The week@work – ‘Walden, a game’, Uber’s culture, pollution & the stock market, and the ‘folly’ of abolishing the N.E.A.

This week@work the designers of a new video game would like us to take a walk in the woods, a former Uber engineer authored a blog post that opened a window on corporate culture, an economics professor demonstrated the link between air pollution and stock market fluctuations, and the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art warned against cutting funds to the National Endowment for the Arts.

When we talk about work/life balance we typically think about disconnecting from technology, not using it as a portal for relaxation. Robin Pogrebin‘s article ‘In Walden Video Game, the Object is Stillness’ offers an example of a seemingly contrarian application.

“…the new video game, based on Thoreau’s 19th-century retreat in Massachusetts, will urge players to collect arrowheads, cast their fishing poles into a tranquil pond, buy penny candies and perhaps even jot notes in a journal — all while listening to music, nature sounds and excerpts from the author’s meditations.

While the game is all about simplicity, it has actually been in development for nearly a decade. The lead designer, Tracy J. Fullerton, the director of the Game Innovation Lab at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, came up with the idea as a way to reinforce our connection to the natural world and to challenge our hurried culture.

“Games are kinds of rehearsals,” Ms. Fullerton said in an interview. “It might give you pause in your real life: Maybe instead of sitting on my cellphone, rapidly switching between screens, I should just go for a walk.”

“Maybe we don’t all have the chance to go to the woods,” Ms. Fullerton added. “But perhaps we can go to this virtual woods and think about the pace of life when we come back to our own world. Maybe it will have an influence — to have considered the pace of Walden.”

Uber has a new logo and a new ranking as #3 on Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies. “Uber’s most valuable asset is its data, which has been an important part of Uber’s business since it first launched.” Which is why we should not be surprised if the company is having a bit of a dysfunctional workplace moment.

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Christina Cauterucci investigated ‘The Sexism Described In Uber Employee’s Report Is Why Women Leave Tech – Or Don’t Enter At All’.

“Uber is staging a major PR defense for the second time in recent weeks after a former employee published a detailed account of persistent sexual harassment and discrimination she allegedly faced while working as an engineer at the company. Susan Fowler, who left the company in December after about a year of employment, claims in her Feb. 19 blog post that her manager sent her sexual chat messages soon after she was hired. When she reported him to human resources, she writes, she was told that it was his “first offense” and that she should switch teams if she didn’t want a negative performance review from him. Fowler later found out that other women had reported witnessing inappropriate behavior from this same man, and each were told that it was his “first offense” and not a big enough deal to require action.

In her blog post, Fowler accuses a manager of changing her performance scores after a stellar review to keep her from getting a transfer to another team, because it reflected well on the manager to prove he could retain female engineers on his team. This is a particularly outrageous deed in an account full of outrageous deeds. Instead of enforcing a zero-tolerance sexual-harassment policy or asking female employees how management could better support them, Uber has allegedly moved to improve its substandard track record on gender by narrowing opportunities for women on staff and sweeping harassment allegations under the floor mat. Fowler writes that she made repeated, documented human resources complaints about the unfair treatment she endured, but she was gaslighted by an HR representative who told her the emails she sent never happened and that men are better suited for certain jobs than women. It took a statement on a public blog to get any action from company leadership.”

The folks who work in climate science have been under fire in recent weeks. The photo below is a reminder of what the New York City skyline looked like 44 years ago, before environmental protections were enacted.

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For those not yet convinced of global warming, maybe a direct financial consequence would be more persuasive. Scott Berinato found ‘Air Pollution Brings Down the Stock Market’.

“When University of Ottawa economics professor Anthony Heyes and his colleagues compared daily data from the S&P 500 index with daily air-quality data from an EPA sensor close to Wall Street, they found a connection between higher pollution and lower stock performance. Their conclusion: Air pollution brings down the stock market.

The effect was strong. Every time air quality decreased by one standard deviation, we saw a 12% reduction in stock returns. Or to put it in other terms, if you ordered 100 trading days in New York from the cleanest-air day to the dirtiest-air day, the S&P 500 performance would be 15% worse on the 75th cleanest day than it was on the 25th cleanest day. We also replicated this analysis using data from the New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq, and saw the same effect.”

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Finally, this story is not only for those who work in the arts, but for all of us whose curiosity and creativity were sparked by a play, music or a visit to a museum. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s director, Thomas P. Campbell warns against ‘The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A.’

“All too often, art is seen as a “soft” subject, the first thing to be cut, whether by local school boards or the federal government, when money is tight. But looked at purely in dollars, it is a false saving. The N.E.A.’s budget is comparatively minuscule — $148 million last year, or 0.004 percent of the total federal budget — while the arts sector it supports employs millions of Americans and generates billions each year in revenue and tax dollars.

The United States has no ministry of culture. In this vacuum, the N.E.A., founded in 1965, serves three critical functions: It promotes the arts; it distributes and stimulates funding; and it administers a program that minimizes the costs of insuring arts exhibitions through indemnity agreements backed by the government. This last, perhaps least-known responsibility, is crucial. This fall, the Met will host a major exhibition on Michelangelo that will bring together masterpieces from across the world. The insurance valuation is a whopping $2.4 billion — not even our museum, the largest art museum in the nation, could come close to paying the premium for such coverage without the federal indemnity the N.E.A. makes possible.

I fear that this current call to abolish the N.E.A. is the beginning of a new assault on artistic activity. Arts and cultural programming challenges, provokes and entertains; it enhances our lives. Eliminating the N.E.A. would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens. As the planet becomes at once smaller and more complex, the public needs a vital arts scene, one that will inspire us to understand who we are and how we got here — and one that will help us to see other countries, like China, not as enemies in a mercenary trade war but as partners in a complicated world.”

This week@work take a break and visit your local museum. Then go home and send an email to your member of congress. Remind them of the importance of “investing in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens”.

 

Photo credit: Manhattan Skyline, May 1973 – Chester Higgins NARA

‘Chicago and December’ a poem by W.S. Di Piero

The Friday Poem this week is ‘Chicago and December’ by Stanford University Professor of English, Emeritus W.S. Di Piero.

In an interview with ‘McSweeney’s Internet Tendency’, the poet described the early influences in his writing.

“Writers are schooled by whatever they read. I took what was available. (Discovering the Philadelphia Free Library was enormous.) All writing occupied the same bandwidth—Freddy the Pig books, Kidnapped, Poe’s and Conan Doyle’s stories, and in particular, when I was very small, the Sears catalogs I studied on Sunday visits to relatives’ houses. I came to love reading about the old west—no kid in South Philadelphia knew more about Wyatt Earp, Kit Carson, Doc Holliday. In high school I read Whitman—he was, still is, so strange, exasperatingly friendly, formidable. By the time I turned twenty-one, it was “sweet sounds together” that mattered. Sound is still important. Subject matter was (still is) whatever piece of life’s procession pauses in front of me (or behind my back).”

On this first Friday in December, take a break from work and visit Chicago as we accompany poet W. S. Di Piero on a walk from the Art Institute, across the river to Michigan Avenue.

Chicago and December

Trying to find my roost
one lidded, late afternoon,
the consolation of color
worked up like neediness,
like craving chocolate,
I’m at Art Institute favorites:
Velasquez’s “Servant,”
her bashful attention fixed
to place things just right,
Beckmann’s “Self-Portrait,”
whose fishy fingers seem
never to do a day’s work,
the great stone lions outside
monumentally pissed
by jumbo wreaths and ribbons
municipal good cheer
yoked around their heads.
Mealy mist. Furred air.
I walk north across
the river, Christmas lights
crushed on skyscraper glass,
bling stringing Michigan Ave.,
sunlight’s last-gasp sighing
through the artless fog.
Vague fatigued promise hangs
in the low darkened sky
when bunched scrawny starlings
rattle up from trees,
switchback and snag
like tossed rags dressing
the bare wintering branches,
black-on-black shining,
and I’m in a moment
more like a fore-moment:
from the sidewalk, watching them
poised without purpose,
I feel lifted inside the common
hazards and orders of things
when from their stillness,
the formal, aimless, not-waiting birds
erupt again, clap, elated weather-
making wing-clouds changing,
smithereened back and forth,
now already gone to follow
the river’s running course.

W.S. Di Piero  Poetry Magazine, June 2006

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