Struggling and Hungry

I’ve really never been either so I’m talking about something here with which I have no first-hand experience. No points to make here, just thinking out loud.

In the last week I have seen three men, standing at intersections, holding cardboard signs that read: Struggling and Hungry. Two of these were in Columbia, MO (within a quarter mile of each other) and the third here in Jefferson City, MO. I’ll come back to the signs in a minute.

First, what do we call what these men were doing? “Begging” seems demeaning but “panhandling” seems euphemistic. “Homeless” seems to be the accepted term but we don’t know if the person has a home or not. But let’s go with homeless.

Second question: On what basis does someone decide to give/not give money to a homeless person? Physical appearance? Do they look hungry? Something in their expression or dress? Their body language? Do they have a dog? The answer is different for everyone of course and can change from encounter to encounter.

Is a homeless person aware of such considerations? Do they smile and make eye contact with motorists or have they found that to be a turn-off? Or a positive? Did they consciously bring their dog because they know dog lovers will be moved by the sight of the pooch? Have they learned that walking down the line of cars at a stop light can appear “pushy?”

Or perhaps by the time someone finds themselves on the side of highway holding a sign such calculations have given way to desperation. The answer is probably “all of the above.” Some are undoubtedly lazy and could get a job and some are at the end of their rope.

Back to the signs.

Do some signs work better than others? Would clean, printed sign say this person is just looking for a hand-out, while a ragged piece of cardboard with a scrawled plea touch a heart? And what about the “Struggling and Hungry” wording? Just coincidence? Or did someone discover (trial and error?) that phrase worked better than “Please help?” And is there any communication between sign-makers? Standing in line at McD’s perhaps? Do the homeless have smartphones and would that automatically kill a generous impulse? Should it?

I usually give if I can do so without endangering the person by making them dash between cars to get to my lane. And, yes, I usually give if there’s a dog (“Buy some food for the pup”). And I’m turned off when I see two people working an intersection. Do they see this a boring job and it’s better to have a pal to pass the time?

Undoing the monster TV created

“I wonder if TV will now help us undo the damage they unwittingly begat. Perhaps by having a Trump-like character get what’s coming to him. Put him in Archie Bunker’s chair, and see what happens.” — Dave Winer

Hard for me to imagine Aaron Sorkin isn’t hammering away on his MacBook at this moment. I’ve been thinking in terms of a tell-all book or movie (Primary Colors, Game Change, etc) but a TV series would have a longer life span. Gotta be HBO or Netflix or Amazon to properly portray the monster. Stay tuned.

Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

The new book by Yuval Noah Harari sounds like just what I need.

“For the first time ever, more people die from eating too much than from eating too little; more people die from old age than from infectious diseases; and more people commit suicide than are killed by soldiers, terrorists and criminals put together. The average American is a thousand times more likely to die from binging at McDonalds than from being blown up by Al Qaeda.” Amazon

Mr. (Doctor?) Harari wrote the bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind


From a brief interview (WIRED) interview with the author:

Dataism is a new ethical system that says, yes, humans were special and important because up until now they were the most sophisticated data processing system in the universe, but this is no longer the case. The tipping point is when you have an external algorithm that understands you—your feelings, emotions, choices, desires—better than you understand them yourself. That’s the point when there is the switch from amplifying humans to making them redundant.

Will tech companies become our new rulers, even gods?

When you talk about God and religion, in the end it’s all a question of authority. What is the highest source of authority that you turn to when you have a problem in your life? A thousand years ago you’d turn to the church. Today, we expect algorithms to provide us with the answer—who to date, where to live, how to deal with an economic problem. So more and more authority is shifting to these (technology) corporations.

Chris Stevens KBHR 570 AM

Northern Exposure is an American comedy-drama television series that ran on CBS from 1990 to 1995. My favorite character was Chris Stevens (played by John Corbett). “A philosophical ex-convict who works as the disc jockey at KBHR 570 AM. Between songs, Chris offers comments on events in Cicely and on more intellectual and controversial subjects.”

The Chris character was the DJ we all wanted to be. Okay, “I” wanted to be. Fortunately, I was smart enough to know I couldn’t pull off those long, zen monologues without John Corbett’s wonderful voice and delivery, and a room full of writers. There are a few “Chris Stevens tribute videos” on YouTube that painfully illustrate the folly of those who tried.


My buddy Bob Hague (also a radio guy) told me of an acquaintance that “went bonkers” because Chris never wore headphones in the series.

My father was a Radio Operator (?) in the Navy during WWII. Based on the little he told me of that experience, it was Morse Code rather than than voice transmission. After the war he went to watchmaker school until he figured out he could get paid (GI Bill) to go to the Pathfinder School of Broadcasting (Kansas City).

I recall him saying the the “announcers” didn’t wear headphones because they were in one studio and the engineers (who did wear ‘phones, suppose) were in another. I believe this was common and the reason you’d see announcers from that era cupping a hand behind one hear (holding copy in the other) in order to better hear the golden sound of their voice.

When pop got hired at the little station in Kennett, MO, he was shocked to learned he’d have to “run his own board” and that necessitated wear phones. But I remember (as a child) seeing him or one of the other announcers being on the air without headphones.

Wikiquote

I recently stumbled upon Wikiquote (“a free online compendium of sourced quotations from notable people and creative works”). I have a quotation jones. When I read a book I obsessively underline passages for hoarding on Google Docs. So I can get lost for hours on Wikiquote. Here’s one from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem (Erasmas theorizing why others are joining his journey):

“The work that people did had been broken down into jobs that were the same every day, in organizations where people were interchangeable parts. All of the story had been bled out of their lives. That was how it had to be, it was how you got a productive economy. But it would be easy to see a will at work behind this: not exactly an evil will, but a selfish will. The people who’d made the system thus were jealous, not of money and not of power, but of story. If their employees came home with interesting stories to tell, it meant that something had gone wrong: a blackout, a strike, a spree killing. The Powers That Be would not suffer others to be in stories of their own unless they were fake stories that had been made up to motivate them. People who couldn’t live without story…had to look somewhere outside of work for a feeling that they were part of a story, which I guessed was why Sæculars were so concerned with sports, and with religion. How else could you see yourself as part of an adventure?”

Has all the story been bled out of your life? My life?

Confide for the desktop

Confide is a messaging app with which you can “Communicate digitally with the same level of privacy and security as the spoken word. With encrypted messages that self-destruct.” I installed the app on my phone a few day ago after seeing a story about how it has become popular inside the Beltway.

The folks at Confide sent me an email letting me know they have a desktop version, which I installed on my Mac this morning. In the screenshot below, image #1 is what you see when you get a message. #2 is what you see when you move your cursor over the text.

Security? I don’t think so. I’ll just do a screenshot of the clear text. (click) Image #3 is what showed up on my desktop. Hmmm. The only way I could capture the text was to use my iPhone to snap a photo of my monitor. Pretty clever.

Paying for good TV

I grew up glued to the TV and could have never imagined a time when I watched almost nothing on the boob tube. But here we are. Almost no regular viewing since starting my news fast. The one exception is the ABC sitcom, Modern Family. I find the writing so fast and flawless that I have to watch each episode twice to get all the jokes.

This week it occurred to me that we didn’t start watching until the third or fourth season so I went searching for earlier shows and wound up buying the first season (24 episodes) for $30. This might be the first time I’ve done that. (I’m not counting Netflix) $1.25 per episode and no commercials. That’s a good deal in my book. Going forward I see myself (willingly) paying for more of what I watch and listen to. And I’ll be more discriminating. I already have the sense more and more of the good stuff requires a subscription. The crap will come loaded with commercials.