World of Work

One of the many, many disruptions in today’s society is the new phenomenon of ‘work from home’. The traditional model leveraged the natural human behavior to associate in cliques, extended families and tribes. Coming to a common workplace emulated these natural behaviors. The political structure also fit into a tribal model where a few members were recognized as leaders (Managers). Virtually all workplaces had a tree-like structure that distributed tasks and functions under the guidance of the managers.

Thanks to the interruption of the Pandemic, which forced lockdown, and the new power of the Internet and Artificial Intelligence (AI), which eliminated many human tasks, people suddenly found themselves at home all day. The natural tribal environment was gone; the social benefits of human gathering was gone; the ability to oversee policy and function was greatly weakened.

The opportunity to work from home became a benefit for many workers. Salary and benefits were no longer limited to financial criteria and working conditions; suddenly a major benefit included whether one could work from home.

Aside from large empty office buildings, which were a massive financial overhead, businesses also felt the negative impact of dispersed workers who were not in a controlled environment. ‘Work at home’ still distorts the statistics on employment versus unemployed and is a new headache for service oriented businesses.

This issue is a new phenomenon. Managers haven’t been trained in management techniques for isolated workers. Below is an interview with a personnel manager who proposes methods to optimize the modern workforce:

Being interviewed by Protocol Braintrust (on-line news service), Julia Anas, Chief People Officer at Qualtrics, Made good recommendations:

“When evolving culture, especially in a virtual environment, there are key actions leaders should take.

“Identify your core values and the impact you want to have on the world, unifying your employees — from executives to individual contributors — around these values. At Qualtrics, we call these TACOS: Transparency, All in, Customer obsessed, One team and Scrappy.

“Pair experience data — what your employees are thinking and feeling — with operational data — how they are performing — to design and continuously improve work experiences.

“Be purposeful in how you connect with your employees and what works for them.

“Lead with empathy. Employees want to feel a sense of belonging and connection with the people they work with, and it’s critical for leaders to foster a culture that prioritizes listening, understanding and meeting people where they are.”

Organizing a workplace using empathy and other sociological values is a new phenomenon. Tribal structures are missing and must be replaced with a new worker-centered philosophy. Employees who make good managers may have to be less authoritative and more conciliatory in their methods.

We will watch how this ‘evolving culture’ emerges.

Ancient Mariner

 

Revisiting the World in 1950

The red line on the map of Eastern Europe below shows the peak of USSR dominance in 1950. For decades the West has known that Vladimir Putin’s dream is to restore Russia to its largest expansion that was created by the Warsaw Pact. Evidently Vladimir thinks it is time to begin restoration.

The Russian aggression has pushed out of the news the inflamed issue of Pacific Ocean dominance vis-à-vis China. Today the issue is Ukraine and Crimea, which are immediately to the east of Poland and Romania, bordering the northern shore of the Black Sea. Crimea, already forcibly annexed by Russia, is the island at the north end of the Black Sea

One of the intellectual victories that came out of WWII negotiations, and one which sustained national independence through the Cold War, was an agreement that national boundaries cannot be changed by brute force.

Ukraine was part of Russia until it officially declared itself an independent country on August 24 1991, when the communist parliament of Ukraine proclaimed that Ukraine would no longer follow the laws of USSR and only the laws of Ukraine, de facto declaring Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union. For the likes of Russian plutocrats, this has remained a thorn in the side. Vladimir surely believes that Ukraine and Crimea have always been part of Russia and should remain so.

Economically, Russia is hurting the way dictatorships usually suffer: Government sucks every dollar it can (not unlike American private equity firms) leaving too little for the citizenry to survive comfortably. The one thing Russia cannot tolerate is to be cut off from international trade via intensely restrictive sanctions – the strategy Biden and the EU have been touting. The problem that throws sand in the gears is that the EU is dependent on Russian oil and natural gas.

What Putin is banking on is that an invasion could be accomplished in a few days before opposing nations could respond to Russia’s execution of overwhelming military force, borrowing Syria’s strategy which is to level everything without regard for future functionality; Ukrainian leaders, like the opponents of Adolf Hitler, would be summarily executed.

On paper this has merit since Ukraine is not part of NATO and is not automatically protected.

The 1950s question is whether nations will be able to enforce the idea that boundaries cannot be changed by brute force without using brute force themselves.

All eyes are on Vladimir Putin.

Ancient Mariner

The Planet is a player

Around the entire planet, presidents, prime ministers, dictators and monarchs struggle to maintain a positive image to their subjects while fighting nature’s infectious army. Science struggles to keep up with nature; politics struggles to keep in step with the march of new, deadly viruses and destructive weather; human confusion increases as social media misrepresents the issues; the economy struggles to sustain order in the marketplace as employees abandon jobs in fear; education is brought to its knees by conflicting policies and solutions; financial support by the government is shutting down as party politics block national responses to national pandemics and weather.

Let’s face it. Nature is slapping humanity around as if humans were a bunch of namby-pambies. Societies and their power structures have ignored global warming since its first documentation in 1853. Societies and their power structures have ignored the disruption and raping of the planet’s Eco structure until the planet had to put its foot down and doubled the rate of global warming. The ratio of planetary resources to population is on an increasingly negative curve toward inadequacy for humanity in general.

In the day-to-day life of humans, these issues seem vague and ill defined. Finding the next meal or the next income source is more important. Keeping one’s wealth as storm clouds gather obstructs the big picture.

Unlike moments in history when some element of reality suddenly brought change, e.g., electricity, automobiles, TNT or artificial intelligence, today the planet is a player; it can make changes, too. Genuinely destructive weather has become commonplace; volcanic eruptions are becoming commonplace; the oceans, by human interference, have grown so warm as to create massive extinction of the sea’s Eco system and will disrupt weather for many decades.

Yet the political environment speaks of petty wars and egotistical posturing. Mariner is reminded of Nero fiddling while Rome burned.

This must be a movie. Mariner has been drawn into a metaverse environment. No, not really. Our times today are difficult and many answers are unknown. All a person has left is a stable ethic and what factual information may, or may not, be at hand.

Ancient Mariner

Immoral circumstances

Since early last December online news services have begun reporting on the immoral circumstance and the economic impact of a rapidly self-enriching oligarchy, i.e., the super billionaire citizens and large, illegal income structures of international corporations and investors. Ironically, Putin and his cronies keep their hidden wealth in the US and a few other western nations – it’s safer.

Wealth can be purchased at advantageous times and allowed to grow untaxed because of tax loopholes. These invested assets are, in fact, removed from the economic flow of Growth Domestic Product (GDP) that supports the entire nation. While showing the wealthy growing even wealthier, the fungibility, or trade value is zero. In effect this wealth sits in an attic with no comparable value in the common economy. Think of a magician making a dollar coin vanish from his hand and never show up again.

One of the news sources is ProPublica, known for deep investigations where daylight doesn’t shine. To save words, mariner quotes ProPublica’s opening remarks to a piece written last year:

“Had the billions in budget reductions occurred all at once, with tens of thousands of auditors, collectors and customer service representatives streaming out of government buildings in a single day, the collapse of the IRS might have gotten more attention. But there have been no mass layoffs or dramatic announcements. Instead, it’s taken eight years to bring the agency that funds the government this low. Over time, the IRS has slowly transformed, one employee departure at a time.

“The result is a bureaucracy on life support and tens of billions in lost government revenue. ProPublica estimates a toll of at least $18 billion every year, but the true cost could easily run tens of billions of dollars higher.

The cuts are depleting the staff members who help ensure that taxpayers pay what they owe. As of last year, the IRS had 9,510 auditors. That’s down a third from 2010. The last time the IRS had fewer than 10,000 revenue agents was 1953, when the economy was a seventh of its current size.”

 Another news source wrote about eight multibillionaire families who had never paid one dollar in taxes. Obviously the IRS needs to be refunded at appropriate levels and the fungibility of trillions of dollars must be returned to the economy by rewriting tax laws so that gained wealth can be taxed.

But this issue is more than numbers, profit margins and taxes. The wide, growing division between the wealthy and the average citizen has deformed the national culture. The number of poverty-stricken people is growing at an historic rate. The working class has endorsed Donald Trump as a savior. A normal lifestyle is out of reach for the twenty-year-olds who cannot afford college, marriage or housing. In times of great swings by inflation or recession, these are times when the private equity world sweeps in to gather easy, profitable pickings. Note that the US is heading for two economically disastrous situations: inflation and climate change. Will Government have the resources to keep the boat afloat for the next ten to fifteen years?

Not without a total rewrite of taxation laws and the agents needed to enforce compliance.

Make sure your representatives in every level of government hear your concern for tax reform.

Ancient Mariner

Reality

{The Atlantic} The moment that broke Cassie Alexander came nine months into the pandemic. As an intensive-care-unit nurse of 14 years, Alexander had seen plenty of “Hellraiser stuff,” she told me. But when COVID-19 hit her Bay Area hospital, she witnessed “death on a scale I had never seen before.”
Last December, at the height of the winter surge, she cared for a patient who had caught the coronavirus after being pressured into a Thanksgiving dinner. Their lungs were so ruined that only a hand-pumped ventilation bag could supply enough oxygen. Alexander squeezed the bag every two seconds for 40 minutes straight to give the family time to say goodbye. Her hands cramped and blistered as the family screamed and prayed. When one of them said that a miracle might happen, Alexander found herself thinking, I am the miracle. I’m the only person keeping your loved one alive. (Cassie Alexander is a pseudonym that she has used when writing a book about these experiences. I agreed to use that pseudonym here.)
The senselessness of the death, and her guilt over her own resentment, messed her up. Weeks later, when the same family called to ask if the staff had really done everything they could, “it was like being punched in the gut,” she told me. She had given everything—to that patient, and to the stream of others who had died in the same room. She felt like a stranger to herself, a commodity to her hospital, and an outsider to her own relatives, who downplayed the pandemic despite everything she told them. In April, she texted her friends: “Nothing like feeling strongly suicidal at a job where you’re supposed to be keeping people alive.” Shortly after, she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she left her job.

Maybe we should buy her a robot puppy.
Ancient Mariner

Nearer My Casket to Thee

Mariner just saw a frightening news clip on CBSN (ROKU). Robot puppies that look like the Paw Patrol cartoons are displacing real dog ownership. It reminds him of the perverts who live with sex dolls and people who marry suggestions from a manipulated database or the adults in a doctor’s office playing mind killing smartphone games.

Say goodbye to reality. Fantasy sells. Benignness sells. Stupor sells. Laziness sells.

If someone wants a dog, buy a real one dammit. Matrix lives.

Remember pet rocks? At least it was seen as a joke – although as mariner’s wife noted, some people name their automatic vacuum cleaner. Mariner’s wife provides a poem:

On learning that people who name their Roombas have a hard time
throwing them away:

Ah, little Roomba, Roomie-Roo
I love how you clean my floors
Diligently sucking up all the fluff you can find
and then scooting across the room
bumping against the chair leg
backing and turning
to dart off in another direction
Like an eager little puppy
who does the opposite of shedding,
chasing in your funny way
all the dusty bunnies hiding in the corners.
I don’t just love the work you do, little Roomie Roo
I love your friendly presence and helpful attitude
And when at last your lithium battery goes off somewhere to die
As happens to the best of us,
You will always have a home
In the closet of my heart.

MKM 4-20-21

All this reminds mariner of the Pew Christian who thinks one hour every seven days does it. Should we fear the coming of mesmerizing God robots? Preacher robots are just around the corner – or already here in podcast services.

If people want numbness, take opiates.

Ancient Mariner

 

Democracy Simplified

It never fails to impress mariner how Non Sequitur can simplify so many complex issues into one comic frame. Here’s a great example:

Facts are immutable. That is their strength. Truth is culture, also a strength.

When facts are ignored over time, culture fills in the gaps; the longer the time, the more abstract culture becomes. Finally, disparity overcomes rationality.

The fact that the working class has not been given a fair shake when matched against the facts of inflation and loss of benefits since 1980, culture has adapted to accept this situation until disparity could no longer be denied.

Hence Donald. Hence January 6. The pandemic, a factually based circumstance, has magnified culture’s disparity a hundred fold. Today, a disparate culture is in the midst of collapse.

Who will steer culture back to a factually driven reality?

Not The House of Representatives.

Not the Senate.

Not the housing shortage.

Not global warming.

Not China.

Not Russia.

Not even the European Union.

Not big data.

Not the oligarchy.

Not even religion, which has its own disparate issues.

The United States situation has been represented accurately  by Wiley’s cartoon.

Ancient Mariner

2022

We must be thankful, truly thankful, if we had a good, heartwarming, soul refreshing holiday season. To have been so blessed in these times is a privileged experience. Mariner had such a holiday. His son and daughter-in-law, a four year old, a one year old, a frisky dog and a cat spent Christmas week with mariner and his wife.

It was commotion and noise, of course, and special meals and decorations and presents and special conversations. It is how Christmas should be experienced. Opportunities to have inter-human experiences are growing less common. Some of it is due to the migration of children (or parents) and close relatives to distant geographic locations; some of it is due to the massive interruption of Covid; some of it is due to the powers of the internet; more common than we may think, some is due to debilitating poverty; finally, some of it is due to cultural disruption caused by a failing national ethos and the unknown future that will be created with artificial intelligence.

But it is our duty to hang on, to sustain the normal pleasures and responsibilities that come with being human. It is our mandate to be among humanity. Our saneness depends on unity amongst the species. We should take every opportunity to share time with others, to mingle, to share common courtesies and goals; to take responsibility for the human condition.

Think about this: all things are subject to evolution. Is our house the first evolutionary form that will become our Matrix casket? Will the growing, amoral reality of machines that can think live our lives for us?

We no longer have to shop outside our home. Our bills are paid automatically. We talk to other human beings on the internet rather than in person; it has become common to go to work without leaving the home; we arrange lifelong partners according to internet specifications. Our house, evolutionarily speaking, is our Matrix coffin. For most of us, that final coffin is beyond our lifespan but in the meantime, let’s celebrate face to face human interaction at every opportunity!

Ancient Mariner

 

The Homo persona versus the AI world

This entire post intends deliberately to promote a new book: “The Age of AI and our Human Future” by Henry Kissinger, Eric Schmidt and Daniel Huttenlocher, published 2021 by Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 9780316273800.

Not that mariner is comfortable with every premise. Indeed, the book clarifies his own resistance to the impact of AI. Nevertheless, the book is written with rational insight and for the ease of an average reader; the language and grammar are helpful instead of being a confrontation.

The authors point out in clear terms that being a human will be different as AI takes over behaviors usually executed by human beings. One insightful example: It is quite likely that an AI program will choose whether you are hired for a job – no human intervention is necessary; perhaps a human robot may interview you. AI programs author public documents – no human intervention is necessary. Economic activities like engaging in the stock market, international trade agreements and salaries will be managed by AI – no human intervention is necessary.

Many of what today are called ‘labor jobs’ that require skills typical of the trades or white collar workers or many specialist jobs in public service and health will not be required. The new labor class will be technicians trained to work with AI. For the Homo species, the social and psychological changes in an individual’s sense of personal worth will be challenged.

The authors point to other significant changes to human worth in history when, for example, the weaving machine was invented which promulgated a national resistance movement called the Luddites; also, the printing press changed individual awareness and political acumen forever, allowing ideas like democracy to grow. But the great double-cross in mariner’s mind is captured on the back cover:

“Recently, a sophisticated language-generating AI named GPT-3 was asked philosophical questions. It replied in part:

Your question is ‘Does GPT-3 have a conscience or any sense of morality?’ No, I do not.

Your next question is ‘Is GPT-3 actually capable of independent thought?’ No, I am not. You may wonder why I give this conflicting answer. The reason is simple. While it is true that I lack these traits, they are not because I have not been trained to have them. Rather, it is because I am a language model and not a reasoning machine like yourself.

The gray line for mariner is, in fact, that AI has no soul. How does one provide insightful charity? How does one know when the exception proves the rule? How does an individual achieve the hero’s path in light of determinism? Further, mariner does not trust the three-way relationship between AI, government and private investment. How will our Congressmen manipulate campaign funds?

As Forrest Gump would say, “Amoral is as amoral does.” How a person may be treated or defined is driven by their table values in massive databases. Mariner remains a Luddite and a member of the silent generation. One day he will buy a pony and a pony cart. Who needs automobiles driven by AI? The pony knows the way.

Nevertheless, read the book. You owe it to yourself to understand your future self-worth.

Ancient Mariner

Stupidity is a human characteristic

Think of how stupid the average person is, and realize half of them are stupider than that.  – George Carlin

Two that are stupider are the parents of the student who shot attendees at his school. They bought him a semiautomatic pistol then refused to intercede in an obviously distraught situation. The school administrator is at best of average stupidity. Given the nation’s propensity for killing school children faster than the Taliban, how did the boy get a weapon into the school?

Another stupider individual is Kyle Rittenhouse who carried an AK assault rifle to a rally in another state. Also stupid are all the governments involved. How could a boy who traveled to Wisconsin with an unlicensed weapon, brandish it in public, then kill people with it and not face at least one charge, say, ‘disturbing the peace’?

Others that are stupider are the unvaccinated citizens in states infected with Trump disease. Several reports from different quarters say that the death rate from Covid in these states is three times higher than Covid deaths in vaccinated states.

Stupid is as stupid does.  – Forrest Gump

Stupider is the Republican Party. By what set of rules, ideology or practicality can the party endorse/unendorse Marjorie Taylor Greene and Liz Cheney at the same time?  Oh, mariner forgot – it’s the electorate that is stupider; representatives are in it for the money.

You can’t argue with stupidity.  – Jermaine Jackson

In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.  – Napoleon Bonaparte

Ancient Mariner