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This a lovely piece of writing from my friend, Sarah Burnside in”What I’m Reading” in Meanjin. You can read my own contribution to the Meanjin reading series here, where I, too, have coincidentally mentioned reading children’s books aloud.. but in my case it is also about sex as a single mother.

An excerpt from Burnside’s piece is below:

I’ve always found ‘Waltzing Matilda’ unbearably grim, but we have it in book form and it has become a firm favourite (if you were wondering whether it’s jarring to hear a two year old solemnly intone ‘drowning himself by the coolabah tree’, the answer is a resounding yes). Dr Seuss’ wordsmithery is brilliant and I’m very grateful to him for helping me raise my children, but I can’t escape the feeling that he sometimes rested on his laurels. Alongside the mastery of The Lorax he has gems like Yertle the Turtle, a marvellous little tale of revolt against a tyrannical monarch. However, he’s also given us the likes of There’s a Wocket in My Pocket, about which the less said the better.  Further, the Cat in the Hat is an unmitigated jerk and the Fox in Socks can get bent.

However, I’ve developed a deep respect for the craft that goes into picture books: the rhyming, the humour, the vivid characters, and the way the narrative tends to begin in a matter-of-fact way without any explanation. The Elephant and the Bad Baby by Elfrida Vipont simply begins by stating that ‘once upon a time there was an elephant’ who one day went for a walk and ‘met a Bad Baby’. We don’t know why the elephant is at large in a town or why the baby is hanging around seemingly waiting for passing animals to pick him up with their trunks (where are his parents?). None of this, clearly, matters to small children; the point is that the two companions go rumpeta rumpeta rumpeta all down the road. Stories end without any need for an overall resolution; it’s often sufficient to note that everyone went home for tea.

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But there’s a third party that’s often glossed over: the customer. The rating systems used by these companies have turned customers into unwitting and sometimes unwittingly ruthless middle managers, more efficient than any boss a company could hope to hire. They’re always there, working for free, hypersensitive to the smallest error. All the algorithm has to do is tally up their judgments and deactivate accordingly.

Ratings help these companies to achieve enormous scale, managing large pools of untrained contract workers without having to hire supervisors. It’s a nice arrangement for customers too, who get cheap service with a smile — even if it’s an anxious one. But for the workers, already in the precarious position of contract labor, making every customer a boss is a terrifying prospect. After all, they — we — can be entitled jerks.

From “The ratings game” by Josh Dzieza in The Verge. 

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Sergey Brin and Larry Page, both brilliant computer scientists, founded their company on the conviction that only technologists can understand technology. Google originally set its hiring algorithms to sort for computer science students with top grades from elite science universities.

In 2013, Google decided to test its hiring hypothesis by crunching every bit and byte of hiring, firing, and promotion data accumulated since the company’s incorporation in 1998. Project Oxygen shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.

I witness this in my work all the time. More complex problems in the world have led to the need for much more sophisticated problem solving techniques.. And those techniques require empathy, something in short supply among a lot of traditional high achievers in the workplace.

From “Google finds STEM skills aren’t the most important” by Lou Glazer in Michigan Future. 

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For mothers with toddlers and preschoolers… “For the fuck of shit, children” at The Modernity Ward. 

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I love this article.. it described my experience of the 90s perfectly – right down to the economics thesis I ended up writing and the online zines I produced and the ways in which my radicalism was ultimately challenged. And it describes perfectly my concerns with where we are now. I recommend reading “No Alternative – how culture jamming was culture jammed” by Gavin Mueller in Real Life.

In the wake of Trump’s election, intellectuals and politicos have not enjoined us to create a “counterproject” media sphere to combat hegemonic ideology. They have not told us to hack, snipe, poach, or otherwise take to the semiotic hills to wage guerrilla war. Instead, we’ve been told to bolster capitalist media: to subscribe to the New York Times, to dutifully consume advertisements by whitelisting our favorite sites, to obtain our music from commercial platforms — so the artists get paid, of course.

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But you are becoming more enormous and looming right out of control across the land, and controlling my mind. The more you push, the more I can’t find the answer for what should be kept under control. Where are all the proper story keepers? Who’s going to sing all the sacred story so you won’t feel lonely anymore, is there anyone left? Anyone there? Anyone at the birthday party?

From “Hey Ancestor!” by Alexis Wright in The Guardian. 

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