—those who don't need it, e.g., middle management, leadership professionals
It's a good read, with lots of fascinating anecdotes of people trapped in such jobs and the various ways they cope. However, it has a couple of weaknesses. Graeber doesn't claim to have accurate quantitative data on how many such jobs there are, but implies from the response rate that it's quite a lot: I find it hard to believe that it's a big proportion of the total number of jobs. From a right-wing perspective it would of course fall prey to the usual "true capitalism has never been tried" excuse that if the bloated corporations of existing capitalism was replaced by genuine competition, such jobs would cease to exist.
Overall though, a good book, interesting but not unmissable.
What I'm Reading 2
Drug Wars by by ex-undercover cop Neil Woods and journalist J.S. Rafaeli. This book deepens and extends Woods' previous book "Good Cop, Bad War" about his own experiences into a history of the War of Drugs and detailed study of how it has affected policing in general.
The book is a very disturbing read. It suggests there is a large degree of complicity between police officers and high level drug dealers. A leaked police report on an Operation Tiberius concluded that there were 55 corrupt officers in North and North London alone, and concluded that corruption within the police is "endemic" and that organised crime is able to infiltrate the Met "at will". Police officers protect the key drug dealers as informants, and encourage them to rise through the hierarchy to help their own careers. In return, many such drug dealers are able to corrupt the police. The dealers allow a percent or so of their drugs to be intercepted to give their handlers some results.
Apparently even the victim protection units that are supposed to protect witnesses are compromised.
On a smaller scale, they regard the war on drugs as having severely damaged relations between the public and the police. At the lower and higher levels, drug dealers have an incentive to be as brutal as possible so that people will be unwilling to testify against them.
Disturbing and informative book, well worth reading.
What I'm Reading 3
Chasing the Scream: The Search for the Truth About Addiction by Johann Hari covers the war on drugs at an international level. It covers the origin of the war on drugs in more detail than Drug Wars, partly attributing it to US official Harry Anslinger who first enforced it in the USA, then helped coerce other nations into adopting the same punitive approach.
Hari also looks at the details of how addiction works, highlighting that it is more about psychological factors than physiological addiction. He claims that even heroin withdrawal is only physically about as bad as mild flu. Addicts however use their drugs as an escape from anxiety and uncertainty: harsh punitive tactics paradoxically make them more like to re-succumb to addiction.
Hari also looks at the situations where addictive drugs have been decriminalised and highlights the benefits, as well as a few of the costs: he thinks that while it does massively reduce the harm suffered by drug addicts, it does slightly increase addiction rates. However the big benefit of the old "British System" of prescribing addicts their addictive drugs is that they are no longer tempted to go out and sell drugs to pay for their habit.
Overall, a decent book. A lot of it is stuff people know but it covers it in detail
What I'm Reading 4
The Philosopher Kings by Jo Walton. Second volume of the Thessaly trilogy, about an experiment by two Greek gods to try out Plato's Republic with the aid of time-shifted scholars from throughout history. The first volume ended with the Just City falling predictably apart. This one starts a few years later with various factions setting up their own communities. The bulk of the plot concerns a journey made by some of the characters after a fatal raid on the original city.
Another great book. It combines an appealingly bonkers idea, philosophical discussion, and appealing but interesting characters. Well worth reading for anyone who likes two out of three of science fiction, philosophy and classics.
What I'm Reading 5
Necessity by Jo Walton is the final volume in the Thessaly series. Set decades or millenia after the previous volume, this one features the descendents of the original Just City finally encountering the rest of humankind and takes the story into space.
It's very ambitious to take the story and concept so far and it doesn't always come off: the quest in the centre of the story doesn't feel that gripping. But it does make up for it with the ideas: bringing alien gods into it really takes the sensawunda up yet another notch. Overall, a good conclusion to a terrific series.
I'm beginning to think Jo Walton is a bit underrated compared to the attention given to Ann Leckie or N.K. Jemisin or Becky Chambers. With coming of age fantasy "Among Others", the great alternate history of the "Small Change" trilogy and the "Thessaly" trilogy she seems to have a much broader range and a much greater fount of ideas.
What I'm Watching
What We Do in the Shadows. Low budget spoof documentary from New Zealand about flatsharing vampires: this is the movie though there is apparently a TV show too. I really liked this: it was creative, very funny and actually had some decent world-building I really liked the dog-like werewolf pack. Worth watching
What I'm Watching 2
The Fast and Furious spin-off Hobbs and Shaw is a surprisingly good action movie. Not original but the stunts and fights are well done and the banter between the protagonists is slick. Entertaining.
What I'm Watching 3
Toy Story 4. Another good entry in the series. Some people thought it was repetitive but I thought it was more of a coming full circle thing: instead of fighting to retain his child's affections, it was more of an empty-nest concept where Woody has to learn to let go and do his own thing. My son really liked it too, he thought Forky was "so crazy".
What I'm Watching 4
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. Good animation with multiple-universe spider-people teaming up. Fast, funny and with surprisingly much comics lore.
Been crazy busy at work lately. Project I'm on is struggling. They've roped in another team to do some of the work which is getting towards Brooks Law territory but should make things easier in the long run.
I've signed up to do a 55km ultra-marathon in October which I'm a bit worried about as I haven't been able to train as much as I'd like. Wife's been away a lot of the last couple of months so I haven't been able to do weekend long runs as I have to look after the kid. I'm planning to run-walk it as the cut-off should just allow that.
Currently visiting my mother with the kid which is why I've finally got a bit of time to write a diary.
Random. Utrecht street poem.
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