Work Anxiety Affects Every Other Aspect of Human Societies

From a Google image Search – Emery Reddy

Transitional periods, when new developments change everything about the way people work and live, cause people to experience fear, anxiety, and, even for some who know how to take advantage of changing times, exhilaration. How people work is interesting. Once agriculture was how families made ends meet. When farm machines grew sophisticated enough to free up family members to pursue careers besides farming it was a wrenching adjustment for many. Farms failed and children who thought they would inherit the farm and live the life had to adjust. Working in a factory is very different from working on a farm, although both things are classified as work. Factory work was the next trend especially when Ford gave us the assembly line. 

So many transitions have occurred in the ways people work. When. steam was supplanted by combustion engines people had to adapt. When factory work was booming people thought they had found an economic safety zone. When that certainty became uncertainty people turned to office work to return to that economic safety zone. An economic safety zone is a place to work that reliably produces the resources to feed, clothe, and save for future needs for a family or a single parent or a single person. When someone can no longer find that economic safety zone s/he panics and then looks for a new position to supply what their lifestyle requires. When the market is chaotic and it is difficult to find a place to work that provides that safe financial place, people experience varying degrees of mental anguish. When a population is consumed by mental anguish day-to-day life becomes precarious. If there is no leader or trend that comes along to provide a reliable safety zone, then there is upheaval or failure. We see this all over the world. When people have a reliable economic safety zone in which to operate they can concentrate on things like the quality of the work they do, rewards provided to their psyche by the work they do.

Right now, we are in a time when many workers are not sure what their economic safety zone will look like in the future. Work from home or work at the office seems like a minor matter, since you still have work. However, when people left offices to work at home to help stop a pandemic it clearly was not easy to adjust. The traditional pattern where a husband or father closed himself in his study all day while his wife kept the children occupied (who were also home) did not work for every home situation. Single parent families had to train children to leave them alone during working hours or had to stagger their work in order to care for their children and their employer. Two income families had to find a live-in childcare provider/tutor or one parent had to give up a job perhaps. Now that families function in a WFH environment and children are back in school they are required to turn on a dime and go back to the office. 

One article called this ‘whiplash’ because then delta came along and sent workers home again. Some workers are not so ready to go back to the office or even to the job they had. They have found that they like working from home. Workers are humans with feelings and these feelings affect the way the entire society functions at any given point in time. America does not feel calm right now. It is not humming along. Finding out what will make America hum is the key to what will happen in the world of work.

Rushing to ‘robot-up’ may be the next new thing but it creates as many problems as if solves. Capitalism relies on consumers. If people don’t work, they can’t consume. If robots, even temporarily displace multiple workers how will these workers find a new economic safety zone. Transitions may offer more jobs at some future time, but those caught in the crunch, left unemployed and unemployable will require some of our creative thoughts, if we like to live in a healthy society. 

Will we have a Universal Basic Income? This was discussed in the PBS series on work, and it was a policy of Andrew Yang who ran for President and for Mayor of NYC. CEO’s and other employers are aghast at the idea of a UBI, ‘what pay people not to work’, but if you like to live in a society that feels like it is working well that may be the only way to help keeps things afloat and keep the capitalism beloved by wealthy folks everywhere.

What about people who don’t work in an office, like educators? Educators work a school day and then they work at home planning and marking papers, keeping records. Their days are sometimes long, and they strive to come up with ways to entice different sorts of learners to learn. WFH, teaching over zoom, has been less successful for many teachers and students than in-person learning. But going back to school with a virus still stalking the land and now affecting children is proving less than ideal. Some major thinking needs to be done about what the future of education in America will look like. 

While one worker may find gig work exciting another might find it stifling to have to start over each day to create an economic safety zone that follows you wherever you go and depends entirely on your own resources to keep you and your family solvent from day to day. Although this new working model will probably stick around, it probably won’t be the only way work is done. Since the way workers feel, either supported by work or in a constant state of uncertainty about where they will be working, affects the entire zeitgeist of a culture, a lot of energy is going into figuring out what will happen next in the world of work. But there is still far more speculation than solid insight and that keeps us all off-balance. What happens in the world of work is of vital interest if a theme of a culture is that work is at the center of life and survival depends on work that offers a wage sufficient to produce an economic safety zone.

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Work in the Twenty-First Century

From The Future of Work Series on PBS

Labor Day got me thinking about the world of work in America. So many people are pontificating about how the pandemic will change work in the future. Many of these people are employers trying to decide whether they want employees back in office or if work from home (WFH) will be more common even after COVID. Hybrid models are being tried out in some work environments, models which have employees spending part of the work week on site and the rest of the week spent working from home. There are discussions about 4-day work weeks once again, and shorter work hours. When commuting to work was interrupted, the WFH model, which we did not think we were ready for, became an important way to work, take care of family needs, and stay healthy. 

Of course, in retail, workers had to report to stores, especially grocery workers. Lucite shields were erected in attempts to stop the air borne virus and masks were required. I met mostly resigned workers, many able to interact normally when I went to buy groceries or to the drug store, but I also met some workers who resented being front line workers when they were also low- pay workers. Restaurants and bars were hit hard. These businesses rarely pay a full wage, assuming low wages will be fleshed out by tips and that competing for good tips will create better servers. Restaurants/bars often created a family atmosphere for their workers. Having to lay off so many of the kitchen and the wait staff showed that there was close family and family that could be parted with. Hard times unraveled the myth of ‘family.’ There were not enough profits to pay everyone through the pandemic as restaurants turned to delivery mode.

Now we see employers having trouble finding employees, and employees taking a moment to reassess how and where they want to work, perhaps seeing this moment of worker scarcity as a bargaining moment. However, even before the pandemic work in America (and globally) was already changing. Workers in low paid jobs were exhausted from working two or three jobs to make ends meet. They wanted higher pay and it was becoming a cultural pressure point. Gig workers had their own challenges with a style of working that offered both independence and uncertainty. There was an argument about whether they were employees who got benefits or independent contractors who did not get benefits. Gig work never seemed like a career, a life plan. It did not seem like something workers would want to still be doing as they aged unless it turned into an online business or remunerative WFH situation, which some creative souls were able to engineer.

Clearly the old factory-to-grave model is only marginally available and not at all reliable. There is always the fear that change will come to the business you are counting on, and that any feelings of job security may be unrealistic. Benefits tied to such jobs are under review. If your company needs to respond nimbly to a changing marketplace and you can’t adjust, you lose your health care and your pension. Many are suggesting that benefits need to be separated from workplaces or companies and either offered privately, by government, or made portable through benefit passports (still making them the domain of private or public providers).

It turns out that PBS was also spending time considering what was happening in the world of work. They have been broadcasting a three-part series called The Future of Work. These programs are available on You Tube. Optimistically the researchers who wrote the content found that in every other major transitional age in work, when workers feared that they would never again see boom years, businesses found their feet and more jobs were created than before the change occurred. This time technology is the innovation that is wreaking havoc with the job market. Combine the upheaval workers were already experiencing with an out-of-control pandemic and the future of work looks grim. 

Shockingly, many Americans refuse to be vaccinated against this virus. We all prayed for a vaccine and, for most of us, when we got several vaccines that were effective, we were relieved and felt that the world would soon right itself, or at least America would. But other Americans were convinced that we never should have noticed COVID. We should have flicked it off like an errant gnat and lived life without any concessions to the virus. These Americans have refused the vaccines and plunged the American job market back into precautions that should be unnecessary. Spiraling hospital admissions have left workers wondering if, given the delta variant, now is really the time to go back to work. 

COVID and the unvaccinated have made a transitional age of work even more problematic and in some ways has hastened the introduction of digital innovations. Technological approaches to work are being accelerated by those who are working on AI and robotic approaches to doing work. What jobs can be done by techie inventions and what jobs will have to be done by humans? Robots don’t need childcare, they don’t need sick days (although they do break down), and they can work long hours. 

The prospect of losing our jobs to machines with chips is making us question how children should prepare for the work force. Is a college education still useful? Should education be based on what jobs will be available when children graduate from high school? Will we be able to make meaningful projections that far in advance? Should we return to an apprenticeship model? 

There are many children in America who still have no early access to computers and graduate without having grown up with the digital skills necessary to work in a job that pays an American Dream level wage. Are we planning to address that or doom some children to growing up as a permanent underclass (which is something we are doing right now)? 

A college education gives people a body of knowledge that cannot be suppressed and can enrich the life of the mind. Will this become a frill that a practical society cannot afford. Is the process too time consuming to continue? Is the process becoming too expensive and therefore an indulgence and a burden for the average American, or will we fight for the right of any America to pursue a college degree at a reasonable cost should they wish to follow that path? Go online to almost any content rich social media site and you will find yourself amidst the conversations about the future of work, schooling, and training in America.

The Future of Work series doesn’t give absolute answers to where work in America is headed but it does conclude that transitions usually end up offering more work opportunities rather than fewer positions. If you happen to be living in the eye of that storm, while the transition is happening all around you, that little piece of optimism may not cheer you. Watching innovators find more and more ways to use AI and robotics to do work will displace workers in the short run as workplaces convert and fire low pay workers and hire workers who can manage the mechanical/digital workforce consisting of nonhuman workers. 

The Future of Work program hypothesizes that domestic, childcare and healthcare workers will be the most difficult to replace. While I don’t think parents are ready to leave their babies or senior parents in the care of a virtual reality device or even a humanlike robot, housework might be the ideal place to employ robotics, freeing many Americans from repetitive household tasks and allowing them to keep learning and working. We don’t have robots that are humanlike enough to keep house well, yet.

This series of presentations on the future of work stresses the possibility that workers will need to be open to constant change, to constant learning and retraining. The research suggests that unions may also morph into different forms just as guilds did in earlier societies. Workers may form groups across industries if their needs align. But workers probably will still need to organize in some fashion. Work – how we work, how we train for work, how we are paid for work, how many hours we work, how many breaks we have from work, how often we end up being unemployed – is a key element of our society. Issues around working affect the feeling of well-being or panic in every American and, indeed, every person on the globe.

Transitions are exciting and unnerving, and they can take decades to unfold before a term of stability is restored. Add to this the need to develop alternative energies, the exigencies of climate change and global warming, and we have a recipe for disaster if we can’t adapt. The future of work will affect us all. Keep up with the unfolding drama and keep finding ways to adapt. It may keep us on our toes. It may even make the concept of retirement obsolete and even more enticing as a time to reinvent ourselves once again. Perhaps people who feel useful live longer lives or at least more rewarding lives.

If there is a future for our planet at all, The Future of Work will be perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of that future. However, if you can’t feed your family or afford a place to live it’s impossible to take a long view. We need to acknowledge that workers need support services in a transitional age where periods of unemployment may be part of workers’ lives through no fault of their own. 

Labor Day, My Father, and Unions

This week began with Labor Day which always puts my mind on my father. Dad earned the nickname “Brain” because, had he not been born into a poor family just at the edge of the Great Depression, his intelligence might have led to a very different life than the one he lived. He had to drop out of school after eighth grade to go to work in order to help support his mother and father. He found a job at the Easy Washer plant in Syracuse, NY. I know he worked there for at least 15 years, beginning when he was thirteen. Easy Washer made wringer washing machines. I also know that he worked there right through WWII, doing essential war work. 

After the war, my father’s plant was folded into General Electric. He had taught himself all about electrical circuits and even learned higher math skills, algebra and calculus, through home correspondence courses. For the rest of his life, until he retired, he worked in the TVR section of GE where assembly lines turned out the first televisions, whose guts consisted of an array of cathode tubes. Televisions were small and heavy and changed over time from black and white to color sets. He knew how each tube functioned in the TV and he purchased tubes which he kept in his basement workshop where he fixed our neighbors’ televisions and radios. 

General Electric had a very active union, AFL-CIO, and my father became a union steward. Management was never fond of unions. Unions turned workers into a powerful bargaining unit. Often unions fought to force management to stop encroaching on rights that workers had already won. It was common to force workers to work hours of overtime after a full shift by threatening to replace workers who said “no” to extra hours. Whenever a worker had a grievance, they could ask the union to put the power of numbers behind the rather puny efforts of one worker in order to right a wrong. Of course, sometimes unions overstepped also, and used their power to force the company to keep workers who were slackers, or who stirred up disagreements with fellow workers. Unions often stood up for workers in cases of discrimination, but not always as often as they should have. 

A pattern was set up in the minds of workers, that anyone hired into a factory like GE would work there for his or her entire life and would retire from there one day in their old age. There were no health care plans, no retirement plans, no unemployment insurance, no social security, but there supposedly was the sense that you had joined a family and if you ‘pulled your weight’ you would keep your job for a lifetime. Gradually the federal government began to offer programs to help workers with retirement and unemployment. 

My father and the union workers at GE went on strike many times to win higher wages as the American economy began to grow and inflation kicked in. Often, they were offered benefits in place of higher wages. Probably half of our family’s eight children had left home before the company offered health care and retirement savings programs. Workers did not get paid while they were out on strike, and some strikes were lengthy. The union gave striking families stipends which kept them from starvation but caused wage earners much anxiety about other costs like mortgage payments, clothing for their children for school, other school costs, and the costs of keeping a car on the road. Our family seemed to live in waves of feast and famine. 

Capitalism is an economic system which encourages private ownership of a business paired with the sale of items in a marketplace to consumers who keep the owner in business. Since businesses are run by people and people have flaws like greed, or a single-minded drive to succeed at the cost of employees, corporations are as corrupt as their owners. Businesses must please stockholders and boards of directors when they become large corporations. When money seems pinched or the market wobbly, workers without unions could face unreasonable work demands from these large corporation, where the work force was basically faceless to the owners. Unions filled an essential role.

But, a fact of our lives is that life moves on, sometimes at a fast pace, sometimes slowly. Promises made for a lifetime may not be kept if conditions change and the world after WWII saw many changes. In 1960 SONY introduced the first solid state television sets. These sets did not use tubes. The technology was new, and my father was unprepared for it. But he did not make televisions by that time. He worked in the “Master Oscillator” room checking instruments and keeping records. 

By the time he was thinking about retirement he still had four children at home who were in high school. He could not retire yet. GE encouraged him to leave by putting him back on the main assembly line. He was anxious all the time and the assembly line pressures disturbed his sleep at night. Soon television production was no longer profitable for GE in Syracuse, and the company decided to move their TV operations to another city. 

Southeast Asia was producing more and more televisions and they were less expensive for consumers to buy. The marketplace was changing, and unions were also caught off guard. They did not understand that they were competing against a foreign labor force that could be paid far less than American workers were being paid. Unions kept asking for higher wages. Corporations like to say that the unions pushed them to go overseas. However, corporations go where their bottom line is best served, where their profit margins are best, where consumers are hungry for the goods they produce. 

Once the USSR came apart in 1981 and businesses in China began to take off in the 1980’s, corporations rushed to fill a factory vacuum in countries that offered a seemingly endless supply of cheap labor. The unions may not have seen the handwriting on the wall, but the corporations did, and they leaped across oceans to seize the opportunities presented. American companies declared bankruptcy, leaving their employees without their pensions. Finally, the federal government had to step in and offer some recompense to workers left high and dry after years of labor. The labor market in America changed drastically causing the grievances that right-wing talk show hosts inflamed. 

Now we have people who must work two or three low-wage jobs and still cannot pay for all their needs. We have something called ‘gig workers’ whatever that is. We have more entrepreneurs which is not necessarily a bad thing, but our small businesses are less stable than those large corporations once were. And we have a pandemic which has led to interruptions in supply chains. The American economy seems poised to recover but is being held back by partisan fights over commonsense health initiatives.

As companies joined the Great Factory Migration, we saw a right-wing push to make unions obsolete by passing laws called ‘right to work’ laws, which is meant to put a positive spin on something that is not positive at all. Unions charged nonunion workers a fee although they were not members because it made the union more powerful and allowed the unions to win more battles with management. Workers resented these fees, but they also received the same hard-won benefits that union members received when the fight was over. Pressure from the right-wing to pass right-to-work laws included the use of strategies that escalated the anger already present in nonunion workers about having to help pay for union negotiations

Unions may seem like archaic vestiges of a former age right now, but I would not give up on all that employee empowerment so quickly. Workers still need to band together to keep from giving management free reign over its worst impulses. There are many rights that workers still need in America, rights that workers have in other nations. Workers still must choose between family and employers when emergencies arise. Workers must choose between childcare and work, and this often affects female workers most, although men actually have children too, and there are few if any choices offered for men who might choose to be a childcare provider.     

My dad was forced into early retirement when his skill set no longer matched what was needed in a company that he thought had become his other family. He was fortunate to work for a company that did not have to declare bankruptcy. GE was able to keep its retirement promises to senior employees. Watching his skills become obsolete was still hard on my father and the strategy of putting senior workers back on the main assembly line where they were often too slow to keep up left him feeling abused, angry, and incompetent. 

Spending a lifetime in the hire of a single corporation or employer is highly unlikely in today’s work climate. But I still pay my union dues, although I am retired. I hope that all union workers will keep paying dues to their unions if they can. We may need our unions again. Even Amazon employees are trying to unionize, so far without much success and some possible cheating on the part of management. Workers may all be replaced by robots, but it looks like that will not happen quite yet. People will still want to be productive and won’t want those Republicans to think of them as deadbeats. AI presents whole new challenges for workers. How soon this transition will happen no one knows. So, for now we need to keep our unions alive and oppose the passage of right-to-work laws. CEO’s don’t run the world, workers do.

Bad Business, Spectrum and Apple TV

From a Google Image Search-Crushpixel

Parent company Charter Communications has apparently brokered a deal between Spectrum cable service and Apple TV to perhaps boost the sales of two laggers in the marketplace. Spectrum has been losing ground to streaming services, as have all cable providers. Apple TV, while slick and fancy, does not yet have the content of a provider like Netflix. It is really just a pricy Roku. 

Spectrum has been advertising cable service at 44.99 if you bundle it with internet service. This means that your internet service could go from 79.99 to 44.99. But beware. The deal includes an Apple TV adapter to stream Spectrum cable. This Apple TV adapter will cost you $183 in $7.99 chunks. You are not renting the device, you are buying it. Once you open it, you cannot return it and will have to pay the price even if you cancel your cable service. The catch is that you cannot find out how, or even if, it works unless you open it. None of this is explained in advance.

It’s not clear if Spectrum deliberately set out to fool customers with this odd marriage prenup, but if it wasn’t a mirky business deal designed to benefit two hard-to-sell products, then Spectrum did not do the research it should have done. Turns out that this device will not stream Spectrum cable on all TVs. The TV can’t just be any smart TV, it must be smart enough. This device only works properly on 4K TVs. Once you are hooked up to the Apple TV device you have to install the Spectrum app. If you don’t have the correct TV, the installation doesn’t work. So you can’t watch Spectrum TV on your nice big screen. You can probably watch TV on your smaller computer screen or on your phone, but, for most adults, that would not be acceptable. And because you opened and hooked up Apple TV you cannot return it.

Try speaking to Spectrum about this. You are met with a totally inflexible company policy which has been indoctrinated in all employees that you must pay your $183 for that Apple device which doesn’t work. If you get too insistent they refer you to Apple Support. They will even give you the number. When you speak with Apple Support they will tell you that Charter Communications purchased those Apple TV devices and Apple no longer supports them. They are supported by Spectrum. But Spectrum will insist that you call Apple. The consumer is caught in a ridiculous round robin whose only goal is to steal your money. Shame on both companies for making this bad business deal.

Wait until you experience that difficult to navigate Apple TV remote with its minimalist offerings and its overly sensitive touch pad. If you’re twelve you’ll get it. Over twelve you will want to throw it in the garbage, or against a wall, lose it permanently under a seat cushion. There you’ll be in luck. We are great at losing remotes and this one is very small.

It is unclear how you get any satisfaction, although you will get a useless apology, as if the company has nothing to do with this marketing mess. You may end up OK if you have the right TV. You may end up with no cable and out $183. And Apple insists that the person who bought the deal must be present to accept the delivery. They may call it security, but it feels more like legal protection so you can’t claim the thing you don’t want was never delivered. Have some pillows ready to punch because you will be frustrated and tempted to throw expensive electronics, perhaps one that costs $183.

January Sixth Commission and Republicans

From a Google Image Search – CNN

The Republican Party is dead to me. If we want a conservative voice in America, which is not something I need, then conservatives who see how undemocratic the current Republican Party has become need to form that new party or join the Democrats. They need to do this now or we stand to lose our Republic and see our Constitution suspended.

One of the worst crimes of the current Republican Party is their constant attempts to use gaslighting and mind control to influence Americans. They have used their own media both on radio and tv, they have harnessed (just barely) an immoral charismatic old reprobate, and they believe that through the church they have friends in high places (God) who will preach from the pulpit telling parishioners who and what to vote for. 

Republicans use denial to drive rational Americans into fits of frustrated anger, and irrational Americans into mobs. It is the most egregious and dangerous use of power, something we would condemn in any other nation, but we cannot rid ourselves of these mind games used to hold onto power. Whenever sane people try to call these people out they are met with derision, or threats. 

It doesn’t matter how many times you have read George Orwell’s 1984 and wondered why people let somebody convince them that Big Brother was acting in their best interests, until they were under the total control of a dictator who invaded their lives right into their own living rooms. It doesn’t matter that we can see that technology now exists that works even better than spying through old tech like televisions. We find Siri and Alexis very helpful. I’m not saying these ladies are spying on us for any other purpose than ferreting out what we want or need to buy-for marketplace reasons. But a party that doesn’t mind brainwashing America is only one step away from spying on our daily lives for political reasons. Trump tried to do this several times when he asked for lists of everyone who opposed him on various issues, or in the census when he wanted to use the census to hunt down undocumented people living in America.

Brian Sicknick’s mother Gladys did something against her quiet and introverted nature; she went to Congress to try to talk the Republican members into voting for the January Sixth Commission. Evidence suggests that her son was not killed by those who attacked the Capitol, but the stress and length of the fight triggered biological weaknesses which killed him. He would most likely be alive and marrying his girlfriend, who also went along to talk to Congress, if not for the “battle” to install a president in the oval office who did not win. Republican members stood firm in their unwillingness to convene a commission even in the face of a personal plea from the mother of a Capital policeman who died defending their safety.

This feeling of hopeless anger I feel in my gut every time Republicans lie about actual events that we saw with our own eyes, the anger that makes me want to throw things at my tv, that makes me want to march and protest, that sends me to my keyboard to at least have my say, is a terrible sign that our democracy may not stand. Republicans like Rep. Andrew Craig, who tries to turn a Trump citizen army into normal tourists, mess with our minds. We carry the picture of the events of January 6 th in our brains and we know Republicans are lying. We carry the text of Trump’s speech to his peeps on that day in our heads and regardless of how the Republicans spin it, we have the evidence in our minds (just like we will carry the video of Derek Chauvin with his nonchalant murder of a man he was hired to serve, with his knee on George Floyd’s neck). 

So, when Sen. Ron Johnson gives Gladys Sicknick some bogus nonsense about his reasons for voting no on a commission to investigate the events of January 6 th, responsible for the death of her son, we see the depths of Republican willingness to deny reality, to change the headlines, to disrespect our senses, and to let us know that they believe they can lie to the American people with impunity, they can look the other way while unauthorized people recount our votes, they can devise ways to keep us from the polls, they can rule American forever if they just ignore every rule of common decency and sell their souls to a huckster because he seems to have sold his goods to almost half of our citizens. 

It’s embarrassing to be thought so little of that Republicans can twist the truth right in front of our very eyes and get away with it. What will we do, what will it take to convince these soulless men and women that we will not stand idly by and let our inaction be proof of our inertia or our willingness to let anything be done to us. One half of America has been turned into an instrument in the Republican war on reality, waged to maintain a power that will be anything but democratic. Just one little event, one plea from a mother that is refused with a lie; could that be that proverbial last straw. I doubt it, but the load is getting heavy. We all want to keep our government intact and defeat our foes through laws and reason. Whatever people want to say about Joe Biden he may be our last hope for a return to reason and civility and democracy. Trump and Newt Gingrich are teaming up. That can’t be good. While we still can, use the vote in 2022 to get rid of Republicans in Congress.

Impunity, No Consequences, No Repercussions

From a Google Image Search – Art Jewelry Forum

If there are no consequences for “bad” political behavior, “bad” economic behavior, or “bad” public health behavior, then “bad” actors will always be winners. Does that make the earnest compliers, the empathizers, the pragmatic problem solvers chumps?

Matt Gaetz said that bringing earmarks back is worse than child trafficking. Earmarks were brought back to grease the wheels of bipartisanship, most likely. They are a part of politics that we find distasteful and that people fought to end. Will they work to win votes from the adamantly inflexible and lockstep Republicans in Congress? I doubt it. If Republicans can find a way they will continue to withhold any participation in Democrats’ approaches (stall or kill bills) and still ‘take the money and run.’ 

I don’t think I even need to discuss the other half of Gaetz’ cynical analogy, an obvious attempt to belittle the serious anathema of child trafficking in order to minimize the consequences of his probably real lack of values. The question of whether a man who draws such a revealingly amoral analogy should participate in our national government should have only one answer, a resounding “no”. However, there will most likely be no consequences.

Trump’s approach to the pandemic was to constantly downplay the virility of the disease. He focused on his “beautiful economy,” even as the entire world was shutting down. Can America ignore the rest of the globe and conduct a good economy all by itself? The answer is “no.” Does America want a leader that values the economy more than American lives (well, he says, they were old people, they were poor people, they were people of color, they were disposable people)? There seem to be no consequences for a President and a Party with such questionable values.

Health guidelines told us that masking would help us avoid catching the virus and allow Americans to go back to work and yet, oddly, a president who cared only about economics made wearing a mask a political test. Half of Americans turned masking into an attack on their personal freedom and therefore, the US Constitution. They were willing to take away the personal freedom of other Americans to wear masks even up to and including using bullying and violence to attack the “mask nerds and traitors,” as if we were all on the playground at school, or at a Nazi rally. There were few if any repercussions for this behavior except possibly being asked to leave a Walmart. There were a number of governors who legitimized ignoring common sense health rules. Yet there is no data to show that these unmasked states suffered more deaths than masked states because the cause-effect threads are difficult to trace.

Did a defiant, or Trump-compliant governor like Ron DeSantis bring any calamity down on Florida? He refused most of the advice of health experts and Florida actually gained in population. Did he skate? It looks like he won by ignoring science and common sense. It has us wondering if there are any consequences at all for choosing economics over human lives. It’s difficult to tell how many deaths resulted from DeSantis’s disregard of health precautions because people traveled to the state to party and went back to homes all over America to spread COVID-19. DeSantis looks like a winner, right down to the arrogant grin on his tiny round face. Why is he winning? It makes bad behavior look good. Small wonder that half of America is shocked and mystified. Even if there are repercussions there is a media that puts a positive spin on every negative outcome.

Now half of America has decided to believe that the vaccine designed to end this pandemic will kill them, or have unknown future ramifications, and they are most likely the same Americans whose rights were offended by wearing masks. While accusing the left of anarchy, their behavior is far more likely to lead to the defiance of laws. But now the non-maskers and the non-vaccinators are stuck with each other. Still no repercussions? We’ll find out, but it may not bring anyone any happiness.

No consequences for inciting violence, no repercussions for sedition, for denying science, for betraying the integrity of free and fair elections, for trashing truth, and stealing tax dollars and so many “bad” behaviors carried out right out in the open and then denied by brash lies. Impunity was the word in the media today. Impunity is kissing the ring of the worst President America has ever had, a President we ought to shun. Half of America still wants this man who insists that evil is good back in the Oval Office. All we seem able to do is plead with the Universe to bring on the consequences please. The Universe, however, does not seem to intervene in human affairs.

If all the negative consequences of Trumpism are unknown until some future time, if we don’t want to play his game by fighting back and digging into the real present day repercussions of “bad” political behavior, if we have no stomach for the battles we obviously face, we will become a majority party with no power, pounded into dust by a fascist sensibility fostered by a media without a conscience, and America will exist in name only. Those who should have lost the “game” will win and the new game will be rigged against morality and against “we the people,” perhaps forever. Winning matters, but how you win also matters in the long run or it should. How reassuring is ‘the long run’ to short-lived humans anyway?

AI, Humanoid Robots, the Singularity, or Curiosity Killed the Cat

Webtek Media

Even before the Jetson’s, Isaac Asimov gave us the Laws of Robotics in a short story called “Roundabout” published in 1942. The idea of creating machines with brains which could do work for us has been a dream of humans living in many different eras. But it was the stuff of fiction until now. And although we are closer to robots who think like humans than humans have ever been, although we now use Artificial Intelligence in many ways, we have not created the ‘singularity.’ There is currently a race to make the iconic robot, a thinking, feeling machine that can anticipate our needs and our moods, relieve us of tedious tasks, and take on the dangerous tasks that would kill or maim fragile humans.

Asimov’s Laws were written to protect humans from robots. We have always feared achieving humanoid robots even as we are heading pell mell towards producing them. Why do we keep going? If we understood that, we would have unlocked the mystery of what drives humans to do anything.

The very fact that Asimov wrote his laws reminds us that we also know the dual nature of our reality. Regardless of what we invent, create, or do to solve a problem, the solution will eventually reveal that it offers negatives as well as positives. Asimov wanted to look at what could go awry with robotics and protect against it. Clearly the more intelligent the creations, the more we endow them with the power to use human decision-making skills, make them capable of learning (and learning perhaps even beyond human intelligence), the more nervous we are that robots will no longer need humans and may harm us.

Asimov wrote:

First Law of Robotics

A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law of Robotics

A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the first law.

Third Law of Robotics

A robot  must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the first and second law.

We have had some evil robots like Hal the computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey and in some of Asimov’s books, like I, Robot. In fact Asimov wrote many books about robots. We have had robots we fell in love with like C-3PO and R2-D2, and BB-8. We had robots of war like the AT -AT walkers in Star Wars. 

Since robots obey their owners and people are both good and evil, robots in fiction represent both sides of our nature. Recent books with robots and AI’s seem to be deliberately presenting us with kinder, gentler robots, whose human-like personalities make them very appealing. Authors seem to want to persuade us that Asimov was wrong when he suggested that robots that are too human may turn on us. Asimov implied, after all why would they need us? His robots learn that humans are not worthy of respect. Modern authors picture robot-human interactions as far more emotional and positive. 

Martha Wells presents us with The Murderbot Diaries, where the main character is a robot designed to be a ‘murderbot’ who doesn’t like his role in life, finds a way to excise his governing controller and goes rogue — but in the most heroic and entertaining ways. Kazuo Ishiguro presents us, in Klara and the Sun, with the very tuned-in AI, Klara, who runs on solar energy and seems to ‘out-human’ the humans by taking such good care of the person she is purchased for. Modern sci-fi of the world-building variety mixes humans and robots indiscriminately. We even have the dark view of humans who exploit robots as in Blade Runner. Google (which runs on AI) can give you a list of books about robots.

We may be discussing whether or not we should advance artificial intelligence, how far we should go with it and if we will ever reach the ‘singularity,’ but all the while we are discussing AI we are already using it in so many spheres. We have manufacturing robots, self-driving cars, smart assistants, proactive healthcare management, disease mapping, automated financial investing, virtual travel booking agents, social media monitoring, inter-team chat tools, conversational marketing bots, natural language processing tools, Facebook newsfeed, Google search, book recommendations, an iRobot or a Roomba to vacuum or mop our floors, GPS, facial recognition, handwriting recognition, speech recognition, virtual reality, artificial creativity and if you google artificial intelligence there is even more. Some of these involve simple algorithms, some are more complex. 

Neal Stephenson, in his book Fall, or Dodge in Hell, suggests that the eventual outcome of finding the singularity is oblivion, or living forever but only as digital beings. Is he issuing a warning like Asimov’s laws, that experts say robotics has moved beyond, or is his warning, which is more informed by where robotics has gone and where computing has gone, a warning we should heed. We are close to having quantum computing that does not require subhuman conditions to function, allowing us to handle data with exponentially greater speed and complexity. What good things will come with quantum computing and what will we do that might bring harm to humans, animals or the planet? We don’t know, but it looks like we’ll find out, unless the climate changes wrought by human excesses knock us back into a more primitive age. Stop or go on, yes or no? I think we all know the answer.

Trouble at the Border

From a Google Image Search – Reuters – Paul Ratje

Any opening the Dems give the Republicans to besmirch President Biden and Democratic Party policies they will take. So, having returned to accepting refugees at the southern border all the old talk that is intended to rev up fear of letting children running from drug cartels, climate changes that challenge food production, and lack of opportunity into America is being put in high gear once again. Kevin McCarthy and a group of Republican legislators, including my representative, John Katko have rushed to the southern border to find the MS-13 gangs rushing into America. 

Perhaps America had to stop breaking our immigration rules but it is a tough sell in the time of this pandemic. I wish that arrangements could have been made in advance for housing these children until their sponsors could be found. While honoring one law, we are breaking others. Children are not supposed to be held for more than 72 hours. These children will most likely be in custody for longer than 30 days. They are once again being held in cells or in jail-like settings and there is over-crowding. 

President Biden has called on FEMA to help find more humane ways to handle this influx of young, unaccompanied immigrants from our neighbors to the south. He has opened the Dallas Convention Center to house 3000 children with the help of FEMA. He is calling for help from social services workers to come to the border or find other ways to help place these children. We will be hearing heaps of blame and fearmongering over the next couple of months. The purpose may be to drown out the benefits of the relief funds. Biden is planning outreach in red states to make voters aware of what is in the relief program, but he will have to also address this activity at the southern border. Does fear trump hope? It all depends on Biden and the Democrats and how well they handle these two challenges.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2021/03/16/mccarthy-terrorists-border-gallego-escobar/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/biden-immigration-political-threat/2021/03/15/bee8c83c-85a9-11eb-bfdf-4d36dab83a6d_story.html

How America’s Billionaires Fared in the Pandemic

This is not the graph from the WaPo article. This Statista graph looks at only the rise in profits from March (2020) to November (2020). From a Google Image Search

The article published in The Washington Post today (March 12, 2021) has an eye-opening graph which shows the profits that continued to fill the bank accounts of billionaires as unemployment rose and food lines lengthened. Elon Musk thrived with his profits soaring over 1000 times in one year. Even someone like Bill Gates who is a billionaire philanthropist saw his profits increase by a factor of 29. WaPo offers a graph that I could not capture. You can see it here:

https://www.washingtonpost.com/technology/2021/03/12/musk-bezos-zuckerberg-gates-pandemic-profits/

Republicans are still railing against the pandemic relief bill. They seem rabid with anger because they contend that helping those at the bottom of our economy is the wrong move. They are suddenly back to being against raising the deficit even though there seems to be no other way (without making billionaires pay their fair share) to make sure our economy recovers. We certainly know trickle down doesn’t work.

Societies that get too top heavy often topple. We seem pretty close to a tipping point if we don’t pay some attention to those who have been neglected. Small businesses may be too pinched by a $15/hr wage, but that is only because some people are stockpiling profits that might oil the wheels of even the smallest enterprise.

Elon Musk may justify his enormous profits because his goals are very pricy, but if the American economy tanks no one will profit from his space flights or his automobiles except other wealthy people. He is just making toys for the rich. Will his rich boy toys eventually help save the earth or give us a way to escape a ruined earth. Maybe. But who wants a ruined planet Earth or a tanked US economy. We need to do a reboot in the ways our economy functions to reward so few over and over again, and so many hardly at all.

The Three Mothers by Anna Malaika Tubbs – Book

From a Google Image Search – Women’s Foundation of California

Anna Malaika Tubbs has given us a book about The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation. I began reading this book near the end of Black History Month and finished it on International Women’s Day, a serendipitous accident of relevance. 

Emma Berdis Baldwin was born on the island of Grenada to an activist mother and father who faced the same fights for racial equality we have seen in America. America had claimed to be a nation where all men (and they did mean men) were created equal, but of course when she arrived she found that she was not in any racial nirvana. James was Berdis’s eldest child. Berdis was able to communicate love, pride, and the value of an education to her family and her family remained a close and loving one living in a four story Harlem building owned by James Baldwin which offered places for his sisters and brothers. Finding a mother as beloved as Berdis, a mother who produces a child of such value to the nation and the world is surely enough to hold a place for Berdis in our historical memory. 

Louise Little, mother of Malcolm X, was an activist all her life. She and her husband and her children moved frequently because her activism made them targets. She was a follower and an important worker in the movement begun by Marcus Garvey. She wrote in his newspaper and spread his message despite one close call with the KKK and other terrorist attempts to force her to be quiet. Her husband Earl was killed when he was pushed in front of a trolley. She and her children struggled with poverty after Earl’s death. Social services (welfare) pursued the family, eventually sending Louise to a mental institution, although her only mental illness was the stress of single parenting in a world where she could find no work. Malcolm X had followed in his mother’s footsteps, although he was not a Garveyite. He founded the Black Panthers and was assassinated for his embrace of violence as a means to change, but of course Martin Luther King Jr. who believed in nonviolent protest was also assassinated. Louise was released after 25 years in the mental institution and was able to spend her last years surrounded by her family in a lovely and peaceful black town they founded.

Alberta King was married to the powerful reverend at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. She led a life of greater affluence. Alberta was a talented musician who played the organ at that famous church and led a renowned choir that people came from miles around to hear. She also gave lessons in music to many black Atlanta children. As she watched Martin Luther, (ML) as he was called, turn into a speaker who captured the attention of the entire world she worried constantly about the forces arrayed against him. One day a stranger entered the Ebenezer Baptist Church and shot Alberta and four others as she sat at her organ. She survived to be surrounded in her age by her remaining children and grandchildren.

Anna Malaika Tubbs is well aware of how women, especially Black women get erased from history and she did not want that to happen in the case of at least these three moms who gave the world so much. As she writes she shows us the ways that these sons were products of their upbringing and how the mothers were the most influential forces in their children’s lives. These mothers lived through many dark days and they kept their families afloat and put hope and love and a need to speak out in their hearts. Our nation benefitted from the lives of these three men and they would, all three, wish us to remember their mothers. I can’t think of a better message for International Women’s Day (March 8, 2021)