The Future of Work

gents-in-the-mornings-md

Idling at the coffee house

“At the age of twenty-six, Maarten Troost had been pushing the snooze button on the alarm clock of life by racking up useless graduate degrees and muddling through a series of temp jobs.” Description from The Sex Lives of Cannibals.

Troost has to be every parent’s nightmare of fail-to-launch offspring. After receiving a degree in a subject that could lead to a real job, he “chose not to pursue employment in the field for which I had spent many years acquiring knowledge because… it just didn’t seem the right thing to do” and was too much trouble. To fend off collection agencies he raised cash by subletting his apartment and moving in with his mother for a while, and later became a “minimum wage temp.”

Subsequently he moved to Tarawa, a “heat-blasted sliver of coral [at] the end of the world… for two years” for “no particularly good reason.”

The book ambles much as his life did, in a trendy but mocking tone that may drive you crazy. “I regard idling as a virtue,” he writes.

Does Troost point the way to our future? Troost does get to the Pacific island in his second chapter, but it was the first chapter that got me thinking. As automation replaces human labor, how many people will need to build a life from idling?

It’s not as crazy a concern as it may sound. We’ve heard about robots replacing workers in manufacturing for a long time. But one of the largest occupations in America is driving vehicles, and self-driving vehicles are coming, probably first to commercial use. Another big job category is retail sales, but I can check myself out at Walmart – one employee watching over six registers. Amazon is testing a store where you log in with a phone app as you enter, pick up your items, and walk out. The app keeps track and charges your credit card.

I’m old enough to remember when employees pumped gas, now in most states gas is self-serve, which doesn’t seem odd or sad anymore.

Many white collar jobs are endangered too. For example, algorithms and analytics are replacing well-paid legal professionals.

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Make Hay While the Sun Shines

HAY Breviarium_Grimani_-_Juni_detailFor many years I owned a hay field, so I can relate to this phrase. If it rains while your “hay is down” the dampness reduces the forage value and even causes mildew and mold. I was lucky to live with dry summers and modern weather forecasts and still got rained on at times.

The origin and meaning come in one neat package:

This proverb is first recorded in John Heywood’s A dialogue conteinyng the nomber in effect of all the prouerbes in the Englishe tongue, 1546:

Whan the sunne shinth make hay. Whiche is to say.
Take time whan time cometh, lest time steale away.

The Democratic Party and Trump Derangement Syndrome

GUEST POST by G. Zepernick

Well, here we are. Not quite three months into the Presidency That Could Never Be and most of the country, liberal to conservative, is still dealing with emotions ranging from disbelief and denial to outright shock.  The political landscape is looking like a small town that just got hit by an F4 tornado.  Half of the populace has emerged, dazed and blinking, from basements and bathrooms to find their lives relatively intact but changed in ways they can’t yet fathom.  The remaining souls, if they have been lucky enough to survive, have seen everything they hold dear wiped away.  Safe to say, nobody is happy about the outcome, but some are much more upset than others.

Republicans, having committed one of the monumental miscalculations in the party’s history, were fully prepared to see their nominee suffer an equally monumental whupping on Election Day. Democrats were already sending Two Men and a Truck up to Chappaqua to bring all the Clintons’ furniture (and a few misplaced White House odds and ends) back down to Pennsylvania Avenue when the returns started to trickle in.  The media coverage from that evening revealed the barely concealed amazement on almost every Republican face.  Democrats were also amazed.  None of them had imagined that their world could end, so suddenly and completely, at the somewhat undersized hands of Donald J. Trump.

Since November 8, the political Right has lifted its collective jaw off the floor and moved cautiously into the winner’s circle. The Left’s amazement meanwhile has morphed into a kind of madness. Wags have named it Trump Derangement Syndrome.  It is marked by an irrational fear and vitriolic hatred of all things Trump, from his Cabinet picks to Melania’s dress choices.  Democrats are by nature an emotional cohort, but the election of Donald Trump seems to have turned them into wounded animals, lashing out mindlessly at anyone who might try to mollify them and seizing upon every rumor and leak as grounds for impeachment.  Time was that, for any Democrat, hoping to put Mike Pence in the Oval Office would be the very definition of derangement.  But, as I said, here we are.

Not to say that all the Left’s worries are unfounded, or that only the Left is worried. Donald Trump is inarguably a classic Narcissist with poor impulse control and no apparent core principles who shoots from the lip and has raised unpredictability to an art form.  But the recent battle over the appointment of Neil Gorsuch has shown the depth of derangement among Democrat Senators.  Asked to accept a jurist of character and unparalleled qualification who was confirmed 99-0 to the second highest judgeship in the land, and whose approval would do no more than restore a balance to the Supreme Court that has existed since Bush One, Schumer and Co. chose to waste their only bullet.  When the next appointee, who is likely to be much more odious to liberals and will likely replace one, comes before them, Senate Democrats will be all but powerless.  Republicans may have killed the filibuster, but Democrats tied its hands, led it to the wall and put on the blindfold.  Sound logical?  Not unless Donald Trump is inside your head.

Now consider the Great Trump-Russia Election Conspiracy. One of the Left’s favorite talking points is to claim that Trump is somehow an illegitimate president because he, or someone he knows, or someone the person he knows knows, may be implicated in Russia’s clumsy attempt to influence our election.  Missing from this narrative is any sort of mechanism by which Putin and his Cold Warriors could have pulled this off.  Words like “collusion” are tossed around with no real context offered.  The line is that Putin dislikes Hillary Clinton (as did a few too many American voters) and loves The Donald and so was moved to hack only the Democrats and leak their damaging emails.  If Putin is half the schemer we all believe him to be, would he not make every effort to gather dirt on both parties and their candidates?   Perhaps the Republicans used more secure passwords?  This cannot be, screams the Left.  Russia conspired with Republican “operatives” (a wonderfully pejorative term lifted right from the Watergate investigation) to defeat Hillary.  The evidence is there, somewhere!  Trump must be impeached before he can do further mayhem.  Never mind that Russia needed no help from any Trump operatives to spread disinformation through social media or to plant fake news stories on shady websites, or that any supposed collusion a) would not involve Trump personally and b) would have occurred before he was elected.  Not impeachable.

So the Left continues to cast about wide-eyed for an explanation of the why and how of President Donald Trump, looking everywhere, it seems, but in the mirror. Did the Republicans screw up by allowing Trump to hijack their party?  Certainly.  Was his election victory aided and abetted by the hacking of the Democrat National Committee?  Highly likely.  But when all the cards are down, nothing the Republicans or the Russians did or didn’t do equals the culpability the Democrat Party bears for not only the loss of the White House but the failure to gain a Senate majority.  No Russian operatives placed an unsecured server in the Chappaqua basement.  No Republican dictated the ridiculously damaging emails that were so easily snatched from John Podesta’s account.  When Donald Trump secured the nomination, was there a single Democrat in the country, starting with HRC, who didn’t believe he or she had not been given a great gift?

And yet.

This election shouldn’t have been close for the Democrats, let alone a loss. At its core, the Great Democrat Election Debacle of 2016 hinged not on what Trump, the disarrayed, gobsmacked Republicans, or even the Russians did.  It hinged on what the Democrats didn’t do. They didn’t secure their internal communications.  They didn’t deal fairly with their base (a mistake also made by the Republicans).  They nominated, by a process that must have made the Russians proud, a deeply flawed candidate of their own, who took her firewall states for granted and campaigned poorly.  They didn’t take their opponent seriously (a mistake, it must be noted, made by virtually everyone).  But their most galling error was never considering for a second that they might not be right, and in the right, about everything.  To fall from so high a perch and then realize that you sawed off your own branch might drive anyone around the bend.

So perhaps the Democrats’ derangement does not stem only from their loathing of Donald Trump. Perhaps they have been looking in the mirror.

 

Good GMO News

The headline might be misleading, because the three types of potatoes genetically engineered to resist the pathogen that caused the Irish potato famine contain only potato genes that are resistant to the blight and not are not actually GMOs. According to an article by Keith Ridler of the Associate Press, the potatoes come “…from an Argentine variety of potato that naturally produced a defense.” There is controversy despite the fact the potatoes aren’t GMO modified. “McDonald’s declines to use Simplot’s genetically engineered potatoes for its French fries.” This is despite the fact the U.S. Department of Agriculture has determined that they “…have the same taste and texture and nutritional qualities as conventional potatoes” while containing no DNA from an unrelated organism.

There are several advantages to the potatoes, to include that they have reduced bruising and black spots. They also have improved storage capacity and “…a lower amount of a chemical that’s a potential carcinogen created when potatoes are cooked at high temperatures.” They also require half the fungicides in their growth.

Those advantages would seem to be eagerly endorsed by almost everyone. Not so! The Non-GMO Project opposes the potatoes as “…claiming that new types of genetic engineering…are not actually genetic engineering.” There has been resistince to new technology throughout the ages, and that hasn’t ended despite the advantages provided by that technology.

What About Healthcare?

I watched the Republican train wreck of “repeal and replace” while figuratively holding my breath. Full disclosure – I buy my health insurance on the “Obamacare” exchange, am relieved that the ACA will remain intact, and can only hope the Congress won’t commit too much sabotage in the coming months.

But I think we’re asking the wrong questions and having the wrong discussion. We shouldn’t be talking about insurance but about health care. There’s no way to agree on “how” or “to what extent” until we agree on “what.”

Do all Americans deserve health care? (I’ll leave aside the politically-laden word “entitlement.”)

  • I thought we’d reached a lasting consensus on health care for those over 65, but various proposals to replace Medicare with vouchers makes me wonder.
  • I thought we’d agreed children deserve health care, though not with methods as well settled as Medicare.
  • There’s less agreement on health care for the disabled since suspicion of fraud seems to be a big worry, and there’s a lot of downright skepticism on health care for addiction and other mental health illnesses – at least in part because we don’t seem to believe anyone knows how to treat these illnesses. (Many professionals will disagree with that last bit, but I think a lot of people feel that way.)
  • That leaves the rest of working age adults. There is some support for the idea that anyone who has a job should not have to live in poverty – and I’ve read that most Medicaid recipients in this category are working. But again the fear of fraud and anger at the notion that someone is getting away with something seems to overwhelm the issue.

Surely we’re all opposed to fraud, and there should be ways to guard against it. And evidence-based research should be able to prove which treatments work, even if they may run counter to some social tropes. May I assume those problems are solvable?

It leaves the core question: Do all Americans deserve health care?

Until we arrive at a generally accepted consensus, we’ll never figure out what to do about it.

Fall by the Wayside

To fail to be completed, particularly for lack of interest. [wiktionary] I needed to go no further than dictionary.com to find the origin of this phrase – it appeared in William Tyndale’s translation of the New Testament (1526; Luke 8:5). There really is no way to be literate in English without knowing some references from the Christian Bible, though I have the impression more come from the King James version.

Gorsuch and Rocky Flats

There seems to be a consistent effort of the Colorado media to support confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court of the United States. I admit I’ve been impressed by what I’ve read and seen about his intelligence and demeanor. I can’t help but be impressed by a man who says things such as “Gosh” and “Golly.” However, I must register a significant concern. Gorsuch was a key to the 10th Circuit issuing a legal decision that will result in significant compensation to landowners near the Rocky Flats Plant (and their attorneys).

The case is very complicated, and I’ll do my best to summarize. (I’ll warn that the discussion to follow is a very simplistic summary of an incredibly complicated story.) A jury decided to award multi-millions in compensation was due to landowners near Rocky Flats, but that decision was overturned by the 10th Circuit Court. The ruling was overturned because it was determined that there was no proof of damage from the operations of Rocky Flats, to include reduction of property values. Effectively, it was ruled that perception of damage was insufficient to award damages.

Enter Gorsuch, and my concern about the Judge’s qualifications. The original ruling was vacated. The new ruling mentions that Dow and Rockwell managed the Plant under contracts with the federal government. “But everything ground to a halt in 1989. That’s when FBI agents raided the plant and unearthed evidence of environmental crimes. It turns out plant workers had mishandled radioactive waste for years. Some had been poured into the ground and leached into nearby bodies of water. Some had been released into the air and filtered its way into the soil throughout the area. As news of all this emerged, the plant’s neighbors saw their property values plummet.”

I published a book a few years back titled “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked.” Its obvious Judge Gorsuch hasn’t read the book, because it, as suggested by the title, debunks many of the urban myths that are repeated in the Gorsuch summary. I’m going to refer to the book and will provide specific page numbers to respond to several salient points. The FBI did not unearth evidence of environmental crimes. Items listed in the eventual plea bargain had been reported to the public and regulators before the infamous raid of the plant. A key member of the team that investigated Rocky Flats told the Wolpe Congressional Committee, “Virtually none of the allegations contained in the search warrant were borne out by full investigation” (page 82 of my book).

On the issue of offsite contamination from the plant, the Wolpe report adds that in retrospect that the investigation found that the issues should have been resolved civilly and not criminally. It is explained “That is primarily because of the marginal evidence of criminal intentional misconduct and the lack of any significant environmental harm” (also on page 82). Not convinced? The Judge in the United States District Court Sentencing of the resulting plea bargain forced by the Justice Department commented “.  .  .the environmental harm caused by the charged violations was generally limited to inside the plant’s boundaries” (page 89).

The Grand Jury investigating Rocky Flats operations charged that the plant had engaged in activities “. .  .which violate(s) Federal environmental laws.” This may have been the source of the Gorsuch comment about “.  .  .evidence of environmental crimes.” Gorsuch et al apparently were unaware that the U.S. Justice Department responded that the Grand Jury had been repeatedly told that the charges “.  .  .are not crimes and are covered by various orders and regulatory agreements” (page 93)

So what? Gorsuch et al issued a legal decision that results in $375 million dollars of taxpayer money being awarded. The contractors were indemnified and the Department of Energy will have to cover the costs. The award (forty percent of which will be paid to the plaintiffs lawyers) will be based on the fact that Rocky Flats was a “nuisance” and not because there was any environmental damage or reduction in property values.

I’m going to make a sales pitch. My book “An Insider’s View of Rocky Flats: Urban Myths Debunked” is available at Amazon, and it contains many more details than what are in this summary. (The online version is only $3.99, and that version includes several pictures to include burning plutonium and two different plutonium ingots.) I don’t profit from royalties, so I offer this information without a benefit for myself. I’ll also comment that a second book is currently in editing, and that book will present a detailed justification for why the Rocky Flats Plant was crucial to preventing World War III through implementing the policy of Nuclear Deterrence. Rocky Flats being a “nuisance” seems to be a trivial price to pay for such a momentous outcome?

Should Gorsuch be confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court? I hope, if he is, that he is more careful to base his decisions on facts and not urban myths that have been inculcated into popular acceptance!