I, Claudius by Robert Graves

This was an interesting and entertaining, though not always very engaging read. Told from the point of view of  Claudius, a stuttering, limping, nephew of the emperor Tiberius.

I have no idea how much of this is historically accurate beyond the births and deaths of these people, but it painted a disgusting picture of the political world in Rome at this time. The book at many points read as a list of murdered people. Anyone who had even a slight bit of integrity or likability was murdered to help Tiberius (and eventually Caligula) stay in power. I feel like Game of Thrones may have been influenced by this kind of history.

In many ways, the greed and paranoia of those in power reminded me of our own political world today. Those in power seem evil in a pathetic, rather than impressive way.

On the down side this is a very historical novel, in that it is more a list of events than a story. The narrator, Claudius, hardly takes any actions himself and is more documenting all the things that happen around him. This makes the story hard to get into at some times.

 

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Resurrection, by Leo Tolstoy

I just finished this one, my first Tolstoy, chosen because it’s the shortest novel he wrote. The story is about a nobleman in 1880, Nekhlyudov, who finds himself on a jury. One of the accused is a woman he knew in is past, and who he wronged when he was young. While watching the trial he recalls how he treated her, and blames himself for how her life turned out. He vows to do whatever he can to help her out of her situation, as a way to earn her forgiveness.

The story, while well written and engagingly told, is not so much about the characters, but about the politics of the era. Tolstoy uses the story to rail against the justice system, the church, the rich, the prison system, and the way humans treat each other as if they are objects. There are several very eloquently written rants that feel as if they could have been written about the state of the world today.

While I enjoyed it, I probably only did so because it was preaching to the right choir, and I cheered on all his statements about the world. But for someone else not so into political thoughts, it is pretty light on drama and story.

how ‘the customer is always right’ culture is ruining our society

Happy May Day! Workers’ rights are important, and are ignored quite a bit in this capitalistic country (one of the few countries that doesn’t have May Day as a day off for workers… quite ironic.)

Here, it seems, even workers treat other workers like crap. And I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are bad people, but because they’ve been trained to be assholes by this ‘customer is always right’ idea.

Imagine going out to eat, and always being given your food free if you complain and yell about it enough. Imagine getting pulled to the front of the line if you scream and make a fuss. Imagine being apologized to profusely and groveled before if you howl and threaten convincingly enough—this is the state of customer service in America. He who screams and yells the loudest is given the quickest, best service.

It’s not hard to imagine this spreading to other, non-consumer areas of society. After being trained for their entire lives that yelling gets you your way, why shouldn’t someone take this strategy home, and yell at their wife or kids? Or at someone online in an argument? Or any other area of life?

We’ve trained people to be assholes by rewarding them for shitty behavior, at the cost of our workers’ sanity. It has to stop!

No one should be given a free meal for yelling and treating the server like shit, they should be thrown out and banned from the restaurant. They should not get to talk to the supervisor before everyone else in line because they started screaming, they should be thrown out and not allowed back in. People need to learn to behave civilly if they want to be helped and served by another human being.

But until we stop worshiping the dollar above all else, no company will change their ‘customer is always right’ policy–which translated, is really ‘the dollar is always right.’

Even more right than the rights of your workers to be treated like a human being.

digging ditches: the ultimate human achievement?

How many Potential Einsteins, Hawkings, or Nabokovs or Woolfs or Monets or O’Keeffes are out there stuck digging ditches or scrubbing floors in order to survive? How much art and literature and scientific discoveries are the rest of us missing out on in favor of that floor being cleaned by a person rather than a machine?

We have the means to eliminate huge swaths of labor via robotics and AI. But with the current structure of our society focused so hard on earning money via labor, the elimination of those jobs would harm people rather than help them. But it doesn’t need to be this way.

Imagine you and your family live in a big house, and the only thing required of you to live there is to keep it clean and repaired. You wash the windows, wax the floors, fix any electronic problems, repaint the walls, vacuum, dust, sweep, mop, etc, and in exchange for all this work, you can live in some rooms in the house.

Now imagine you and your family invent a robot that can do all this cleaning for you. Cool! Now all the required labor is being done, and you can relax and use your time for other more meaningful, human activities.

Except that’s not what would happen in our society. The member of the family that just happened to have his name on the deed of the house would buy their own robot, and kick everyone else onto the streets and have their big empty house with no one living in it. Then they’d take the money they save from not having to feed so many people, and buy another house, also with no one to live in it except the robot that cleans it.

Our society is that family. We, most of the members of that family, work hard to keep the infrastructure running, to keep things clean and functional. We, the family that is our society, are also on the verge of inventing a tool to do all this work for us, to keep up the maintenance for us. But instead of celebrating this, we’re worried. All because our rich uncle feels we have to be working on the house in order to live in it.

When the robot workforce comes–and it will–huge numbers of people will be functionally forced out of society because there are no more floors to scrub. If we want to avoid this, we need to change the way we think about work and money.

We need socialism if we are going to survive our own technology. We need to change the mindset toward labor as a means of survival, and instead look at it as crude necessity that we are about to eliminate. We should enjoy the results of that elimination, not punish ourselves for it.

Why do we hate the poor?

The plight of the Joads in this story makes me think of how we treat refugees, homeless people, and any other needy people in this country. The family in this story has been kicked off their farm by the corporation that owns it, and along with thousands of other families is fleeing across the country to California, where everyone has been told there is work to be had.

When they get there, though, everyone treats them like villains, looks down on them, tries to get them to move on, or just tries to exploit them for money or cheap labor.

It sounds really familiar to how we treat immigrants and refugees today. But in this story, the people even treat other American’s that way!

Why do we look down on people in need? Refugees and immigrants and homeless folk have gone through hell to get where they are, and then we spit on them and turn our backs. Why? Why do we put spikes on the ground so homeless cant sleep? Why do we remove all the benches from cities and kick people out of their tents and make it illegal to sleep in a car? They have it hard enough not having a home, but we’ve got to go out of our way to spend time and effort to make it worse for them? Is it human nature to be shit to each other? To distrust and hate someone who is at the worst, hardest point in their life?

Sometimes humanity disgusts me.

bye bye net neutrality

All you ‘free market!’ folks in America right now who think this is no big deal, why don’t you take a few minutes to go check how many ISP options are available in your area, and think about who you’ll switch to if yours starts screwing you. Not many (or any) options, are there? What a free market we have.

Power causes brain damage

This article explains a lot about current situations in some governments…

I wonder if this could be prevented in anyway… there always has to be some people in power. Though some seem to handle it better than others.

It is depressing that even such a small amount of power has a measurable effect.

If I became a manager, would I become a worse writer for lack of empathy?