Archive | June, 2022

“Now What?”

30 Jun

I frequently ask the question, “Now what?” especially when it comes to racial justice, climate change, and other GIANT issues that activists bring up. If there is something small and reasonable I can do, I’ll do it. But frequently the call to action is either “Be afraid,” “Be ashamed,” or “Be aware.”

One of my readers asked that same question of me – I brought up the history of Juneteenth and the problem of trying to love our country at the same time being aware of its sins. A lot of people have trouble with this. We prefer to think in terms of dichotomies; black-white, good-bad, right-wrong. But real life doesn’t work that way. Real life has contradictions, injustice, trade-offs… and that’s uncomfortable.

Let’s talk about climate change. No, there is too much, let me talk about water pollution instead. Let’s say you’re a paper mill in Eastern Oregon. You produce waste product which is most conveniently dumped into the Columbia River. The EPA regulates the amount of waste you can dump into the river, but if you fish salmon out of that river, that may be putting too much toxic chemicals into the fish… which means it’s unsafe to eat.

Okay, at this point, you have to ask yourself, “Why not eat chicken?” That’s one option. But let’s say, you’re one of the multiple native tribes that live in that area for which a) salmon is part of your culture and b) we’re rather poor and need an cheaper protein source. Many of your tribal members AND neighbors also need the work that the paper mill provides. “Now what?”

The answer is “get involved.” To which I would answer, “I’ve got a life, I don’t have time, I don’t want to dedicate my life to this. I just want cleaner fish.” That’s why protests tend to be filled with young people. (I’m still not sure who sits outside courthouses waiting for rulings.) But there’s a variety of levels of involvement – if you’re not willing to march, write letters to the company, to your legislatures. Sure, they’ll mostly be ignored, but sheer numbers will get attention even to the most jaded folks. Reach out to the media. Jump on social media. Trust me, you don’t need to spend more than 15 minutes a week doing this. Anyone can slice off that amount of time.

For example, during the COVID shutdown, I wrote my legislators every week calling to end the shutdown. I knew they weren’t reading it, but someone in their office might be ticking my name next to a box. Trust me, when it was the only issue anyone was talking about, politicians want to know. If you repeat the message enough, people will hear. You don’t have to be angry about it, you don’t have to be impolite, you just have to be consistent.

Now here comes the hard part; be willing to compromise. As Americans, our finest asset is holding two contradictory opinions at the same time. (Don’t believe me? Polls say that many people who are pro-life are also pro-death penalty.) So let’s apply that to other parts of our life. We want clean water AND paper mills. Can we dump the waste water into containment pool? Can the state share the cost for a better filtering system? Can we make the paper company look good by supporting an environmental initiative?

In the end, remember – you are not powerless. You also don’t have infinite time. Be willing to provide as little as you can and embrace ambiguity. No… it doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker (maybe two bumper stickers), and it sucks as a call to action. But it has the advantage of being honest – and nowadays – that’s the most powerful element of all.

Stop Saying Wango Tango

29 Jun

I’m so tired of cutsy names for things. It may satisfy advertisers who want the name to stick in your head, but it doesn’t help me want to use your product. But does Madison Avenue know better than me?

The name for my advertising pain is “Wango Tango.” This was a music festival out in Carson, California–southeast of Los Angeles–and put on by my frequent post creator, iHeartRadio. I listen to multiple podcasts, two of which are broadcast on their radio stations. Unfortunately, because they sell ad space on their streaming service separately from the broadcast stations, most advertisers don’t want to spend the extra money for a small audience. Which leaves less ads to broadcast for many slots.

So this means I get to listen to iHeartRadio trying to fill space by advertising true crime podcasts on their network and “This Week in Music” history slots. But they also advertise their events, including Wango Tango – except this is advertising the event after it occurred. They’re encouraging you to listen to the music played at Wango Tango on their stations. But who really cared about the music festival in the first place?!

Although they’re playing ads to me, they’re really not for me–I don’t go to music festivals–because I have a type of ADHD that makes large group events and loud music very painful to me. I avoid most concerts from the same reason. I have to think that maybe their audience–those in the precious 16-28 year old demographic who go to music festivals–get their ear ticked up a bit for a goofy sounding festival. After all, it’s not alone: Lollipalooza, Lilith Fair, Fire Island, Coachella (they didn’t make up that name – that’s an actual place).

In a way, they’re simply preaching to the converted – because as Toby on the West Wing once said, “That’s how you make them sing.” iHeart owns 855 radio stations and have a hundred online-only music streams. Somebody has to listen to them, and if this ad comes on, and you’re thinking, “Gee, I’d love to see Helen Shapiro live,” then yeah… mission accomplished. But if they’re already listening to the iHeartRadio app, then why bother advertising that you can hear Shapiro on Hot Mix 96?

I’m betting they’re competing with Spotify and Pandora–so the pitch would be this: If you’re already listening to the Morning Show ™ on the app, why not keep listening for your music on Hot Mix 96? So again, good approach for Mad Ave, but poor execution. I’m not your audience – get better algorithms for your advertisements. Of course, there’s probably not a lot of ads they need to sell for the white 40’s male audience who listens to news and sports talk radio… but trust me, I’ve heard them all.

Have you got a better example of poorly targeted advertising? Let me know in the comments below!

Taking Civil Religion Too Far

28 Jun

I’m a firm believer that faith in America and the values we claim to represent (whether we live up to them or not) is a good thing. This is called civil religion. But if you say the Constitution is “divinely inspired,” you may be taking it too far.

It is a tenet of my faith that the Constitution is divinely inspired — one of my most basic foundational beliefs. For me to do that because somebody asked me to is foreign to my very being. I will not do it.

Rusty Bowers, June 21st, 2022, when speaking in front of the January 6th Congressional Hearing.

Okay, let’s walk past joking about a guy named “Rusty,” or the reason behind Bowers’s quote (which is really fascinating), and go right to the quote itself. Rusty is the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives (yeah, my state) and is a proud Mormon (not unusual–lots of LDS in Arizona). The man has morals, swore an oath to uphold the Constitution, and I salute him for that. But I had to look this up; apparently, this is NOT Rusty’s personal opinion. This is a teaching by one of the current LDS apostles–Dallin Oaks–who first put it forward in 1992 and recently preached about it at the general conference last year (2021).

In his speech/article, The Divine Inspired Constitution, the argument goes something like this. God has ordained faithful men to rule us and they formed the Constitution to protect our rights, ergo, it’s divinely inspired. However, even Apostle Oaks didn’t make this leap of faith (ha, ha); this is direct from Joseph Smith’s own hand.

And for this purpose have I established the Constitution of this land, by the hands of wise men whom I raised up unto this very purpose, and redeemed the land by the shedding of blood.

Doctrine and Covenants 101:80

If you’re a Mormon, the D&C is just as valuable as the Book of Mormon (although some Mormons can feel free to correct me), “breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3: 16-17) I wrote a whole thing about granting to “Caesar what is Caesar’s,” (Mark 12:17) but since the LDS church started here, it makes a kind of sense that there would be a equating America with the Promised Land… because it literally is. Jesus will come back to Earth at Independence, Missouri. (D&C 84: 2-3)

Okay, I disagree with this view, but it does bring up some questions of faith. If you amend the Constitution, are you tampering with God’s plan? Are the Supreme Court justices also divinely inspired when they interpret the Constitution (even the ones you hate)? Do you really need to have the teleprompter give the words of the perjury oath if you’ve given it a thousand times?

The answer to the last is YES. When you’re in front of a hundred people, it’s easy to screw up your lines. Trust me – it’s always good to have your script in front of you.

Lots of potential problems here – but what do you think? Am I misunderstanding what Rusty and Dallin are saying? Do you believe the Constitution is divinely inspired? Would you name your son Dallin? Let me know in the comments below!

Polite Fiction vs. Cynical View

27 Jun

Maybe I’m too cynical, but I’ve found recently that often I can’t take things at face value. I’m always thinking, “What’s the angle?” “What are they trying to push.” This applies to the news, to ads, but most recently, to holidays.

So my city recently celebrated Juneteenth—when the last slaves were informed they were free—which was June 19th, 1865. The City of Phoenix took the day off; Tempe had Juneteenth flags in the streets (alternating with the new Pride flags, for the month of June). I celebrated it by going to two bars, getting drunk, and having great conversations with vets. Now when discussing Juneteenth with my wife, more specifically its place in civil religion (yeah, these are the conversations I have with my lover—you know you want it), she gave a reason for its recognition that I interpreted as “polite.”

She was of the opinion that this, in addition to MLK Day, were two holidays dedicated to civil rights and it shows the shift in our national discourse and what we choose to celebrate. She put it in the lens of “civil religion” (which is often given as a pejorative), the religious-style way that we approach our national identity. We have sacred documents (Constitution, Declaration of Independence), hymns (America the Beautiful, National Anthem), liturgy (“I pledge allegiance to the flag…), and pilgrimage sites (White House, The Mall, Arlington National Cemetery).

But there’s a reason its pejorative; the reason for many of those “sacred” items in our civil religion were done for cynical reasons. The Constitution was a compromise between different political factions. The Pledge of Allegiance was added around WWI to ensure immigrants identified themselves as Americans; “under God” was added in the 1950’s to fight Communist “godless atheism.”

Which leads to holidays. Independence Day should have been June 2nd, when it was signed, but since it was only announced on the 4th, that’s the day that stuck. Columbus Day became a holiday to honor the Columbian Exposition in Chicago around 1892, which celebrates the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. Well, that’s the polite answer. It was really to ensure the loyalty of hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants and get their vote for McKinley.

Juneteenth might honor the end of slavery in America, but it only became popularized after the Tulsa riots on May 30-June 1, 1921 that destroyed Black Wall Street. (Not our finest hour. Also–came up while drinking in bars on Juneteenth.) We don’t like remembering a disaster, so we remember the positive. But at a time when racial politics are emphasized, it’s a way to ensure the loyalty of millions of African-Americans. Now—does that mean we shouldn’t celebrate it? By no means! We should remember ending slavery. We should remember Tulsa. We should remember Columbus AND the destruction of the native peoples as a result.

But the cynical side of me says to not pretend that this is proof of an evolution of the national consciousness. This is a political move to appeal to areas that have a large African-American population, or in the case of Tempe, people who want that evolution of the national consciousness. But I could be too cynical. Is it all right to do the right thing for the wrong reasons? Or to put a polite fiction over a gritty reality? Let me know in the comments below!

How Did I Forget This Book?!

24 Jun

I reread a book this weekend and two-thirds of it was pretty much like I remembered. But I forgot how it ended. In fact, the final third turned it from being 4 stars to 5. Am I just getting old? Or did I deliberately tune this plotline out?

The name of the book is Freehold by Michael Z. Williamson; solid military sci-fi. I was given a signed copy by a friend of mine and I remembered really enjoying it. But I was kinda turned off by the first third of the book because… well, I really don’t like books that are a political rant disguised as fiction. This is why I’ve never read Ayn Rand, although I’m a card-carrying Libertarian. This is same problem I had with this book. The Freehold of Grainne is best described as a “Libertarian utopia.” So the author spends the first third of the book talking about the nature of their society.

This is also why I didn’t like Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein. Then I realized that I read the unabridged version of the novel; I really enjoyed the story, maybe if I read the abridged version, I would have enjoyed more. A better example of Heinlein bloviating is For Us, The Living… which was only published posthumously.

However, the entire setting of the book is that the UN on Earth is a bureaucratic nightmare; Freehold is the polar opposite. They can’t co-exist without one destroying the other. So the second third is the war, and oh brother, what a war! Williamson pulls no punches, glorifies nothing, and tells a compelling and coherent story. The characters we met in the first third continue in the third. The character traits we see in peacetime get amplified in the crucible of war. It’s incredible and everything you want out of military sci-fi.

The final third is where I completely blanked out and the story became brilliant. Two of the three main characters were raped and the third is mentally damaged. Their reactions to surviving the war show you the whole veteran’s experience; survivor’s guilt, unable to return home, inability to talk with people who hadn’t lived your experience. This set in the backdrop of a world that also is recovering from their entire planet being destroyed and having to rebuild.

Although I remembered the first two thirds of this book, I didn’t remember a bit of the last third. Did I ever finish this book? I certainly didn’t remember how the war ended and… oh brother, I didn’t expect that! This went from being a good story to a great story with the willingness of the author not to leave the story at victory. The story of Freehold is very much the story of the main characters in the novel. I couldn’t put it down. Check it out!

When the Parable Becomes TOO Close to Reality

23 Jun

Sci-fi is a great way of talking about current political issues without offending people. I remember Star Trek addressing climate change in “Force of Nature” back in 1993. Watching it now in 2022, I’m realizing that TNG was a little too on the nose, but not for the reasons the writers thought.

I’ve been watching a LOT more Next Generation, because it’s available on Pluto for free, and it’s nice brain candy that is inoffensive and I don’t have to pay much attention to… because I’ve watched most of these episodes many times before. So it’s getting through Season 7, where the writing is far superior, and it hit “Force of Nature.” As with many episodes, it’s only about minute 10 that I realize, “Oh, this is the climate change episode!”

So my eyes roll. For those not familiar with this particular ep, the Enterprise finds out that a particular unstable part of space is getting more unstable because high warp energy is wrecking it. Turns out his particular part of space isn’t unusual; there’s tons of places in space where the same thing can occur. So the solution is for everyone to keep their speed down to Warp 5 to prevent further environmental damage.

Okay–agree or disagree with this parable for climate change, what bugs me about this episode is not the message. It’s the fact that the consequences of this episodes are never mentioned again. You would think that the socialist utopian Federation would put in a speed limit and would enforce it, but nah… that constrains the writers of future episodes, and since stories move at the speed of plot, we just simply forgot about this.

When I mentioned this to my wife, she said, “Wow – just like climate change now!” That’s when it occurred to me; maybe this episode was a little too on the nose. Even those who claim to really care about climate change seem to forget about it when faced with greater issues. Pew Research–one of the most trusted survey agencies–say that Americans care about climate change more than ever. But it’s still low on priorities compared to other issues. So we might care enough to make a lot of noise on the issue, but not if it’s going to impact the economy, education, or social security. So just like Star Trek, when preventing climate change makes the story difficult to write, we ignore it.

In a strange way, Hollywood preached exactly what we think about this issue, if not in the way that they intended. But I could be wrong — let me know in the comments below!

Fortress of Solitude

22 Jun

I call my cubicle the “fortress of solitude,” because I don’t want anyone to know what I’m doing here. In reality, I hide here from my family, because I don’t want anyone to see how little I do.

Continuing on the topic I started yesterday, I realized I have a BS Job. In my observation, there is really no reason for my employment except to show to higher management that we have deliverables that are popular enough to prove our department’s continued existence. “People want our classes, so that must mean you need to keep us around!” 🙂

Mind you, I’ve been seeking this kind of job for sometime. Back in 2007, I got a job at a hospital training software. After six months, my boss told me that I was losing my cube, and I needed to work from home. At first, this was shocking, but I suddenly realized the joy of not being in the office. I could finish up the 15 hours of work I had that week, go for a bike ride, check in with my computer from a cafe an hour ride away, play some computer games, then bike some more before coming home.

In the same year, a book I admire came out: The Four-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferris. He explained how he went from working 60 hours a week at his own business, to having a mental breakdown, to discovering his business ran… just as easily without him. He was the chokepoint that was slowing everything down. When he granted his employees more authority, only handling the important issues, he ended up only working 4 hours a week.

Of course, he explains how you can do it as well–what we today would call having a “side hustle.” Figure out what your cash requirements are, find a REALLY niche product (or service, but he recommends product) that no one else is providing, and automate the production as much as possible. He also recommends that if you don’t wanna give up your day job, he talks about the “great disappearing act;” how to convince your boss to let you work from home. Once you figure that out, you can use that extra time to go anywhere you want.

So with my jobs since 2007, sometimes I was at my desk, sometimes in the classroom… and no one knew or cared when that was. I’ve been grateful to have good bosses that only really care if the work’s getting done. It’s when it’s not that they have to intervene. My only problem is that… I don’t have the money to blow on enjoying my extra time. When you’re the primary breadwinner for a family of four, well… all that extra cash that a single man would have in my position goes to frivolous things like clothes, doctor appointments, yadda yadda. 😛 For a while, I had the advantage of simply going to a café or my Legion Post bar… but even that got too expensive. Hence, I wanted to go into the office, where my family couldn’t find me, and thanks to COVID, nobody else.

I think the answer is that I need to get a side hustle, so I can get back on the road with my bike–well, a new bike–and start exploring things again. Of course, I just got done convincing my boss that I need to be at my desk four days a week, but… one problem at a time.

Do You Have a BS Job?

21 Jun

If someone has a gig that only requires 15 hours of work a week, is it really necessary? What are the consequences of hiring them? Does your feeling of self worth decline if you know your job is meaningless?

My favorite radio hosts were talking about the danger of the “laptop class” losing their $200K jobs and how that will deepen our current recession. What do I mean by “laptop class?” These are the people objecting to / refusing to go back to the office after working from home for the past two years. People whose jobs allow them to do their work from anywhere. What many have found is that many of those people can get their job done in 15 hours a week, which leaves 25 hours to do… whatever they want. And it’s a lot easier to fake working when you’re not in the office.

As I’m writing this, I’m sitting in my office–there is two people on this floor–thirty-five cubicles, all but five assigned to current employees. This tells you two things: 1) my workplace suffers from this very problem and 2) I’m part of the problem. After all, I’m writing a blog post when I should be working, but I’m one of those folks who can get their job done in 15 hours a week… some weeks more, some less, but it does make me realize I have a BS job.

Of course, I’ve realized this for some time. In fact, I’ve sought a 15 hour work week for some time. The term 15 hour work week comes from John Maynard Keynes, who predicted in 1930 that automation would lead to people working less…. but we’re working more than ever. Why? Because of what David Graeber calls “BS Jobs.” He contends that half of all societal jobs are pointless…. and you know they’re pointless, but you have to pretend as if they aren’t.

He breaks these down into five types:

Flunkies, who serve to make their superiors feel important, e.g., receptionists, administrative assistants, door attendants, store greeters, makers of websites whose sites neglect ease of use and speed for looks;

Goons, who act to harm or deceive others on behalf of their employer, e.g., lobbyistscorporate lawyerstelemarketerspublic relations specialists, community managers;

Duct Tapers, who temporarily fix problems that could be fixed permanently, e.g., programmers repairing bloated code, airline desk staff who calm passengers whose bags do not arrive;

Box Tickers, who create the appearance that something useful is being done when it is not, e.g., survey administrators, in-house magazine journalists, corporate compliance officersquality service managers;

Taskmasters, who create extra work for those who do not need it, e.g., middle managementleadership professionals.

Wikipedia

My current job falls under the taskmasters–or technically, I work for the taskmasters–and the fact that frequently my ability to complete a task is stalled by my boss. At first, I just thought that was because I work in government… but now I’m wondering if it’s the nature of my subject. The question is… why do I even have a job? Shouldn’t someone question why we’re paying for this? No, says Graeber, because in any bureaucracy, number of employees equal power. If HR admits they don’t need ten people, they get less of a budget next year, which means they don’t have as much power in the company.

So as I joke with my friends, I make sure that the head of my department doesn’t know my name. This is not really a joke. Because if the department head knows my name, they might ask, “What does Marcus do?” And if they find the answer is “Not much,” he might ask, “Then why are we paying him?” So I hide in my fortress of solitude on the 3rd floor; the department head is on the 7th and no one knows the other is here.

Ninja Construction

20 Jun

When I grew up in the Midwest, in the Spring, a line of cones would appear on the highway, go for twenty miles, and not be removed until October. You would rarely see anyone working on it. In Arizona, cones appear overnight, and then the next day, disappear.

I’ve started calling this “ninja construction.” Take this morning’s commute, which suddenly choked traffic approaching a major intersection from three lanes to two. Just like Midwestern construction, you rarely ever see any construction workers, but the difference is that the construction zone goes away just as quickly as it appeared. It’s like ninjas have jumped in, finished whatever they’ve done, and jumped out of there.

At first, this was a welcome change of pace. “Gee, I don’t have to have my main route of travel blocked off for half the year.” However, this can get really annoying. At least with the Midwestern model, you can expect that there will be construction there. You can adjust your time or travel for it. With this Arizona model, you never know when suddenly there’s a construction zone, and traffic backs up two blocks before it… and you don’t know it’s there until you’re upon it, so you couldn’t take an alternate route – thankfully, we’re on a grid system, so it is possible – but not when you’re already in gridlock.

My wife, who used to work in a civil engineering office, gave a good reason why construction does take so long. Say there are five steps to building an on-ramp: teardown, cleanup, concrete framing, pouring and smoothing concrete, and paving the road. Since contractors tend to specialize, they bid on each of these steps separately. Then to keep your employees working, you bid on multiple contracts. That means when the first crew is finished with the teardown, the cleanup crew may be running behind on another ramp, so this construction remains vacant and closed, without anyone working on it.

Since Arizona is really, REALLY hot during the summer (and so is everywhere else), we adapted the idea of working at night far earlier than the rest of the country. So maybe the reason why I never see these ninja construction workers is because they’re working while I sleep? The development of portable large-scale lighting has really made this possible. As the exception to what I just said, downtown Phoenix has been ripped up for months due to the light rail expansion. As a result, they’ve had to do a lot of work underground (okay, not exactly sure if one has to do with the other), and they have very large, very LOUD trucks whose job it is to pump light into the tunnels below.

Side Note: Since I take the light rail into work, this has cause no end of fun for me, since they’ve had to run both routes of traffic on one rail, slowing arrival times considerably.

At least I take some comfort that when they say, “this will be only closed until July 15th,” they usually mean it. However, is there something I missed regarding road construction? Is there some reason that it takes SO long? Let me know in the comments below!

Hiding from the Sun

17 Jun

There’s a reason why they think Arizonans are crazy and it has to do with our summer. As I write this, our high today is going to be 114, and it will get to 120 by August. So imagine being my kids and during their summer break, they can’t run around outside… they have to hide from the sun.

We have the reverse culture of everyone else in the United States (and this includes most of New Mexico and Texas), where we run around outside seven months a year, during our “winter.” From mid-October to mid-May, highs are in the 70-80’s, lows in the 40-50’s, and it’s absolutely gorgeous in the Valley of the Sun. But… come May, ah… we hide from the sun.

However, we don’t change our habits based on our climate – that would make too much sense! Instead, we have our school off in the summer because… that’s how we did it back in Ohio, why wouldn’t we do it here? To be fair, it doesn’t make sense in Ohio anymore, since all the schools have air conditioning. I grew up being told “it’s because back in the day, they needed kids to work the fields.” Except farmers didn’t; you need all hands on deck for harvest time… in October. It was because it was too damn hot in the school during the summer and the kids would melt.

This insanity continues in other areas. Our chain stores all bring out heavy coats in October, even though our climate doesn’t justify it and no one will buy them, but the regional vice president doesn’t get why they wouldn’t sell in Phoenix.

So although this cute pic of a dad running with his daughter and Corgi would make sense anywhere else in the United States during the summer, this is February for us. You could do this in June if you got outside before 8 am, which is generally not a problem, considering that we don’t have daylight savings time here, the sun rises around 5 am. So if my teenage son wants to sleep in, he closes his shutters, puts a blanket over the window, and then a blanket over his head. I don’t get that luxury, because the g-dam cat starts crying the song of his people if he’s out of food before 6 am. Or decides that the perfect time to terrorize our OTHER cat and get into a growling fight in the stairwell, the most echo-y part of the house.

Wow – this post went from being a “isn’t it weird living here” to a bitch-fest. My apologies. I’ll do better next time.

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