The Saga Of Sumdood’s Army

And now for something completely different… the story of Sumdood’s Army.

OK, it was written in 2007 and I just found it. I’m late to the party. So what? It’s hilarious. I found it at A Day In The Life Of An Ambulance Driver.

Here’s how it starts:

 “What is your last name, Sir?” I ask, watching the guy with the dank, greasy hair sitting at the triage desk, nervously wringing his hands.

“Gol,” he simpered. “G-O-L.”

“And your first name?”

“Smea. S-M-E-A,” he answered, baring his rotted teeth in an obsequious grin. He grimaced and cleared his throat painfully.

Eeeeewwww. Somebody has the meth mouth.

“So what brings you to the ER today, Mr. Smea Gol?”

From there things get weird:

“I pull a document from the file cabinet, march out to the ER entrance, and gird myself for battle. The ER clerk, fear and desperation etched into her features, stands with her back to the barred door. Outside, the howls of the fibromyalgia orcs herald their thirst for blood.

Stout heart, AD. And if you go down, go down swinging.

I heft the six-foot, carved rosewood caduceus adorning the ER hallway off of its hanger, and hold it before me like a scepter. Taking a deep breath, I nod for the ER clerk to clear out, and I fling open the doors.

The patients charge…”

Go there and read it all.

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Mea Culpa Ferguson

I’ve been avoiding the Ferguson kerfluffle. It has every demographic element fated to incite hostility. Count the red flags. Is it an area that’s southern, poor, two thirds black, and urban? Yep. Was the person shot either trying to surrender or trying to kick a cop’s ass? Yep. Was he a choir boy or a serial killer? Yep. And of course, was the person who shot him white? Yep. America in 2014 is not a place where urban masses are prone to react intelligently to such stimuli. As predictably as night follows day, a shitstorm of angry has ensued. Little, if any, good will come of it. I tuned out.

I was pretty successful too. Several days of stupid came and went without darkening my door. Then one day I was having a conversation with a good friend and he brought up the topic. I was trapped!

My friend pointed out things had gone from bad to worse. I’d presumed as much without examining the details. Things like this progress along a spectrum. As far as I could tell it was far beyond a Maine township circulating a strongly worded petition but not quite approaching 1992 LA. My friend said it was bad news and implied I should be paying attention.

It was mentioned that the President chose to insert himself in this weighty matter. Lately Federal action in a local (city level?) police matter hasn’t racked up a good track record. Particularly when a President uses local human pain to score national political points it’s a very bad thing indeed. Rather than “tut tut” I made light of it. “Of course he did.” I laughed. “His bread is buttered by racial friction.” It didn’t escape my mind that this is a mid-cycle election year and nothing would help the party of D like a big ugly urban riot and the press’ favorite superhero saving the day. He probably has a cape in the closet for just such a purpose. Never one to quit inserting my foot in my mouth I added more. “Let me guess. He’s having a beer summit?”

So it's agreed; Henry here gets to say he met the president, I get a photo op, and whitey here has to suck it up and smile.

So it’s agreed; Henry here gets to say he met the president, I get a photo op, and whitey has to suck it up and smile.

“This is a big deal.” My friend complained.

“Sure it is.” I snarked. “Let me guess; the press makes out like the guy who got shot is a cute innocent kid. They’ve got a photo of him looking just like Michael Jackson when he was in the Jackson Five.”

Reading and writing arithmetic Are the branches of the learning tree But listen without the roots of love every day, girl Your education ain't complete.

Reading and writing arithmetic
Are the branches of the learning tree
But listen without the roots of love every day, girl
Your education ain’t complete.
(Knowing how Michael Jackson turned out, the lyrics from ABC seem a bit creepy.)

I wasn’t done. “…they claimed he was a choir boy and everyone and their dog loved him. But now some blogger has come up with a Facebook selfie that the press miraculously missed. Maybe he’s posing with a pound of cocaine and a Glock stuffed in his shorts. Plus he hijacked a bus load of nuns last week. Am I right or what?”

The president of the United States actually said if he had a son his son would look like this.

The President of the United States actually said of the man in this picture; “If I had a son he’d look like Trayvon”. In my opinion that’s setting the bar pretty low.

“No! The police, they’re going apeshit.” My friend was serious.

I wasn’t.

“So they fired up the racial unrest grievance machine right?” I envisioned a giant dollar sign projected against gloomy clouds like the bat signal. Jessie Jackson springs to action and flies out in his Learjet to fan the flames in honor of folks who’ll never even fly in a Boeing. “So has Jessie Jackson arrived yet?” I laughed. “Wait. Isn’t Jessie dead? His son is in jail. Who’s left?”

“Things are getting out of control…”

“Oh wait Al Sharpton is around right?” I was having a grand time. “Let me guess Al baby wants to have ‘a conversation’.”

I have to admit, the dude rocks a pinstripe suit.

I have to admit, the dude rocks a pinstripe suit.

“Meanwhile, in the name of justice people are stealing televisions and burning cars? Are Korean shopkeepers patrolling with…”

“Shut up dammit! The cops are acting crazy.” My friend was having none of my rudeness.

“Uh huh.” I chuckled. “You know I’m all for rioters getting kicked in the balls.”


“Don’t taze me bro. Ha ha ha. I’m not buying it. This time the cops have me in their pocket.” I was just having a grand time.

“You’re being an asshole! This is a civil liberties issue!” My friend barked.

This brought my humor to a standstill. I’m all about civil liberties. I love freedom. It’s a bigger deal to me than just about anything else. Yet here I was cheering for cops which may (or may have not) have shot someone who may or may not have earned that fate. Since when do I make rosy assumptions about competence and a reluctance to run amok on the part of the boys in blue? Was this an internal inconsistency in my personal philosophy?

I seethe about a flash grenade in a baby’s crib so why should I grant the benefit of the doubt in Ferguson? Why am I incensed that the ATF toasted a bunch of Jesus Freaks in Texas but perfectly happy if they stomp on presumptive rioters in Missouri? My friend was suggesting the locals were acting like authoritarian duouchebags. Why should I doubt that? I’d simply assumed the Feds would make it worse. Throw in a few Cartman jokes (“respect my authority!”) and I’d somehow sided with a group that has a tendency to kick down doors and shoot the wrong person. What had I done?

The conversation ended. I felt thoroughly cowed.

I thought about reading all the news about Ferguson and getting to the bottom of it. I refused. Frankly there’s too much bullshit and I just don’t want to deal with it. Also Al Sharpton was involved and listening to that guy is like stepping in something that’ll stink for a week. As for Obama, perhaps he did a glorious soliloquy or perhaps he ate his teleprompter while golfing but none of that matters. I just don’t feel like parsing the delta between whatever the hell he will do from whatever the hell he said. Besides, what he’s likely to do is more or less nothing. Ask the Ukrainians. Who’s got time for all that swimming against the tide of misinformation?

Further, none of this changes the fact that I’d made a knee jerk generalization that was cynical and mean. Federal involvement doesn’t always make things worse. I’d been wrong to glibly dismiss what might very well be local cops acting like jerks and when the local po po act like jerks it’s the Feds that are supposed to punch ‘em in the groin. Maybe they were doing their job?

So how should I rectify my verbal missteps without shoving my face into Ferguson? I had an idea. In the spirit of lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness I decided to seek out and post a picture that’s unlike the nihilism of today’s age. I shouldn’t let cynicism take root and my friend called me on it. Good for him. The Federal Government can indeed do good. Here’s a picture from when staid boring President Eisenhower used the National Guard, guns and all, to do the right thing.

Sometimes calling in the National Guard is indeed the right thing to do.

Sometimes calling in the National Guard is indeed the right thing to do.

This has nothing to do with Ferguson. Nor does it mean that the Feds are guaranteed to be on the side of angels this time. It has everything to do with not letting 2014’s panic du jour cloud the long term good that’s out there. Mea culpa. I was wrong.

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News Blackouts

I regularly and deliberately go on vacation from the news. The manifold benefits of limiting one’s bullshit consumption are simply too huge to ignore. I haven’t heard of many people doing the same thing. Until now! Clarie Wolfe just posted a link to Mr Money Moustache titled The Low Information Diet. It’s an old post but spot on. Some quotes:

“I’m going to suggest that unless you work directly in the news media industry yourself, you too should be paying absolutely no attention to the news. This is an unusual stance in this country, where the 24-hour news cycle has become common and 100 million office workers flop down in front of the television nightly to catch up on the day’s events. Political dramas, stock markets fluctuations, sports, local tragedies, weather, and of course an update on what is new in bikinis and celebrity gossip.”

“The news also completely fucks up the layperson’s perception of risk. The very fact that bad events are rare these days, makes them newsworthy.”

“…it’s not just the news that is the enemy. It’s all forms of irrelevant information…”

Read it all here.

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Threshing Wheat

In keeping with my “pro-robot” (pro-automation) posts I thought I’d stick up some photos.

Cutting wheat by hand. This is step one. After it's cut you must seperate the wheat from the stalk; this is called threshing.

Cutting wheat by hand. This is step one. After it’s cut you must dry it and then separate the wheat from the stalk; a process called threshing.

What do you see? I see five women in funny hats that are working their ass off. They will all have a sore back tomorrow morning.

Mechanically Threshing Wheat, circa 1881.

Mechanically Threshing Wheat, circa 1881.

What do you see? I see three guys and three horses all working like dogs. (I also see gears and pulleys that look like they’d rip an arm off in a heartbeat… but that’s another topic.)

The Industrial Revolution Happened for a reason.

The Industrial Revolution Happened for a reason.

What do you see? I see four people working in air conditioned cabs… assisted by a massive amount of technology.

This is where one faces the classic is the glass “half full” or “half empty” paradox.

If you’re down in close to the action it is possible to look at the first two photos and the last one and see eight jobs turning to three. What a nightmare! “What will happen to those poor people who no longer have their delightful peasant occupation? Also what about the horses? Who will care for the horses!”

From a distance I’m pretty sure that most people who once had to harvest wheat by hand very much preferred doing something else. The Amish and a few hippies aside… hand harvesting is hard, dirty, hot, backbreaking labor. Machines have improved our lives.

Remember that when the labor rate goes high enough to put a bunch of McDonalds employees out of work and politicians blovate about how that’s a bad thing and if you vote for them they’ll “fix” it. It’s only a bad thing if the only thing you think those folks are good for is flipping burgers. I tend to think most people, given the choice, might be capable of a whole lot more.

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Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug: Part 4

Examples where our robot overlords are still gaining ground:

Fast Food: The minimum wage has gone up in a few places and there’s talk of Fast Food becoming more automated. I think it’s funny that this is even a topic of discussion. It’s not talk, it’s simply a mathematical calculation. There is a number on a spreadsheet where it’s a done deal. Opinions, from either side of the political spectrum, play no part in this decision.

Here’s one link among many.

“McDonald’s employees who picketed for a better living wage (whatever that means) may come to regret that decision. According to a Redditor, a McDonald’s in Illinois replaced their cashiers with machines.  The machines appear to be the cousins of the ones found in grocery stores, big box stores, and CVS that allow customers to complete transactions.”

Let’s start with the obvious. Fast food won’t become automated, it will become more automated. It’s already an assembly plant and not a restaurant. The other side of the counter at McDonalds is like the damn Space Shuttle but with newer technology. You’re not running machines, you’re in an automated system of smallish machines working in concert. Everything is either beeping or planning on beeping, there are big ideogram buttons for the illiterate, and all cooking that can be done in a factory has been done in advance and frozen. Whining about automation in McDonalds is missing the point.  McDonalds is already a soulless automated technological marvel and it already nearly put the corner coffee shop out of business.

Remember the corner coffee shop? Gladys’ sister Marge used to be the waitress and the cook was Spike’s Uncle.  Lets call him Ralph. Ralph made better food than any McDonalds. Marge would tell you all about her grandkids and bring you free refills of coffee. In the old days Marge smoked. In the old days she’d accidentally drop ashes in your eggs.

I preferred Marge and Ralph. I still eat there but it’s not McDonalds and it fills a different niche. When I’m in a hurry I go to McDonalds. You do too. Don’t lie to me. The NSA has records and darned well sometimes you buy a Happy Meal to shut up the kids or shove a BigMac in your piehole while driving.

McDonalds (and its ilk) are already automated. So automated that you pigeonhole yourself into its great unfeeling gears. You get whatever the hell Supreme Overlord Ronald McDonald puts on the menu. That means no steak with your eggs and the eggs can’t be served over easy. No mash potatoes, no collard greens, no beer (in America), no flavor, no class, no style, no bullshit. Get in, get out. Uniform shitty calories fast.

Suppose the dude (or dudette) at the counter was no longer there. Suppose you’re in Seattle where you’re smart enough to pump gas (unlike Oregon) but the minimum “living wage” is sixty grand and a weekly massage with a happy ending. Imagine the counter person is gone. So what?

All the counter dude does is listen to you in English (if you’re lucky) and push the buttons for your McGrease Meal #1. You slide a credit card and the computer does the rest. Or maybe you hand over cash and the change device on the side counts it so the victims of public education don’t have to count $0.74 and try to do it with quarters. That’s a job that is primed for replacement by robot. I’ve seen a couple test ordering kiosks over the years. You probably have too. Using them wasn’t hell. (The food was but you already knew that.)

At the right labor cost, it’s simply going to happen. No questions asked. No quarter given. Don’t wish it was otherwise because it ‘aint happening any other way.

It’s simply math and math never loses. So why fret about it?


P.S. Note the tone of the post “employees who picketed for a better living wage (whatever that means) may come to regret that decision”. I humbly suggest we let it go. There’s no need to be bitter. People learn to regret in their own time and in their own way. (Or perhaps they perfect denial.) Don’t twist the knife. Fate will do that and it’s not our job.

P.S. In the interest of complete disclosure I’ve seen both sides of this. A billion years ago I lost a job when the minimum wage went up. (Yeah, really. That shit happens and I didn’t have a thousand politicians giving me a parade over my “living wage” crap job.) I wasn’t bitter. I had been an excellent worker and was probably the best they’d had at it in years but the job sucked and always would. When the numbers took a dump on me I figured it was a hint applied with a sledgehammer and I moved on. Also, I have replaced a robot. This was at a different job. I was cheaper than the robot. I tried my best but had virtually no natural talent and sucked. I did my mediocre best a couple years, and like employees at most of these sorts of jobs, moved on. So there you have it, at the low end me and robots fought it out in the labor market. You win some you lose some. This is nothing new.

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Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug: Part 3

Examples where our robot overlords have made life better:

Self Serve Gas: There was a time when all gas was full serve. A friendly and professional guy in a spotless service jacket would pump your gas, wash the windshield, check the oil, and put air in your tires. You know where I remember that from? The movies; probably “Back To The Future”. In real life you didn’t get a gas bellhop. You got a surly hassled sleazebag that had better things to do. Lets assume you got Gladys’ grandson Spike.

Spike was trying to hammer out a dent in the rocker panel of a 1972 Travelall. He was getting nowhere. Why? Because assholes like you kept showing up and interrupting his work to buy $10 worth of gas. He’d glower at you while shoving a hose in the tank and filling it with leaded gas that was apparently making everyone stupid. (Which explains a lot.) He’d smear a greasy rag across the window like a homeless guy at a stop sign. He wouldn’t check the oil. If you asked, he’d open the hood, do nothing, and then slam it shut and say “it’s fine”. He’d do that even if the engine had run out of oil an hour ago and was a white hot molten mass.

If Spike was a go getter, he’d size you up to see how stupid you really were. “Looks like you’re dripping transmission fluid, want me to look at it” he’d say. “That’s the tailpipe.” You’d respond.  Nice try Spike.

Then you’d try to pay with a check and Spike would get indignant. “I haven’t got time to go to the damn bank.” At which point you’d drop the clutch and peel out of there because you really really didn’t want to hear more of Gladys’ stores about cats.

One day Spike was replaced by a soulless machine. I was delighted. Spike was too. He  finally got the time to fix that rocker panel. You know what the soulless machine does? It dispenses gas. It doesn’t try to up sell you for a new air filter or make fun of your heap of a car. I can get gas for my motorcycle in 2 minutes flat without ever lifting my mirrored visor. It took Spike that long to crawl out from under a car. The future is now.

There is an exception to self serve gas. All residents of Oregon, by statute, are too stupid to pump their own gas. It’s a law. It probably has something to do with legalized pot and organic arugula. It’s tragic. I feel for their plight. Someday, possibly with rehabilitation and training, citizens of Oregon will master the technology of self serve gas like every other human being in the civilized world. Until then, Spike lives in Oregon. He will spill gas all over your hot motorcycle engine and drop your credit card in a mud puddle. He smells funny and hates you. If it’s Sunday, or an evening, or too early in the morning Spike won’t be there and the gas station will be closed. You will run out of gas in the desert and die. Spike still doesn’t want your damn paper check.

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Mechanization Is A Feature Not A Bug: Part 2

Examples where our robot overlords have made life better:

ATMs: Remember the misery that the bank before ubiquitous ATMs? They sucked! Are you old enough to remember manually trying to get your money out of a bank? (Young people might wish to consult their elders on this.) Dealing with the bank was a friggin’ quest.

Suppose you needed to get fifty bucks out of your account to pay Vinnie the Loanshark and maybe ten bucks to fill your gas tank. (Yeah, there was a time when $10 would fill a tank. Get over it.) The bank was always closed (so often that there was a slang term called “banker’s hours”). Once you performed the miracle of finding a bank you had to wait in line. You waited for the privilege of being served by a bank teller. The teller might be a nice person but she (and it was usually a she) was slower than molasses.

Remember this had to be the bank where you had an account. If you and six other guys were going bar hopping and nobody had cash, you might have to go to six banks to make six withdrawals. This never happened because there was never a time in all humanity when six banks were simultaneously open. (Five of the six guys were broke anyway but that last part might just be memories specific to me.)

I don’t know why, but the teller was always an octogenarian and usually a woman. Lets call her Gladys. Gladys was a sweet woman. She’d tell you all about her cats. Most of the time she even counted the money properly. She was slow. Gladys worked at exactly the same speed if there were two people in line or forty. Gladys didn’t rush… ever. She went home at 5:00 pm on the dot. If you were in line at 5:00 pm, Gladys might serve you or she might duck out. Gladys had shit to do to. Those cats don’t feed themselves.

It was so slow and cumbersome that nobody wanted to deal with it. That’s where checkbooks came from. Everyone carried around a checkbook and a register and a pen and kept it with the crumpled up Styrofoam coffee cups and losing lottery tickets mouldering on the car’s dash. We begged Vinnie and the gas station to take our handwritten paper check. “Please don’t make us go to the bank. That’ll take hours.” Vinnie didn’t want your check and neither did the gas station. Why? Because they didn’t want to take time out of their day to stand in line like a moron waiting for Gladys to make the deposit.

Oh yeah, when your paycheck came, back to the bank. Unless you cashed it at the bar. Here’s a hint; never cash your paycheck at the bar!

One day Gladys was replaced by a soulless machine. I was delighted. You know what the soulless machine does? It works 24/7. It works on Christmas, at 2:00 am, in the rain.

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