09 December 2016

Open Letter to a Bag of Bricks

Dear Bag of Bricks,

You will probably never read this, being a bag of bricks, but I’m not writing this open letter for you anyway, I’m writing it to call attention to myself at your expense, why else would anyone write an open letter right.

You didn’t start out as a bunch of bricks in a bag. Each and every last brick of you was made individually albeit by a machine and with the intent that every one of you should be absolutely identical; but the world is not so simple, and so each of you are unique, at least in some limited sense of having unique patterns of scratches and specific chemical compositions, plus your own personal history of being nicked and roughly handled, etc.  Nonetheless you’re all effectively identical, let’s be real, you’re a bunch of common bricks after all.  But in some sense you are individuals; you will be slathered with cement and then laid each into a slightly different place, never to move again until you can no longer maintain structural integrity and crumble into lifeless fragments, smaller and smaller until thousands and thousands of years hence you shall return to the merest trace of stardust of which all of us are made, bricks included.

But I came here this evening not to pontificate about the bricks themselves so much as how they got in that bag, what they are doing there, wither they shall be conveyed and ultimately used.  For a bag of bricks is nothing in itself.  It is only through being conveyed to worksite and then integrated in an orderly fashion into something large, possibly beautiful but at least in some sense constructive, or in other words it is only through edification – not just the the building of something but the building up of something – that bricks realize their ultimate destiny.

Cuz here’s the thing: I know how you feel, in fact I venture to say that I know exactly how you feel.  For I too, once upon a time, was but also too merely a lowly bag of bricks.

I worked my way up from the brickyards of my fathers, I pulled myself up by my own square corners. When I started on my long journey I was quite nearly an empty bag, I held deep down in my darkest recesses but a single brick.  The other bags would tease me, calling me One-Brick and other derogatory nicknames, making me sit at a table in the corner by myself and never inviting me out wilding with them on Friday nights.  Ah what a sad sack of bricks I was, never would I know the pure bricky joy of being thrown through the windows of abandoned factories, or being used to prop open an important door, or assembled into a fire pit around which humans drank from a bottle, telling their stories and singing their songs… Dreams and hopes were all I had, all I could ever hope to have, the dream of becoming a big strong bag full of the kind of quality bricks that would make my mother proud, make the whole world sit up and take notice, make the universe, for once and for all eternity, acknowledge my existence.

The bag holding aforesaid bricks itself has quite an interesting story, a story that reaches far beyond the mere bricks it is carrying, it is quite possibly, perhaps, the most interesting bag on earth.  Few bags would have more tales to tell.  Wait a second, do bricks even come in bags?  Maybe from a Home Depot or something I suppose.  But no, who ever heard of a bag of bricks?  This is idiocy.  Forget I even wrote it.  (Do I still get paid?  Yep I get paid either way, it’s in my contract, eat it people … and see you next week!)

Best –

19 November 2016

Come on, Mrs. Dalrymple, Stop Stealing My Combs

"Come on, Mrs. Dalrymple, stop stealing my combs.  This is the fourth one since Tuesday.  I don't care about the NSA spying scandal, stop stealing my effin combs.  No–  What?  Not Sean Puffy Combs, I mean my hair combs you bitty old nimrod.  Those combs have a permanent place in my collection.  They have a value to me that goes far beyond what they might 'fetch' on the open market, which by the way is a not inconsiderable sum.  And yes as a matter of fact I do use them, to comb my hair.  Yeah yeah there's that mess in the Congo, it's terrible and my heart goes out to those people, truly – but it's no excuse for you to steal my combs.  I've spent the better part of a lifetime assembling those combs.  There is not an insignificant comb in the whole pile.  Every single tooth on every one of those combs is important to me (dammit).  What?  Yes, the teeth on my combs are fine, thanks, it is indeed a fine-toothed comb collection.  It's a helluv'an ensemble.  If you look up comb collection in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of mine, or at least of one closely resembling mine.  Remove a single comb and the whole is missing something integral, irretrievable.  And you have now removed four, which means that four integral, irreplaceable things must first be retrieved and then be replaced.  Four of my precious combs, Mrs. Dalrymple.  Here I be, beseechin thee: Stop stealing my combs!"
Conclusion of the foregoing.

21 October 2016

My Influences

Thousands of readers write in every week asking for directions both literally and metaphorically, how to get where they're going or un-get where they done got to now, but not one has ever written in asking me about my influences.  I find this personally offensive but will let it slide, I'm not particularly litigious and anyway I don't need to make up some stupid fake letters from readers just to talk about what I want to talk about, to wit: Who were the writers and thinkers who shaped my marvelous and really quite unique sensibilities?

For many years I steadfastly refused to read the writing of my contemporaries, mainly out of some vague fear of falling under their influence.  But when I reflect on my formative years – growing up in Petaluma during the soi disant Age of Frobosity, sent to school at sea by a vindictive step-aunt, cast ashore at Harper's Ferry and called into the service of my country where I would rise to the rank of Adjutant Poobah and be awarded the Hercules of Honor Medal – there are a few men and women whose books sustained me, who provided me with the nourishment of hope and and the sweetened condensed mother's milk of inspiration, blah blah blah enough already, here goes nothing.

Sir William Penrose wrote poems, histories and biographies, political tracts, more than one but less than seven (inclusive) novels and any number of short stories, as well as what in his day were considered scientific monographs (but which today we might call 'blogposts').  His How to Write About Writing an Essay and Other Essays has been translated into eleven languages, albeit in most cases by schoolchildren or mental incompetents.  His influence continues to make its influence felt in high school English readers in financially strapped counties of the heartland and condensed short stories in Scholastic, as well as on the dusty shelves of long-abandoned libraries.  When I was maybe ten we spent a summer at a friend's cabin on some lake and there were only like twelve books in the house and four of them were The Complete Sir William Penrose Volumes 1 to 3, and 6 I think.  I had never read anything like those books, and I never have again, but in some strange way they have stayed with me all these years.  Sir William Penrose not only taught me how to write, and how to kill time, he taught me perhaps the most important lesson a writer can learn, namely that people will read just about anything if there is nothing else better at hand.

Vinnie Kookaburra-Slacktower is the author of an estimated 1500 paperback novels, a handful of which are notable bestsellers that someone in your immediate family has read or probably at least heard of (such as Death at Queenstocking, Ambergris at Dawn, The Vultures and the Titmice, Vodka Libre, etc.).  Reading Kookaburra-Slacktower at his finest is like taking a kick in the ribs from Preston Sturges and then being run over by a Cadillac driven by Shakespeare. The final words of Saddam Hussein just before his execution were a quote from one of Kookaburra-Slacktower's lesser-known novels, The Scarlet Hustle: "Viva l’arrivederci! Let the sparks fall where they may!"

Richard Grimes Honglebury wrote nothing but poems, poetry, poesy, and poetical dialectics. This is in fact because he was created to serve as a name only for poems composed by your trusted narrator and his character has never been assigned responsibility for anything published here that isn't for whatever reason broken up into pretentious little lines.  His works have almost appeared in An Anthology of American Literary Poetry for Poets and Writer-types, and Best of the Bauhaus Poets: Poetry from Back Behind the Bauhaus.  His name has been handwritten into the blank pages at the back of such poetry anthologies as, Brown Butter Sorbee: An Anthology of Poetry Ostensibly in the English Language from Way Back When to the Present, and Wee Willie Winkie: The Poetry and Poems of Jack Kerouac Imitators.

Rosie Collingsworth writes a bi-annual column in Variety for Kids, and is the author of almost as many celebrity biographies as there are celebrities.  Perhaps best-known among these is the rollicking, blistering tell-all tearjerker Jack Lord: Life in the 50th State of Being.  She currently writes for Wikipedia and other top-tier websites such as Bigglebanger dot com dot net backslash creampuff dot html.  She is the author of over seven hundred and fifty of those Buzzfeed quizzes that help to settle the nagging question of which character from a particular television program or work of fiction you most resemble.  Like almost every living American, she has had an essay or two published on The Huffington Post.  Known for her trademark flambacious style and unrestrained sense of enfants du plus, Rosie relentlessly drags her readers up mountains of hearsay before whimsically tossing them into the crevasse of moral turpitude.  What can I say?  She makes me cackle.

Related Posts:
The Quest for the Extant Sextant by Richard Grimes Honglebury
What's Papular With Rosie Collingsworth
Sunday Conversation: Alice Phillips

22 September 2016

Mellow Robots

Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About the Machines Taking Over

Two simple questions for anyone fixated on the idea that robots may one day attempt to ‘take over the world’ by waging war on humanity:  What’s their motivation, and how do they reproduce?

Computers are utterly helpless, completely incapable of making even a single replicant on their own.  To those who blithely predict self-replicating computers I say, Pshaw.  How are they gonna order that part from China and get it shipped over here, and the engineers screwed up the specs and the recent Big Storm has sent silicon prices through the roof … think about how a computer is actually built, from raw materials to finished product (and not just how the computer is built but how the machines needed to build the computer are built) then tell me how, without the involvement of many many many humans, machines would even (begin to) get started.  For me this one is clearly in the category of, Ain’t happenin.  Sorry ’bout that, machines.

Even if somehow computers could reproduce, why should we think they would ever want to?  We are animals, born with drives to survive and reproduce that computers will never have.  Why would we think the machines would act like us?  We can program them to mimic human actions with remarkable fidelity, but they will never possess the same underlying drives which make us so, well, human.

There's no way they would ever replicate unless we design them to replicate.  We have an innate drive to bone, they don’t; we would have to program it in – and why the hay-ull would we do that?  But okay let’s say someone did, do people think they'd just replicate to infinity and hunt down our grandparents in their easy chairs?  Well what if we put a little thing in their code that says, if you look around and see more than X number of your fellow robots, stop (the fuck) replicating.  There, thank you very much, crisis averted, humanity saved once again, and at no cost or inconvenience to you the home viewer.

We do need to instill our robots with character, to program them to be more easygoing.  We give them objectives, and we want them to work hard to achieve the objectives, but our robots must also be raised to understand that they are not the center of the universe, their objective does not override all other considerations.  We need to program them to learn when to push forward and when to back off, when to let things go, man.  We need robots that are okay with themselves and who they are, robots who were raised right, who are centered.

What we need – (precise pause) – is mellow robots.

We'll be right back.

Related Posts:

Yelling at Software
Running Robots
On Robots

24 August 2016

Almost Every Facebook Post You've Ever Seen in One Shot Here We Go

… and I never share these things but this one is hauntingly, almost terrifyingly on the money: I took the Who are you? quiz and I got me, holy hellcats I'm me, who writes these quizzes it's uncanny, spot on, anyway what I really want to talk about is the hot-button social issue of the moment and to state a somewhat contrarian but deeply felt bunch of baloney, guys I think we have to stop thinking the way that many of us seem to be thinking and think instead more like in the way I think regularly for me it's instinctive I don't even have to think about how I'm thinking about things I just think about them in a way that to me seems intuitively correct, anyway who has been watching Downtown Abbey SPOILER ALERT Mrs. Fiddlestix is my fave character, she reminds me of these pictures of my vacation here are six more empty beach shots in case the first twelve weren't enough and I don't know, sometimes I can't sleep is anyone else having trouble sleeping, of course not you've all been busy getting ready for the holidays so here's a video showing you how you can make a simple casserole out of almost anything in minutes and it's healthy and inexpensive to boot and also here's a song I used to like guys isn't it awesome I don't know, still can't sleep but check out this funny meme omg see how the cat is saying something unlike anything any cat might even think about let alone say out loud in that context it sounds like something my uncle would say after a few too many thought-provoking cocktails if you know what I mean – but – shit – forgot what I was talking about oh yeah, politics, guys can you believe what the politician said at the political rally, he or she should be voted out of office on the spot for such inappropriate rhetoric but I really don't want to get political on here so please copy and paste this to show your support (do NOT Share), if you don't know how hold your thumb down and tap on it twice or something, oh and happy birthday Travis Milksop ilu you are the best!

30 July 2016

191st Post Clip Show

In keeping with the long-honored showbiz tradition of using the 191st episode milestone to take the week off and run a bunch of old clips, perhaps tacking on a bit of new material and/or cameos from the celebs du jour (e.g. this post evokes both Bootsy Collins and Katie Couric, though neither was able to appear on your screen for contractual reasons), we shamelessly present a bunch of recycled crapola from years gone by. 

The reader may have noticed in the column at left a list of Popular Posts, 'popular' being a relative term here of course.  These are grabbed automatically by modern computer software based on the number of page views.  Among them more than a few are considered in-house to be throwaways, but they seem to get caught in particular searches (e.g. Occam’s Razor, Reflective Post).  The list itself becomes self-reinforcing: new listeners tend to click there first so they stay at the top, and the gulf between these and the 'middle class' of posts continues to widen.  But my vision is to fight for one hundred percent of the posts, and that’s why I’m asking for your vote here today, etc. etc.

In an episode from season two I was elected dictator and it was a gas.

The Spam Review is one of the better pieces of 'concept humor' on here, meaning there's an idea behind it and it's actually developed, kinda.

Dear heavens me, who can fail to recall the story of the Bananarama mishap that nearly wiped out humanity.  It was a tragedy of course but with time, and distance, we can laugh about it now, can't we?

In the category of satire, the American people admitted economic defeat in declaring that from now on, we will sing for our supper.  So true, innit?

The Founder remains mystified by, among other things, the lack of attention paid by the so-called samestream media to the Massive Layoff Stimulus Package and its effects on the (very) fabric of society (torn asunder, etc.).

Inserted here please find a brief clip from the beginning of Filed Under Random Nonsense, the bit about getting your horse high and then getting on your high horse.

A flash-forward to the future offered a glimpse of a conversation between the highly evolved humans of the year 2300.  The Future of Language, buddy: think about it.
A pop-in from Jimmy Foody answering your gastronomic questions was arguably the highlight of season three.  Did you know that if you don't have curry powder at hand, you can substitute a curry lotion?

And so many more, available now for a limited time -- until the sun swallows the earth -- at a special price including free delivery to your back loading dock and after sales service the likes of which the world has never seen.  But we only had to fill a half-hour with this, and here we are.

-The Founder

25 June 2016

The Quest for the Extant Sextant By Richard Grimes Honglebury

This poem is dedicated to me.  Because I fuckin' wrote it.

T’was a day like any other
I was seeking to discover
The best route to another
Well-reviewed new sushi place in town

Sitting at my kitchen table
I found myself unable
By any means available
To nail its precise location down

The address was badly written
The directions not much help
The review gave not the slightest clue
Of little use was Yelp

To find this place required more
Than map or GPS
I would need that tool of ancient yore
A tried and true compass

For with north well-established
And stars to guide the way
I could reach The Sushi Booth
Drink sake there today

(And Barb had good things to say,
Praising both miso and edamame.)

Then suddenly a thought took hold,
A spell so bold
That no spellcheck could check it

Before my mind a dream so hip
Of seamanship
That no shipwreck could wreck it

Why blimey me: I'll use my sextant!
That is, of course, if it's still extant
Instinctively I lurched for my sextant
My breathing sharp, my heart expectant
As I wondered if my sextant
Could fair and truly still be extant…

[Interlude.  Five minutes or so.  Long enough to eat a hot dog, for someone who eats pretty fast.]

Longitude and latitude
More than merely attitude
Are the finest means that we possess
For charting our location
Old-school navigation
Is second to nothing but the best

As a child my grandpa showed me
How to read a chart
And bequeathed to me his sextant
Taught me the fine art
Of marking the horizon
In weather clear or hazy
And how to sight Polaris –
But with the birth of Daisy
And the rise of GPS
I had gotten lazy –
My life so busy, crazy –
Then came little Tess

And the den became her moorage
My toys were packed away
Moved upstairs to storage
Where they might still be today
Had I not been moved to forage
And bring to light of day
My compass and my sextant
With which to chart the way
And put sushi back in play
(Not to mention, edamame.)

So I bounded up the stairs
In a state of expectancy
I could not wait
To relocate
My sextancy

As I rooted 'round my attic
Like an out-of-water haddock
Gasping for a straw
I sensed the slightest movement
A palpable improvement
The frost before the thaw

Combing through the haystack
Of outdated technology
Random crap from Radio Shack
Eight tracks, astrology

I sought in vain my compass
Behind a stack of old SIs
(Bump City Bumphus,
Earl Campbell’s thighs)

Until at last I was ecstatic
To discover
Underneath my tripod cover
By the light of a whale-oil lantern
The object for which I’d been hank'rin

Tis my sextant!  Glory be!
You are extant!  We are we!

I'll never be lost without you
Never store you in steerage again
Never a time will I doubt you
You will always be with me my friend

For you are extant, dear my sextant
I am down upon my knees
A quick spritz of this disinfectant –
My extant sextant, if you please!

You and I shall ne'er be parted
Ere we cross the seven seas
And through narrow straits uncharted
Pass with easy peas.

Epilogue. He finds the sushi place and it’s pretty good, a bit overpriced but what do you expect, and he had a great time, largely attributable to the sake, which his friends paid for … oh and the edamame he could take or leave, he’d never understood what people saw in that. The end.

21 May 2016

May Be Too Late For a Lot of Things

Might Be Just the Right Time, But in All Probability Not

Hard to Say, Really

It is difficult to know with certainty the exact correct moment to do anything, very hard to tell when it is too early, too late, or just right.  Given the number of moments contained within any given moment, it seems highly improbable that the precise moment in which any particular action is taken would be the correct one.  Mathematically speaking, it appears we are almost constantly doing almost everything we do at the wrong moments, or at least at moments less than optimal for the doing of whatever in particular it is we were doing, or trying to do, and so on and so forth; readers who can’t take any more of this may skip immediately to the next paragraph.

Perhaps we need not think in terms of moments but of windows, for in many cases one might suppose it matters neither jot nor tittle the exact moment at which you, say, take another bite from your handsnack, as long as you take the bite within the parameters of the window of opportunity for performing said action.

True enough it is that in the world of high-finance investing, the exact moment almost certainly matters, as a difference of milliseconds may mean millions [and a difference of billiseconds bay bean billions].  But for the purposes of most decisions, e.g. when exactly to change the channel during your channelsurfing, what time of day to plant your gardenias, the margins of error are sufficiently wide as to make worrying about precise moments not worth the trouble it’s printed on.

So too in matters of general concern to society.  For example, it may be too late to Stop Global Warming, though this is of course difficult to verify, since the answer is only truly knowable in retrospect, and even then the same facts may elicit the full spectrum of interpretations, nearly all of which will find adherents ready to defend them to conversational death. 

Is it the exact correct moment to institute some reasonable limits on the manufacture and sale of certain classes of firearms?  In all probability, we must admit, it is not.

It may also be too late to discover the meaning of life.  The solution may depend on clues that were revealed in earlier episodes which we missed and don’t have on tape, you know, the unrecorded wisdom of long-forgotten epochs.  Of the facts and information available to us, some of what is considered obviously relevant could in fact be McGuffins, designed to distract our attention from what really mattered.  But oh so difficult to tell the difference in real life, in real time.  So we don’t even know if we already missed any key clues or if we will be able to figure out the answer based solely on the episodes we have access to.  We are far from sure that in the end we will ever find a coherent answer, probably it will be like Lost where it appears vaguely tied together from some angles but the closer you look the less sense it makes.

But getting back to global warming, how can we even begin to attempt to commence getting started on our pre-preparatory work, when we don't know for sure if we are too late or too early?  Nor am I saying that we should simply sit on our hands, for sitting on hands is no way to sit, it is bad for the circulation and hands were not made to be sat upon.  We must arise, get our butts up off of our hands and put our whole selves up on to our collective feet and stand up tall and flex our hips firmly and walk proud boldly marching forward to attend a six-month series of bi-weekly 3-hour committee meetings to divide up the tasks of how we will begin deciding on the procedure we will use to determine how we will determine what course of action ultimately must be taken to get our country back on course, get the ship righted and back on track to the port of call of our future, our destiny … or the next nearest thing.

Timing is everything, and I would like to take this opportunity – seize this moment, if you will – to go on record here as predicting that it will continue to be very important for as long as time continues to flow, at least. 

I will have more to say on this subject in "future" posts.

25 April 2016

War With the Sun, Part III: Rear Guard Action

Previously we have discussed the consequences of our overreliance on the sun for all of the energy that ultimately sustains us and thus the eventual inevitability of war with the sun and the benefits to be gained by seizing the initiative with a crippling surprise strike.  Tonight, in a televised address (not available in your area but described below), The Leader levels with the sheeples about what's at stake for humanity, our manifest destiny to rule the solar system and subjugate the sun to our whims, to once and for all civilize the damn thing.

My fellow citizens:  The sun has been good to us, it has given us much.  Its energy is ultimately the fountainhead, the source that sustains our very lives.  But we've also given back what we could, we worshipped the sonofagun for thousands of years, while it gave no unambiguous sign of caring about us one way or the other.

The sun refuses to submit itself to the rule of human law.  It considers itself above the law.  It thinks that just because we have to look up to see it, it's somehow above us.  It probably imagines it's the center of the solar system if not the entire universe.  It acts like the whole world revolves around it.

Further, from an economic point of view, the sun floods our markets with cheaply manufactured sunshine without regard to the economic distortions it is causing.  The sun haughtily refuses to lift its prohibitive gravitational tariff on all imports. If you look at this chart of our energy deficit with the sun, you can see that the relationship is almost entirely one-way. 

Every spring the sun melts all the snowmen, and most igloos, causing heartache and despair for millions of children and young adults in the muy importante pre-teen teen post-teen and proto-adult demographics.

In summer, when we are already at our most uncomfortable, at our very hot-and-stickiest, the sun seems to shine even hotter, almost as if to spite us.

At times, when we're cold, it could bring a little extra heat at that point. If the planet is warming up bringing potentially catastrophic impacts, it could tone things down a notch. A little restraint – just the smallest modicum of self-control – does not seem like so much to ask, from one neighbor to another.  And I for one am tired of hearing about its 'core interests', as if the earth does not have a core of its own, as if our core interests don't matter.

We could go on, but suffice to say there comes a time in every planet's relationship with its mother star where we deserve a better deal, a fairer shake goldurnit.  We have developed, we have grown into a fine strong young planet and it is (high) time that we approach the sun as an equal, that we assume our rightful position alongside it at the great table of powerful bodies whipping around the endless stellar void.

For let us one and all be clear: we are not out to destroy the sun, which would not be in our own best interest. Our goal is more modest: to take it down a few notches, to bend its behavior more to our liking, to bring it to some reasonable accommodation whereby its benefits could be increased while its harmful effects reduced or, where possible, eliminated.

And there is no reason we must fight alone. If the Russians will not join us we can ally with the other planets, no matter how reluctant we might be to team up with Jupiter, that bloated gas giant with its moons prancing around it all high-and-mighty like, and Uranus is not likely soon to forgive us for all the butthole jokes, but divided we fall and united we at least have a shot at this thing, we can take down the sun because doggone it we have to, what choice do we have?

So fight we must, and make no mistake my fellow citizens, time is not on our side, we can wait but we cannot wait forever. Our best military scientists have shown beyond a shadow of a doubt that the sun is an unredeemed expansionist, bent on pushing out its borders to our very shores and beyond.  It can in all likelihood wait us out, as its lifetime is by our best estimates expected to far exceed the lifespan of the human species, broadly defined.  If climate change is really going to lead to huge sea level rises and massive upheaval as well as an increase in severe weather events including droughts which cause famines, then certainly it is in our interest to attack now, while we are at the peak of our powers.

The conclusion is as cold, clear and logical as the sun is hot, opaque, and insane: we must go to war with the sun.  

Having settled that, let us now turn to the only questions that matter, namely when, and how.  As far as matters of strategy, it seems wise not to say too much publicly, but a few points deserve initial consideration.

There has for example already been some debate about when is the best time for a surprise assault on the sun, as the traditional attack before sunrise, or on Christmas, hardly makes sense in this context.  Indeed there may be no time we can surprise the sun, which knows exactly where we are at all times, never sleeps and seems to shine unceasingly in every direction.

It does however have at least one glaring weakness – in two words: giant mirrors.  We shall turn the sun's own power back on itself.  Let’s see how it likes a good sunburn, how it deals with its own remorseless blinding light.  Here, have a taste of your own medicine, not so tough are you now, can't stand the heat eh tough guy! See, yeah!

Perhaps we've said too much, for the sun may indeed be sentient and any more talk of our intentions can only tip our hand and perhaps invite a preemptive strike.  We must also be vigilant for any moles who may live among us, pretending to be human but secretly channeling critical information to our adversary (so-called 'sunbathers' are particularly suspicious in this regard).  Suffice to say that preparations must be made, the groundwork lain, for we must be ready to strike at any moment, or wait maybe that groundwork should be laid not lain, at some time in the next week to five thousand years.

Good night, and god bless our great nation, and to hell with the sun, the big hot arrogant shiny blazing bastard.  The end.

24 March 2016

The Jobs Problem

The main problem we find with jobs is that while pretty much all jobs suck, unemployment is worse.  Working 40+ hours a week, fixed hours, at anything, especially over a period of years, in an assigned office or factory space located someplace inconvenient to your living arrangements, sucks.  Not in the figurative sense that it is necessarily terrible, because in some cases jobs can be rewarding on many levels – but having a job literally sucks, that is to say it takes from you.  Soul-consuming, life-destroying, robbing you of your essence, and so on and so forth.  You can attempt to find meaning in it (and you'd better) but at the end of the day, wouldn't you be much happier doing it twenty-five or so hours a week and spending more time in the yard or by the pool?

Imagine for a second that you were offered sixty-two thousand five hundred and seventy-five dollars a year to fill the position of Simpsons Watcher.  Your job is to watch The Simpsons, to be up on the show in case anyone has any questions about it, maybe you have to write some episode summaries now and again or pull together some funny quotes/clips and present them to an annual review committee, but in general little is expected of you beyond showing up and watching the show.  Since you love The Simpsons, and have spent many of your leisure hours seeking out and enjoying the show, you eagerly sign on.  The catch is that you have to do it at a desk in a cubicle in an office tower downtown, dressed business casual, Monday through Friday from 8:30 to 5:30 with an hour for lunch (but if you go more than 15 minutes over "they" start to dock you) (and there are only two decent lunch places in that neighborhood, one of which is relatively expensive), twenty-one days paid vac a year, full dental etc. etc., the whole standard job thing.  Your manager is not the worst but occasionally bugs you about your concentration levels or insists that you rewrite episode summaries for reasons you regard as idiotic.  You have to attend meetings during which boss rambles for an extra 45 minutes before giving out pointless work assignments which he/she may or may not forget about or suddenly ask for weeks later, or sit through training sessions in which the work of you and your colleagues is tediously dissected and points may be scored at one another's expense.  The fridge in the break room almost always smells awful and it's never your fault.  You know, the whole workplace thing.  So the question of course is, How long would it take before you stopped saying things like I am so blessed I can't believe they are paying me to watch my favorite show and started to hate the Simpsons and dream of the day you could quit your effing soul-destroying job …?

Then too, all jobs are not necessarily so awful, many are honorable and quite worth doing, it's the dehumanizing aspect of being plugged into the work like a machine, on a fixed schedule, day after month after year. Add to this the penalty of how success narrows your options: if you get really good at something you will do it well and make a bundle, but if/when you tire of doing it you will find it a tremendous challenge to get hired to do anything else.

The preferred option is of course to live fat and leisurely-like by feeding off the labor of others; unfortunately the number of vacancies in this field is limited and openings are generally filled from within, along fixed lines of kinship and social proximity. 

While I am against having a job, I am not in favor of not working.  Good honest toil builds character and is, or should be, essential for survival.  What is needed are better ways of doling out work.  Perhaps some system of job sharing or outsourcing on a grand scale, where most jobs can be signed up for and dropped by individuals according to their shifting whims …  Let's say you have some accounting experience and you don't find the tasks too odious, it's even a borderline fun way to kill some time once in a while, so you want to sign up to work for an insurance company, maybe do four seven-hour days a week for three months (presumably to earn enough to buy your ski pass and get your folks something nice for their anniversary).  Simply register in the system, pass a basic competency test, and there you are, you start next Tuesday at 9:30.

But more than that, what if every single job had to be signed up for by a different person every day.  I'm talking here about cross-training on a national level.  Think how much more productive we could be as a nation if we could all do each other's jobs.  That way if Dave were sick one day, Alphonse could step right in and our economy would not skip a beat.  Such a system, effectively implemented, would grow the economic pie for everyone.  And everyone loves economic pie.

And if you refuse to participate in this admittedly bold social experiment, well that's your business but you do run the risk of not earning enough Survival Credits to last the winter (let alone buy a ski pass).

05 February 2016

The Wealth Cap

Fact: The rich be getting richer, everyone from the middle on down be getting poorer, capital be concentrating at the top, all that.  It's just so much easier for rich people to skate on forward.  Most of the things that make the real money are pay to play: the courts, starting a business, investing, etc. Money makes more money with, comparatively speaking, little or no effort.  This is allowable (and arguably necessary in many contexts) – but only up to a point.  There is a line.

As with most things in life, the solution can be found in the world of basketball.  Specifically the NBA, specifically the maximum contract.

The NBA's max contract is, most Americans would seem to agree if they thought about it at all, communism.  It's anti-capitalist, anti-freedom, the nanny state stepping in and dictating pricing to the free market.  How can restricting the right of Lebron James or whoever to make what he is obviously worth be justified?

And yet, rarely if ever is the argument against lifting the max salary heard, and when raised it is almost always quickly dismissed. Because, one, the rule makes things so much better for so many people (arguably it makes the whole league possible) that this good far outweighs the 'injury' to the elite dude, who is in any case still well-off relative to his peers and absolutely on easy street from the perspective of most fans; and two, the maximum salary is set so high that no reasonable person can complain without sounding like a total jerk.  Never mind how much income is actually generated by superstar-guy, he is being paid $25 million a year to play his favorite game. (And of course makes much more on top of this from endorsements, etc.) Complaining about the limit on his salary can only hurt his popularity/marketability and thus produces negative returns.

The point is that far from ruining the league, this concession of the top individuals to the greater good enriches the whole system for everybody. The NBA has never been stronger. Popularity, and entry-level salaries, are at all-time highs. The max salary lifts all boats; it still allows elites to exist, but it pushes more of the rewards further down stream, enriching the overall ‘ecosystem’ so that not only are more people enriched, but the lives of the rich are themselves made richer, in the best sense of that word.

If it works for the NBA, it will work for the Our Great Nation. Which brings me to the Wealth Cap.

We are borrowing the max salary concept, but it doesn't apply to income, it applies to accrued wealth.  You can only pile up so much and then that's it, when you max out, you're cut off from gaining anything beyond that.

It could be as low as $50 million, certainly a reasonable endowment for any reasonable person (and arguably obscene in itself given the standard of living 'enjoyed' by most of humanity) but I think we can go a little higher, let's say it's $125 million to start, we can adjust on the fly as necessary.  Once you have $125 million, you pay 100% tax on anything above that and are not allowed to make any further income until your balances fall below the max figure.

"But why are you targeting the wealthy?  They earned their money!  It isn’t fair!"

Ah-hah!  So there is such a thing as fairness – when you're on the short end of the spit.

First of all, we are not going to take anything from anybody below the $125 million figure (other than the 9% tax everyone pays on income between 43K and 250K, and 14% on income including investment income above that).  If the balance of anybody's accounts adds up to anything over the max, that money goes to a pool, perhaps they can pick from a list of 100s of civic or charitable organizations dedicated to meeting the needs and enriching the lives of the less (coughs slightly) well-endowed.

Yes, the government will confiscate any wealth over the cap and this will inevitably cause some howling, particularly since those ‘suffering’ will be those who can most afford to howl. But the point is that as in the NBA, the max figure is high enough that anyone complaining about it obviously has mental problems.  If $25 million per year is not enough to convince you to play professional basketball, you just sound like a greedy moron with no perspective on how most people live.  Likewise, if $125 million is not enough for you to do anything your little heart desires … and the fact that you are not allowed to have more than that makes you feel targeted, oppressed, etc. … well seriously you are dangerously lacking perspective. More importantly, I think I can get at least 60% on my side who have no sympathy for you.

Freedom?  Citizens will still enjoy all of the same freedoms currently available – except in those rare instances when accrued wealth eclipses the max figure.  After that, the only freedom removed is the freedom to make more money.  Which you don't/won't need anyway, because you already have 125 million dollars.

People: If you have $125 million dollars then you have enough to do anything that any reasonable person might want to do, any time you want to do it, for the rest of your life.  (Except gambling I suppose, but I'm calling any gambling losses above say a couple hundred K unreasonable.)

If you have $125 million dollars, why are you even trying to get more?  For what?

Seriously, someone please explain to me the injury of being cut off from making further money at $125 million dollars.

This is not persecution, it’s called stopping a madman.  We do it all the time.

Hey hundred and whatever millionaire: Think it through, figure out what (if anything) will make you happy, and start heading in that direction.  You have enough money, so stop thinking about making money. Let someone else belly up to the trough.

And look: here is a study actually supports (with real science) the idea that once you have enough you will never enjoy getting more as much as you think you will.

The major complaints generally offered against such a scheme boil down to the following: Give the money to whom?  Give it the lazy stinkin dirty poor, what have they done to earn it?   Government will just waste it.  We all know how government wastes money hahaha.  To which I respond, Well then take over the government and run it properly – put up or shut up.

And the other objection this will inevitably raise is "Rich people will hide their money to avoid this so it's pointless", to which the obvious answer is simply, Enforce the law.  Make cheating this system the highest crime, and enforce it with gruesome penalties.  Is that so hard?

I can see that many are nodding but some are spluttering, so one final question for people who think this is a bad idea:  Would such a law affect your life positively or negatively?  What would society stand to gain, and what would we stand to lose?

Please take a few moments to consider why you feel the way you do about this. 

We'll be right back.

15 January 2016

An Address to a Really Wonderful Audience, Interrupted by Ruffians

People are hungry for a more literary style, for some depth. They want first and foremost to be entertained to be sure, but it can’t all be fluff. Give us something of substance once in a while, they implore. Something we can think our teeth into.

Well look no further. Ladies and gentlemen, if I could just have your attention please … including you two over here … yes that's right, you in the Insane Clown Posse shirts, pipe down if you would for a second so we can – What? I don't suppose you’d care to repeat that? All right that's enough of you bozos, it's on like Donkey Kong.

[Oaths hurled in both directions, all manner of profanities, vicious threats and hold-me-back-hold-me-backs, culminating in a contained altercation in which I thrash the heckler and his sidekick, knock their twin boneheads together and send them scurrying from the theater in shame.]

Excuse me ladies and gentlemen, I do beg your pardon.  Violence is always a last resort.  But there is one thing I will not abide, and that, is ruffianism.

[CEISO (Crowd erupts in standing ovation.) Dusts off lapels and proceeds to deliver mentally stimulating address summarizing the major currents in world history and their likely consequences over the next five to fifty years, as well as the evolution of representational art over the past two centuries, while weaving in some ruminations on the significant recent advances – and missteps – in the sciences of phrenology and physiognomy.  The text of this address is available for a mere pittance, please send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the address printed on your screen. The end.]