Beater Buttons And The Stupidity Of Tomorrow

Apologies for the relative flurry of content here at Riverside Green; I’m just getting a bit of work in before I disappear with my son for a week to ride bikes in the South. Alas, I’m going to have to visit another gas station before I do so, because the one I visited this morning was suffering from… let’s call it technical idiocy.

Today’s post is dedicated to all the people who Bleeping Love Science, and all the people who don’t.

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The Worst Job In The Supermarket, The Limits of AI, And That Tablet Essay

About three years ago I wrote about the ethics of stealing from automated supermarkets. In the short space of time since then, theft from the machines is way up, perhaps aided by attitudes like this. Looking back at that little essay, however, I think I missed one of the most important aspects, perhaps the most important aspect, of the changeover to self-checkout, namely:

How to turn four unhappy-ish jobs into a single miserable one.

So let’s talk about that. And we’ll look at that hotter than hot essay on TabletMag, too, because they’re directly related.

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We Interrupt This “Fortnite” Victory For A Ninety-Second Episode Of Violent Child Abuse

I didn’t let COVID-19 knock me down. I kept working, kept writing, lost a little weight, improved my bike riding a bit, did just enough club racing to confirm that I haven’t forgotten how to thump on the locals, practiced my scales on the guitar. Ah, but the hits kept coming, the world just kept kicking me when I was down, culminating in my broken leg two weeks ago. The last time I felt this personally defeated was when my cubicle-mate loaded up an Atari VCS emulator and beat me five hundred times in a row (we kept track) in Slot Racer. This is the worst. I have some options. They gave me a bottle of oxycodone for post-surgery use but at the end of that bottle is Dilaudid. So instead I’ve just elected to be puritanically miserable most of the time.

Next week I can probably lift a few weights again, assuming I can get down into the basement and back out without falling to my death. In the meantime I’ve been wasting time by playing Fortnite, the lowest-common-denominator video game in North America that isn’t played on an iPhone. I started with “Solos” and won a bunch of times. My son and I went on to play “Duos” and won a bunch of times, then he refused to play any more because he’d rather play Call of Duty or ride his bike. So I started playing “Squads”, which works like so: 100 players are dropped on a “the battle island”, in 25 squads of 4 players each, and they figure out creative ways to kill each other until only one squad is left.

This is a story about how I led a band of children to victory, and how one of those children was physically beaten until they sobbed in the process.

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This Quarantine Is Proving To Me Just How Terrible The Schools Truly Are

It’s only been about two weeks since the Clark County Schools closed here in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky, and I’m already prepared to never send my kids back—to either public or private school. I’ve been unfortunate/blessed to have been unemployed since January 22nd (have no fear, I’ve accepted a new job—more on that in another post), so I’ve spent nearly every second of every day with them at home since the quarantine went into effect.

Frankly, I’m disgusted.

I don’t blame the teachers or the schools for not being suitably prepared for this Chinese virus crisis—after all, who was? Certainly not our government, or our hospitals, or our corporations. No, what I blame them for is not being suitably prepared to do the jobs they do every single day at the charity of the tax and/or tuition payer.

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Boomer-Os Killed The Summer Job Star

Nostalgia is a wonderful thing; it allows us to look back fondly at times in our lives which were often difficult and unrewarding. It can produce joy in the present moment and assist us in feeling optimistic about the future. I assume that it evolved in us as some sort of defense against suicide or despair; people who felt nostalgia were less likely to just walk into the ocean and not come back.

Of course, nostalgia can also be harmful. It can cause us to hold onto people, possessions, and situations which would be better left behind. Worse yet, it can cause us to drastically misinterpret the past, which in turn causes us to make mistakes in the present day. Such is the case with business-book-huckster Eric Chester’s lament regarding the elimination of teenaged paperboys and other forms of youth labor. Chester notes with disdain that today’s paper is “will be thrown from the window of a hail-damaged 2006 Saturn Ion by a 30-something woman, and it will land at the edge of the curb at least 35 yards from my front porch.” Things were different when Eric Chester delivered the newspaper in 1970, yesireebob.

To his credit, Chester doesn’t necessarily blame the Millennials for not having been paperboys, which is very generous of him. He’s identified another enemy — and since he’s a Baby Boomer, you can probably guess what it is.

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You Can’t Play With My (Weight-Related) Yo-Yo

For the past eight years, when it comes to exercise and health, I’ve only had two modes—all in, or all out. I have either worked out six days a week and watched my diet with the intensity of a thousand suns, or I’ve sat on the couch and consumed four Cokes a day. As a result, my weight has tended to have massive amounts of fluctuation. I scrape the bottom of 5’9″ on a good day, and when I’m super healthy, I weigh around 160. When I’m not, I weigh around 195.

Three months ago, I was right at that 195 number, literally fat and happy. I had a wonderful job, healthy and content children, finances under control. And then I lost my job. Having that life changing moment made me analyze a great many things about myself. I may have been fat, but I wasn’t happy at all. When I’m overweight, I don’t feel good about myself. I shy away from having my photo taken. I wear loose-fitting clothes. I make a ton of excuses about why I can’t be healthy, but I know that they’re all lies.

Thankfully, I landed on my feet, but I decided to use that massive change in my life to enact another massive change—I started another round of P90X3. New job, new life, new Bark, you know?

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I Was Unemployed For An Hour And It Sucked

My Monday, March 4th, started off like pretty much every other Monday. I had flown into Miami the night before to meet with one of my largest clients. I was proposing an additional $460,000 of annual spend, which would have made them my second-largest client overall, so I had spent the entire morning reviewing the proposal with my local sales and management team. We felt very good about the prospects of the deal, so I dialed into my weekly team meeting at 12:30 PM with a rather genial mindset.

Until I saw who was on the call, that is. In addition to my boss and my colleagues, my boss’ boss and the VP of HR were dialed in. Text messages started flying immediately between all of us.

“Something’s going down.”

“Oh, shit.”

Unfortunately, we were right. Moments after the call started, my boss’ boss gave us the words every upper-middle class worker dreads:

“We’re going to have to let you go.”

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Had A Dad

In the end, it was barely a race. John was ahead by perhaps fifteen feet at the line, having taken the lead at the start before widening the gap over pretty much every jump afterwards. Not only was this John’s second win in two consecutive indoor BMX weekends, it was against three kids who were older and bigger than he was. One of them was a girl, but we have learned the hard way that there is little difference between boys and girls in BMX until they hit the magic age of thirteen, at which point the boys start snapping chains under power and the girls start wandering away from the sport. (There are, of course, some magnificent exceptions to that rule.) So this was a big win, made more so by the convincing fashion by which he’d smoked both his first-moto competitors and the riders in the main event.

As is his usual practice, my son stayed for a minute near the finish line to shake hands with his “friends”. I do not encourage this. “They aren’t your friends,” I hiss at him, “they’re the competition.” To drive the point home, I scheduled an evening showing of Ender’s Game before this last race, with particular attention paid to the scene where Ender breaks the neck of another child. “That’s what I expect to see from you… if, uh, only metaphorically,” I snapped. “Go out there and kill the other children.”

“I don’t know how I feel about that,” was his response. John can be awfully naive when it comes to the down-and-dirty world of pre-teen cycling. Yet he’s also remarkably observant, as he proved yet again as we stood in line for his trophy afterwards. “Did you see,” he whispered, swiveling his head to make sure he wasn’t accidentally upsetting anybody around us, “how the kid who got second… his mom was there… and she kept touching him?” As a matter of fact, I had noticed. It had set me to thinking, even before the race itself was run.

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Set “Them” Free

You can learn a lot about a society by the things it censors. In 1807, Thomas and and Henrietta Bowdler published a “family” version of Shakespeare from which the Bard’s blasphemy, sex, and violence had been carefully, but not always successfully, excised. Ophelia’s suicide became an accidental drowning, while the various curses and foul language were softened. (One example: “Zounds”, which is frequently lampooned as a equivalent to “heck”, or “darn”, was actually a contraction of the blasphemous “God’s wounds”, referring to the Crucifixion, and therefore about the most offensive thing possible to say.) The idea was to make the work accessible to children (and, let’s face it, women) for whom that sort of content was considered inappropriate.

The Bowdlers would come in for a lot of criticism, if not outright vilification, in the years that followed, but they never meant to actually censor Shakespeare. Their intent was to make it available for a broader audience, the same way that Garth Stein wrote a “young adult” version of his successful racing novel, entitled Racing In The Rain: My Life As A Dog. (The primary “bowdlerization” there is the toning-down of the adult story’s central plot point, a false rape accusation from a teenaged girl that proved to be very controversial with, and triggering for, certain male readers who could never imagine a young woman coming on to, or causing trouble for, a handsome older man, largely because they assume their own repulsiveness to the fairer sex is universal rather than a specific product of their own querulous, creepy personalities and Cheeto-dust-stained, fuggernautical miens.) At no point did Thomas and Henrietta suggest that the availability of Shakespeare be restricted. Rather, they hoped that their efforts would increase interest in, and engagement with, the original work — at the appropriate time, of course.

I’ve never particularly disapproved of censorship on moral grounds, within reason. Rabbit, Run was not materially improved when Knopf changed the phrase “Best bedfriend, done woman” found in the first hardcover edition back to Updike’s original draft of “Best bedfriend, fucked woman” in later paperback reprints. This mild evasion, and many like it, smoothed my childhood’s precocious passage through many an adult-oriented book. It wasn’t always evenhanded. When I was nine years old I found my father’s copy of John Toland’s outstanding The Rising Sun; I finished it understanding the mechanisms of Japanese torture, which were related in gripping detail, much better than I understood the idea of rape, which was mentioned when necessary but always held at a discreet distance. Perhaps it no longer matters in an era where even adults restrict themselves to a diet of young-adult garbage, but there was some benefit in not bombarding children with unrelenting grotesquerie, particularly when the grownups were smart enough to know what was being said between the lines anyway.

Those days are long gone, of course. There is now no sexual practice or perversion so disgusting that we will not cheerfully rub the noses of our children in it, particularly if doing so raises our status in a society that is now far too illiterate to usefully read Shakespeare in the original but which exalts sex-positivity to a degree that would make a fourth-century centurion leaving a vomitorium turn back for another round. Yet there is one bit of sexuality too pungent, too controversial to express in the printed (or HTTPed) page today; namely, the notion that there are two biological sexes and that they may be referred to as such in writing.

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