Monday, July 21, 2014

The Never-Ending Job

Fifty years ago the New York Worlds Fair touted all the new technology — computers, lasers, picture phones — all displayed in the dizzying and awe-inspiring Carousel of Progress.  Soon, they promised, we would live a life of leisure thanks to labor-saving devices so we could shop from home and watch life go by on huge color TV’s.  Work would be a pastime because robots and machines would do the mundane chores and our office would be a dreamworld of paperless interchange.

How’d that work out?

The average cubicle farm, it seems, is where the 40-hour workweek went to die. According to a new survey, a staggering number of American professionals have workweeks that exceed 40 hours.

Virtual meetings software company PGi conducted an online survey of its customers that yielded more than 600 responses. Of those, 88 percent said they work more than 40 hours a week. Roughly a third each said they work between 41 and 45 hours, or between 46 and 50 hours.

Just over one in five said they work more than 50 hours a week. A main culprit in the lengthening of the workweek is technology that lets people work anywhere.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the “always on” atmosphere that’s permeated across our culture,” said PGi executive vice president of strategy and communications Sean O’Brien.

Now we have smartphones and laptops and Bluetooth.  The boss can always reach you; the files are never more than a click away, and even those of us who cherish time away and make an effort to get out of the office at the end of the day can still get a phone call in the middle of a beach in the Keys that begins with “I hate to bother you, but where’s the spreadsheet for the budget…?”

As Erik Loomis at LGM notes, “The 40-hour week becomes a joke, both because many people cannot work at all or can only find part-time work while those who do have work have to labor well past 40 hours because the boss can track them.”

And yes, we can now shop at home and watch stuff on huge color TV’s.  Of course the biggest market for that is porn.  (Or so I’m told.)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Ancient History

In the digital world, time moves at such a pace that something ten years old is antique.  Twitter is inviting its members to discover their first tweet.

Well, since I am always the last to join something trendy, my account was started less than a year ago.  And here is my first tweet:

First Tweet 03-21-14How very clever.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Welcome to 1990

We got a spam fax at the office.  It was disguised to look like someone had pasted a newspaper article onto a piece of paper and then hand-written “Thought this was interesting! – A” on it.  It was selling cheap insurance or something.

Two questions:  1) Who falls for that kind of scam, and 2) who uses a fax machine any more?

We still have one because we need something to hold down the top of a spare desk, but I can’t remember the last time I got real fax message.

Friday, October 25, 2013

We Can Hear You

In which the Bush administration NSA chief Michael Hayden lives in his own Twitter bubble on the Acela train.

We’ve all been there, right? Well, not with a guy doing a “deep background” interview at the top of his lungs on a commuter train.  Usually it’s someone gossiping — “He said WHAT?!?” — on the plane or bus as if they were all alone.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

Being Trendy

I now have a Twitter account.  It is @BobbyBBWW.

I don’t promise I’ll be tweeting every minute of the day, and I won’t be filling you in on everything I do, eat, see, or hear.  For one thing, I can’t twitter from the office, which is where I spend most of my time.  Second, I can’t imagine anyone would actually give a rat’s ass about what I do, eat, see, or hear.

But anyway, I’m on it.  Yip yah.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Sunday Reading

Old Warriors — Jill Filipovic at The Nation explores the myth that Roe v. Wade started the culture war and that marriage equality will further it.

Numerous commentators, most notably at The New York Times, have expressed concern that a broad ruling on marriage equality could turn into the next Roe v. Wade, igniting decades-long culture wars and damaging public perception of the Supreme Court. Better to rule narrowly, they say, and let the states follow the emerging trajectory towards marriage equality.

That argument, though, is not only totally ahistorical, but dangerous for both civil rights and the Court’s credibility.

Contrary to the current mythology, Roe didn’t incite the culture wars, and before the case was decided in 1973, the right to abortion across the fifty states was far from a foregone conclusion. As Linda Greenhouse and Reva B. Siegel detail in their book Before Roe v. Wade: Voices That Shaped the Abortion Debate Before the Supreme Court’s Ruling, an organized, primarily Catholic Church–backed anti-abortion movement existed in force before Roe. Although abortion rights were initially championed by Republicans and favored by a majority of Americans, social conservatives saw an opening to exploit for political gain. According to Greenhouse, before the Court decided Roe, conservative architects of the “New Right” had already decided to use opposition to abortion as part of a strategy for party realignment that would come to fruition with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980. “New Right” leaders sought to bring Catholics and into the party and politicize Evangelicals to form a coalition of traditionalists based on hostility to progress and change.

Abortion was hardly their only issue. The new conservative coalition opposed the Equal Rights Amendment, claiming that gender equality would destroy the family and send our daughters to war. They stoked white voters’ fears of full racial integration with racist tropes about black criminals and welfare queens. Those narratives and appeals to tradition continue today, with social conservatives hoping for a return to a gauzy vision of Good Old Days America before the social upheavals of the 1960s and ’70s—and before women, people of color, religious minorities and other marginalized groups were able to secure a full range of rights.

A different ruling in Roe—or none at all—wouldn’t have prevented a Republican Party realignment that was already underway. It wouldn’t have prevented abortion, and the rights of women and other traditionally disempowered groups, from becoming controversial political issues. But a Roe-free United States would almost certainly mean a United States wherein abortion laws were wildly varied, with women in many parts of the country having no legal right to abortion at all. Similarly, even though Brown v. Board of Education inspired an immediate backlash from Southern racists, it’s tough to argue that without court intervention, racial integration of public schools and other facilities would be better without Brown than the (admittedly lacking) state of racial equality today.

Acceptance — Aaron Hartzler tells how he gets along with his parents who would rather see him dead than gay.

“Honey, we’re praying for you.”

This is how my mother ends every email she sends me. Typed in italics and peppered with smiling emoticons, Mom’s electronic missives are as precious as she is — as earnest as the Empty Tomb Cake she bakes each spring on Good Friday. An edible replica of the cave where Jesus was buried after dying on the cross for our sins, the Empty Tomb Cake is the standard passion week centerpiece in my childhood home. It is frosted in gray, surrounded by a field of green coconut grass, and finished off with a Hostess Ding-Dong as the stone that was rolled away. On Saturday night, after everyone goes to bed, Mom steals into the kitchen under cover of night and rolls the Hostess Ding-Dong away from the door of the Empty Tomb Cake, then retouches the frosting. On Easter morning Jesus has risen — right there in the middle of the kitchen table.

As sweet as Mom’s loving messages and born-again baked goods appear at face value, there’s a silent threat in “we’re praying for you” that sticks in my craw. I came out to my parents the first time at the age of 19 when I was kicked out of the Bible college where my dad taught. Since then, their ongoing prayers for my “deliverance” from “Satan’s lie of homosexuality” have continued unabated in the presence of my four younger siblings and the unsuspecting wait staffs of Olive Garden restaurants nationwide. Indeed, my parents offer a never-ending stream of supplication to a God they’re certain is testing them with a son who has been blinded to the righteous pursuit of a female partner by the penis-shaped temptation of Satan.

“We’re praying for you” isn’t a harmless afterthought. It’s not a pleasant wish for my general well-being, continued physical health or financial security. No, my mother’s “we’re praying for you” is an italicized baseball bat, a silent plea for God to change her oldest son from something abhorrent and abominable back to the fresh-faced young man who dated the captain of the Bible college cheerleading squad, before it was discovered he was also sleeping with the captain of the boy’s soccer team.

Very Natural Gas — A dairy farm in Indiana goes for recycling in a big way.

Here at one of the largest dairy farms in the country, electricity generated using an endless supply of manure runs the equipment to milk around 30,000 cows three times a day.

For years, the farm has used livestock waste to create enough natural gas to power 10 barns, a cheese factory, a cafe, a gift shop and a maze of child-friendly exhibits about the world of dairy, including a 4D movie theater.

All that, and Fair Oaks Farms was still using only about half of the five million pounds of cow manure it vacuumed up from its barn floors on a daily basis. It burned off the excess methane, wasted energy sacrificed to the sky.

But not anymore.

The farm is now turning the extra manure into fuel for its delivery trucks, powering 42 tractor-trailers that make daily runs to raw milk processing plants in Indiana, Kentucky and Tennessee. Officials from the federal Department of Energy called the endeavor a “pacesetter” for the dairy industry, and said it was the largest natural gas fleet using agricultural waste to drive this nation’s roads.

“As long as we keep milking cows, we never run out of gas,” said Gary Corbett, chief executive of Fair Oaks, which held a ribbon-cutting event for the project this month and opened two fueling stations to the public.

“We are one user, and we’re taking two million gallons of diesel off the highway each year,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”

Doonesbury — Live birth.

Monday, November 19, 2012

The Twinkie Defense

Paul Krugman notes the passing of the Twinkie and the era it represented.

The Twinkie, it turns out, was introduced way back in 1930. In our memories, however, the iconic snack will forever be identified with the 1950s, when Hostess popularized the brand by sponsoring “The Howdy Doody Show.” And the demise of Hostess has unleashed a wave of baby boomer nostalgia for a seemingly more innocent time.

Needless to say, it wasn’t really innocent. But the ’50s — the Twinkie Era — do offer lessons that remain relevant in the 21st century. Above all, the success of the postwar American economy demonstrates that, contrary to today’s conservative orthodoxy, you can have prosperity without demeaning workers and coddling the rich.

As he notes, tax rates were high — some as high as 91% — but people still made a lot of money and lived pretty well (including George Romney and his family).  Labor unions were very strong, and yet companies were still able to make money and crank out the things the consumer wanted, even if it was junk food, cigarettes, and Edsels.

The Twinkie was a harmless snack, all sweetness and light, but it also became symbolic of an era that looked good on the surface but covered up a lot of things we’d rather forget: segregation and paranoia, polio and Senator McCarthy, Sputnik and duck-and-cover.  We couldn’t survive on Twinkies alone; they were little sugar bombs just waiting to go off.  They even formed the basis of the defense of Dan White, the man who assassinated Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone in San Francisco in 1978: the junk food made him do it.

It may be just karmic that the demise of the Hostess Brands line of bland and poisonous foods like Ding-Dongs and Wonder Bread come to the end of their current life soon after the end of a presidential campaign that represented a backwards march to the era when the kind of food they sold was what America was all about.  We can be all nostalgic about those days, but as Dr. Krugman notes, “we are, morally, a much better nation than we were. Oh, and the food has improved a lot, too.”

Have some granola.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Tech Support

My parents have a toaster that does everything but butter the bagels and a washing machine that senses the load and the amount of water needed by magic, apparently. My mom has an iPod that she’s rigged up to replace the cassette Books On Tape, and her wireless router is smart enough to recognize my computer though the last time I was here they were still using the old one.

I still don’t know how to work an iPod, and my washer and dryer has ON/OFF.

Kids these days.

Tech Support

My parents have a toaster that does everything but butter the bagels and a washing machine that senses the load and the amount of water needed by magic, apparently. My mom has an iPod that she’s rigged up to replace the cassette Books On Tape, and her wireless router is smart enough to recognize my computer though the last time I was here they were still using the old one.

I still don’t know how to work an iPod, and my washer and dryer has ON/OFF.

Kids these days.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Ancient Technology

I was at FedEx Kinko’s this afternoon getting some copies made. While I was waiting I saw a college-aged kid trying to send a fax. He was completely flummoxed. First, he wasn’t sure how to feed the paper into the tray. Then he kept getting a message through the little speaker, but he couldn’t figure out what it meant by “you must first dial a one.” It turns out the number he was calling was in Fort Lauderdale, which is long distance, and on a land-line you need to dial 1-954-XXX-XXXX. When we finally got that cleared up, the fax machine on the other end kept squawking but not picking up. “Maybe it takes longer because it’s so far away,” he said with complete earnestness. After a couple of more tries, I told him that the fax machine on the other end wasn’t turned on, which seemed to amaze him.

By that time, my copies were done and I had to leave, so I’ll never know if he got through.

Add the fax machine to the list that includes the tape recorder, the phonograph, the rotary telephone*, the VCR, and the mimeograph that are now ancient technology.

*When I moved into my apartment in Miami in 2001, one of the moving men asked if he could use my phone to order a pizza. I said sure and pointed him to the one in the kitchen: a black 1959 wall phone. He stared at the dial for a moment before I showed him how to use it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Nothing To Worry About….

This little snippet of nuke news is disturbing.

The United States could only account for 1,160 out of 17,500 kilograms of Highly-Enriched Uranium (HEU) — weapon-usable nuclear material — exported to 27 countries in response to a 1992 congressional mandate, according to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report released last week. […]

In another disquieting revelation, the GAO pointed out that in the 55 visits from 1994 through 2010, U.S. teams found that countries who received nuclear components met international security guidelines only about 50 percent of the time.

Yikes.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Short Takes

Asian markets fall after the U.S. credit downgrade.

A second Chinook helicopter was shot down in Afghanistan.

Rioting continues in north London.

Budget cuts mean a lot of weeds in Toledo.

R.I.P. Mark Hatfield, former Oregon senator; Hugh Carey, former New York governor.

Diana Nyad begins her swim from Havana to Key West.

Tropical Update: A disturbance is coming off the coast of Africa.

The Tigers lost to KC.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Short Takes

The U.S. is expanding the drone war into Somalia.

Minnesota’s budget battle means that state services are shut down for the holiday weekend.

Michigan’s ban on affirmative action in colleges was struck down by a federal court.

Factory orders were up in June.

Florida’s Bright Futures scholarship program is in trouble.

Miami-Dade police killed four suspects in a shoot-out.

The Tigers lost a close one to the Giants.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Plane Talk

The largest passenger jet in service, the Airbus A380, arrived in Miami on Friday on its inaugural flight for Lufthansa. It replaces the Boeing 747 that used to fly daily from Miami to Frankfurt.

Perhaps I’m just a curmudgeon, but I think the A380 is an uninspiring aircraft, at least in terms of style.

It may be large, but it has no flair, no panache, compared to the Boeing 747.

Maybe it’s because the 747 was the first of the jumbos and caused a real stir when it rolled out in 1970. Not only was it larger than any other passenger plane in the sky, it was graceful in spite of its size, and in those first years, it had amenities like a piano bar and a spiral staircase to the upper level. This was an amazing leap forward — flying from New York to Paris in a plane that was longer than the Wright brothers’ first flight in 1903 and less than 50 years after Charles Lindbergh did it solo in The Spirit of St. Louis — and it happened at a time when we were making leaps forward; Neil Armstrong had just made his giant leap for mankind.

But reality has a funny way of changing history. Hijackings, oil crises, terrorism and the economy all brought it back to earth, sometimes harshly. The Concorde, once hailed as the plane of the future, became a turkey that never got beyond the first iteration and the vision of supersonic planes replacing the lumbering jets never happened. Flying went from glamorous — we used to dress up to fly from Toledo to Minneapolis — to tedious and even boorish, with fistfights breaking out over reclining your seat. It also went from being risky to ordinary. It used to be that there were several major airplane crashes every year. No more; millions of air miles are flown each year without incident. That’s great, but it’s also probably why aircraft design has gone from stylish to bland.

The Airbus A380 is aptly named: it’s a bus, and when was the last time you thought of a bus as being a style icon? Probably back to when they were the newest form of travel. Just like automobiles and trains, transportation styling evolves from the beautiful to the bland when there’s no more wonder, no more risk, no more need to stand out. Other than its hugeness, the Airbus A380 might as well be a double-decker Boeing 737; slightly bloated, but utilitarian. And that’s a long way back from when flying was in the forefront of the future.

Just for fun, here’s a look back at what flying was like in ancient times: 1965. Check out the planes, the cars, and the technological marvels supplied by AT&T. (It’s ironic that the clip above from the Miami Herald, when viewed at the newspaper’s site, is preceded by a commercial from AT&T).

Monday, December 27, 2010

Stepping Outside of the Box

The New York Times wonders…

Did the bill pledging federal funds for the health care of 9/11 responders become law in the waning hours of the 111th Congress only because a comedian took it up as a personal cause?

And does that make that comedian, Jon Stewart — despite all his protestations that what he does has nothing to do with journalism — the modern-day equivalent of Edward R. Murrow?

It’s interesting that since Mr. Stewart is not alone in being a media personality with an agenda — vide Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh — it was Mr. Stewart who was able to at least make some headway with getting the 9/11 First Responders bill passed, as opposed to the others who carried on against the other bills that got passed such as healthcare, the stimulus, Wall Street reform, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, and a lot of other causes.

Mr. Stewart would be the last person to compare himself to the man who helped bring an end to the reign of Joseph McCarthy. Comedians and journalists have roles in our society and they’re not supposed to step over the line. Comics can mock us, but they can’t take up a cause. Journalists can report, but they must be objective. Granted, Mr. Murrow had a lot more to lose than Mr. Stewart; supporting the 9/11 bill and shaming the people who were holding it up was not a controversial stand as opposed to coming out against a demagogue at the height of his power in 1954. But the one thing both men have in common is that they took up a cause on behalf of the weak against the powerful. That is essentially the role of both comedy and investigative journalism: to make us aware of the injustices and exploitations of the powerful.

Edward R. Murrow
once said that television can illuminate and educate, but unless the people watching it are willing to learn from what they see, it is merely “wires and lights in a box.” And in his own way, Jon Stewart is saying the same thing.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Short Takes

South Korea toughens up its defenses on the islands.

China is wary of the sabre-rattling going on in their backyard.

Ireland unveils its austerity plans.

It seems that a lot of people opted out of National Opt-Out Day.

Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) outlines his reason for being against the New START Treaty: It’s because Barack Obama is the president, that’s why.

The U.S. is dropping the color-coded alert system.

Charges have been dropped against the accused cat-killer in Palmetto Bay, Florida.

Million-dollar legislature: A lot of the people that make the laws in Florida are very rich.

Monday, November 8, 2010

So Go Already

Some Texans float a plan to save money.

Some Republican lawmakers — still reveling in Tuesday’s statewide election sweep — are proposing an unprecedented solution to the state’s estimated $25 billion budget shortfall: dropping out of the federal Medicaid program.

After the 2008 election there was chatter about Texas seceding from the union; I suppose this represents a step in that direction. Okay, but before they go, can they give back all the money they’ve taken since then? Then we’ll call it good.

Seriously; how do these people plan to pay for all the medical needs of the people who rely on Medicaid if they drop the federal program? Or maybe that’s the point: they won’t.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Short Takes

The cap is holding — for now — and for the first time in over 12 weeks, oil is not spilling from the gusher.

It took almost two years, but Congress passed the financial reform bill.

$550 million — That’s how much Goldman Sachs paid in fines to the government.

President Obama visited a western Michigan battery plant.

Not so soft: Federal prosecution of undocumented immigrants is way up under the Obama administration.

State officials in Utah say someone used state employment records to come up with the list of immigrants that is making the rounds.

Dengue fever — The CDC is warning South Florida about the disease after a case is reported in Miami Beach.

R.I.P. Charles Mackerras, conductor.

The Tigers kick off the second half of the season against Cleveland tonight.