State of Greek: Interchangeable Parts

I had promised to return and finish the State of Geek series, but I haven’t been in much of a mood for it. I have such mixed feelings about ‘geek’ lately. I am once a geek, but I am also not a geek — one foot in, one foot out.

The good news about the job market would seem to preclude these writings because, as it seems, the problems are all gone — hail, hail, the jobs all here. But you know, and I know, these jobs are not geek jobs. No, the hot degree now is in Business — the degree we laughed at when we trotted out into the work force with our hot and heavy tech credentials.

(Where were the laurel leaves and the whispered, “Thou art mortal. Thou art mortal.” in those days?)

America has become a service economy, which means we export raw material and import finished product and most people are employed facilitating this whole process. But among the moving parts, don’t count on tech or manufacturing. And the smug bunch holding up their biotech degrees? Remember those laurel leaves — you’re next.

All in all, this is not a healthy situation for a country to be in, but it is a short-term cost effective solution for corporations barely able to keep up with their bonus payments and still show inflated profits each quarter.

Still, I am less a geek now than I am a writer or photographer. Why should I care that the geek jobs go overseas? You might say my geek job caught that ship two years ago, and two years is a long time to stand on the pier, waving Bye bye. Bye bye.

Then I read stories such as a recent one in the Mercury News (thanks to Head Lemur and Ralph Poole):

Avinash Vashistha, managing director at San Ramon-based offshore consulting firm NeoIT, loves telling the story of asking a Silicon Valley executive this year which jobs he could offshore.

“Could you move this person’s job?’’ asked Vashistha.

“Oh, no,’’ the executive said. “I couldn’t move her job. She’s been here for 25 years. It would take eight people to do her job.’’

“Very well, we’ll hire eight people to replace her,’’ Vashistha said.

NeoIT calculated that the company could hire eight people to replace that one longtime employee and still save 20 percent by moving the entire division overseas, Vashistha said.

There is become two types of people in the world — those who control and those who work. When we, who work, become nothing more than cheap, non-differentiated interchangeable parts to those who control, then there’s a lot more at stake than some geek jobs in the States.


The new class system

Last week my cheek started swelling, and sure enough, I have an abcsessed tooth. I went to the dentist on Friday and got some antibiotics, as well as a referral to the specialist. Luckily I have dental as well as medical insurance. An embarrassment of riches.

Class in this country used to be based on race, or ethnic background, or what you owned and where your kids went school. It was a complicated formula, and no guarantees that depending on what you were and how much money you had, you’d be in one class or another.

It’s a lot less complicated today. Today’s class system is based almost exclusively on one factor: what type of health insurance you have.

Now you can have no health insurance and you’ll either be the working poor, or you’ll be rich enough not to need it. Being completely poor, and I mean on the street homeless, you’ll not need it either because you use the emergency rooms for all your medical needs.

The middle class has health insurance, but the degree of coverage and cost defines your status now. Try going into a dentist office or doctor without health insurance, and see how you’re treated compared to when you have insurance. Then, see how you’re treated depending on what type of coverage you have, and who the carrier is.

Health insurance is also the new corporate American chains to bind the working class in this country. People are less likely to make a change in employment now because they’re worried about what will happen with their health insurance. The recent grocery strike across the country? That was almost completely having to do with health insurance.

Still, even if you have insurance, there’s no guarantee how you’ll be treated. When I called the specialist and said that yes, I had insurance, I was welcomed. But when asked if I had a job and replied that I was self-employed, I was told that I would have to pay upfront and then bill my insurance company myself.

I wonder what it would be like to be in a country where when you’re sick, all you have to worry about is getting better? In this country, the first thing you think of, is “How do I pay for this?”

(Of course, other countries like Iraq worry more about whether there’s even a doctor to see, and if you’ll get shot on the way to the office, much less how to pay for them, so I guess things could be worse.)

Hmm. Just one of those things going through my mind now. Excuse me, as I go call around to find a specialist who won’t demand payment upfront.

Diversity Weblogging

What’s your G Quotient?

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

I initiated an email discussion today that ended up focused on women and weblogging. Without going into particulars, I challenged the members of the group to find their G Quotient, or Gender Quotient:

For the last one hundred posts, count the number of times you linked to a male weblogger, and the count of times to a female weblogger.

For each link, what was the context?

Was it:

  • Political (not weblogging political, but politics in the real world)
  • Metablogging
  • About sex or romance
  • Environment (family, friends, home, pets)
  • Professional (about a person in a professional sense)
  • Technology (related to computer tech in some way)
  • Scientific (physics, math, biology, medicine)
  • Academic (formal studies)
  • Writing (about literatur or weblogger as writer, not including linguistics)
  • Linguistic
  • Other art (including music and photography as well as performance art, painting, and so on)
  • Issues of self, including a person’s exploration of what makes themselves or other people tick
  • Religious
  • Cultural
  • Historical (about history)
  • General (none of the above

Supposedly there are as many or more women bloggers than men. Do we link to women webloggers are much as men? Does the context change? In other words do we link to women on more humanistic issues, and men on professional or tech issues?

Do we care?

Are webloggers Martians?

Just Shelley


Today was a quiet day, more mist than rain, more grey than stormy. I set out for the bird sanctuary in the Northwest corner of the state, but hadn’t gone more than an hour when I realized that I had forgotten my wallet. With my driver’s license. I carefully turned around, and just as carefully made my way home to pick it up. When I was fully legal again, it was too late for the bird sanctuary. Instead I made my way to one of my other favorite parks.

I was the only person on the paths, which suited my somber mood. Even the birds muted their singing, and whatever color still existed was dulled, as if it didn’t want to shout too loudly into the quiet.


Two hundred years ago, if I were a woman of delicate breeding, I would describe my mood today as melancholic. And I would be in good company, sharing sisterhood with the likes of Jane Austen, who wrote about her own melancholia in a letter to her sister:

Sir William listened to me in confidence and diagnosed an acute involutional melancholia (in former times known as the black bile), complicated by insomniac tendencies, for which he compounded a tincture of opium of which I am to take six drops in a small glass of port wine each bed time. I took the draught last night, but it had no effect besides making my recurrent dream all the more vivid, so I know not whether to halve or double the dosage to-night! At all events, Sir William will bleed me on Wednesday a week should my symptoms persist unabated. I have every faith in the man: it is said that Nelson suffered horribly from night-mares until he sought Sir William’s help, and now he sleeps like a babe.

Acute involutional melancholia. You can imagine a lady of the day sitting to tea with her friends, and telling them one and all that she has been diagnosed with melancholia, “just like dear Nelson”. Hearty good health was seen as an anathema to those with refined sensibilities. Luckily, being given drops of opium in wine, or being bled frequently, prevented such unseemly bouts of robustness.

Freud wrote a paper on melancholia called “Mourning and Melancholia”. He believed that melancholia was a result of loss, compounded by not confronting the agent of loss. Instead of resolving these feelings and moving on, the sufferer internalizes the feelings, turning them against their own ego. However, lest you think that Freud was sympathetic to this state — remember that he was, perhaps, the most dispassionate of all adventurers into the psyche — he was contemptuous:

[Melancholics] are far from evincing towards those around them the attitude of humility and submissiveness that would alone befit such worthless people [… as they believe themselves to be]. On the contrary, they make the greatest nuisance of themselves, and always seem as though they felt slighted and had been treated with great injustice.

The man may have made history as a the father of Psychoanalysis, but he had the makings of a modern American politician: a combination of Republican disdain for the less fortunate, mixed in with Democratic obsession with sex.


Of course, we know today that melancholia has many faces — ranging from those moments of quiet reflectivity, to the most severe form of depression. No matter who are, and no matter how adjusted we believe we are, we all suffer from melancholia at one time or another. As Francis Zimmermann wrote in his fascinating paper for the Journal of International Institute, titled The History of Melancholy:

The history of melancholia is that of an innately human experience of suffering becoming the object of a cultural construct. As a mood or emotion, the experience of being melancholy or depressed is at the very heart of being human: feeling “down” or blue or unhappy, being dispirited, discouraged, disappointed, dejected, despondent, melancholy, depressed, or despairing many aspects of such affective experiences are within the normal range. Everyone suffers from this kind of metaphorical melancholia, as Robert Burton said, because “Melancholy in this sense is the character of mortality” (The Anatomy of Melancholy, I.I.I.5.), that is, a figure of the human condition.

With its sense of loss and grief, you would think we would work to eliminate melancholia, and we do seek to help those suffering from severe depressions, using a combination of therapy, support, and antidepressants.

(I once heard antidepressants referred to as mood brighteners, a term I despise. It reminds me of those laundry sticks you use to remove stains from your good shirt. “Oh, look! There’s a spot of angst. I’ll just dab in this Miracle Mental Health, and it will wash right out!”)

Yet much of our creativity has its roots in melancholia, and to remove it from our lives, completely, would be to remove the shadows that shape us. Melancholia gives us sad, soft songs to accompany misted landscapes, forming a backdrop for words of poetry, and other forms of writing.

Melancholia also gives us silence; knowing when to keep still and just listen.

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