Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Systems



Andrew Carnegie was a ruthless and heartless industrialist who used murder and brutality as well as corruption to become one of the richest men in the world. However, put aside the idea that morality has any intrinsic value and it’s easy to see how this man could be considered one of the most successful ever. He used the systems that were in place, systems that operated banking, work place rules, the ease of buying politicians, the how the public perceived men with money, and he used these systems perfectly. Those systems are still in place and they are still being used for the very same reasons for the very same ends today. Nothing has changed.

In the later years of his life, Carnegie gave away a great deal of his wealth and established libraries and all sorts of trust funds to help educate people, even though the lives and blood of his workers were the lubricant that make the flow of this money possible, but again, all of this was done within a previously built system that was already running before Carnegie arrived on the scene.

We have to understand that money is a system of beliefs held by all people who use it. We believe that money will work, that we can trade pieces of paper for goods and service, illegal drugs and illicit sex, and the transaction will be honored by all parties. Moreover, and here’s the tricky part, we’ve devised another system that requires nothing but electronic transfers of information to be included in this so that with nothing at all more than a sixteen digit number and an expiration date, we can buy anything we want and never so much as leave our sofas.

The real problem in these systems that we have created is that they were created, ostensibly as systems that would serve the community of humankind. However, once they became so large they became unstoppable and there also became subject to gaming. One person, or a group of people, could use that system to exploit other people and the people with the most toys would win. But the system itself serves no one as it is amoral and uncaring, blind and deaf. It’s like a river running through a town; how it is used doesn’t matter to the river only to those who use it.

Now, if we can see, feel, and experience the problems with these systems as we did in the 1930’s during the Great Depression and the late 00’s with the Great Recession, we might consider how a few people, or a few companies, might use these systems to control and exploit the vast majority of common people but we had no idea what to do about it at all and we still don’t.  It’s there and we know it’s harmful to us but there’s no real and practical solution anyone can come up with to help and we all understand it might be too late.

Then, suddenly, it gets very weird.

What we have not planned on happening and we cannot control once it does, is the fact that one day computers are going to become systems that behave in a manner that is consistent with their own understanding of the existing systems. We see this already in computer programs that chose stocks to buy and sell, buy tickets for concerts online to sell later for great profit, and even computer programs that rent apartments to sublet later at great profit, but the code inside of the computer is the same code inside the monetary system; greed is good. More is better. The whole thing is beginning to give birth to machine who are coded to create an infinite amount of wealth with no considerations outside that thought. If artificial intelligence is a profit drive and profit based system then we can expect that this system will serve us as poorly as but with more efficiency than the last.

What I think is lost on most people is that they trust money so they trust the people who have the most, even to the detriment of their own families. This is much like trusting the people with the most food, who have hoarded and cheated others out of good, during a famine. The big difference in what is coming is there’s ways and means to deal with other people but the systems that are in place and those that are going to be in place sooner than later, aren’t human and the resources they hoard and cheat from us aren’t exactly accessible no matter what we do. If a computer decides to drain every private bank account in America tomorrow, and hides the money in a billion different computers all over the world, what exactly is it that can or will be done?

And it might get even worse.


We know that artificial intelligence is being coded for greed but what if these systems begin to become self-aware and decide that, like Andrew Carnegie that the systems that are in place can be gamed and those gaming the systems know best? What will the system see or know or want or like or be programmed to do and how can we how to do anything but serve it, as we have in the past?

We can scoff and declare such thoughts as science fiction but it’s already happening. We are already held hostage when someone hacks our accounts. We are already helpless when computers go down. We already know that all our machines can be controlled by third parties if they have the right codes. This is happening right now. This is going on today.

The idea that we are creating systems that cannot and will not leave our control is as big a fallacy now as it was one hundred years ago but now those systems are larger and they move a lot faster. They are being gamed not by human beings with ideas of being the richest man in the world but by systems within the systems, and we have no idea if those systems are being controlled by people or if those people are being controlled by the systems. We have no way of knowing.

The idea that we might already be influenced by an odd sense of computer philology that isn’t quite conscience yet still is pushing us towards one thing or another has never really been spoken aloud. Yet we serve computers in a manner we would not any other machine. We allow them their flaws and faults and as much as we complain, each and every day we buy deeper into their control of the systems we’ve already bought into.

And when the day comes, and it may already have arrived, can we hope for more compassion from them than we received from Andrew Carnegie?

Take Care,

Mike

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The New Writing Idea



There’s something brewing deep within my mind, swirling around like blood in a coffee mug to be thrown onto a canvas, creating a very personal piece of artwork. If you find this analogy troubling then you either don’t understand art or you don’t understand the process from which it comes, or maybe even both. Or I don’t. But it’s there, right where it always is before it appears, like some noise in the brush before you see what has made it, even if it’s nothing there at all. There is a lot to be said for there to be nothing that made the brush move, I like those kinds of ideas, where the absences accentuate the fear, the longing, the dread, and it doesn’t matter if the audience ever sees what is pursuing the victim at all, just as long as they feel it.

But who is to say that the pursued is a victim at all? This thing in my head has stalked me now for the last three or four days, and I have stalked it. I can’t push it away and I cannot contain it. It’s like there is someone, or something, blowing a mist or a fog towards me and if I turn too suddenly the motion of my body, or that of my mind, dissipates it and scatters it. It has to be lured in and seduced. It has to be fed at a distance before it will come in and be fed upon and devoured.

It’s the classic tale of the mighty hunter, one shot left in his rifle, the wounded predator still stalking him, and the claws and teeth block him from returning to camp, and night is falling. What tools does he possess to survive the night? Should he rush the creature and hope to finish it off? Yet what if we spin this classic tale and have the creature speak to the man, and ask him what are they both doing in this fight to the death? What does it serve either to die or be killed or to kill? Or has it become a contest of wills, where each would rather die than retreat? Could the story be told from each beings’ point of view with each heart and mind laid bare for the reader?

This sort of thinking lures the thought closer to me. It wants to tell me that I am on the right track, perhaps, or it wants to laugh at my efforts, one of the two, or maybe both. It’s a thin thing, bare of muscle and sinew, nothing but the outline of a thought, a shadow of a blade of grass in a thousand acre field, casting its darkness within darkness, raising its head within a multitude, and I’m there, walking in the field, not looking for a four leafed clover, but something that looks like everything else, yet is not.

Maybe that’s it, I think, and it feels close. Maybe there’s something stalking the man that can only be seen when it’s at a distance and up close it’s invisible, but at the same time it can only be heard within breath smelling distance for it whispers. Or perhaps at night it’s transparent as the wind and speaks softly, as it is ethereal but in the light of day it is scales and claws and hot venom. It comes closer to me as these thought intrigue it into being bolder.

Or perhaps the story needs a twist; the animal in the day is his lover, turned into a wild beast by an angry wizard. She stalks him and seeks to kill him by day but by night her spirit seeks comfort with him. She is ethereal by night and a monster by day, and he cannot bear to kill her and he knows that he cannot let her live. Yet he cannot seek out other humans for the monster will kill them, or they might kill it, and she would die also. But she will kill him if he cannot elude her while trying not to lose her.

The idea comes closer and closer. It enjoys this and it thinks some of this might actually work. Maybe.


The wheels turn and the cogs mesh and there is some debate as to what point in time this would be most appropriate in. Of course, a medieval knight and a damsel in distress, but what about moving it forward in time but how much forward, and finally, how would this story work if set in 2017? Technology’s rise into the personal life of human beings has to be connected and integrated into each and every story now, and considerations must be given to devices as well as characters. It may finally get to the point some story like this is written where the two star crossed lovers can only communicate through Face Book but it will not be this story. But I could easily see a cell phone being the only place they could meet, Face Time with a spirit trapped in the body of a beast, no, nevermind, I am sorry I brought it up.

But perhaps this works better if the man is turned into a monster and the woman must pursue him as he is trying to destroy her. That’s a better analogy if nothing else, but it does make for a more interesting story when the lead is female. So what if she hires someone to track the beast, who has a certain amount of humanity for brief periods, and he flees as far as he can during these times, and while they are tracking this animal the tracker she has hired falls in love with her. A love triangle never fails when the reader gets to know all three of the parties, yes.

The idea comes to settle down in front of the keyboard and wants to know more like a cat seeking some inconvenient place of rest. This is an idea whose time has come and I must begin soon if to avoid it flitting off again.

Take Care,

Mike

Welcome to America

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Whitney Houston and My Homophobic Four Minutes and a Half.





Nearly twenty-five years ago I was a brand new employee in an office whose next least senior person had been there seven years. That was the downside. The upside was after about six months I knew more than he did. His name was Denny Howell but he had the nickname Den Ho, even though he wasn’t remotely Asian. The guy who ran the office explained to me that Denny meant well and he had a good heart, but intelligence wasn’t his strong suit, and he had a really wicked bad memory. He once forgot why he had driven an hour away to another office and simply drove back, happily oblivious to the parts he was supposed to deliver.

Denny’s biggest problem was he had gotten involved with a woman who was draining his wallet as well as his soul. She was a bar fly he had met while with a friend watching a football game in a bar, and after that she realized she could “borrow” money from Den Ho without ever having to pay it back. She moved in with him, talked him out of the keys to his truck, and he would have to bum a ride to work on this mornings she hadn’t come home yet. Any excuse she offered was good enough by Den Ho. The people at work gave up on it all when she told him she was pregnant and the baby was his. The fact she was still married to someone else kept them from legally being wed, but he signed the birth certificate and so at least by law, Den Ho had a son. And he did love that boy with all his heart.

It did not take long for the mother of the child to return to her wandering ways, and she left the baby with Den Ho, and that was fine. Father and son bonded. After six years of an off again off again relationship she moved out and moved in with another man. And she got a lawyer to take sole possession of the child.

The lawyering stuff happened right after I realized that I was going to get a promotion before Den Ho did, and he had been there for over seven years. Everyone agreed not to mention it around him, but one day someone congratulated me and Den Ho was standing right there. He took the hit like a true champion, and to this very day has never uttered a word against me for it. I could tell it hurt, and it hurt worse that people he had known for a very long time had hid it from him.

Maybe it was that, maybe it was the fact that he really wanted to prove to me that he was okay with me getting promoted over him, and he wanted to share his life with me, to allow me to see it wasn’t a bad person at all, I have no idea, but a couple of days later we were out in the company truck, in my hometown, downtown, at lunch, and the Whitney Houston song, “I will always love you” came on and he pulled over and parked the truck and told me that every time he heard this song it reminded him of that woman and no matter how she acted he would always love her. So he started to sing, loud, off key and horribly, in public, with me sitting in the same truck, and the only thing I could think is, “Oh My Dog, people with think he’s singing to me.” And for the next four minutes and a half, or whatever it is, I felt like getting out of the truck and simply walking away. 

Shortly after that, the woman in question went off on a beach trip with a couple of friends and they ran out of beer. So they pretended to have a gun to steal some beer and the guy behind the counter had a real gun. There were drugs found in her purse and she wound up getting sentenced to a couple of years in jail for her part in the deal. For the first time in a very long time, Denny Howell was a free man. He changed jobs, got sole custody of the little boy he always called his own, and one day met a woman who sat him down and told him that he was a wonderful father and he had a beautiful soul, but he was the worst cook on earth. (He was, seriously) They got married and pretty much really did live happily ever after. Den Ho is a grandfather now, and the woman he left behind, well, she never did show up again.

We live in a world where men aren’t supposed to be emotionally supportive of other men, especially when a Whitney Houston song is being played, and sang, and I have always wondered what would have happened if I had just started singing with him.





Take Care,
Mike

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Serial Killer/Sex Slave White Van and Me.




 

I went to buy dogfood for the first time since the second week in December of last year. I bought enough so I wouldn’t have to face the crowds and the madness of Christmas, and finally, it’s thinned out enough I don’t feel like I’m walking around in an insane asylum being operated by the patients, who come and go as they please. All in all, with any sort of luck at the checkouts, “Unexpected item in bagging area, would you like to use your own bag, please wait for assistance” nevermind. I can get out in less than ten minutes, or twenty, depending on traffic. I get a huge bag of mutt food, some soy milk, and I’m heading for home but two women, both older than me by about ten years, nearly push their buggy into mine. They’re buying a case of beer. They are Alabama fans, and suddenly, we’re besties because they just know I want to talk football with them “That Saban he’s a genius and The Tide is unstoppable this year” I tell them even though I haven’t watched the first college game this year. I can talk football about nearly any team playing the sport at any level and still sound like I know what I’m talking about even if I have no idea what team they’re in love with.

The parking lot while sparsely populated, has far too many people who seem to be aimless and unconscious. Christmas is over. It’s done. But they’re returned to the scene of the crime in order to try to reignite that feeling of purpose the commercials gave them for the last six months of advertising for Christmas. The employees seem shell shocked, traumatized, and demoralized. It’s over and they know it, but they’re putting out decorations for Valentine’s Day, and getting ready for the big Fourth of July sale.

I’m listening classical music and as I hit the last traffic light out of town and back towards home I realize that I may be able to get home in just two songs. It’s a good twenty-two minutes back but these are pieces of music that were put together to enrapture an audience’s hearts and minds for more than three minutes and a half. There’s a Cheshire Cat moon smiling at me and the road is empty, more or less. Violins sing to me as I put distance and time to good use.

There a vehicle ahead of me, and I find it odd that I’m gaining on it. I’m riding fifty-five and usually that means I’m the slowest person on the road. I move to pass the vehicle and it’s a panel van, one of the white ones, that people associate with serial killers. It’s more or less one of those things that’s morphed into an Urban Legend but at the same time, I cannot help but wonder about who is driving this thing and why. But the van speeds up as I try to pass it. I slow down and the van slows down. There’s a car coming up fast behind us so I drop my speed to see how the van drive reacts to faster traffic.

Oddly, the van driver speeds up as the faster car tries to pass him. We’re on a four-lane highway. There’s room for everyone here, but the van driver doesn’t want to be passed. I speed up because these two are going to get out of sight before long, if they keep this up. But the car takes a left and now the van driver slows down. He’s driving at about fifty-seven miles an hour, just fast enough to slowly pull away from me, but at odd intervals he hits his brakes. Unicorns, maybe? Floaters? Who knows? I do know that as long as I keep this guy in front of me I won’t have to worry about him.

I wonder what or who, this guy is got in the van. Odd isn’t it? I assume it’s a male driving, and I’ve been preconditioned to think of white vans as rolling crime scenes. As weird as my life might be, at least I don’t have the same nightmares as women. You never hear about guys being kidnapped and used as sex slaves. A woman has that fear, and it isn’t an unreal fear in some part of the world and this country, that a man might take her away from the life she knows to chain her up and use her until he decides to kill her. Young women from Asia get sold off to monsters in this country who use them as prostitutes, moving them in white vans, from one place to another, and their lives are consumed by the idea that they’re alive only to bring in money for sex. Men never have these sorts of nightmares. Men are these nightmares.

It’s not impossible, you know, for there to be women chained together in that van, being taken to their next destination, without any sort of hope of rescue, and they do not realize that half a mile away is someone who can sense, somehow, they are there, but thinks it’s just imagination, or hallucination, that these thoughts occur. Prostitutes, whether forced into it through brutality or the lack of any other opportunity, have historically been non-people as far as society and law enforcement goes. Serial killers have targeted these women simply because we as a society care less for them than we would a woman kidnapped out of her home or place or study. They will not see the dreams of having children of their own and a family to raise and care for actualized. They will be beaten if they become pregnant or maybe even killed. Abortion is a work requirement for these women. Their reproductive organs, if they become fertile, are a hindrance to the men who have enslaved these women.

The van pulls away and into the night. Some guy who operates a rolling repair shop, or someone who is moving a friend to another home likely realizes that their choice of vehicles causes these thoughts in other people, but maybe someone just needed a van, and it just happened to be white.

It does happen, I suppose.

Take Care,
Mike