About Ponderer

Ponderer also writes science fiction and science-inspired rhyming poetry. Check her out at katerauner.wordpress.com/ She worked at Rocky Flats for 22 years - you may know her as Kathy London.

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.

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.

Sold a Bill of Goods – Not Good at All

The phrase means to be cheated, though I didn’t understand why – “goods” is a general term for merchandise so surely buying goods is, well, good. And a bill of goods must be some sort of receipt – which also sounds good.

Word Detective says

“Bill of goods” was used in the non-pejorative “list of stuff” sense for many years until the 1920s, when it suddenly took on a negative spin… (“Selling a big bill of goods hereabouts, I’ll wager, you old rascals?” Eugene O’Neill, Marco Millions, 1927). “Bill of goods” very quickly almost entirely lost its simple, honest mercantile sense and became a synonym for “scam.” Just how this transformation happened is something of a mystery.

The site speculates that the phrase means the list was given to the purchaser but the goods never delivered. I’ll add my own observation that the switch to meaning a swindle occurred during America’s Prohibition era which makes me think of rum-running and accompanying swindles. I assume the phrase must have been known before O’Neill used it in a book.

A wordoriginsorg forum agrees with the O’Neill citation and includes several uses of “bill of goods” as a simple listing rather than a swindle before the 1920s, including by Mark Twain  in Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court in 1889.

On the Same Page

Round_Table_Discussion.svg.medTo be on the same page is to be thinking or understanding an issue similarly, or in agreement, though not necessarily on every detail. It is usually said about efforts to solve a problem.

Knowyourphrase.com says the origin is may refer to students opening their textbooks to the same page, or choral singers opening their music. That sounds plausible but sometimes people simply make up good stories to explain a phrase.

If the phrase seems to be recent, so Know Your Phrase may have found the origin in 1974, in the Corona Daily Independent:

“I think we can beat Washington and whichever [football] team we play next to get into the Super Bowl. If 47 players and our coaches are all on the same page, we can do it.”

Wherever it came from, tweakyourbiz.com calls this a business cliché, “a handy crutch when you’re groping for a word in a pressurized situation.” Perhaps some original thinking would lead to fresh language.

Facts and Truth – Will Your Brain Let You See the Difference?

Facts are not as important as the truth that defines who you are, and every idea you have is a physical thing in your brain. The circuits become fixed and new information is modified to fit, because some things simply must be true.

That’s my summary of a recent interview I heard with academician George Lakoff, but what really caught my attention is that he implies you can’t change this. Even if you know your brain is filtering facts, you can’t help it. Not all facts may challenge your sense of self, and you can deal with those. But when the topic is part of your identity, you’re trapped.

That defies my sense of free will, which, of course, would only prove Lakoff’s point.

Lakoff says he can explain why certain positions that seem independent go together – for example, pro-life and flat-tax. I’ve often thought about this – if I know you’re a vegetarian I bet I can guess your politics. Why should that be so?

As it relates to politics, Lakoff says we see our nation through the metaphor of a family, and there are two kinds of families: the strict father and the nurturing family. Most people use a mix of these two approaches (so maybe there’s hope for a fact to get through!) but the basis of the strict father is that authority and morality go together – right and wrong are clear, tough love creates a disciplined person who will succeed, and if someone doesn’t succeed it’s their own fault and they deserve what they get. Continue reading