Thoughts


23
Feb 20

Some have Suggested we can Compute Consciousness

Regarding the computing of consciousness– and the reductionist subsuming of it to a  math based computation, for AI and transhumanist purposes….Perhaps Math can describe consciousness, if you can come up with one capable of operations in four dimensions at once. Consciousness is a gestalt. This is one of the things not understood by adherents of the notion of a “conscious” AI and a human consciousness transferred to a digital-electronic sheath for supposed Transhumanist immortality. One could probably come up with a feasible pseudo-copy that seems somewhat like the person “copied” but it wouldn’t be them. There would be no true continuity between the copy and the originator, and the true organizing principle of consciousness would be lacking. Some of us believe that there are discrete wave-forms which are in a sense “particles of consciousness” and which work together to create a field which is the substrate of consciousness.

Dr Stuart Hameroff notes life’s dualistic “Cartesian theater” and proposes that the lag between perception and cognition is at the root of the appearance of dualistic separation. Hameroff envisions a quantum jump “back in time” to compensate for the gap between perception and consciousness. He has worked with physicist Roger Penrose who  suggested in his 1989 book The Emperor’s New Mind that Platonic values including mathematical truth, ethical values and beauty are “embedded in the fine structure of the universe, specifically in fundamental spacetime geometry at the inifinitesimally tiny Planck scale.” These subtle forces may be resonating in “microtubules” which form the tiniest parts of living cells including brain cells where “quantum computation with objective reduction may be somehow involved in consciousness.” Our direct conscious connectivity to the cosmos might be found at these levels, transcending dualistic separation.

Consider this too: The Strange Link Between the Human Mind and the Quantum World


5
Feb 20

JOHN SHIRLEY NEWS

I just got a phone call a few minutes ago: Eric Bloom of Blue Oyster Cult wanting to play a few songs for me–on the phone! Songs from the new album, one of which I wrote.  Not the ideal way to hear them but I got the gist–great rock, masterfully wrought. It does seem to be shaping up to a powerful new, fresh BOC album. It’s coming from Frontier Records later this year. There will be at least four songs with lyrics by me.

Just saw the proofs for the JOHN SHIRLEY ISSUE of the new WEIRDBOOK, which as I’m sure you know is a big magazine style / slash WeirdTales-ish book coming out at intervals every year. The issue will contain a new 40 thousand word fantasy novella by me, sword and sorcery, called Swords of Atlantis, plus two new short stories, plus reprints of some others, plus reprints of some of my weird-tales-style poems. This’ll come out fairly soon. Next month probably, or even late this month. Links will be provided.

My work with the editor at Blackstone books is complete and my new science-fiction/detective thriller novel STORMLAND is getting closer to publication. I hope for it by summer.

AND my band, John Shirley and the Screaming Geezers, will be opening for the Blue Oyster Cult at the big Roseland Theater in Portland, OR on February 15…Here’s the Screaming Geezers website.


20
Jan 20

“Dad, What Will Climate Change Do to Me and My Kids?”

Well, son, it’s going to be very rough on you and my grandkids. It may be too late to do much about it but we have to try–we have to work hard to mitigate the effects of climate change;-plant a trillion trees (not a joke!) and do everything possible to reduce greenhouse gases. But it’s too late to stop the worst of it. The massive displacement of populations, the destruction of agriculture, the spread of pandemics, the explosive social chaos… I think humanity will have to suck it up and face a dominoes-falling series of inexorable climate change effects, which will probably reduce global population by 20 to 35 % in a frighteningly short time, and which will put such a strain on resources, especially food resources, our tendency in desperate circumstances to fall into the sheltering arms of autocracy will take hold like mold in hot wet places and we’ll tumble headlong into techno-fascist plutocracy of some kind. And since the ground has been prepared for hyper, brutal centralized control (as opposed to intelligent centralized government), and you have Putin smirkily saying that “liberalism is over in Europe”, an uneasy configuration of competing plutocracies seems inevitable.

And we have to hope that humanity will learn. That we’ll clean up our environment, overthrow the coming dictatorships, that we’ll come to respect nature, that we will learn to respect — and demand–education for everyone and that we build a new world worth living in. I’ll be gone by then. But you, your kids and your grandchildren have to be ready…


9
Dec 19

Extraterrestrials Decide What Should be Done with the Dominant Species of Inhabited Planet 38790

“Isn’t it too early to despair of Inhabited Planet 38790, Inspector 71,844? Most early civilizations are barbaric. They engage in the sort of unfortunate things confused infants do if unattended in a room filled with dangerous objects. Tragedy ensues. Eventually these creatures will either go extinct — most civilizations destroy themselves — or evolve to something saner, and more adult. I see no reason to put them out of their misery yet. They may grow up.”

“Simple barbarism isn’t the problem, Supervisor 9,221! Barbarism — yes, as for example their many wars, but…let me give you some examples. They’re the kind of species which spawns males who brutally sexually assault females and then set them on fire for complaining — as happened in a land called ‘India’ recently. Meanwhile, a female in a land called ‘the United States’ hanged her two small children, aged eight and four, by the neck, thus strangling them to death, whereupon she informed the authorities they had ‘committed suicide’. She does not seem to be psychotically insane — she said she just ‘didn’t care about her children anymore’. Also, in the ‘United States’, it is a matter of policy to separate innocent offspring from their desperate migratorial parents, when the family is simply fleeing intolerable conditions; this policy thereupon subjects small children to caging, sometimes death, just to make a point about the society’s dislike of migrants.”

“That is a high degree of vileness. But how many support the policy in that nation?”

“At last count, about 45%.”

“Inspector–should you really categorize the entire ‘human’ species of Inhabited Planet 38790 as ‘innately vile’? It is a rather extreme category.”
“Look at that which they delight in! For example, their popular entertainment transmissions. Here is ‘The Bachelor’, a sample of something they are pleased to call ‘Reality Television. Observe.”

[An interval of time in which Supervisor 9,221 takes in several episodes of The Bachelor.]

“But — it’s so humiliating to the female participants,” the Supervisor burst out at last. “And it curries the worst in the males!”

“Yes indeed: the worst aspects of everyone involved — the ‘producers’, the ‘contestants’, and the viewers. This ‘Reality Show’ is a celebration of an utter lack of real self-awareness, and an innate liking for passive aggressive cruelty. And that kind of thing is common in their entertainment. Some of their ‘television’ extols the use of torture to stop miscreants — ”

“But this global culture should be too advanced to sustain torture!”

“Oh, but they not only promote it, they carry it out in many, many forms. Another example of innate vileness: a remarkable number of them also show an eagerness to sexually assault children and watch images of them being assaulted — ”

“What!”

“Oh yes! Many of this world treat the unwary of their own species as prey! They have a surprising number of ‘serial killers’, as they are called, and ‘mass shooters’ — and many humans regard these sport murderers as a form of celebrity! They celebrate them in books and movies and extensive television documentaries; they enable those who enter educational institutions with powerful weapons, so to slaughter children; they then publicize them widely, which seems to generate yet more mass murderers who try to outdo one another.”

“There is a good deal of vileness among them, yes — but it sounds as if these may be problems brought about by inbreeding.”

“We checked. That isn’t it.”

“Well then, it may be brain damage from environmental toxicity.”

“That is a factor in some cases — and they don’t seem to care. They have a very toxic herbicide all over the world, and besides causing dreadful environmental problems, it often brings about severe diseases in users and those exposed, and its neurotoxicity is such that it seems to be damaging the brains of the young at a remarkable rate of speed. But as there is a great deal of what is called ‘financial gain’ involved in the manufacture and sale of it, it goes on unabated. Yes, some of the vileness may arise from various extent artificial toxins but I put it to you that as they’ve saturated the world with neurotoxins it’s too late for them to do anything significant about it. Also, many of these cases of abject vileness are not neurotoxic psychosis; many seem to be cases of innate species vileness. Reflect on what the very populous place called ‘China’ does to animals, especially canines — in a certain ‘Chinese’ city they traditionally torture these canines to death at a feast festival, after which they eat them. They believe the suffering makes the meat taste better! But there is plenty of cruelty to animals in every nation and culture on Inhabited Planet 38790…”

“It’s true that cruelty to animals is an indicator of irremediable vileness in a race…”

“Oh, they’re vile indeed. Consider their tendency to enslave other members of their own race — yes, common among primitive civilizations but this crops up over and over even now, when they are in the Penultimate Stage — they claim to have ended it yet vast numbers of workers are little more than slaves; worse, in many places they permit the forced trafficking of women, even children, for sexual satisfaction.”

“That is quite a repugnant thing to see in a civilization so comparatively technologically advanced, yes. Have they no guiding philosophers?”

“The benevolent ones are overbalanced by those who enable selfish impulses — there is one called ‘Ayn Rand’ who spouted a philosophy of selfishness, the rejection of empathy for the under privileged, the worship of an uncontrolled marketplace, who is widely influential. Many powerful elected officials in ‘the United States’ and ‘the United Kingdom’ are adherents of her vile, soulless philosophy. Suppose they were to spread this ‘philosophy of selfishness’ intra-galactically? It could destroy many of our best civilizations!”

“But — I am simply not certain of this broad-brush categorization of Extreme Vileness you advocate, Inspector…”

“As an example of Extreme Species Vileness on Inhabited Planet 38790: There is a syndrome in which young people try to persuade those with whom they engage romantically and sexually — to kill themselves! And, strangely, they often succeed. This is partly enabled by the tortured psychological contortions arising from a particularly vile and gigantically popular technological cancer which they call ‘social media’. Observe this case in point, entitled ‘Instagram’…”

“Ugh! Please turn that off! I don’t understand…No sentient species can be that shallow and self-obsessed…”

“Shallow? Very much so. Willfully stupid as well. You know, their brains are, on average, quite capable of advanced cognition and well equipped with creativity. Some of their artistic expressions are intricate and profound. But as a whole the species works hard to suppress its intelligence. The species squanders what it has been given — that is humanity’s hallmark. If you doubt it, let me tell you about their Flat Earth movement — an astonishingly vigorous, growing movement of people insisting their planet is a flat disk floating in space, with the sun revolving around it…”

[An interval in which the Supervisor hears the statements of believers in the Flat Earth]

“What an odd sense of humor they have.”

“They are not joking, Supervisor.”

“But…that sort of thing is an obviously primitive belief—it is infantile! How can they have it in an era of space travel and astronomy?”

“They turn their backs on whatever evidences they prefer to ignore. Indeed, they often spurn the workings of their own brains — they are prone to shrugging off the normal operation of these powerful biological thinking engines, in favor of something that our analysis categorizes as ‘selective stupidity’. They select only self-serving data that sparks in them a pleasing neurological stimulus. The creatures cling to a variety of obvious falsehoods despite all evidence; despite rationality. They still cling to ancient creation myths! Billions of people believe the universe is only 6000 years old! Even at this late stage in their development they take myth as fact and superstitious illusion as evidentiary.”

“I am now officially sickened by these creatures. I trust that’s all the testimony against them you have?”

“Far from it! Still widespread among them is the self-aggrandizing xenophobia they call ‘racism’…Look at this account of an event called The Holocaust…”

“Monstrous! Unspeakably cruel!”

“And yet on a smaller scale not uncommon in their history — large numbers of these creatures have cheerfully enabled genocide. I could provide many other examples.”

“But they should have outgrown racial xenophobia many centuries ago! It has no basis in fact!”

“They stubbornly cling to ignorance — it seems to make them feel good in some aberrant fashion. They also rush headlong into addictions, of all kinds. Besides narcotics, they cheerfully become addicted to their communications devices, to ritual games of competitive low-grade violence, to endless images of their reproductive processes — they call it ‘internet pornography’…”

“Wait — how could they become addicted to that? Nature has seen to it that it is enjoyable to engage in the reproductive process in person — but to stare at it for hours on a screen?”

“It seems to be a peculiarity of their neuronal function. Worse is a kind of constant interchange of something they call ‘conspiracy theory’ with which they pick and choose the data they prefer, and twist it to come to bizarre, radically improbably conclusions. Look at this documentation of their ‘anti-vaxxer movement’. To reject the gift of reason…the horror of it…”

“It truly is vile! But still, they may evolve…”

“As to that, Supervisor 9,221, they have reached the penultimate environmental tipping point. They had an exceptionally beautiful, ecologically intricate planet, and they trashed it. In an incredibly short time they have choked their magnificent seas with waste products so that their magnificent leviathans die horribly of the inadvertent ingestion of discarded polymers; variants of the same carbon-based synthetic now saturate the seas, causing destruction to thousands of species. The concatenation of the unintended consequences of greedy acquisition and barely modulated industrialization, and destruction of wildlife habitat has led to hypertrophic climate change. In places called ‘Southeast Asia’ and ‘South America’ they deliberately burn up their forests, destroying the source of much of the world’s breathable air, purely out of monetary greed — this of course is altering their climate so much they’re about to ‘fry in their own juices’ to use one of their grotesque expressions. They’re so sunken in their entertainment media trances they are scarcely aware of all this. There are those who try to raise the alarm, who extol rationality and an appreciation of the beautiful ecological matrix of their once-rich world — but they are a minority. Most of them are simply…”

“Vile?”

“Yes. In consequence this species will simply not have time to improve. Environmental catastrophe will destroy their civilization, likely leading to widespread famines, and a struggle for resources, leading in turn to an exchange of nuclear weapons — ”

“Good Cosmos — don’t tell me they still have large numbers of that crude weapon of mass destruction!”

“Oh, but they do! They recently decided to end the limitations on them and everyone is building more. Besides that, their ‘anti-vax’ movement will lead to enormous pandemics…They’re quite doomed. The problem is they are taking the gorgeous interlacing biomes of this particularly environmentally rich planet with them. They’ve driven countless animal species to extinction and now they will eradicate the rest. If we act quickly to remove them, then clean up the seas, remove the hideous ‘box stores’ and the other concrete and asphalt wastelands, replant the forests, we can save much of the natural world…What a lovely intergalactic touristry park it would make if we could just…”

“Say no more. Morally and, especially, aesthetically, I cannot bear these people. I will order the ‘humans’ of Inhabited Planet 38790 exterminated in consequence of Extreme Vileness — of course we’ll do a scan of their young, and save those that are not too damaged, for rehabilitation.”

“You’ve made the right decision. I haven’t even mentioned their embrace of situational empathy, often an abandonment of empathy entirely. Just have a look into their slaughterhouses. And they constantly looking for new ways to prey on one another; millions of elderly are defrauded, ‘scams’ of all kinds spread like wildfire. They make vast industries of selling poisons to one another, and then they conspire to lie about it — just look at their tobacco industries, their marketing of nightmarishly toxic Teflon products, the toxic pesticides they allow in foods —”

“Inspector, I’m becoming concerned that you’ve suffered trauma in the course of your study of these creatures — perhaps you should have a session with the perspectivizer — ”
“The horrific concentration camps of the place called ‘North Korea’; powerful nations ‘Russia’ and ‘Saudi Arabia’, where the rulers are murderers; and in ‘China’ the forced labor prisons— ”

“Enough! I will use System 77, which will be painless and quick. We’ll break down their bodies into harmless components, and use them as compost for the natural world.”’

“System 77? That one is quite — ironically, they would call it, humane. Which is a term they use quite casually. As if most ‘humans’ were capable of being ‘humane’!”


7
Nov 19

Holograms replacing musicians? And eventually–political leaders?

“The Spectacular, Strange Rise of Music Holograms”, the Washington Post tells us. “Dead musicians are taking the stage again in digital form. Is this the kind of encore we really want?”

Buddy Holly on stage, as a hologram. Happening now. As predicted years ago–along with many other things, like deep fakes–in my A Song Called Youth cyberpunk trilogy.

Another current real-life phenomenon is Pretend People on Instagram: Talking, real-looking CGI generated “models” and “influencers”, unnaturally beautiful human-seeming creatures with names and histories–who are entirely fabricated. They are not real physical persons. They’re an elaborate form of animation. Yet many people believe in them as if they are real. These scripted 3-D CGI animations have legions of fans ogling them with goo goo eyes as they coo over them. “I love your new look, Elisha!” In Japan, right now, 3-D anime characters who sing are already replacing singing acts.

In the USA we’ll inevitably generate new acts, designed by “entertainer designers”, like those computer generated media darlings on Instagram. (After all, you don’t have to pay a computer generated performer.) The music will be computer generated too. People will believe in them and write them mash letters and start fan sites for them. Fake scandals about these fake characters will appear in Us Magazine and on Entertainment Tonight. They’ll be “interviewed” on talk shows. “I love the musicians I’m working with now…”

We’re setting people up to be manipulated by computer generated imagery in deeper ways than ever. It’s all part of the general process of hemming people in with media illusion, so they don’t know what’s real, or they don’t care. So they’re hyper distracted, and easily manipulated.  And when will politicians, political leaders, be replaced by carefully crafted holograms? What will be the social agenda of the Pretend Person programmers? As in my A SONG CALLED YOUTH novels: https://store.doverpublications.com/048681789x.html


31
Oct 19

Is harmony chaotic? Is chaos harmonic? A study suggests…

“Perceptions of Musical Octaves Are Learned, Not Wired in the Brain” ~

“Singing experiments with residents of the Bolivian rainforest demonstrate how biology and experience shape the way we hear music.”

So we’re told in the article linked at the bottom of this piece. And I’m sure they’re quite right. But that’s not the whole story.

Of course, we always had suspicions about the relativity of the musical scale and musical values, in a way.  Remember The Addam’s Family? Morticia, at least on the show, played a form of dissonant–to our western ears–Japanese music. It was based on real Japanese music but it was supposed to be another example of the innate bizarrity and “That’s Just Wrongness” of the Addam’s Family. (I love all formats of The Addam’s Family by the way. I have always had a terrible crush on Morticia, especially in her movie form. Female beauty is a matter of perception too).  Musical sounds emitted by youth often repel the aged.  A good many foreign musical styles at first can sound grotesque to the close-minded listener–but we learn to appreciate them, to hear their beauty. American music, at first, sounded quite ugly to many people in Asia. It grew on them and they adopted some of it and combined it with their own forms. This demonstrates not only the relativity of musical values but also the wonderful plasticity of our aesthetics.  So, it’s not terribly surprising to hear that the octave is not wired in to our gray matter.

Still, Pythagoras saw–or rather heard–things from another angle.  He heard mathematics in music. Harmonies and harmonics could be parsed mathematically–and math is our way of perceiving logic and the orderliness of some aspects of nature. Even chaos can be mathematically measured, it seems to me, since any object will break down into chaotic parts according to specific  laws–laws of physics which follow mathematical rules. Standard harmonics does seem to have some cosmic resonance, if not always a neurological one.

The Quanta article tells us, “It appeared that the same notes in different octaves, like high C and middle C, didn’t sound alike to the Tsimané as they did to people in the U.S.” They theorize these rainforest folk actually perceive sounds differently, in ways they were taught to perceive them. This suggests that we also, here in the USA,  in our turn perceive sounds–octaves, harmonics–as we’re taught. It’s a learned perception, sure. I can remember hearing “Do, a deer, a female deer, ray, a pocketful of sun…” in  The Sound of Music as a child. I was taught do, re, mi, fa, so, la, ti…and back to do, in elementary school and the corresponding sounds were played for me. I was told this was a basic pattern used in organizing music. I accepted that.  And it is used that way–for some people. On the whole, I perceived it that way. This perception was broken down, or at least much modified, later, when I came to deeply appreciate alternative forms of music, like the stochastics of Xenakis and the tortured and strangely gorgeous sounds of Captain Beefheart’s Trout Mask Replica; like the Velvet Underground’s Sister Ray; like the barely controlled music of Blue Cheer’s Vincebus Eruptum; like the wildest free jazz. Some of these forms incorporated walls of raw sound, chaos; others traded in the superimposition onto background rhythms of seeming dissonance which nevertheless had an alien, cutting beauty. So it’s possible to unlearn conventional harmonics, conventional musical values! Or rather, to put the standard harmonics and structure aside, so to try something else; to take in a different sort of nourishment at the feast. What is this yellow thing, a lemon? I have never tasted one before. I bite into it. Holy crap, that’s intense! What joy! And soon after I appreciate oranges more, even as I begin to like Sweet and Sour Chinese foods.

It all reminds me of Wittgenstein’s idea that our way of perceiving the world is filtered through the language we’ve been taught.

So–it appears that our most basic American and European rigid musical structures are not wired into our brains from the start.  However–there is such a thing as recognizing and relating to felicity in all its forms. And we are attuned, in some wise, to felicity. To harmony. It’s the sonic version of things going well at home. Of being loved. Of the right word falling into place. Naturally we respond to it music. The rainforest folk presumably do the same–but they represent it differently.

Dissonance–why does it tend to set our teeth on edge? Notice that danger is associated in nature–not always, but as a sort of trend–with dissonance. Predators generally do not make conventionally harmonious sounds–hawks shriek;  the wolf snarls and makes other blood curling sounds as it prowls; bears on the attack make a glutinous angry roaring; mosquitoes make an unpleasant humming whine. (Some owls, who are predators, hoot pleasantly but there are owls that shriek). The rattlesnake’s warning is not a pretty sound. It can be well used in a composition–I’ve heard it done–but in itself, it’s an unnerving sound. And think of the sound of an erupting volcano. A tree exploding as lightning strikes.  A building will make many alarming sounds when it’s collapsing. Many birds do make conventionally “prettier” sounds. We associate them with the friendly side of nature. Jays make a raucous sound, and will do you little harm–but they are rapscallions.

Now, chaos can be used in thought-out, planned compositions, as well as in improvisation–Zappa’s Uncle Meat, say, or his Weasels Ripped  My Flesh.  Or consider a Jackson Pollack painting. But one of Zappa’s or even John Cage’s more chaotic sounding compositions are planned, not random, and Jackson actually composed as he painted, coming up with uproarious chaotic but still patterned paintings…

https://www.quantamagazine.org/perceptions-of-musical-octaves-are-learned-not-wired-in-the-brain-20191030/

[thanks to Jim Baldwin for providing the grist for the mill, here]

 

 


22
Oct 19

“Do Not Be Daunted by the Enormity of the World’s grief.”

“Do not be daunted
by the enormity
of the world’s grief.
Do justly, now.
Love mercy, now.
Walk humbly, now.
You are not obligated
to complete the work,
but neither are you free
to abandon it.”

       The Talmud


22
Aug 19

ARE YOU THE CANARY IN THE COAL MINE?

There are so many canaries in so many coal mines.

This summer, I’ve noticed only a small fraction of the butterflies we used to have. Last year, experts said butterfly populations have dropped by fifty per cent. Half. Around here it seems less than half. Honey Bees also–very few here. There used to be a grand summer buzz of bees. Not now. Down 40% since last year, the experts tell us. Even the hardy, ubiquitous wasps are few. I’m not fan of wasps but it’s spooky when they vanish. Frogs are vanishing from creeks. I could quote dire statistics on sea mammal deaths. Whales, dugongs, sea lions. Salmon are dying from the  heat increase in northern seas. Here’s the latest headline from the American Association for the Advancement of the Sciences: “Neonicotinoid insecticides cause rapid weight loss and travel delays in migrating songbirds”…What do you suppose that augurs for songbirds? Well I’ll tell you.

All this is caused by habitat loss, anthropogenic climate change, pesticides, too much land given over to industrial agriculture and meat mega-ranches, herbicides –which harm more than weeds–and other wonderful innovations of humanity. A new giant plastic garbage patch has turned up in the North Sea. Oceanic Dead Zones proliferate. Recently rain and snow has been found to be suffused with tiny plastic particles. Plastic particle pollution is found  in “extreme concentrations” in the Arctic, I read. NINETY PER CENT of fish stocks are used up. “Bird population in steep decline in North America” the headline says. Today the Washington Post reports that North America has lost three billion songbirds. That’s got bird numbers down 29%. Scientists blame habitat lost first, then pesticides, then cats.

It’s all the same cause–humanity. No, more specifically, human greed.

Greed! Greed is behind the mindless use of pesticides, and herbicides; it’s behind the fires in the Amazon destroying the forests needed to clean the air, and destroying the animals, the butterfly and bird habitats there; it’s behind denial about greenhouse gases causing climate change; it’s behind over-fishing and the over-production of plastics and the destruction of habitats needed for …butterflies.

We humans are interconnected with the animal world. I wonder who’s next?

Me? You?

You may as well take another Prozac and turn on the latest tragic superhero fantasy. What else would you do?


3
Jul 19

The Cruel Irony of Amazon “Fulfillment Centers” CAN End. If…

John Oliver’s entertaining and horrifying report on Amazon’s so-called Fulfillment Centers was scathing, was very much needed, and nearly made me despair of humanity. But–there’s hope for at least some mitigation of the near-slavery conditions at these giant warehouses, if Amazon CEO and owner Bezos is shamed or sued into doing the right thing. Or–if we simply persuade him that the right thing is not really problematic for his bottom line. I have some suggestions for reorganizing the Amazon mega-warehouses they call “Fulfillment Centers”.

The Problem. The ironic label “Fulfillment Centers”–which sounds like an unwitting euphemism for erogenous zones–draws bitter laughter from those who’ve worked at these macroscopic rat mazes. Workers are under constant threat of being fired if they don’t keep up an unnaturally high rate of moving goods in the vast warehouse, where the oh-so-urgently needed items are scattered almost at random all over the enormous building. There is some effort at organization but not enough. Fetching from distant shelves is a process  done on foot, some people traipsing fifteen miles in a day. Some of them are elderly people. There really isn’t time to go to the bathroom, because you’ll fall behind on the required rate of package transportation and you’ll be fired (not a hollow threat). And you only took the job because you really, really needed the 15 dollars an hour. In some centers people have collapsed. The psychological pressure is as taxing as the physical stress. The breathless promise of hyperfast delivery to spoiled consumers means a constant push push push for faster faster faster. It’s worse than that, really–watch Oliver’s acidly funny if nightmarish report.

Common sense solutions occur to me, but they’ll require Bezos investing money in the remedies–and of course that’s an onerous burden on him since he’s merely a billionaire many times over and one of the richest men on the planet. Oh what the hell, I’ll offer them anyway.

Here’s the First idea: Bezos, shut down one center at a time (or sections of a center at a time). While the other centers or sections continue status quo, the designated one is reorganized so that items are more rigorously stored by type. One area is a series of hardware sections, each hardware section specializing as much as possible. Workers are reassigned or hired to take over each such center, one or two per each. They obtain the needed product with relative ease, and give it to a freight tram–little three wheeled things with small truck beds–whose driver trundles it along the wide aisles to the delivery people. No one then has to go on these epic warehouse hikes. Also,  build more localized bathrooms–an expense and a worthwhile tax deductible one…Rinse and repeat with every section, and every Fulfillment Center. Gosh that might use up half of one of Bezos’s many billions. He might have to do without …without, uh…nothing at all.

Second, adjust the speed of delivery requirements. Amazon often delivers with astounding rapidity. It doesn’t need that breathless speed to be an enormously profitable business. It’ll remain,  robustly driving independent bookstores and record stories and hardware stores and clothing shops out of business. Bezos will continue to make billions.

Third, pay a higher wage, hire more people, and offer real benefits. I’m all for unions but Bezos is hardcore anti-union. If he hires more people (to ease the burden on employees) and improve their pay and benefits, he won’t have to engage in union busting–people will be less inclined to try to unionize. It works at CostCo. But if he can’t bring himself to go that far, he could pretty much end the rising public condemnation if he takes steps one and two alone.

You’ll still be crazy rich if you take these steps, Jeff Bezos. You’ll continue to  have Everest-high piles of  cash for your Blue Origin space program–I’m truly all for space programs, yours included–and you’ll still be able to do pretty much anything else you damn please…


20
Jun 19

CULTURE SLASH #3 – A COLUMN FOR THE AGHAST by John Shirley

LATEST POINTLESS “NEWS STORY” FROM CNN – Headline: “Walmart is getting rid of its blue vests. Here’s what the new ones look like” – no, really. That’s the actual headline. And there’s nothing else in the article of any interest whatsoever. Why does “no one cares!” not matter to CNN? And this did not appear in some kind of business affairs section. No, it was of general interest! To no one.

Years ago, I worked as an assistant at a marketing company. Firms would give us press releases about their new products to the marketing company, which the market outfit sent, almost verbatim, to contacts at newspapers—and which sometimes appeared in newspapers just as we at the marketing company had written them. This creeping laziness took root in the moldering loam of cynicism. I’m pretty sure this Wal-Mart “news” piece originated with a Wal-Mart press release. And we see actual articles about “the new burger from Burger King”—and nope, it’s not an ad. Or is it? Does CNN get revenue for pieces like this, revenue it isn’t letting us know about? Anyway, if you’re going to publish articles of no serious interest to anyone, how about this, which is at least accurate reporting: Latest Processed Food Garbage Offers Even More Calories and Carbs For Customers Who Prefer To Feel Like Crap.

YOU’LL SUCK PLASTIC AND YOU’LL LIKE IT – “Globally, we are ingesting an average of 5 grams of plastic every week, the equivalent of a credit card, a new study suggests. This plastic contamination comes from ‘microplastics’ — particles smaller than five millimeters — which are making their way into our food, drinking water and even the air.” That’s CNN too and it’s one of their actually newsworthy pieces. It’s also ironically appropriate. We’re choking sea life with our plastic waste, after all, so we deserve to choke on it too. And the comparison to swallowing a credit card’s worth of plastic has a certain unintended poetry—mindless consumers lean heavily into credit. They use those cards like—well, like crazy. And their mindless consumerism encourages the plastic-bound throwaway culture that’s wrecking the biosphere.

NEW FRONTIERS OF SHALLOWNESS: “They Have Millions of Instagram Followers, but They’re Not Real People” – New York Times …Fans of songs by “Lil Miquela” were shocked to hear that the supposed singer who has supposedly “worked with Prada” and supposedly “has a tattoo designed by a fashionable artist”…isn’t real. She’s made of pixels and voicing and she’s designed to attract followers and likes. But there are lots of these fake human beings—literally fake, not just “ha-ha, he’s so fake”, and it’s not just vapid teens who get sucked in. Adults, too, gape ingenuously at these glittery, disturbingly real-looking “persons” on Instagram and YouTube. You have to be remarkably shallow—like a millimeter-deep pool of liquid graphene—to believe that these creatures are real. They look realistic but everything about them, to those who’re paying attention, says they’re not even as real as scripted actors in full make-up. They’re CGI. And they’re not based on anyone in particular—they’re based on glamorous tropes. Their followers are so conditioned by hand-screen media their reactions become utterly knee jerk–they really don’t give their brains time to process what’s real and what isn’t.

Deepfake news stories—visual lies  now on the way to your cell phone, to further condition and distract you–come to mind, too. It’s another level of deceptive CGI… People have always been prone to falling under the sway of superficial media personalities —ask your favorite demagogue or popstar—but humanity has reached a new level of inane pliability. Which means we can be led…anywhere.

ANTI-VAX MILLIONAIRES – From the Washington Post: “A wealthy Manhattan couple has emerged as significant financiers of the anti-vaccine movement, contributing more than $3 million in recent years to groups that stoke fears about immunizations…” That’s a hedge fund manager named Bernard Selz and his wife, Lisa—gibbering paranoids who are doing a lot to stimulate anti-vaccine hysteria.

Here’s what will eventually come about, in your lifetime, because of people like this:  major plagues that will kill millions of people. You think the new measles phenomenon is bad? Pshaw. That’s nothing in comparison to what anti-vaxxers will shower upon us.

Thanks to climate change, viruses and bacteria once found only in relatively remote regions of the world are increasingly able to spread far and wide—to places where more people throng. The more people an infectious disease reaches–the more people it will go on to reach. It will expand exponentially…Plagues will arise. Hard working scientists will make vaccines available to counter major new pathogens and anti-vaxxers will block the vaccines. And when humanity realizes that millions could have been saved if not for anti-vaxxers, people like Mr and Mrs Selz may well end up being prosecuted for manslaughter. And they’re very likely indeed to be vastly, hugely, multitudinously — sued!

THE DNC IS GOING TO FORCE ME TO DO SOMETHING I DON’T WANT TO DO. And yes—I will submit to any DNC nomination, whoever it is, as the alternative will be worse….I have this sick feeling that the DNC is going to force me to vote for Joe Biden. Despite his long history of racial insensitivity predicating his recent senescence-driven racial gaffe; despite his history of being demeaning and handsy-grandfather inappropriate with women…despite all, I will be forced to vote for him if he gets the Democratic nomination because, well, as I heard Stephanie Miller say, “In the general election we have to vote for any carbon-based lifeform who isn’t Trump”. And she’s right. Even a blundering glad-handing, toe-stomping, clueless, badly aging white guy, like Biden is preferable to Trump. Biden would at least  return us to sanity. Mostly. He would see that competent people are named to cabinet positions. He would do pretty well with international relations.

But compared to someone like Elizabeth Warren,  Biden is an empty suit. Please, DNC—I’ll vote for an empty suit if I have to, but for pity’s sake don’t make me.