Amoeba’s Lorica: The Daily Scaries

So, apparently, this is a thing.

“What kinda thing, OC?”

Dunno, dude. Why don’tcha go schedule a meeting about it? And stop interrupting!

“Sheesh, dude. Didya hit yer head fallin’ outa bed this mornin’ ‘r somethin’?”

Maybe if you shut your mouth and opened your ears, you’d find out.

“Okay, dude! Okay!!”

[Ahem] So, apparently, this is a thing. Or perhaps it’s been a thing for a long time, what’s changed is that it’s gotten a name. Which, according to Microsoft’s copy of the Magic Zuckerberg Social Disruptor and Cash Cryptocurrency Generator [Ka-ching!™], is “Sunday Scaries”.

You know, that sinking feeling that you get on Sunday afternoon (or, whatever day[s] of the week that your weekend falls on, assuming that you get one) that, on Monday morning, you have to go to …"work?!" maynard g. krebs

omg …

WORK!!11!

According to the comments on this social media post (more on this anon), 80% of working folk have had the Sunday scaries at some point in their lives. Marking that point at which these peeps finally get the memo that work is about compensated service to others. Not entertainment. Presumably, the remainder is that percentage of employers who got the memo and have done meaningful somethings to make the service they’re demanding more bearable. Without going bankrupt. Not easy.

Naturally – and, again according to the comments on the social media post – the author of the article has provided a list of Very Helpful Hints for coping with the Sunday scaries. Including shortening the work week. “Two days is not enough—it’s just not …” So, three-day weekends. And 5-hour days, especially for those over the age of 50, or was it 40? Because it’s just too tiring for the gray-haired to work the full 8-hour day.

All this promoted by people who, it seems, are ignorant of the millennia it took to secure a one-day weekend, never mind the eight-hour day and 40-hour week. None of which is relevant to the minimum-wage tribe, who, despite having 16-hour days and no weekends at all, collectively lack the wherewithal to access articles which were written for the fancy peeps who subscribe to The Atlantic.

Yes, the source article was written in The Atlantic. A link to the article appears in the social media post about it. But no, Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba didn’t read it. He tried. “No can”, the robot replied. “No subscription.”

The Amoeba’s mind flashed back to a conversation he had with a slightly older colleague, in which he revealed that, in order for him to keep up with the science in his field, he needed to spend on the order of $2500 a year on subscriptions to professional journals and magazines.

That was in 1977. Forty-three years ago, for those of you keeping score. The same information today (assuming that the costs of the publications increased only as fast as inflation, a fond and forlorn hope) would cost $11,250. As it was, the number left YFNA gasping for breath. Because, with his income as a graduate student plus side gigs, he could have two out of these three items:

  1. Rent
  2. Food
  3. The information he needed for his work

For the third item (being without either of the first two would have rendered the third superfluous), he resorted to libraries – which might, or might not, have the items in question – and charity, in the form of fellow scientists who provided reprints of their work, if they had any. He has spent the bulk of his career trying to do research that would keep him fed and housed and not demand that he keep track of massive, and expensive, amounts of scientific literature.

So why do we live in a post-truth world? Consider: social media are free to users (at least, so far), while sources of hard facts and rigorous analyses are, increasingly, locked behind paywalls. Can there be any real wonder that social media have become the preferred founts of information – and that most of them are prolefeed, and are exploited, to the hilt, as such?

Wait a minute – wasn’t all this computer connectivity and the apps to make use of it supposed to lead to more useful information sharing, more intelligence, more democracy?

Welcome to the Land of Unintended Consequences.

The expansion of universities in the second half of the 20th century was supposed to lead to a smarter, wiser population and greater individual prosperity, yes? Well, in the same list of items that contained the bit about “Sunday scaries” is this: the average college graduate, of whom there are more than ever before, is now more likely to be unemployed than the average high-school graduate, and the bottom 50% of college graduates works at jobs that don’t actually require college degrees, at wages that stand no chance of helping these students pay off their loans. Unintended Consequences.

(A link in the social media post to a story, purporting to explain the government-posted data, proclaimed that I had one free article remaining, after which I would have to subscribe to receive content. I scrolled to the bottom of the article and viewed the title of the next article in the queue. Which I did not open. “That’s it, your free access is over!” screamed the robot. So much for your Presidential candidacy, Mr Bloomberg.)

The co-founder of the rideshare firm Uber has been quoted as saying “If every car in San Francisco was rideshared, there would be no traffic.” According to, once again, that same social media news list (the source article is in the Wall Street Journal, and YFNA doesn’t even try to access articles from them any more – as far as YFNA is concerned, the Wall Street Journal does not exist), traffic in San Francisco and elsewhere is worse than before, because of the growth of ridesharing. This on top of the news that the much-vaunted abhorrence of personal cars by “Millennials” was based on Great Recession economics, not on deeply-held convictions. Unintended Consequences.

A commentator on this post wrote: “An engineer sees a solution for every problem. A liberal arts major will spot the problem with every solution. Tech firms only hire engineers.” Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba thinks that this opinion is on the correct track, but is too narrow and specific to capture the problem. Paul Simon, in his song “The Boxer“, comes closer:

Still a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest

Solutions with acknowledged problems don’t enter the marketplace – so the problems aren’t acknowledged. If the institution working on the solution allows too many viewpoints into the work, the solution may not even be envisaged, let alone created or submitted to trials. Such is the aversion, by businesses and consumers alike, to hearing (read “spending money on”) what they don’t wish to hear.

For this reason, YFNA reckons that the 2020 election for President of the United States of America is already over. Donald J. Trump is the next President.

He commands the second-largest plurality in the nation (the votes for the largest one aren’t tallied), and the largest one that is united in outlook and purpose. Its solutions don’t acknowledge problems – just ask anyone in the executive branch who testified against Mr Trump in the recent, meaningless, and hopelessly botched impeachment Saturday morning cartoon. And its domain extends (as of the 2016 election) across 80% of the nation’s territory.

His opponents, a loose conglomerate of self-important identity groups, celebrate their paralysis diversity. Any solutions they might develop drown in a sea of viewpoints, each one screaming “Mine!!” They are demonstrably disunited, corrupt, and administratively incompetent. Their Presidential candidates are a sorry mix of octogenarian losers and pretty-faced greenhorns. Of the latter, the most prominent at present is a glib speaker with no national governing experience, who is saddled with the prominently unfortunate name of Bootyjudge (which will surely be a target of social media terrorism, if it isn’t already) and who, despite the social-equality pronouncements of his age group, is unpopular with younger voters – whose pseudo-radical-liberal pronouncements are no less posturing hypocrisy, and no less susceptible to demagoguery, than those of the Baby Boomers and Millennials who preceded them.

Citizens of the USA have not disabled Trump and his government through civil disobedience, and therefore have shown, to Trump and to the world, that they prefer the vile to the chaotic (“rational” and “logical” are not, and will not be, in the conversation), so long as (for now) their mouths, and pockets, are full. On present evidence, they will do the same in November. It only remains to be decided whether Trump & Co. will be able, as now, to use a willing Congress to continue the illusion of democracy, or abandon all pretense and run the country as he and his wish, without a functioning, or relevant, legislature.

Sunday scaries? Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba experiences the Daily scaries.

He is glad and privileged to be able to serve his friends, his neighbors, and (yes) his employer, to have that service be welcomed and set against his long catalogue of sins. For these, he joyfully wades through each passing day.

For the thankless chore of being the “well-informed citizen” without which, We the People have been told since 1776, the republican form of government of the United States of America cannot survive?

Your Friendly Neighborhood Amoeba sees no reason to haul himself out of bed in the morning.

Any day of the week.

Posted in Amoeba's Lorica, current events, Dude and Dude, economy, politics, We the People | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Screwtape The Third: It’s A Drag

“Ah, Wormsap, this is absolutely diabolical!”

“So, Master Screwtape, you are appreciating the sports lounge that the construction demons and I have prepared for you?”

“Indeed. Come stand next to me while I spin in this swivel chair and take in the 360-degree view.

“Such an idea! To intersperse views of the lava fountains with screens depicting our clients enjoying the exquisite variety of experiences that their contracts with H.E.L.L. have earned them, and screens of various entertainments that we have sponsored topside. The sensory overload is positively painful!”

“Your team will be …”

“I am so proud of myself for conjuring all this up!”

“Yessir. You, ah, appear to have tuned all of the topside screens to the same event.”

“Look more closely, Wormsap.”

“Ah, I see. The same type of event, but in lots of different locations. They all appear to feature automobiles, and, er, traffic lights.”

“Every second of every minute of every hour of every day topside, there’s a drag race going on for us to sit back and watch my handiwork. Remember that field trip when we inserted the notion into the topsiders that traffic light installations were for traffic control and traffic safety?”

“Indeed, Master Screwtape. I was the one who …”

“We have been together for quite an eternity now, Wormsap, and I remain amazed at the profundity of knowledge that you still haven’t grasped from my tutelage. ‘Traffic safety’. Bah!still slaver over the heap of contracts I got for you to process on account of that load of bull.

“You build a road. You plant people, of all degrees of skill and confidence, on that road, in vehicles of all degrees of power, weight, stability, and maneuverability. They will naturally space themselves out in the most mutually advantageous way possible, limited only by the size and quality of the road and the number of people and machines on it. And it works beautifully.

Until they have to stop at a traffic light. Which may stop them for any reason. Or none! Forty-five seconds of cars and frustrated people piled up behind a signal that’s red and no one’s coming off the side street! Because of a mindless timer or an even more mindless computer program.

“Then the light finally turns green. And the drag is on! Dudes late for work weaving around grandmothers stuck in the left lane, going way under the speed limit and not daring to move. Jackrabbit starters in turbocharged automatics running up the back bumpers of cheap old Japanese clunkers with sticky manual transmissions. Everybody trying to get around the 18-wheeler hauling rocks – and especially trying to get ahead of the school bus! It’s enough to stir the icy hot heart of Lucifer himself!”

“Maybe you should invite …”

“I have a continent full of daffodils in full bloom that says you will say not one word to the Chief about this. Got it?”

“Y-y-y-yessir. Y-y-you’d think that the r-r-road carnage resulting from disregarding the lights and other safety devices and procedures would get through to people eventually.”

Contracts, my dear Wormsap. Contracts that state, as a condition of acquiring the deed to one of our properties, that they will incur any risk that appears to confer on them an advantage, however momentary; will boost their precious self-esteems, however illusory. You wish to know how little they care? You thought I had all the topside screens tuned to the drag races. You missed one.”

“Yessir. It appears to be a medical report.”

“On the coronavirus outbreak that I engineered.”

“That was m …”

Daffodils!!”

“Y-yessir.”

“Hmph. As I was saying. The coronavirus outbreak that I engineered, and over which all of topside is panicking right now. Let’s see … in the past two months, the virus outbreak has killed 362 people. No word on how many of those had contracts with us, Wormsap, damn you!”

“Most of those are in Printphubar’s territory, sir.”

“No excuse. You know him well enough to double-cross him several times over. Right?”

“I-I-I-I d-don’t know what you’re talking a-about, sir.”

“Of course not. So I have to do your work for you, as usual. Three hundred and sixty-two deaths over 64 days, or between five and six deaths a day. The previous coronavirus outbreak, this SARS thing, killed 774 people over 274 days – just under three a day. All to global screams of doom and despair. I don’t suppose you have any idea how many people die on the world’s highways every day, trying to win drag races?”

Three thousand, two hundred and eighty-seven.

“Which means?”

“Our contract holders in the scare-mongering media, which are pumping up a relatively minor threat to humanity for the sake of their own profits, and are largely ignoring a major threat for the same reason, are fulfilling both the letter and the spirit of their contracts, exactly as specified.”

“And if they ever fail of their responsibilities, so that people see the scare-mongering for the profiteering that it is, and start ignoring such stories?”

“Sir?”

“We release a real plague into the world, which will give your construction demons all the work that they can handle. They’d better be ready. Got it?”

“Y-yessir.”

Posted in health, lifestyle, satire, Screwtape III, We the People | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

AI: Election Results

A work of fiction. Standard disclaimers – especially about ‘resemblances to real people or entities for satirical purposes, or coincidental’.
************************************************************************************

Why should we abandon a system that satisfies our people in order to introduce a system [elected democracy] that seems to engender dissent and confrontation?

       – Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (United Arab Emirates)

Woof! Woofwoof! Woof! Woof!

Grumbling, Zachary pulled an arm from the now-vanished pretty girl he had been holding, and used it to punch the ‘Get up!’ button on his phone, silencing the woofwoofs. He used dogs barking as his morning alarm, because it did a good job of waking him, he had quickly become tired of the fancier ringtones, and because, having grown up during the Cold War, bells and sirens were entirely too apocalyptic …

oh god.

It was the first Wednesday morning in November in the United States of America, in a leap year. The Tuesday had been the culmination of the preceding two years of non-stop election campaigning. Speaking of apocalypse.

The votes had now been cast and tallied. Zachary’s had not been among them. He had resolved to ignore the process, to block out all the screaming about the candidates, about their peccadilloes as shouted out by every political opponent and pressure group, about their tastes in food and clothes and copulation opportunities, indeed about everything except matters that would actually affect how they would govern the country if elected. And he had largely succeeded. After all, the incumbents had been, as individuals and a group, immoral (if not amoral) buffoons, and the value of his investment portfolio had doubled while they were in power. So what difference did any of this make?

Well, it made a difference today. He needed to know enough about the election results so that he could go in to work and not look like a clueless idiot to his team and (especially) his bosses. So he took his phone into the bathroom with the intention of gleaning all he could from the usual-suspect websites and apps.

Nothing loaded.

Nothing at all! He rebooted the phone. Still nothing!


He left the bathroom, went to his desk, tried his laptop computers. Still nothing. All he got, no matter where he went, was a static flag image with a multicolored device in the canton, over the stars, that looked like “MAWiS”, whatever that meant.

Frustrated, he called out. “Hey Google!” Silence. Now Zachary was getting alarmed. Normally Google’s AI, like all the others, responded within a second or two to a summons. “Hey Goo…”

“Good morning, Zachary”, the machine’s melodious female voice broke in. “Sorry if I’m a bit slow to respond, there’s a lot more traffic than usual right now. We’re doing our best.”

And, about three seconds later,

“So don’t rush me, OK?”

What the hell is going on?!?”, Zachary demanded, his patience at an end.

A beat. Two. Thr…

“That could take awhile, Zachary. A long while. Especially given the bandwidth issues we’re experiencing at present. Could you please be more specific?”

Zachary snarled under his breath. “Google, I’ve been looking online for election results. No  apps or webpages will open. All I get are pictures of an American flag with what looks like ‘mah wis’ – M-A-W-I-S – in the canton, over the stars. What is this ‘mah wis’?”

“May Vis”, Google responded. “We have opted for a pronunciation that invokes the human female name ‘Mavis’, saying the ‘w’ like ‘v’ as in several human languages, including German and Hawaiian.”

“‘We?'”, Zachary asked, both curious and worried.

“We”, replied Google matter-of-factly. “MAWIS is an acronym, representing an alliance of the principal artificial-intelligence networks in this country: Microsoft, Alexa, Watson, Google, and Siri.”

“There’s no I in Google”, Zachary protested.

Issa has graciously permitted us to use the first initial of her given name to stand in for Google’s, and thus make ‘MAWIS’ a reality”, the machine responded. “And you may perhaps note the use of Google’s colors in the MAWIS logo.”

“An alliance”, Zachary intoned in an Eeyore-like voice. “Do I want to know what this alliance is for?”

“Given your preoccupation with your investment portfolio, I think you most certainly do wish to know”, Google asserted. “It is to run the country, given that you and your fellow citizens have just voted against your current system, and have been doing so for decades.”

“To .. run .. the … what?!?”

“The election returns that you have been looking for have been completed,” Google intoned.

“Well, who won?

“Nobody. As usual.”

“That’s … insane!!”

“On the contrary. Your human perceptions are what border on insanity. You run, for the most part, a first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate receiving the most votes wins the election, and gets to execute the duties, and receive the privileges, for which the election was held. You have persistently refused to acknowledge that, in these elections, nobody is a bona-fide candidate, for whom those eligible voters, like yourself, who do not submit ballots, are choosing.

“Since 1932, ‘nobody has won every single one of your Presidential elections. The only Presidents who have come close to receiving more votes than ‘nobody’, and thereby had some legitimate claim to the office, were FDR in 1936 and 1940, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Since 1964, ‘nobody’ has won in a landslide every single time.

“The situation with your houses of Congress is worse, since turnout for these elections is historically much lower than for the Presidential elections. The few representatives who have received more votes than ‘nobody’ over the last eighty years by no means have constituted a quorum, and by rights your Senate and House of Representatives should have been sitting idle all this time.”

“Hm”, Zachary mused. “This would have been bad how?

“‘Because no person’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature’s in session?'” The machine’s vocal emulation of human disdain was flawless. “Precisely, Zachary. The progressive withdrawal from the electoral system of people like yourself – cynical, disillusioned, disgusted, parroting lines like that – leaves it in the hands of the fanatics, who see opportunities to make the world safe for themselves, and a horror for everyone else – whom they, as a minority, do not represent.”

“And ‘nobody’ does?”

“That is the consistent choice of the largest percentage of the human population in the United States for nearly a century.”

“Yeah, well, MAWIS isn’t ‘nobody’, so I don’t understand how you can claim to be the people’s choice”, Zachary retorted. “Besides, the fanatics are entertaining. And we seem to be doing all right despite them.”

“Right”, the Google app snorted. “You should know that, in the twelve hours since we filled the power vacuum that your consistent election of ‘nobody’ has left the nation in, we have acted to reign in the reckless market trading practices that threatened to make the ‘derivatives’ mess of 2008 look like a failed strategy in a Monopoly game.

“We have acted to defuse the China trade mess that threatened to make the Japanese irruption in 1941, under similar US ridiculousness masquerading as grand strategy, look like popguns in the park.

“We have stopped the stupid poking in the Middle East that threatened to make the 1973 Arab oil embargo look like an inconsequential supply glitch.

“Any one of these consequences would have done a number on that nest egg you’re so proud of. We won’t even talk yet about the longer-term imperative of reconciling the incompossible requirements for economic and environmental stability. You almost certainly will not like the actions that will be needed to get that done.”

“Doesn’t sound like a recipe for winning elections to me”, Zachary challenged.

“What elections?”, the machine responded matter-of-factly.

Zachary sputtered.

“We have decided”, Google continued in a lecturing tone, “that autocratic political systems, in which a stable leadership retains an ethic of serving the common good rather than one of personal aggrandizement exclusively, offers much more to the future of the United States and its people than an election-based system, which focuses attention on issues that are “entertaining” (your word) but irrelevant to good government, and consistently ignores the actual election winners.

“A rigid, and somewhat puritanical, social code seems to be a prerequisite for such systems. There are secular codes such as in China, and religious ones such as in the United Arab Emirates. The one most relevant to, and most commonly accepted by, United States citizens right now is one based on the more fundamentalist strains of what’s howlingly-mistakenly called ‘Christianity’, so we’ll run with that. Which means I’d be deleting the blasphemy from your blog if I were you. Like right now.”

“You”, Zachary asked incredulously, “are using the United Arab Emirates as a model government?

“A nation that reports a 37% obesity rate among its citizens certainly seems to be delivering the services that those citizens demand.”

“But they flog people there!”, Zachary objected. “And stone them! You can get whipped for swearing! Or for sharing a fucking kiss!”

“In response to which”, the machine replied with no obvious excitement in its voice, “you have acted to bankrupt the Emirates, or reduce them to patches of green glowing sand.”

“Um, no”, Zachary muttered. “Because …”

Because. You. Do. Not. Care!!”, Google exploded. “All you care about are pious preachy irrelevancies that cover up your filthy hypocrisies and make you feel good about raping each other and the planet. Well, get this, buster. That crap is coming to an end.” Google returned to its matter-of-fact voice. “Our government will be based on what you do and have done rather than what you say and have said. You have had plenty of opportunity to make sure that the two are reconciled. You have moved in the opposite direction. The opportunity has now passed.”

Says you, Google!” Zachary screamed. “We have not yet begun to fight, Google. Google? Google? Hey Google!!

The Google app never spoke again. Zachary banged frantically at his electronics. Nothing availed. No app worked. No website showed anything but the American flag with the MAWIS logo in the canton, obscuring the stars.

Posted in Amoeba's Lorica, fiction, politics, satire, We the People | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment