How does this happen? 14 Months Ago White Supremacists Marched Through Charlottesville, Virginia chanting “Jews will not replace us” and President of The United States Donald Trump chastised those who called the vile bastards out, saying “THERE ARE GOOD PEOPLE ON BOTH SIDES,” encouraging and validating far right extremists of every ilk. Today, in the wake of yet another tragic instance of hate and violence, he reads words of shock and indignation from a teleprompter and wonders how this could happen. This is Trump’s America, and if you support him, his race-baiting dog whistles, and his brand of vitriolic hate-mongering, THIS IS YOUR AMERICA. You made this.
I love the idea of Uber, since I’m not a traditional taxi driver working within the old paradigm, but it upsets me that the ultimate goal of this company is to join the rush to replace human drivers with robots. As a Sci-Fi guy, I ought to be thrilled as pie over the prospect of autonomous robot cars taking us where we want to go–visions of retro-futuristic transparent capsules whisking us through tubes from one place to another come to mind–but I’m weary of the profit-driven philosophy of eliminating good, honest workers from the dynamic.
I jest, but not really. It would be great, if the goal was to lift us all into some sort of morally elevated “post-economics” economy where folks are freed from the necessity of earning money and able to pursue livelihoods as passionate pursuits rather than life or death struggles for shelter and sustenance, but we all know that robot Yelp cars are not being made so poets can be poets, singers can sing songs, and scientists can toil, free from funding concerns, to right the wrongs of a few centuries of egregious consumption.
Uber robot cars are being made so taxi drivers can lose their jobs, and their former salaries can land in the oversized pockets of wealthy investors. There is no thought or concern for the welfare of the displaced, and that’s a bad thing. Uber cars are also not going to do a damned thing about the real transportation problem, which is that too many of us have too many cars, a problem we can only fix with improved mass transit or, preferably, birth control. Lots and lots and lots of birth control.
Now, you’re thinking: listen to the mealy-mouthed socialist ranting about economic justice; but you’re wrong. I’m a money grubbing materialist just like the rest of you–the difference is that I’m fundamentally lazy and just unwilling to do a lot of the stuff I’d need to do in order to have the cool stuff I covet. The result is the same, however: a life mostly unencumbered by commerce.
What is bad about Uber, and all the other technologists laboring diligently to trade manpower for money, is that none of them exist in a vacuum and when these advancements reach widespread implementation the cumulative effect will be staggering, as the wages of first tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, pool in the pockets of a few score of speculators and “innovators.” Now, if you believe in the gospel of trickle-down economics, you may not be concerned, but the years have shown me that those pools are deep, with almost unlimited capacity, and only a fraction of what goes in actually drips out.
When Henry Ford began implementing his assembly line factory in the early 1900s some of his fellow industrialists were put off by his insistence on paying his workers a salary far closer to a living wage than was common at the time. They argued that other workers would demand similarly “unreasonable” treatment, but Ford shrugged them off, not out of any great fondness for the utterly replaceable men whose sweat and blood comprised the building blocks of his fortune. No, he simply recognized that if he wanted to sell his automobiles there would need to be sufficient prosperity in the middle class for enough people to be able to actually buy them.
It is happening already, though we don’t see it. Take two primary extraction industries whose howls of government persecution and vilification at the hands of tree-hugging liberals, if you will. I won’t bother with the details here, but I invite you to compare the number of coal mining jobs lost to environmental regulation with the number of reductions caused by automation in that industry as well as the significant effects of competing energies–largely natural gas–in which increased efficiencies, many of them labor-saving, have resulted in more competitive pricing. On the west coast, ten times as many jobs in the timber industry have been lost to automation as have been lost to environmental concerns, like the infamous Spotted Owl.
That’s where we’re heading with each labor-killing step towards automation: an economy in which the only viable industries will be built around servicing the super-wealthy, a flawed and dangerously unstable prospect. I can’t be alone in thinking that we’d be better off incentivizing technology that elevates people and creates jobs–and solve real social and environmental problems, rather than rewarding those who revolutionize the time-honored tradition of filling our pockets with the contents of others’.
A little late, but this is a post that I can’t not make. After eleven seasons, tight end Heath Miller, the quintessential Steeler, has called it quits–here’s hoping he’s making it out with both his body and his brain intact, even though I’d have loved to see him stick around for another Lombardi trophy next February. A humble player in a world of egotists, Miller never complained about being employed as a blocking tight end, at which he excelled, while less talented players grabbed more attention as glorified wide receivers. For most of his career, he was far and away the most complete, most complete tight end in the league, a brutal blocker and sure-handed receiver. Just as importantly, he was a man whose life outside the stadiums rarely made the news, unless he was being feted as a superior citizen.
My only complaint is that it’s possible my wife liked him just a little bit more than I would have liked. Good luck to him, though, despite that–he deserves his healthy retirement.
Multi-talented Pittsburgh artist greeted friends and fans at the opening of his latest exhibit, “The Boy Who Haunted Himself” at the Borelli-Edwards Galleries at 3583 Butler Street in Lawrenceville.
So, my beloved Pittsburgh Steelers went out and signed pariah quarterback Michael Vick as what is likely to be a short term fill-in as a backup. Predictably, a few dim, narrow corridors in the social media maze have gone ablaze with fury fired so hot that it quickly consumed all available oxygen, which resulted in secondary hypoxia for all therein. That anti-Vick crowd, now gasping for breath, still writhes angrily on the floor, contorted in bitter and frustrated resentment.
“Vick screwed up–but I think it’s safe, if not particularly correct or popular–to say that the business with dog fighting has a certain cultural element to it–and by culture I mean, yes: poverty, latitude, and race. That isn’t an indictment of any group–different communities have their vices–poor people, and black people are inordinately represented among the poor, are more apt to be involved in dog fighting than wealthier folks–and it doesn’t hurt that the latter know better how to keep their hands appearing clean.
Dog fighting, and its associated abuses, was not taboo in Vick’s microcosm. He grew up around it, like a lot of poor city kids, and while he probably knew in the abstract that it was wrong, it didn’t really sink in until he was hip deep in trouble. (and for the love of the gods why doesn’t the NFL hire a team of “cleaners” who would find these kids and see what they hell they’re into that won’t wash now that they’re famous, then make them stop?) Ignorance–or even the fact that in much of the word dogs = calories–doesn’t exonerate him, but it does explain what he did and why, and it’s long past time to move forward from what happened because, as those before me said, he’s paid what society demanded of him. And more. He went to prison and lost millions upon millions of dollars as well as the prime years of his athletic career. We forgive a lot worse people for a lot more terrible things.
He also worked his way back and, as far as we know, has been an exemplary citizen (and yeh, I’m knocking on wood as I say it) and an admirably professional athlete. The free agent cupboard is pretty bare, especialy at quarterback, and I can’t think of a better available free agent, between his maturity and his skills. I’m glad that the Steelers are going out and taking care of business pro-actively. If Gradkowski wasn’t hurt, I’d think differently. At this point, I don’t sign Vick over Bruce–but with no viable backup (Jones is still a project and then some)–there simply isn’t anyone else out there right now, and from a purely football standpoint this is a good signing.”
Within a few minutes of posting this, one of my “real name” friends stuck up an angry change.org petition on her facebook page, that bleated “Michael Vick is a convicted felon and no-class piece of crap. He is also a terrible QB which is why he has no team. Let’s united as Steeler fans – as NFL fans – and stop him from playing on our team! Steelers fans united! Sign to keep Vick from ever wearing the coveted Steelers uniform!!”
Ugh. If there is one thing that makes me want to invite Michael Vick over to the house for a nice, “Welcome To Western Pennsylvania” meal, it is a Change.org petition.
Change.org petitions are one of several reasons that I have stopped identifying myself as a liberal, which strictly speaking I never was, at least not by definition. Libertine, but not liberal. As I’ve said before, my politics skew to the old school Bull Moose progressivism–populist, anti-corporate, strong domestic policy, etc–and the namby pamby sensitivity that accompanies “liberalism” as it is colloquially regarded, respulses me. These petitions are little more than vehicles for us to feel good about ourselves with the least possible effort–look, ma, I clicked against that guy who did that thing! I clicked hard, too! I was really ticked off! I made a difference! Yay me!
We’ve become too weak, too fragile in our sensitivities, and it the case of Mr. Vick, we’re grossly hypocritical. He killed dogs. It’s a terrible thing. I love dogs. I love my 40 pound dog who sits on my lap and lets me hold her like she’s an infant. I prefer her company to that of all but a very few humans. Vick’s actions disgusted me, but how much do we ask of one man–at what point do we forgive? We work tirelessly to rehabilitate other criminals–we cheer them when they transcend their missteps, however vile, but because Mike Vick is famous he must be forever marked. If he was a stringy haired punk from the corner who’d done his time, cleared his parole, and got himself a new job, we’d point to him as gleaming beacon of hope for the success of justice system. But he’s a black dude who runs fast, and gets to be on TV, so he’ll never pay enough. Would we resent him if he got a job at Dairy Queen? No, because the schadenfreude would be washing over us so thick and warm we’d tremble in orgiastic delight.