Saturday, September 29, 2018

From the Bottom: An Open Letter to the Kings of Capitalism


Dear Kings of Capitalism, 


I only have two rules when it comes to my existence as a working class stooge. 
The first rule is that  I like to do a quality job. It doesn't matter if I'm scraping dinner plates, pushing morphine or molding the minds of tomorrow, if I'm getting paid to perform a task I'm going to do it well. Nobody has to tell me.  I enjoy the internal reward that comes along with a job well done. If I do something poorly I am miserable. 


The second rule?  I don't want to spend more than forty hours a week (arguably already too much) doing it.  I don't mess around while I'm at work, but ask me to work extra hours and I'll morph into disgruntlement before you can say "pink slip".


Over the last few decades I've worked primarily as a waitress, and educator and a nurse. I don't care how fulfilling or important, I never describe my work as a "career", since to me a job is a job: it's what I do to survive. I only became a nurse and an educator in order to make a living doing something that was personally fulfilling, but I did not become these things to become these things. They are not part of my identity. If I won a million dollars I'd quit working as soon as the check hit my palm. 


Clearly, however, the dominant structure of education and healthcare in this country will not allow me to satisfy both of my rules. The demands of the system require that I choose. I can do a quality job and work extra hours or I can do a crappy job and work the prescribed number. This is why I personally experience a large amount of stress working in these professions: cognitive dissonance. If I try to stick to rule number one I found myself violating rule number two and vice versa. I cannot get out. It is a cognitive dissonance trap. 


The broader implication is that this trap affects a lot of people. People like me routinely disappear from these essential professions since they are unable to cope. This tends to leave three types of people behind: the newbie, the slacker, and the workaholic. The first, of course, hasn't yet realized the struggles that she is about to face. She will work for a while and then leave, unless she falls into one of the remaining categories:  the person who does the bare minimum and is perfectly satisfied or the person that doesn't mind being exploited since this is all she does. 


My advice if you would like to hold on to more quality employees? Stop filtering us out. Stop making unreasonable demands on our time. Stop giving us too many classes and too many patients and impossible tasks that require us to put in unpaid hours in order for us to feel like we've done well. If your turn-over rate is high and you look around and all you see are newbies, slackers and workaholics you may want to reconsider your assignments. 


I beg you, let us do a good job and go home.  It's the least you could do considering the daily sacrifice of flesh and blood we make s for your measly wages. Label  it a "unprofessional" if you will, but you do not own our precious leisure time. 

Love, 
Working Class Stooge 


Thursday, September 27, 2018

Moonlight

The moon is merely a place to die
It's no gruyere or pizza pie
Cold and blunt as a maniac's knife
Like the lump in the throat of the executioner's wife

The moon is like love, if your love's gone dry
And the dust is as deep as a dead man's eye
Lend it your rogues from your prison cells
They'll ball like babes in the belly of hell

Gods emerge from its pitch black holes
Drained of power, grey and old
Straining to hear their pretty harps
But there is no home in the endless dark

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Press Release from the Guerilla Science Desk!

New hypothesis concerning consciousness: consciousness as a state of visible light (or visible light as a state of consciousness). Whatever, they are the same fucking thing.

by Lara Samuels

Introduction: 

First of all, I don't think I'm a total nut job. I am a skeptic and an agnostic. I do not embrace pseudoscience of any kind. However, I have developed what I think is a plausible hypothesis concerning consciousness that I have not seen anywhere else in my extensive (not) research of the subject and, quite frankly, it is impossible to talk about consciousness, or even physics for that matter, without sounding like a whackjob.

So, screw it, here it goes.

Here are some things I know just from taking basic science classes over the years and most of them will be relevant when I propose my hypothesis concerning consciousness. None of these things is in anyway radical or controversial and I'm going to cover them as briefly and concisely as possible:

1. Visible light has no mass, sometimes behaves like a wave, and sometimes like a particle. It is a component of the electromagnetic spectrum (EMS), specifically those wavelengths from about 400 nm to about 700 nm. The rest of the EMS is not visible, since our eyes have not evolved to “see” it, but it is detectable none the less.

2. Visible light energy, like all energy,  is neither created nor destroyed, but it can change to another form. For example, solar energy can be converted to electrical energy and then to the mechanical energy in your blender. However, during conversion to other states, some of this energy is "lost"  as heat (thermal energy). This heat dissipates through atoms and molecules and many propose the notion of "heat death": that all the usable energy in the universe will eventually become heat. It's as though usable energy is "concentrated" but will eventually diffuse evenly through the universe. Kind of like a gas...

3. Photosynthesis is a cellular process that algae, plants and photosynthetic bacteria perform, taking the energy from visible light (not, incidentally, the remaining forms of EMS) and transferring it to chemical bond energy. This chemical energy exists in all of the bonds in all of the molecules in our bodies. So, yes, you have sunlight in your tissues; no wonder you are glowing! 
Without photosynthesis, visible light would just bounce off the planet and return to the universe unchanged. In other words, it is photosynthetic organisms that trap this energy in chemical bonds. You should thank them every day. 

 4. Combustion occurs when hydrocarbons reacts with oxygen to produce carbon dioxide and water. If this process is fast and involved a high concentration of carbon based matter, heat and light are released. If this process is slow (as in decomposition) then the energy is released as heat, but there is no visible light released that can be detected by the human eye. Combustion is in essence the opposite of photosynthesis, since in photosynthesis, carbon dioxide and water produce hydrocarbons and oxygen. In combustion, oxygen is “fixed” into carbon dioxide (I put it in quotes because I've never heard a chemistry teacher refer to oxidation as "fixing", and it may not be the right word since CO2 is a gas, not a solid). In photosynthesis, carbon dioxide is fixed into hydrocarbons (now that's definitely correct!) 

Hypothesis Concerning Consciousness 

Okay this is it: I contend that consciousness is visible light energy stored in chemical bonds


In this view, consciousness is perhaps analogous to a “state” of light (or maybe EMS is a “state” of consciousness?), much like gases, liquids and solids are states of matter. I'm going to say that light is analogous to the gaseous state of consciousness and that consciousness is the solid state. I'm not sure about heat but I think it's involved. Maybe analogous to a liquid state? I have to get high again and figure that one out. 

The mechanism by which "gaseous" light is fixed into its solid state (consciousness) is photosynthesis. Note that in this view consciousness is a state of visible light only, since these are the wavelengths of light utilized by photosynthetic organisms. It is unclear whether other forms of EMS are also consciousness, or perhaps represent different stages of development along what might be analogous to a “birth/death” cycle, where shorter wavelengths are a type of pre-consciousness and longer wavelengths are the product of consciousness deteriorating. 

When chemical bonds are broken and energy is released in the form of heat during normal physiological processes,  a body experiences consciousness. The rest of the "stored" consciousness will be released when the body decomposes, but since bonds are no longer being broken at a high enough rate, the subjective sensation of consciousness is no longer felt. When a body is burned, the release of consciousness is so dramatic that the light is visible to the human eye in the form of fire. So, yes, fire is consciousness too. 

Implications:

There are several implications here, besides the implication that I have gone over the deep end and perhaps need psychiatric help. 

First, the implication is that consciousness permeates all living matter,  and even non-living matter that was once alive. The degree of consciousness may depend on cellular activity. For example, the brain breaks the most bonds of all and therefore may be the most conscious, but in this model, my arm is also "conscious", so is my cat, my house plant, the spider crawling across my desk and even my wooden desk. But if the subjective sensation of consciousness is only experienced when these bonds are broken, then inanimate objects or living things that utilize less energy may be less conscious.

Metaphysically, my proposal means practically nothing except that the consciousness I am experiencing is perhaps more eternal than my physical body. However,  it does not necessarily follow that consciousness itself  is eternal.

Additionally, the model does not imply "life after death" for the individual person, only the consciousness that permeates that person. Once released back into the "sea" of photons, the consciousness is no longer a cohesive whole as it was in the body. The process I have described is analogous to decomposition: when my body decomposes the atoms will not reform into "me" again, but they will find their way separately to other organisms. Same with the photons. Once they've been converted back into light they may wind up in other conscious beings, but they will not reform my being. Further, the things that constitute a person, that is,  the memories, personality, psychology, etc. of a person certainly die when the body dies and that person ceases to exist. 

Finally, it does not follow that consciousness/visible light is “god” or has any role in the creation of life (though it could).  This hypothesis is compatible with established scientific theories concerning evolution. 

Conclusion

It is important to note that this hypothesis is just that, a hypothesis. It is also a testable hypothesis. I'm not smart enough to come up with an experiment but some things come to mind. For example, we are now capable of artificial photosynthesis and I'm wondering if this could somehow be linked to AI. There may be mathematical approaches to the problem. There also may be some detectable differences between organisms that utilize chemosynthesis along the ocean floor and those of us that are entirely dependent on photosynthesis. 

Why am I even bothering to think about this crazy stuff in the first place? The real reason? The same reason people cling to religion: because people they love die and they can't handle it. I fully confess that it is only after my friend Gig's death that I struggled to find something plausible but somehow comforting to explain his absence. 

 I am comforted by the idea that the elements of my friend Gig's consciousness are still floating around out there, albeit in separate quanta that will never reform into him. I also am comforted by the fact  that what I can feel permeating my body is actually light and that the animals, plants and fungi I know and love are also permeated with consciousness though their subjective experiences may be different than mine. It gives me a satisfying kinship with the universe. 

So, yes, I stumbled upon this idea during an philosophical and perhaps even religious quest, but the principles involved are firmly rooted in science and are therefore testable by minds far greater than my own. 


Sunday, September 2, 2018

From the bottom: A solution to the inevitable death of capitalism

Folks, we are facing an age of automation and with the age of automation comes the end of capitalism as we know it. One by one, low paying jobs that have supported the working poor for the last century or so are going to be eliminated as we are gradually replaced by machines. For example, waiting tables, the job that put me through college and subsidized my less than adequate income after I got a college degree, is not going to be an option in a decade or so as these workers are replaced by computers. All a server will have to do is bring the food. What used to require five servers will now only require one.

That's just one example. I can think of thousands more. Uber, Lyft, and UPS drivers a like can forget it once the driverless vehicle has arrived. Grocery clerks? No more. Fast food workers? It may still be cheaper to hire a human to flip a burger, but to place an order? Who needs 'em. Gone! Nurses? Nope.

So where will these freshly minted poor people go? We'll probably have no choice but to turn to crime. Worse, how will the rich handle it when such a large percentage of their consumer base can no longer afford to buy a box fan or a grill or a blow dryer or a pair of shoes? Never mind that the 3d printer will probably be the PC of the future. Even the rich won't buy these things, they'll just print them out in their living rooms.

Anyway, however you slice it the adoption of automation is the the death of capitalism. A computer can take an order for a lemonade but it really doesn't need to buy one.

To me it is apparent that this spells disaster. So, if you rich people want to stay rich and safe listen up! This is ultimately for you. What we need is a basic minimum income (BMI): a citizen's dividend, if you will. Just give people money to make up for the fact that you've taken away their jobs. That's right. The lazy poor can now be lazy in style and you'll get the money back anyway since you will still be the ones offering the goods (like the 3d printers) that these lazy poor people need to buy.

On board so far? Okay let's take it to the next level. How much would this BMI have to be?

I'm thinking of a number between not enough and too much. This number has to be enough to cover reasonable expenses for one relatively frugal  non working adult and one child living in american society, but not so much that it removes at least the incentive to find a job. The average BMI recipient would have to say,  "Gee, I can afford a pair of shoes, but I can't afford a pair of designer shoes. I can afford an apartment but I can't really afford a house. I can afford my utilities but I can't afford a hot tub. I can afford my groceries but I can't go out to dinner."  There is a perfect number but I'm just going to throw one out for a starting point. I'm going to say, in current dollars, about $25,000 a year.

So that number is negotiable but we are fantasizing, not making policy, so let's move on to the second question: who gets it? I originally thought it would be most efficient to just give it to everyone, rich and poor alike, but the math didn't back up my argument, so I'm going to say, instead, every adult citizen in the bottom 50% income level. Once again, negotiable, but math says this is achievable and I'm always on the side of math.

This brings us to the third burning question: how to we pay for it? I say we take the chunk of the federal budget that currently covers most "social programs" (about 2.5 trillion dollars according to my calculations) and shift it all to a BMI. This is the most appealing part of all, for the capitalists and the libertarians among us. As a poor person all I get is my check every two weeks. I can spend it anyway I'd like. All publicly subsidized services would now be private and if this shift were to occur, there would be no increase in current taxes. 

And, this brings us to the fourth question: isn't this going to just create a generation of moochers? Wouldn't the rich just be enabling some lazy poor person's bad habits? The answer is, in a nut shell, who cares? There will always be moochers in society and, by the way, there are moochers at the top and moochers at the bottom. There is no system that is going to get rid of the moochers. Just let them be. Let them mooch and live out their boring mooching to the fullest while the rest of us strive to build a better society.

For example, rich people, what would I do with my BMI? I'd forgo work, be perfectly happy with my frugal existence, and spend my extra time creating art: nurturing my talents and still contributing to society, by the way, but on my own terms, not yours.













Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Working Class Appeal

I started "going to work"  in America when I was fifteen and from that point forward it has been the center of my existence, the pivot around which everything else turns. Early in this process, I harbored some naive notion that eventually all my hard work would pay off in the form of economic peace of mind. Sadly, this state of being never came to pass. Though it is true that after thirty five years I eventually achieved some semblance of  personal satisfaction, economically I have remained firmly within the income range of the "working class".

I'm not going to say that there wasn't some advancement. Over this period I moved from the bottom of the working class income range to the top and now bring home about $40,000 a year. However, in regard to my lifestyle very little has changed.  I am still living paycheck to paycheck. Every month I watch the necessities of life gobble up the fruits of my labor, while my labor gobbles up the fruits of my life.


Being in the working class puts a person like me in an economic trap: barely making enough to cover the basics, but too much to get any sort of break from society: no breaks on rent, car payments, grocery bills, student loans, or health care. It is so easy to slip into arrears and if a working class person slips into arrears? We get punished with a fee or a fine or an eviction or a repossession. Usually, there is a collection agent calling on the phone about something we should probably pay but have prioritized to ignore. If a working class person dares to complain he is told that he is not working hard enough or needs to find a second job. As if  spending forty plus hours a week doing something soul crushing isn't enough stress and torture. As if enjoying life to any degree is a crime.


The working class person does an upward economic comparison and sees people who are probably working as hard, if not less hard, than she is and living her definition of luxury: able to afford their basic needs and actually having something left over. She does a downward economic comparison and sees people who are probably working as hard, if not less hard, than she is getting "all the breaks" in the form of public assistance. 


"Nobody ever helped me!" my friend the working class stooge proclaimed one day in an effort to explain his hatred of the poor. "I work myself to the bone and nobody helps me!"


He's right. Besides being handed an impossible task (to pay what's expected on an income that doesn't cover it), nobody sticks up for him. While democrats defend the poor and republicans defend the rich and they fight over the middle class, this obscene plight of the working class carries on unacknowledged. In addition, the line that is drawn determining who deserves assistance is chronically way too low.


Discussions seeking explanations for working class anger that resulted in the election of Donald Trump rarely reference the very obvious source that  I have just described. Fear of changing demographics, racism, anger towards immigrants are all implicated, but never just the fear and anger that results simply from being in the working class.


It wouldn't take that much to help us. We don't need a lot. All we need is a break. For me, if my monthly expenses associated with education and healthcare were eliminated, as Bernie Sanders offered to do, it would return a whopping 18% of my income. This is something for the democrats to consider if they would like to win us back.







Tuesday, May 15, 2018

A plea to the homebodies: updated version


Homebodies, this column is for you. If “staying in is the new going out” (Young, 2016) then it is time for a backlash. Yes, you need to catch up on your shows; but why should fantasy characters get to have all the fun getting pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by sterile rich folk or having their intestines sucked out by space aliens? Make some drama of your own in the dimension of what I like to call Actual Reality. Fantasy is a treatment for mediocrity, not a cure.



I suppose you have valid arguments in your defense. Reality is becoming obsolete, you assert. Besides, you are saving money, creating less pollution, and your social life is better than ever. But your insistence on cloaking yourself with your house is a little like test driving your coffin; you are as a dead person; in the world but not of it.



Fine, don’t be aroused by macabre philosophical jostling, but here's another angle to consider: the facts are in, and being around other humans is just plain better for your health. Social fitness is as important as physical fitness, and the virtual world is not offering these benefits. It’s as if you tried to get vitamins eating a virtual fruit. According to experts, social isolation could be worse for us than smoking. The cure? Go consume some local live original art.



You know what else is good for you? Stepping out of your comfort zone. Creating new pathways in your neural net by expanding your personal experiences will strengthen and protect your brain. Enduring thirty minutes of a disheveled guy on a stage, thrashing a washboard and driving a vacuum cleaner while reciting angry poetry may inspire you in ways you haven’t considered. Maybe you’ll take up the tambourine and the sewing machine. Maybe he’ll utter something you never thought of before.



A related point, since it is also in the spirit of enrichment, is that you can spice up the same old bland smoothie of existence by tossing a little serendipity to the mix. Nothing interesting will happen if you don't get out of the house. Maybe your pipes will burst and you'll build a raft out of electrical cords but the probability of that is low. What stories will you have to tell? About the time you sat on your couch watching Netflix and spilled your beer? About the time you ordered a burger and they left off the pickles? The cure for your uneventful existence? Go consume some local, live, original art.



Not convinced by the health angle? How about an economic one? Local artists are small businesses. They need your support and most of the time it’s cheap. Thousands of great artists, writers, film-makers, poets, musicians; pouring out their souls, struggling to promote themselves despite their melancholy, introverted temperaments, and you probably don't know they exist. Thousands of potential famous people: a treasure chest of gold in plain sight and nobody is paying it any mind. What does it cost to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway or to score a couple of those Hamilton tickets?  The popularity of these performances indicates that you will leave house and pay ridiculous sums for an artistic experience, so I know you like art.



Homebodies, the world needs you. Artists need you. Get out of the house. You may not get pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by space aliens but your brain will thank you and you may even live a longer, healthier life. Be of the world, not just in it. Go consume some live, local, original art.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

A plea to the homebodies: orignal version

Alright, homebodies, this essay is directed at you. If staying in is the new going out, as proposed by contributing writer for the NYT Style Magazine Molly Young in 2016, then it is definitely time for a backlash. Yes, I know you have a nice comfortable couch. Yes, I know you have a lot of shows to catch up on. But why should fantasy characters get to have all the fun getting pummeled by zombies or kidnapped by sterile rich folk or having their intestines sucked out by nefarious space aliens? Make some drama of your own in the dimension of what I like to call Actual Reality. Fantasy is a treatment for mediocrity, not a cure.

Okay, yes, I suppose you have a lot of good arguments in defense of your precious homebody existence. Reality is becoming obsolete, you say. You can do just about anything on line that you can do off it. You are saving money. You are creating less pollution. Your social life is better than ever. Never mind that sitting at home all the time is like test driving your coffin. Seriously. Just like a dead person. That's what you are;  in the world but not of it.

My friend, you may not be aroused by macabre philosophical jostling, but here's another angle to consider: the facts are in, and being around other humans is just plain better for your health. Social fitness is as important as physical fitness, and the virtual world is simply not offering the same benefits. Face to face communication is as important as eating fruit, and just as you cannot eat a virtual strawberry and get any vitamins, you cannot be face to to face on a screen and get any pheromones, or whatever the social equivalent of a vitamin may be. Besides, there is a loneliness epidemic in full swing. According to experts, social isolation could be worse for us than smoking. There have been serious studies linking it to chronic disease. The cure? Grab a friend and go consume some local live original art. Don't have any friends? Go out. Consume some local, live original art. Maybe you'll meet some along the way.

You know what else is good for you? Stepping out of your comfort zone. Creating new pathways in your neural net by expanding your personal experiences will strengthen your brain and protect it from pathology. Go see something even if you haven't a clue what it is. Maybe you'll discover something so good it changes the course of your life. Maybe the middle aged lady on stage strumming a worn-out guitar and singing about her cat will utter something you never thought of before. Maybe you'll think it is terrible all the way through but talking with your friends about how something sucked is still a valuable experience from the perspective of your neurons. Yes, enduring thirty minutes of a disheveled guy on a stage, thrashing a washboard and driving a vacuum cleaner while reciting angry poetry may not move you but it will stimulate you. And, who knows? Maybe you'll be inspired to take up the tambourine and the sewing machine and write some angry poetry of your own. And won't you be sad when nobody comes to see you?

A related point, since it is also in the spirit of enrichment, is that you can spice up the same old bland smoothie of existence by tossing a little serendipity to the mix. Nothing will happen if you don't get out of the house. Nothing weird. Nothing fun. Nothing scary. Nothing ridiculous. Nothing spontaneous. No close encounters. I mean, maybe your pipes will burst and flood your living room and you'll have to build a raft out of popcorn and electrical cords to escape but the probability of that is low. What stories will you have to tell? About the time you sat on your couch watching Netflix and spilled your beer? About the time you ordered a burger and they left off the pickles? The time that your clicker stopped working all of a sudden? The cure for your uneventful existence? Go consume some local, live, original art.

Not convinced by the health angle? How about an economic one? Do you feel inclined to support small business? Then, for crying out loud, why won't you support local artists?

In these parts, there are thousands of great artists, writers, film-makers, poets, musicians, new and old, offering up their body of work, pouring out their souls, struggling to promote themselves despite their melancholy, introverted temperaments, and you probably don't know they exist. Thousands of potential famous people (you saw them when they were just starting out!) Its as though there is a beautiful treasure chest of gold sprinkled throughout the region in plain sight and nobody is paying it any mind. What does it cost to see Bruce Springsteen on Broadway or to score a couple of those Hamilton tickets?  The popularity of these performances indicates that you will leave house for an artistic experience, so I know you like art, but only if it is  sanctioned by the power elites. When it is independent, right under your nose, so much more affordable and arguably just as entertaining, you don't seem to value it at all.

Homebodies, the world needs you. Artists need you. Get out of the house. You may not get pummeled by zombies, or kidnapped by space aliens  but your brain will thank you and you may even live a longer, healthier life. Be of the world, not just in it. Go consume some live, local, original art.