On Toil

14 January 2013

Last night, 60 Minutes carried a segment on the replacement of humans by machines — like back in the mid-1800s with the so-called Industrial Revolution.  Back then, back-breaking stoop-labor was supplanted by machines, but in the process, the men and women who performed that stoop-labor were kicked to the curb.  With no source of income, many fell into destitution and died shortly thereafter.  Of course the ones who kept their jobs suffered too; pay was cut and what benefits as existed were eliminated.  More destitution.  Then came the unions with the resulting war (literally) between the Vanderbilts and the poor beasts who toiled in their horrible plants and factories.  While the unions helped, there was still a large imbalance between the fellows and gals who carried their lunches and the folks who lunched at the club.  But it wasn’t quite as one-sided as you might think; some displaced employees came in and busted-up all the machines.  These folks became known as the Luddites.

Now comes the 21st Century and the machines are once again on a tear.  The problem today are robots.  They are doing the work heretofore reserved for human toil, and doing it cheaply.  A guest on last night’s 60 Minutes said that his company’s robots, which become worn out and are replaced every three years or so, can do a human’s work for a prorated “wage” of $3.50 per hour — less than half the minimum wage for humans.  The only “benefits” his company needs to provide the robots are oil changes and grease jobs.  Of course, this $3.50 is about what a Chinese will make for doing the same work by hand, so there goes his job too.

The big social problem coming out of this phenom is what do we do with all the people replaced by these robots?  We already have an underclass of chronically unemployed men and women who used to do the work robots now do.  And it isn’t just the proletarians either.  There are millions of high school and college grads who can’t find jobs and live with Mom and Pop.

Out in the street there’s a clangorous throng milling about.  It consists  of people unable to find a source of income, and they don’t like it one little bit.  The guy on 60 Minutes said this trend will only accelerate.

What to do, what to do.

Let me offer one possible solution.  Back in the early 1970s, I became acquainted with a patent attorney.  One afternoon, he and I were looking into the future and postulated the very problem we are now encountering.

For example, I have a nephew with a law degree who can’t find a job in any law office anywhere in Illinois.  Even the old grunt-work of reviewing depositions, something young lawyers used to do for a living, is now done by a robot.  I know a woman with a Bachelors in math who has resorted to flying a cash register at Top Foods.  In fact, Top Foods has installed some robotic cash registers (you’ve seen them) so she fears Top will install yet another and hand her head.  The way things are going, the vast majority of Americas will end up living in poverty and squalor while a few swells will live in undreamed of splendor.  America will be worse than France the time of its Revolution.

We need to rethink the whole idea of toil.  Toil can no longer be a lifetime thing.  Thanks to the robots, the little work humans must do themselves needs to be spread around.  Egalitarianism at its finest.

To pull this off, we need to take a tip from the U.S. army; after enlisting, some junior-grade officer assigns you to some job for the rest of your hitch..  Well, in our new world, this will happen to everyone.  All all young people will be assigned some job or other — a job unsuitable for robotization — for, say, fifteen years.  At the end of fifteen years, everyone will retire with an adequate yearly stipend a la Social Security and bennies like Medicare.

It will be just like Old Dixie; slaves beyond counting serving their masters to the bitter end.

Retired at age thirty-five, some folks will surly sit on their asses, but most people will want to do something.  With thirty-five or forty years at their disposal, people will be free to create and enrich their own lives as well as the lives of everyone else.  Humankind will be a master class living in luxury on the backs of dumb mechanical brutes who work 24/7/52 without complaint.

In these future times, people may want to work, but one will have to work.

Think of what humankind will become, once we are freed from toil.


The Family Vespidae and Superfamily Apoidea

6 January 2013

Wasps.  Goddamned wasps.  And yellow jackets and hornets too.  They are members of the families Vespidae and superfamily Apoidea and I hate them all, every one.  In fact, I’ve never met anyone who doesn’t hate them, and with good reason.  They are yellow and black, the colors of danger and lethality — be warned!  They have stingers with a most monumental poison and love to use them.  You may not see them, the Vespidae, but you cannot mistake their menacing buzz;  buzz unlike any other, a buzz that makes the blood run cold.  See or hear one and you want to run as fast and as far as you can.

And they are everywhere except Antarctica.

They especially like to hang out around my place.

I’ve written about wasps before and I’m writing about them again.

My relationship with Vespidae and Apoidea began when I was between six to eight years old.  One summer night, just after going to bed, I heard one buzzing around my room.  Instinctively I was on alert with fear and dread.  I called for my dad.  He came in, switched on the light and, Christ, there it was, up in the corner on the other side of the room.  Buzzing and bouncing off the wall.  “It’s a yellow jacket,” said my dad.  “Just stay there, Butch, and I’ll swat it.”

Dad came back in with a stool and rolled-up newspaper.  Standing atop the stool, he took aim and *swat*, struck the damned thing.  But did he kill it?  Not a chance.  He only stunned it.  It came off the wall in an arc whose terminus was my face.  I saw it but by the time I realized was coming for my face, it was too late.  The bastard stung me three times before it fell off onto the floor, where Dad crushed it underfoot with his Size Fourteen, Trippe A’s .

Another encounter took place when I was thirteen and riding home on my bike.  It was a hot day so I had my shirt open, flapping in the breeze.  Then I saw something coming at me and before I could react, it went inside my shirt.  It was a jet-black mud dauber wasp, which are uniquely repulsive.  It got me four times before I could stop and rip off my shirt.  As it flew languorously away, I clapped it between both hands.  It fell to earth where I stomped it.

When we lived in the city, the wasp problem wasn’t too bad, but one time I saw they’d made a nest inside the glass shade of my porch light.  The next day I bought an aerosol can of wasp killer.  When the bastards had bedded down for the night, I switched off the lamp, stole up to the nest and emptied the can into it, then ran like hell.

Living out here in a semi-rural environment, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets are everywhere.  To my dismay, they like to make nests in the eaves outside the door.  They also made one under the patio table, from whence they stung the crap out of me when I tried to move it.  They made one in the ground — in the freaking ground, for the Christ’s sake — which I accidentally hit with the string trimmer and, again, had the crap stung out of me.  The stings hurt like blazes for three days then began to itch as well.  I finally went to the doctor for relief.

Perhaps the most frightening thing about these bugs is they refuse to die.  Let me relate several recent, blood-curdling examples.

Out on the deck last summer, I saw a number of them flying about the eaves.  Following them, I saw they headed to the spots where the roof and eaves join up and in the crotches of these joints, there were four nests.  Damn!  I went to the hardware store and bought several more cans of wasp killer and when they were down for the night, unloaded.  The horrid creatures dropped from their nests like rocks and lay dead on the deck.  “Well,” I said to myself, “I’ll let the bug spray evaporate over night then sweep them away”.  The next morning, broom in hand, I bent to my delightful task only to see one of the things moving about.  It had not died.  It rolled over onto its belly and began to flex its wings.  Stomp, went the old foot and that was that.  But how could it have survived enough poison to kill a small dog?  What were these things anyway, the Devil’s spawn?

Toward the end of summer, Jo came in telling of a large wasps’ nest the size of a basketball.  I saw it.  It probably held at least a thousand monsters, plus their grubs, of course.  It was hanging from a Rhododendron limb, low to the ground.  How long it had been there I have no idea.  It had a little hole at the bottom from which clouds of bugs came and went.  I almost wept.

Well, I hosed down the nest with more cans of hornet spray but it did no good.  I tried again the following night; nothing.  I was about to tear out my hair when a neighbor told me that if I broke up the nest, they’d quietly leave.  Oh, sure.  Being desperate, I took his advice the following night and smote the nest with a 20-foot window washing pole.  A hole appeared in the side from which hundreds of wasps emerged, all in righteous buzzing wrath.  I ran, not stopping for half a block.  The next night, I smacked the nest again, this time breaking it in half.  Sure enough, they left.  A couple nights later, I stole over to the ruined nest and stuffed it into a garbage bag.  To ensure the death of the grubs, I left lay in the sun for a few days.  Then I put the bag in the trash.

Our place has a large and very efficient wood stove.  In the cold months, it is our primary source of heat (nothing is as homey as a nice fire crackling away as you sit and stare into the flames).  Anyway, we have a suitable pile of wood and as the summer passes into fall, wasps, yellow jackets and hornets creep into the pile and go to sleep.  If we do not inspect every piece of wood, we can (and do) bring them into the house.  Of course they’re torpid from the cold, so they simply drop off and I crush them.  But like I said, these creatures do not easily die.  Ten minutes after giving them a good stomping, they often revive.  I then stomp them again, rolling my foot over them so as to break them into pieces.  Then I’m sure they’re dead.

One afternoon, my buddy, Dale, had stopped by for coffee, we took our cups and sat by the blazing wood stove.  As I picked up a piece of wood to refresh the fire, sure enough, a wasp dropped off.  “Jesus Christ” I spat as I stomped the bug.  It was dead.  Not a twitch could be seen.  Then I turned to Dale and said, “Keep an eye on that thing.  There is a good chance it’ll come back to life”.  Dale smiled and nodded.

Ten minutes later I told Dale, “Look”.  Sure enough, it was moving.  Dale sat bolt upright, regarded it for a few seconds, then looked over at me.  “What did I tell you”, I replied as I got up and stomped it again and again until it was quiescent.  I swept the remains into the fireplace shovel and tossed them in the stove.

Then, three weeks ago, Jo and I built a nice hot fire and kept it going all the frigid day.  This wood stove of ours has a damper that’s nothing but a snout feeding air directly into the coals.  This damper is a slide valve; push it in and you get less air, pull it out and you get more.  When the fire is out, we always close the damper to prevent cold air coming in through the chimney.

Well, a week or so later, I went to build another fire.  I opened the damper and then the door and laid a fire-starter in front of the snout when I saw something coming up through the ashes right in front of me.  It was a goddamned wasp!  Yes, you read that correctly, a wasp!  Like a frigging Phoenix with its demonic and preternatural powers, the wasp was rising from a heap of ashes.  Rising from the ASHES!

Gad, how could such a thing be possible?  The wasp couldn’t have gotten in through the closed damper.  Maybe could have come down the chimney, but it would have had to negotiate a bunch of baffles to get in the fire box.  If the wasp got in by hanging onto a piece of wood, surely the fire would have killed it.  In any case, I tossed match after match onto the wasp until it seemed subdued, then hurriedly built the fire and closed the door.

But just as spooky: Why did it burrow into the ashes, then lay in wait for me to open the door?

I wish I could answer these questions, but I cannot.

And I’m vigilant, ever vigilant.


To a Young Man

5 January 2013

Two or three weeks ago, while walking through the mall, I passed by a clutch of young fellows — late teens, probably.  As we passed, one of these fellows tagged elbows with me.  Having felt the bump, I turned to him and said, “Oops.  Sorry.”  He, his turn, said, “Yea? Fuck-off, Pops”.  Within seconds, he and his chums were lost in the crowd so I was unable to give that unfortunate fellow some good advice.  If you, dear reader, are a teenager, you should read on.

There are two kinds of teen: Nose-pickers and everybody else.  If you are a nose-picker, you are stuck on the bottom, my friend.  Now by nose-picker I mean not only the booger-eater leaning on a lamp-post who does eat them, but the kind of young man who would.  “Nose-picker” is an attitude and mindset that screams: “I was raised in a barn; I have no social graces.  My aspirations are low to non-existent.  I’m so willfully ignorant that if you asked me who was the first POTS, I couldn’t tell you.  And I don’t care.”

Dissing strangers in a public place — as you did me — is stupid.  If it turned out I was the president of the company in which you were employed, you’d be employed no longer.  If I witnessed your oafish behavior and recalled it when next we met, whatever it was you wanted me to do for you, that want would go unmet.

Never let your pants ride down to the crack line.  I shouldn’t have to explain why displaying your ass-crack is a very bad idea.

By the same token, avoid baggy, wide-legged pants.  When you sit splay-legged (the only sitting posture you seem to know), people can see up those damned things and witness your junk.  Besides, those pants make your legs look spindly.

Wash daily.  And don’t forget those privates!

Avoid sluttish women.  You know the kind I mean: Their faces are painted up like the Whore of Babylon.  The clothes are suggestive, their language coarse.  They scream and holler in the mall.  Should you bed such a woman, there’s a wonderful chance she’ll get pregnant.  Birth control is one of the last things on their minds.  In fact, such a woman probably wants to get pregnant as she and the kid will get a free ride off of you for eighteen years, maybe more.

Never trust to condoms.  The danger is not so much they’ll pop, but that your lady will retrieve it from the trashcan, turn it inside out, and smear your semen in her cunney.  Result?  A child.  And a DNA test will prove to the judge the kid is indeed yours, so hello child support.  Before discarding a used condom, put in some Drain-o,  mix it up real good, then toss it in the trash.

Unless you have a panting desire to become a father, get a vasectomy.  You will remain child-free for as long as you please.  If — when — you do want a kid, your vasectomy can be reversed.  In the meantime, you can nail all the babes you wish with total impunity.

A truism you should keep in mind: “A man will get the best woman he can afford”.  While you and I measure women on the roundness of their rumps, the sizes of their chests, the turn of their legs and other such delights, women tend to measure men on the thickness of their wallets.  With women, it’s “Show me the money” and little else.  Ask yourself: Who’s going to the hot chick?  The pizza-face in the BMW?  Or the stud-muffin in the clapped-out Chevie?

Ditch the baseball caps.  Even if you wear them with the beak forward, they look bad.  Also bad is wearing a baseball cap pulled so low it covers your eyebrows, that’s a no-no too.  You should know from whence came this whole baseball cap idea: In the `70s, there was a short-lived TV series in which some exotic SAWT-like sniper, the better to draw a bead on some miscreant’s head, would turn his baseball cap backwards so it wouldn’t interfere with his telescopic sight.  I noticed a sudden boom in backwards baseball caps after the series started.  Just think: You are aping a fictional character in a dumb TV series.  Ah, fashion.

While out in public, no do-rags or hair nets.

If you wear glasses, may sure the lenses are always clean.

Unless you need a pick up truck for work, drive a car.

Don’t comport yourself as a greaser, even if you own a Harley.  While the look may impress the guys in the bar, it screams “nose-picker” to the men for whom you’d like to work and the women you’d like to date.

Do not, under any circumstances, get a tattoo — even on your privates.  Seeing a tattoo, people say to themselves “Nose-picker alert.  Nose-picker alert”.  There goes your love-life, job prospects and other highly desirable aspects of life.

Unless you are old and going bald anyway, do not shave your head.

Good teeth are a must.  Yellowed, blacked and carious teeth, especially with green rinds at the gum line, are not acceptable.

And for Christ’s sake, pull those goddamned hunks of metal out of your face!  “Piercings” as you like to call them, are not simply the accouterments of a nose-picker, but of an uncivilized brute fresh from the jungle.  You may as well put a bone through your nose and file your teeth to points.  However, if you are pursuing a career in the arts, a small stud placed judiciously in an out-of-the way location is OK.

Being a nose-picker will not attract the smartly dressed young lady headed for Vassar.  It will, however, attract the woman headed for a career flipping burgers at Mickey D’s (see Sluttish Woman, above).

If you smoke, quit.  Nothing says nose-picker quite like a young man leaning against a wall with a cigarette sticking out of his puss.  If you think smoking is cool, think again.  However, a pipe can be OK.  A stogie too.  However, they can look like affectations, so watch out.

Booze has screwed up a lot more people than weed — or anything else, for that matter.  Use it in moderation, if at all.  If you doubt me, attend an AA meeting and listen to some of the shit.

Jail and prison are not cool either.  Anyone who thinks they are is a hopeless nose-picker.  Once again, look at the men for whom you might like to work and check out their criminal records.  See how many days they’ve spent in the pokey.

And finally this: Never ever blow your nose at the dinner table and inspect the hankie.  Excuse yourself, go to the bathroom and blow your nose there.