Sunday, May 01, 2016

Employment and vacation

We who were born in the 1950s and '60s grew up with widely accepted concepts that included retirement and vacation. They seem to persist even now, but the time must be near when we realize they are as unnatural as so many of our other civilized assumptions.

At the start of the industrial age, workers were expected to put in 16-hour days, six days a week, having only a sabbath on which to pay the proper respect to the deity of their choice -- provided the deity's schedule fit the factory's schedule. Anyone who wanted to escape from that grind had to figure out how to maintain sufficient income to survive, and possibly prosper, outside of the rigors of the productive system imposed by the owners and their accountants.

Small business owners learned that they could catch more customers if they spread the net as wide as possible, to the limits of their endurance, or their ability to conscript their spouses and children to serve as cheap labor.

Only the wealthy vacationed.

Fast forward through the rise of the labor movement, the imposition of a more humane official work week, and the spreading of such benefits as paid time off. At the height of the golden age of American employment, the bread winner might in good conscience and with full legal justification take two weeks with pay to spend time with the family, visiting national parks, or renting a beach house. Someone below the top ranks might actually be spared from the vital processes of the company for that long. Someone in the top ranks could manage to break away for longer. It was the age of democratized leisure.

The Revenge of the Bean Counters started to kick in during the 1980s. Becoming wealthy replaced having a good life as the focus of everyone's efforts. The perception that businesses existed to make money, and that the actual product was merely incidental went in tandem with this. And if a business exists only to make money, not to make lives better, the first thing we need to do is cut down the work force so that only essential personnel remain. Work 'em hard, bleed 'em dry and hire new ones, because there's no shortage of eager beavers coming out of school with shiny new educations and no street smarts.

I'm not sure when the 40-hour work week became a joke, because I was actually trying to have a good life for my early working life. The idea that people were expected to put in 50-80 hours a week as a matter of routine never occurred to me.

I'm still trying to have a good life, now at a more acknowledged cost of decreased life expectancy.

Legally, an employee can still claim paid vacation from many employers. As a result, one must ask whether the bean counters have managed to complete their program and excise all surplus employees from the payroll, or are the remaining workers stressed all the more to cover the lack of necessary hands.

When I left work for 11 days to go to a funeral, the remaining worker on our payroll had to give up all his days off to cover my shifts. Now he's about to head off to Japan for an actual vacation trip. I may be called upon to torch my personal time to meet the needs of the business from which we derive our sustenance. That funeral trip was almost the farthest thing from a battery-recharging pleasure cruise. But in the reality of survival, the business must go on. Whatever my hopes, dreams, and needs for personal experiences, I have a job to do.

A small business is like a lifeboat. Everybody has to row. Everybody has to bail. Hopefully, someone knows how to navigate, to keep you pointed toward some theoretical island, or cross the shipping lanes and be rescued. But in all likelihood you just row until the boat sinks and then swim to another one or drown in the attempt.

We're older and tireder. The fact that the business no longer draws as many customers as it used to makes the fact that we close one day a week both possible and necessary. The owners can't pay for coverage for a full seven days. With the middle class becoming the working poor, fewer people anywhere seem to be able to afford to play tourist, or even to recreate more or less locally. Down, down, in a lazy spiral goes the economy and the aging population.

An energetic generation waits to take over after the die-off frees up land, and a philosophical shift brings about the sustainable society I hoped we would start working on 40 years ago. I wish I could feel happier for them, but I'm afraid I still resent the greedy assholes of my generation who turned their backs on all that hippie shit in the mid 1970s and chased the dollars instead.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Civilization: Humanity's Greatest Blunder

Civilization is the mechanism for concentrating and exerting power. Offspring of the lust for power, civilization has created all the problems that compassion seeks to cure. Without consolidated power, evil can only work piecemeal. Without consolidated power, there is no prize. No prize, no contest. No contest, no cheating.

Civilization started innocently enough. Some geniuses figured out that plants and animals people eat would be easier to find if we kept them together in one place conducive to their proliferation. Some places were better than others. Crops and herds grew in those places more than in others. The people stuck in the less comfortable environments organized themselves to see how they could improve their circumstances in various ways, through trade, conquest, or assimilation.

Without question, civilization has gradually made life more comfortable. I wouldn't want to give up the creature comforts. But since no one can be trusted to run things, and thousands of years of resentments keep grievances fresh through generations, we've probably hit our peak as far as attaining a peaceful and happy world.

When altruism reaches the point where people kill themselves almost daily for the sake of killing other people they see as opponents to their ideology, you see how far the lust for power has come. Murder-suicide is always a problem, because the knowledge of inevitable mortality makes some people unstable. Add the allure of a heroic contribution to a better future, and people who might be teetering, wrestling with the decision whether to embrace suicide, get a new incentive to choose flamboyant death. Political manipulators will encourage the tendency. Manipulators always know how to get the most out of other people's emotions. Political manipulators use these controls to advance grand plans.

Civilization helped the human population surge, and life spans increase. Civilization nurtured technology. Technology advanced civilization. Industrialization increased the speed and efficiency with which natural resources could be gouged out of the Earth and turned into useful objects. The byproducts of these processes have been wealth, filth, and disregard for each other and for nature.

Civilization could have been good. If you're a hopeful sort, you probably believe it still could be. Past performance does not guarantee future results, as the investment shills like to warn us before we hand them the check. The greedy, the angry and the far-too-clever stand in ranks between us and that brighter future.

Brussels, the latest insanity

The stated motive behind the current generation of terrorists is to institute their own authoritarian state, an Islamic theocracy. However, if they succeed, they will have to govern a populace that now accepts suicidal terrorism as a proven method of driving social change. Very much like the Republican party now facing the ultimate blowback from its own deal with the devil.

The knowledge of our own inevitable mortality has bred some bizarre coping mechanisms. Explosively rushing off to your "eternal life" is just about the worst.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Republican nominee Trump

If Donald Drumpf ends up as the Republican nominee, America will have a referendum on hatred. So, if you are afraid of a Drumpf candidacy, you have already given up on America. He IS rallying angry, bigoted people. He's bringing them out, not creating them. They need to be repudiated at the polls. If they can't be, then this country was lost a long time ago. The truth may turn out to be sad and scary. That will make it no less true. At least then it will be out in the open and we can prepare for the rest of the world to decide whether to appease the real America or eradicate it.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Contemplating our naval...history

When sea power demonstrated a nation's might, the frigate was a super weapon. It was designed to be so formidable, an opponent would look at it and just say, "frig it."

Famous American frigates include the USS Constitution, still afloat and docked in Boston, and the USS Constellation, in Baltimore. However, the Con series of frigates included a number of other vessels:

USS Constipation: built up and built up but never launched.

USS Conversation: used to transport diplomats around the world.

USS Conniption: had a series of short-tempered captains. White parts of the paint scheme kept turning red and purple. Destroyed by spontaneous explosion in 1837.

USS Conscription: plagued by large crews, half of whom did not want to be there and did a half-assed job.

USS Connection: always seemed to get really nice assignments. Ended up on a beach in the Caribbean.

USS Contraction: LOA 180', shortened to 150'. Spent a lot of time in berths.

USS Conflation: built from parts of two other vessels. Close sister ship to the USS Contraption.

USS Contraception: never commissioned because no seamen could get aboard.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Tyrants and Patriots

The only way for the tyrants versus patriots model of a free society to work is if you have a bloody revolution every ten years to wrest power from the last crop of revolutionaries who have made their pile and blocked upward mobility. Too often and no one has a chance to make it. Not often enough and peace becomes a habit. Tyranny establishes its propaganda machine to make the status quo seem patriotic.

A country constantly swept by armed revolt can never be great, but greatness is itself an enemy of freedom through equality. If we had focused on our own freedom and happiness,  we would never have become imperialists. We might have temporarily united in the face of actual invasion, but only long enough to clear the field for our own intramural contests.

Sitting as we do, upon a vast swath of arable land and tempting exploitable resources,  we had no choice but to eschew a course of frequent cleansing in showers of blood. We had to become a robust nation paying lip service to pure liberty while dealing in all the intrigue and oppression that naturally go with the running of a mature country.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

The cost of government

Why do people who chronically complain about the money consumed by government have so little to say about the billions of dollars spent to put politicians into office?

Election debt is analogous to student loan debt. Of course the office holder will look for a quick way to discharge that financial obligation. And office holders have to incur this debt every election cycle.

Term limits won't cure this. It's attached to the elections themselves, because of the way we've let them become absurdly expensive sales campaigns. Whoever is running will need to drum up the cash.

Outside spending is hard to limit, because the government should not be allowed to tell some rich idiot not to spend money on ads supporting a specific candidate or point of view. The only way to control political advertising would be to ban it. While that would be unbelievably wonderful esthetically, it presents an ominous restriction on freedom of expression. Certainly an ad-free election process would force candidates to deal in more substance, or at least better illusions of it. It's worth discussing.