Friday, August 16, 2013

Some of the poultry have figured out how to use GPS

Some recent discoveries.  But first, I'm morally obligated to link to this public service announcement:

1.  Charlie Stross points out that when, as a culture, you systematically destroy the notion of reciprocal loyalty in labor contracts you cannot expect much except that rest of us will use tit-for-tat.  My parents worked for the same organizations for multiple decades, whereas my record, which is perhaps a bit more extreme than my Generation X peers but not by much, is five employers per decade.  People born after 1980 and the glorious Reagan revolution will have similar or worse experiences.

That kind of career trajectory, which as Mr. Stross points out leads one rightly to think that
Employers are alien hive-mind colony intelligences who will fuck you over for the bottom line on the quarterly balance sheet. They'll give you a laptop and tell you to hot-desk or work at home so that they can save money on office floorspace and furniture. They'll dangle the offer of a permanent job over your head but keep you on a zero-hours contract for as long as is convenient. This is the world they grew up in: this is the world that defines their expectations.
makes it wondrously and marvelously naive to expect loyalty from those of us who will always be employees, never mind contractor employees, never mind underpaid government contractor employees working in a national security environment where the general rule is to skirt the letter and spirit of the law whenever possible.

Its your world, 1%: the rest of us just live in it.

2.  Stross links to a ferocious essay by Bruce Sterling.  You should go read it so you can say you read it in ten years when everyone cites it. 

While Julian Assange, to do him credit, has the street smarts to behave as if he’s in a situation of feral realpolitik. Because he is. And how.
3.  Adam Kotsko, who I've just started reading, finds some interesting parallels between modern management practices and the Man of Steel.

4.  Göbekli Tepe is the first known human settlement, built in 9000 BCE as an astronomical observatory by people who by-and-large still hunted, gathered, and roamed.  No one has been able to figure out what those people were trying to observe, but some nifty detective work has demonstrated that it was probably Sirius, the dog star.  And it was probably Sirius because, despite those people being nomadic hunter gatherers and excellent architects, they hadn't roamed far enough to see Sirius before it popped up over the horizon in that region of the planet 11,000 years ago.

5.  Matt Yglesias points out that meritocratic systems that don't reset equality of opportunity with every generation are grossly unfair.  Actually Yglesias doesn't claim that specifically; he points out that generation after generation of exposure to lead (and other pollutants) is primarily class-based, and so the meritocracy is perpetuating itself unfairly, which would seem to violate the terms of our agreement.

How many Oppenheimers and Edisons and Rembrandts and Mozarts were poisoned to keep General Motors healthy?  And how many are still being poisoned? 

6.  Finally, two weeks of exhibition NFL have passed, and the teams have had a chance to gel and the football might be interesting this weekend.  Plus there's a bunch of early season college games, probably all in the SEC but if all you've got is a Saturday afternoon you can ignore that.  In the last year a lot of people have hashed out the moral consequences of supporting a business that damages its employees beyond repair for fun and profit.  Ta-Nehisi Coates has spent a lot of time thinking this through; the best gloss on the issue is here, written just after Junior Seau died.  Others are here and here.  (I saw Junior Seau play when he was at USC, in a season where my home-team quarterback probably got a concussion every other game and was once knocked out cold twicein the same game, once by Seau himself.)  There's something about the fading September light, a dry grass field disappearing into ice fog, the sudden need for a sweater, the return of Weather, the itchy feeling there's some very fat pheasants sitting in that red treeline you pass every weekend, and the sense that now, finally, after the exhaustive ordeal of winter and the lazy summer, its time to plan and execute on your dreams, that makes football a big part of fall for me.  I'm about as far from the traditional football fan or amateur participant as you can get, and I don't understand half of what I could about the game, and I have no interest in the George Will school of thought, which is to intellectualize fun so you can avoid accusations of moral frivolity. 

But.  The issue with football is not just that I watch ads that pay for the playing of a sport that causes brain damage in otherwise healthy and intelligent individuals, however anonymous that watching might be.  (I'm not a Nielsen statistic and never have been, so quite literally no one outside of my family and a few friends even knows I watch football, and no one knows your habits either, if you're not in the Nielsen family or their equivalent.  Although I suppose maybe my cable company could be looking at traffic, but probably they're not.)  Its the high school and junior high school kids who are playing their hearts out this fall, and doing to themselves what lead hasn't been able to accomplish: As David Epstein reminds us in an another context, if the NFL didn't make professional football a career option, a lot fewer kids would be out there smashing into each other.  And a lot fewer parents would be willing to look the other way; if, as Coates points out, "their kid has a five percent change of developing crippling brain damage through playing a sport ... you will see the end of Pop Warner and probably the end of high school football." 

(The same is true of hockey, by the way.  I haven't been able to watch hockey since Fox's glowing puck - I just get dizzy and ill now whenever I spend any time watching the game - so I'm not confronted with any of the moral quandaries occasioned by Sidney Crosby's mental health.  But its the same issue, with hockey, that you have with football.)

I suppose in many ways surfacing these moral facts about football is like discovering that there's no way candy is actually good for you, that scotch doesn't make you a better conversationalist, and that new running shoes don't really make you run faster.

I once saw Deion Sanders run forty yards down the sidelines through a pile of 49ers and then twenty yards from the end zone make a sharp left turn, run across the field parallel to the yard line, and finish off his run on the other side, and all this toward the end of a game on a rainy night in San Francisco.  I've never seen anything like it, and neither had any of my friends in the bar I was in, and even though he was a Cowboy that year and made the 49ers look like fools we were all in awe anyway.  It was a feat, an act of physical excellence that make you proud to be human.  We'll all miss those moments, if it comes to that.  I hope it doesn't.  

No comments: