All My Heroes Are Dying – David Bowie /Recycled

While driving to work today I heard the news that David Bowie had died (January 10, 2016). He was 69, a young man. Well, maybe not young for a rock star, but too close to my age for me to dismiss it. He died of liver cancer, which may have been an indicator of his rock star lifestyle. Apparently, he had been battling the cancer for about eighteen months. Who knew? It’s very sobering that a man that lived his life so flamboyantly, died so quietly. There was clearly something there deeper than the makeup, glitter, and good hair.

Everyone who was alive at the time of his release of a Space Oddity back in 1969 remembers the song word for word. Heck, probably everybody since then knows most of the words. My guess is he could have lived a comfortable life off of the royalties of that one song. David Bowie was not a one trick pony though. He went on to have hits in assorted styles in different decades. Bowie’s persona even took on the alter ego role of Ziggy Stardust for a while. Ziggy Stardust may have been a foreshadowing of Bowie’s desire to act, which he did very well, in my opinion. 

During the Ziggy Stardust period I didn’t follow Bowie, and apparently neither did anyone else. When he released Diamond Dogs back in 1974, I was back on board again. The album featured two hit tunes, the title song, Diamond Dogs, and Rebel Rebel. A long way from “ground control to Major Toms.”

Diamond Dogs was one of the two albums I used to play to go to sleep to at night. The other was Tubular Bells. It was a tough patch for me, but not David Bowie. Bowie had moved to the U.S. and was reemerging as a rock star. There were a ton of hits, one of which provided a career for another musician. Bowie’s song Under Pressure provided the bass lick for Vanilla Ice’s Ice Ice Baby, recorded eight years later. Vanilla Ice claims to have not ripped off the song, but please. Give both songs a listen.

Bowie’s acting career is as important to me as his musical accomplishments. Some of his films include, The Man Who Fell To Earth, The Hunger and Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence. One of the tests I use to determine if an actor or actress has done an excellent job with a role is asking the question if I can picture another person in the role. If I can’t, then I determine that they have done a fantastic job. Watch the three movies above and then ask yourself if you can picture anyone else in David Bowie’s role. I bet you can’t.

A little factoid, that I was just reminded of, was that David Bowie was actually born David Jones. Not wanting to be confused with Davey Jones of the Monkees, Bowie took his last name from the famous American adventurer. I guess he felt a kinship with America early on.

Bowie just release an album, Blackstar, and in tribute to his memory, I will buy a copy. Who knows, I may even use it to go to sleep to.

Robot Bombers

There’s a lot of disturbing stuff in the news this week, but I’m going to go back in time to comment on a theme that has been portrayed in science fiction for decades. That’s right, we’re going to talk about killer-robots.

We all look forward to the friendly robots portrayed in Asimov’s Foundation series and brought to life in the series “Humans.” Robots that are so lifelike that they are given some sort of tell like purple eyes that will identify them at first glance from humans. Friendly robots that are designed to make humans feel comfortable around them, sometimes extremely comfortable, and pose no threat to their human masters. All of us science fiction aficionados would expect that the robots would be bound by Asimov’s laws of robotics:

First Law: A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

Second Law: A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

Third Law: A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.

Scads of plots for books and movies have been produced testing the boundaries of when the robots become self-aware and question whether or not they have the right to survive. Even the kids movie “Short Circuit” attempts to dive into the question of life and to what ends life must be preserved. Which brings us to the big question, the preservation of life.

On July 8th, 2016, the Dallas, Texas police force used a robot to kill a suspect. In a scene straight out of “RoboCop“, the Dallas police sent in a robot bomb to kill an armed suspect. Intellectually, I know that dead by SWAT is the same as dead by robot bomb, it just feels less sporting, or something.

Of course, I always question why time limits get put on these things. I also question why a “flash bang” couldn’t have been used. If the purpose was to disarm the suspect, there were probably a couple of lesser methods of intervention that would have preserved life. I suspect the answer goes more to the “time” issue rather than the loss of life.

In my mind, if the perpetrator is pinned down, and you know he’s not going anywhere, wait until he goes to sleep. All of us, no matter how deranged, eventually have to fall asleep. I guess waiting makes the police look like they’re not in charge or something.

On the flip side, the police have got this cool new toy that they’ve just been waiting for the right situation to justify its use on the public. Will future criminals be deterred from committing crimes for fear of a piece of machinery potentially taking their life? Think electric chair and how it hasn’t kept the public safe from criminals with nothing to lose.

Where does all of this go? Hard to say. With ever continuing advances in A.I. it won’t be long before the killer-robots will be given decision making processes that will be separate from their operators. Will the programmers have the foresight to program in Asimov’s rules, or will they deem that they, and by extension the robots are smart enough to make decisions on the ground without any system overrides?

I’m of the opinion that the programmers will believe in their own infallibility and let the robots shoot or blow-up as they see fit. As the military industrial complex has pointed out time after time, it’s hard to sell a product that performs correctly “most of the time.” So, selling the killer-robots will be seen as an example of “next wave technology” that “saves human lives” and takes some of the “risk out of police work. It’s never an ethical or moral issue, it’s a marketing problem.

Skynet looms ever closer.

A Supply Chain Problem

We live in interesting times. We are constantly getting unfamiliar terms thrown at us as economists and analysts and other prognosticators and prevaricators attempt to shape our opinion of the daily news. Can the rising costs of daily living be attributed to just one catch-all phrase like “a supply chain problem?” Are there other factors that should be shared with the public like record corporate profits? I guess not if you’re one of the news outlets recording record profits.

The dynamic of the pandemic has caused all workers and employers to rethink their goals. If people working from home caused an unprecedented increase in productivity wouldn’t employers take that into account when they’re about to sign the lease on their office space? Do business owners really need to “house” workers if the workers are already providing the workspace? If workers routinely spend an hour to two hours a day in their car just to attend work in person couldn’t that time be spent more productively? Since child care is one of a parent’s highest costs, couldn’t the ability to work from home provide a benefit that the business community/government has been unwilling to provide? This just addresses the office worker, what about the other workers?

This chart has a breakdown by category of the workers in America in 2021. The numbers are “times a thousand”

What we found out in the pandemic was that most workers couldn’t work from home. Suddenly the lowliest workers that were begrudgingly paid minimum wage, like baristas, retail, fast food workers, and meat processors were considered to be vital to the well-being of the economy. Why wouldn’t the workers at Starbucks jump at the chance to serve the public and potentially get a disease that could kill them and their families for $7.50 an hour? How selfish to not have my Apple Crisp Oatmilk Macchiato ready when I drive up to the window?

When the teamsters didn’t show up at the docks, nothing moved, and we suddenly had a “supply chain problem.” Of course, it goes deeper than that. If most of our goods are manufactured in a foreign country and that foreign country enforces stringent pandemic protocols, then goods like computer chips that are necessary to make American cars are not available. There was literally nothing at the docks to be picked up except cruise ships filled with sick passengers. It is a vicious cycle that apparently no one in government or business had ever “gamed” for.

In the midst of extraordinary worldwide death tolls, workers suddenly became valued. The unemployment rate dropped to the lowest levels ever and people stuck at the bottom of the employment chain were able to move up a rung or two on the ladder. Even those still at the bottom rung would be able to negotiate a “new deal” to continue to work in Covid hothouses to provide Americans their familiar creature comforts.

Workers are getting better jobs that pay more and even the workers at the bottom are able to negotiate better deals. What fly could be placed in the soup that would take the positive and turn it into a negative? Inflation. The price of everything for the worker has gone up and some items like gasoline were artificially inflated to prevent the average American family from feeling like they had finally “won”.

There was a good bit of politics involved too as we were in an election year and the captains of industry, who vote Republican, were not interested in absorbing the new costs. It’s said that a “rising tide floats all boats.” It’s just that some of those boats are yachts and require a lot more draft. Five percent salary increases turned into twenty-five percent product increases as industry continued to record profits and ensure that their yacht was sitting higher than all of the dinghies in the bay.

One study on raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour for McDonald’s workers projected the new wages would raise the price of a Big Mac by 17 cents. The good news, everybody would still be able to buy Big Macs, even the people that make them.

Since the 1970s the link between productivity and wages has been broken. There have always been excuses for industry not keeping up with paying their employees what they earn. It’s time to call it what it is, greed. Plain old-fashioned greed.

Greed is not good, no matter what Gordon Gekko and Ronald Reagan thought.

Trusting The Nobles

Turns out the “poncey” class in Great Britain didn’t realize that a third of their wealth was going to be washed away by their xenophobic vote to leave the European Union. It’s a shame that the English people have been led astray by their nobility for so long. It seems like after a few hundred years you’d get past the idea that the monarchy has your best interests at heart.

Anglophile Americans have been a curiosity to me for a long time. I clearly remember my American history lessons about the Revolutionary War and the return bout in 1812. Since reading the stories, I’ve held the sanctity of American heroes like Washington, Henry, Revere, and others close to my heart and mind. These men were beacons of freedom that shone the light on the disgraceful colonization practices of the monarchy. The American patriots were prepared to “give me freedom or give me death” in their quest to be free of the yoke of the British monarchy. Clearly, they hadn’t seen the Netflix series “The Crown.”

Before we get into a conversation of “that was then and this is now,” let’s discuss the possibility that America lost the Revolution. In the course of the last 246 years do we think the Monarchy would have displayed their benevolence by granting the Americas their freedom? What example could one cite of the country that is currently free that gained their independence from England without a fight? Furthermore, would an enslaved America been able to come to the rescue of the Monarchy in two World Wars? There is a strong possibility that we would all be speaking German now if not for our brave Revolutionary heroes.

It’s hard to realize when you’re at the top of an empire on which the sun never sets that the best thing for your longevity might be strong independent Allies and not colonies, but the Monarchy has never been accused of being the sharpest knives in the drawer. Centuries of in-breeding will do that. Close control of the gene pool allows for fascinating examples of natural selection like hemophilia and the occasional tragedies like Elizabeth’s cousins. While it’s true that the hoi polloi should only concern themselves with the royals that are in the direct line of ascension, it is interesting to note what a drain on the country’s resources the extended family requires. In March of 2019, the Sovereign Grant Reserve amounted to £44.4 million a year. Not bad work if you can get it, but I hear you have to be born to it.

On a related note(s), come we now to the kerfuffle caused by young Harry, third in line of succession, to attempt to alter the gene pool a bit. He and his poor wife Meghan were so outraged by their treatment by the Monarchy that they decided to leave the royals behind and hide in obscurity in Hollywood where they will be photographed every time they change their shoes and forced to create documentaries for Netflix. I guess the point here is that they wanted to shape their story rather than adhere to the one doled out by the royal family. The question becomes, how do you continue to live like a royal when you’ve cut ties with granny? Netflix specials, that’s how!

I don’t wish them ill; I wish them obscurity. I wish all of them obscurity. Like the horse and buggy, their time has passed. In modern times it might be fun to take the occasional horse and buggy ride, but let’s not keep them as our primary source of transportation because of tradition. Move on. Charles has the ability to dissolve the royal family and release all of the existing colonies to self- determination. Do it. It’s certainly worked for Ireland, or at least most of it. Looks like Scotland has finally got a clue. “The Crown” portrays Charles as an enlightened thinker, time to prove it.

I’m in favor of England, like the cheese, standing alone. We’ll see how it goes.

Disney and Homophobia

Further news from Colorado Springs gay bar shooting indicates that the shooter had issues with his own sexuality, possibly. The court filing by his attorneys’ requests that the shooter be addressed as they/them and that the shooter self-identifies as non-binary.

After listening to the confusing, bizarre interviews with the shooter’s father, a former porn actor, it’s not that much of a leap to imagine that the son would presume that his dad would prefer to remember the son as a jihadist rather than a homosexual. As the history of the shooter’s life is revealed, it looks like there’s going to be a plethora of times when someone should have intervened and gotten the shooter help, but didn’t. The family is steeped in a right wing theology by all reports, so maybe inclusiveness was not part of the discussion around the dinner table.

Another place where diversity can’t be discussed is Florida, anywhere in Florida. Ron De Satan, current governor of Florida and future presidential candidate of the White Nationalist Party, has decreed that any discussion of sexual orientation is off limits. In his “don’t say gay” legislation, De Satan said teaching kindergarten-aged kids that “they can be whatever they want to be” was “inappropriate” for children. This statement is spinning a couple of unusual ways in my head.

Back in the days when the planet was still cooling and dinosaurs ruled the earth, it was a popular misconception that children were turned gay by attributes of one or the other parent. Domineering mother and shy father, “poof” gay son. Father who always wanted a son but had a daughter, “poof” gay daughter. There was blessed little concept that orientation occurred pre-birth. It had to be bad parenting, and children can be recovered from bad parenting. The fear of being deemed a “bad parent” clouded everyone’s relationships.

Now we learn from the De Satan brain trust that telling a child “they can be whatever they want to be” will be the catalyst to turning a generation of would-be insurrectionists into interior decorators. Oh my god, if only that were true.

De Satan was not happy with just picking on teachers and little children, though. He decided to throw his weight around with one of the state’s largest employers, Disney. Disney’s employees spoke up and rose up about the unfairness of the governor’s decree. Disney was faced with the hardest of corporate challenges, taking a stand. To their credit, the Disney hierarchy publicly condemned the “Don’t Say Gay” decree and then the battle was engaged.

De Satan responded by denying a tax advantage that Disney had been granted when they began construction in the swamp of the Orlando environs back in 1967. Governor De Spiteful had calculated that Disney couldn’t just pick up and move the 27,000-acre theme park. All he had to do was change the tax base for Disney and place the burden on the surrounding flaming liberal communities of Orlando. De Spiteful would show them who was boss by golly.

We can well imagine that the homeowners in central Florida affected by the tax change probably didn’t discuss their tax increase in positive terms. We can imagine that the taxpayers didn’t attribute their loss of income to their evil despotic homophobic autocratic governor. No, we can imagine where the blame will be laid. Just remember when you talk about it, “don’t say gay.”