Saturday, December 20, 2014

A Brief Hiatus

That time of year has arrived where I take a short Christmas break, but will return in early January. The Comte de Rienville has once again invited me and some of my progeny to his estate in Tahiti, and who could refuse such an offer?

There will , however, be a short side trip, in order to bring out of captivity a number of girls and women that were taken by the sub-humans known as the Islamic State.(IS) I have reviewed the plan, and believe it will succeed. My heart will be in the endeavour.
Females in such an IS environment do not stand a chance, and their situation is well described in a verse from the Talmud:

     "If a rock falls upon a jug, woe to the jug. If a jug falls
      upon a rock, woe to the jug."

Says it all, and I will report on this foray as well as other things of pitch and moment when I return in early January.

Keep on trucking, and may all readers enjoy a superb Christmas.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Generational Difference

"Come live with me, and be my love." So begins a short poem by Christopher Marlowe, and when I read this line, I immediately thought of its 21st century counterpoint: "Come live with me, and pay my rent."

I write this because it is becoming crystal clear that the generation following me will not be enjoying the opportunities and largesse that I did. Oh, there will always be a segment of society that does well, either through already being safely ensconced in the "haves", or equipped with the skills that society now demands (technological wizardry) or sheer blind luck vis-à-vis a lottery or an incredible day at the casino or the track.

For the rest, things will be tough. After all, according to a variety of economic studies, the coming generation will not match their parents in terms of wealth accrual. This has not happened for some time, hence the Marlowe update.

We must, however, take heart. Such generational disparity has occurred before, when society undergoes a massive economic shift. Think of the machines of the Industrial Revolution and the number of workers, particularly in agriculture, that they displaced. But eventually many of those workers discovered that they could run those machines, and (with some help from their friendly union) earn a living wage while doing so.

But what happens when machines run themselves, and continually improve their performance?

This is an area that a number of sound thinkers -- including Stephen Hawking --  are worried about: the idea that artificial intelligence will supersede our own, and we will then lose control over the whole shebang. Not so much a generational difference as a generational shutdown.

I am a bit more optimistic. I can envisage a world where machines look after providing the necessities of life, with no one required to do a stitch of work. To be sure, education would be a paramount priority, but such a world makes possible an hypothesis once put forward by Buckminster Fuller, upon which I conclude:

"The human race has to get back to what it was doing before some clown came along and said you have to work for a living."*

Food for thought.


* Written in his short text, I Seem To Be A Verb. ---Ed.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Whither The Weather

I am somewhat behind my times, as Bob Cratchit once said, in that I spent the previous day with the Little Sisters Of Poverty And Pain, a group of nuns that I support in their charitable activities. I mean, there is faith, hope, and charity, and the greatest of these is charity.* In any event, I missed my writing time. These things happen, but I will stick to my John Wayne dictum: "Never apologize, pilgrim."

Now the good sisters take in a number of female refugees and women escaping from abusive situations, and I teach an English as a Second Language course to assist those who are having difficulty speaking the language. Things go very well at first, then the going gets rougher. As is known, English is an easy language to speak badly; it is an extremely difficult language to speak well.

A number of queries from my "students" focussed upon what to talk about that would be acceptable when they were part of a new group. I suggested they stay away from religion or politics, the two bugbears that have wrecked havoc upon society now and in the past. Rather, I recommended that they initially stick to that safest of all topics, the weather.

"Why?" asked one class member.

"Because," I replied, "no one really knows what weather is, and when precisely it will snow, rain, or whatever. Even meteorologists stumble all the time when predicting a weather event, and hence this topic presents a wonderful opportunity to say almost anything and never annoy the person or persons you are talking to. Which, when just getting to know people, is a very Good Thing."

"One could," ventured a class member, "talk of astronomy." (I recalled that one of the group was a physicist in her native country, but was now pushing a cash register at Costco.)

"One could," I replied, "but this can get a bit awkward if the person you are discussing parsecs with believes that the world is only 6000 years old, and that people were consorting with dinosaurs. Right away you would have made an enemy. For the time being, best to stick with the weather."

At this point the astronomer slipped into her native Italian, knowing I was fluent in what was my mother tongue. "Well," she said, "You are probably right. My professor at Turin once stated, I use her words, 'that it was never wise to provoke a person not ready to be provoked.' As a topic, then, the weather will be just fine."

I commended her professor, and concluded with my own astronomical observation:

"I exist!" the man cried to the Universe.

And the Universe replied, "Well, I'm sorry, but I don't feel any sense of obligation."

Enough. Or too much.


* First Corinthians, 13:13. More recent readings of this verse have altered "charity" to "love", mis-translating "caritas". I suspect that the focus was shifted to being charitable to Holy Mother Church, not the other way round. -- L.S.S.