On doing what you want and what you have to do and does social media replace journalism?

March 21, 2017

We need industry and the jobs that (still) come with it but maybe I’m glad I left the factory decades ago and then after less than a year. Being stuck on the factory floor was no life for me. But for a beginning job the pay was relatively good and I did have some health insurance with it. And I should not have left the way I did. I just left. But I used my GI bill and took some journalism classes, became a reporter (finished my college work years later).

But that factory was hard work. And unlike the small newspapers I worked at no one ever made me feel that my job was not important. This was in what most people just called “the mill”. It was a lumber re-manufacturing facility. We made the parts for the now old-time fruit lug boxes (yeah a box factory) as well as molding strips for construction. I remember during an orientation a plain-talking no-nonsense mill manager said: “some of you might find yourself sweeping the floor and think that your job is not important — that’s a bunch of bologna sausage (he really said that); we wouldn’t have hired you if it was not important”. And I guess a Republican might say that is the difference between the private sector and the public sector.

But what made me think about all this is that I was talking to a handy man in the apartment complex where I live and he was telling me about the factory he worked in before his present job. He told about 12-hour rotating shifts and about being left out on the line by another employee who decided he wanted to goof off. The stuff kept coming and he could not keep up.

Heck I had help and could not keep up at times. Machines are relentless. They never tire. They just keep spitting stuff out at you. And being cooped up in a building all day long is not for me anyway. Where I worked the sun beat down on the metal roof in the summer and sawdust got all into your clothing and stuck to your sweat-drenched skin.

But it was honest work. It was work and even then not everyone had work, even those who wanted it.

But the stuff I did at the small newspapers was work too. But I enjoyed it for the most part. But too much of a good thing can be work too. And it was not always enjoyable because one person can only write so much and that one person likes to go home now and then and visit the family but in that kind of work there are no regular hours and for the most part overtime rules don’t apply or if and when they do they are ignored. But the worst of all is that in the small time they actually see you as necessary but bothersome overhead. I’m talking small newspapers often run by small-minded people or big corporations that operate them as cash cows. No wonder so many have gone out of business. The same attitude affected some of the bigger publications (just some). And the internet has changed everything.

And I have just discovered something to add onto what I just wrote concerning changes in journalism but I’ll save it for further down in this post.

But I did not mean to go into all that.

Another thing that got me thinking along these lines is the conversation I had with my dental hygienist. She said that she and her husband want to move somewhere else where they think they could have a more suitable lifestyle. They are not sure what the job prospects would be where they want to move (and we are not talking big city, just the opposite). But I’m thinking like I think they are: settle where you want to live and make it work. No job can take the place of that.

I did not originally aspire to be a newspaper reporter. I just wanted to write. I was thinking more along the lines of novelist. Who knows? I just might write a novel sometime. But I think the secret to writing is to write. And the secret to writing novels is to write one. People who are meant to do it do it.

And one should do what he or she is meant to or what he or she would like to do if at all possible.

Okay, so I settled for truck driving for survival. And it has indeed sustained me. And there is a lot of independence hour by hour (by hour by hour….).

But, whatever, we need those factory jobs, even if automation is taking over. Technology is even moving into the heretofore protected world of the so-called cerebral jobs and professions.

I think we are destroying our own humanity.

I suppose that if the machines and computers take over that will free us all up to do what we want to do if we know what we want to do or if there will be anything left to do.

And now that thing I discovered: I had mentioned the fact the internet changed journalism. Well some people apparently think that it is obsolete, that social media makes it unnecessary. I just lifted the following paragraph out of a publication (to which I will give full credit at the bottom):

But here is what one man thinks:

With the rise of social media and the internet, journalists are becoming irrelevant.  After all social media has made everybody a journalist.  We no longer need for journalists to act as a middle man and report what someone said or what event may have happened.  With social media we get it straight from the horses mouth (sic).  No journalistic comments are required or even welcomed. We are now in a position of having to make up our own mind.  And that is scary for people who run on a high level of emotion. They are used to someone telling them how to think. (By Larry Oscar) full article: http://haulproduce.com/2017/zinger-8/

Well okay, I say, if you want to wade through the hodgepodge of items (including posts like my own) and decide what is true and what is not or what makes sense and what does not without any gatekeepers and fact checkers and with computer hackers filling the web with fake news and put up with the illiteracy that further confuses communication, have fun — not for me. We do need responsible journalism, though. And it is indeed helpful to have access, especially video, to what the professionals do — if makes us more aware and keeps the professionals honest. But we need journalism still I believe.

Oh, by the way Larry, my own spell check just reminded me that what is displayed in your article as horses mouth should be horse’s mouth (possessive), but we know what you meant.

It will take more than Trump tactics to save American jobs (but they could be at least a start)

February 25, 2017

It will take more than President Trump’s showcase gesture in bribing Carrier Corporation into keeping some jobs in the U.S. while it still moves many to Mexico, nevertheless, to bring about a new wave of American manufacturing and the saving jobs for Americans .

I don’t know how much of Trump’s effort was genuine or how much was hocus pocus or sleight of hand. But let’s just assume it was sincere, at least that is a start in the right direction. In the end it will take congress enact new legislation.

I’d like to see it this way: any United States-based firm that shifts its production outside of our borders would pay a hefty tax in order to bring its finished products back in. In fact it might have to pay a higher import duty than straight imports from other nations.

It rubs me the wrong way that companies can get the benefits of being based in the United States, including the protection of our courts, the world-wide security provided by our military, and of course immediate access to consumers in the world’s largest economy, while abandoning our own workforce. And adding insult to injury, many large corporations pay little to no U.S. taxes via convenient quirks in the tax laws. Congress needs to change that too.

I often think about this, but it was brought to back to the forefront of my mind a day before writing this when I was touring Mission Dolores in San Francisco, the oldest building in the city. Right across the street, my sister pointed out, is the original headquarters and factory for Levi Strauss, maker of that “all-American” product, blue jeans (and now other apparel) with that iconic label “Levis”. But for a long, long time now, Levis have been made in Mexico. None are made in the U.S.

While straight-out protectionism might not be a good idea (remember, history tells us that in part or in whole it led to the Great Depression of the 1930s because so many nations took that route that trade was killed), there is nothing wrong and everything right, I would think, about a nation’s government taking prudent steps to look out for its own manufacturing base and the livelihoods of its own citizens.

And really what sense does it make what with the workforce, the raw materials, and the infrastructure (albeit always in need of improvement or maintenance) we have in this country to ship production out of country?

While the truth is that technology, now advancing at warp speed, continues to mean fewer and fewer jobs in all type of endeavors, from factories to services, we still live in a world where people go somewhere to work in order to make a living. And as much as possible that work needs to stay right here in the United States.

A little pressure from the top, such as Trump has engaged in, can help, but it will take the work of congress and maybe consumer pressure on our own companies to complete the job.


Do we have excessive regulations in this country that hinder domestic production? The answer to that may be subjective. It is nonsense to suggest that we should repeal regulations that protect health and safety and that seek to protect our environment. We don’t want a return to Triangle Shirtwaist factory-like fires (New York, 1911) or the kind of fires that rip through textile sweatshops in Bangladesh in these times, and we don’t want a return to LA smog or Peking-like smog. But it may be true that excessive bureaucratic red tape (always a problem) can be counter productive. But it is the red tape that needs to be reduced, not the protections provided by regulations.




A professor suggests truck driving requires little judgment…

November 27, 2016

Note: The real message, if any, here has less to do with truck driving than respect for and the value of human work. We are headed into a brave new world of sorts, way beyond the industrial revolution, in which we are so clever we can put all of ourselves out of a job. And then what?

Using a quote by itself can be misleading due to overall context of what someone said or wrote — I covered that in a recent post concerning something about journalism, but the following was an insult to me:

“Long-haul truck driving is a great example, where there isn’t much judgment involved and it’s a fairly controlled environment,” Kaplan said.

I’m a long-haul truck driver. Well I hope that guy doesn’t get run over by a truck or that he himself does not cause a collision by doing that diagonal run-in-front-of-a-big-rig maneuver (so common now), almost under its bumper to make the interstate exit at the last minute (or maybe I don’t).

I’m not even going to bother checking back to see who this guy is —  just some college professor.

Actually, looking at the context, he was suggesting that driving over interstates between towns might be work most susceptible to being replaced by autonomous (driverless) trucks. I think it was suggested in the article that what might happen is that human drivers might still navigate in towns and in and out of warehouses and such. He was just saying that what he considered relatively low-skilled jobs (thanks a lot) will be, or are the first replaced by the newest technology.

Well I have news for Mr. Professor, even though I think there is a problem or danger in it, so-called “artificial intelligence” is replacing a lot of what had thought to have been highly-cerebral jobs, requiring much education.

But back to that quote about long-haul trucking not requiring much judgment. On its face that is absurd. Actually, the reality is that judgment is the main thing required in trucking these days. Trucks used to be a lot harder to learn how to drive and just a lot harder to drive period. I got into it all after they had become much easier and they have become even easier since I entered 21 years ago.

But the rest of the story is that drivers must use judgment in so many things they do all day long — how to make schedules, which are erratic and change at a whim (most of it is not fixed-route driving), and how to make it fit into hours-of-service regulations and where to find a legal parking place before your legal hours run out and what to do when held at a place and your hours run out but you are not allowed to stay at the shipper or receiver (I just saw a sign the other day that said even if my hours of service were done I could not stay and would be charged with trespass), and how to drive through bad weather and decide when it is just too bad, and how to find places for which one is often given wrong directions to, and how to deal with motorists who constantly want to drive under your truck bumpers, and even how to deal with some other truck drivers who are not so careful as you are, and how to deal with unreasonable customers or shippers and receivers (fortunately not all are) who you don’t dare get on the bad side of and how to decide what to do about that warning light on the dash that might mean nothing or just that something needs looked at soon or that it means stop now or the engine will blow up (and the lights are not always specific on the problem), and if you do put yourself out of commission, what happens to the load and where will you sleep? And what if you weigh your truck down the road and you are overweight? Do you try to go back to the shipper and use up your limited time or do you hope you burn off enough fuel (which you have to make a calculation based on miles and fuel consumption) before you get to the state scale and risk getting a super-expensive citation that goes on your record? Yeah I’ve just touched on a few of the judgments long-haulers make every day, every hour.

Of course if the truck drives itself then no problem, except the driver then has no job and can’t contribute to the economy.

Now, Mr. Professor, I actually graduated from college myself. And although I would prefer a real human professor, there are robots programmed with artificial intelligence and there are such things as recordings of lectures that can be played on television and on the internet, greatly reducing the need for professors, and only having to be updated from time to time.

We can all be replaced.

Isn’t it wonderful? Look at all the free time we’ll have. I’m not sure who pays us then or how we will all figure out how to divvy up the finite resources of our good earth without the system in which we earn tokens by what we contribute (or in some families by what others have contributed).

But you can’t stop progress. I’m not sure why. I just know you can’t.

But just what is the meaning of life and what is the value of work? I think the value of work goes way beyond dollars and cents. And just how healthy are we going to be when none of us has to work?


So I did go back and find the article from which I lifted the quote that insulted my job (and it is an informative one, I must admit):




Being paid for actual hours you work seems basic, unless you have a choice to leave on time…

May 20, 2016

In a perfect world the government would not need to have rules covering who and under what circumstances should be paid overtime. But employers in general have a long history of squeezing everything they can out of workers and blackmailing them to work overtime hours for free. Not all employers do this, but in general…

The Obama administration has just handed down some new federal overtime rules that raise the income threshold of who must be paid overtime. I don’t know all the details and frankly don’t care, except it made me think about the general subject of overtime.

You’ll remember Scrooge, who said Bah! Humbug! to a day off for Christmas — and with pay! Indeed “rob a man of his money!” (that is the employer being robbed.)

Well, social custom and good will aside, I could almost see his point about being robbed, that is paying someone for not working.

But I cannot see any justification for not paying someone for working.

And then there is that argument over who is a manager, whose job is not just producing widgets, but overseeing others, and whether such a person is already paid a little extra and has more control over his or her own time (might even be able to show up late or leave early sometimes, as long as the management responsibilities are taken care of).

And when you are doing cerebral stuff, you just can’t shut off the widget machine — it might force you to put in a little more time, but you get a bigger salary and more perks — well supposedly.

But just designating someone a chief and not just an Indian (and no offense to Indians, American or those from the sub continent) to get out of paying more for more work is on its face wrong.

At the first small six-day-a-week community newspaper I worked on (owned by a chain), the big wigs from corporate came around to do a survey to find out what each individual’s job actually consisted of, and they glibly declared that on our small paper each reporter was an “editor” in practical terms. Now in the newspaper business as I knew it then, the term editor had many meanings with no clear designation of duties by itself. But in general it signified some authority and responsibility. Sounds like some kind of mid-level manager. The reason they were so glib is that they had come across an excuse to call everyone a chief and not pay overtime. We had to sign a statement each pay period that declared we did not work over 40 hours — we generally did. It was just a lie you were supposed to accept. Now having just come off of working in a wood products mill (factory work), I was not really complaining (at first anyway).

Sometimes we were required to do a ton of extra writing for special editions — all fluff stuff to make advertisers happy — but were told no overtime was authorized. But of course I can see an argument might be this ain’t digging ditches — it’s cerebral — it’s even fun, getting paid to write, just what you always wanted to do.

I worked at one newspaper where to make sure we did not work overtime and therefore qualify for mandatory overtime under the then current law, they actually made us leave (and we had no keys to get back in). But on some days, if there was extra to do — this place was also into those extra fluff editions — they would ask if anyone of us wanted to volunteer to work overtime — for nothing. There was an implied pressure there. Everyone stayed. I, however, did not stay at that place long. It was seemingly regimented more than the army. I think they wanted to get the most possible out of people but not pay a cent more than they had to. I suppose that is just good business, but not so good for creativity, I think.

Seems to me, though, in general, if you have a choice of whether to work overtime or not, then overtime pay might be in question, but when you are are forced to put in extra work (whether officially or just by custom or just to avoid getting canned or replaced) then you are owed extra money).

For actual managers or executives, considerably higher salaries and perks take the place of overtime pay.

But again, just calling someone a manager or part of management does not by itself make it so.

It is strange to me that some people who run businesses have this feeling of entitlement to free labor. They grouse that they do not work by the clock. But if you own a business, you own an asset that provides you or has the potential of providing you with considerably more than the standard hourly wage or salary. You put in the extra effort and make sacrifices and if things go well the reward is not being a wage slave.

But speaking of slavery, that was outlawed a long time ago, at least that was what I was taught in school.


All of the foregoing was based on the premise of a more or less 8 to 5 type job or shift work. There are all kinds of employment I guess that don’t necessarily fit into wage structure of calculations of such work. For example, for the past two decades and more now I have been an over-the-road truck driver. I don’t want to go into whether we are paid fairly or not — I mean we live in these trucks days (weeks) at a time and spend an inordinate amount of time waiting for loading and unloading. Our basic compensation is tied to miles covered. Safety concerns (along with lobbying efforts from competitors of other transportation modes) have prompted the authorities to tighten regulations on hours of service, and I understand there may be new rules concerning hourly pay on the horizon — but this post was not about that. And all that not withstanding or withstanding, I still stick with the notion that getting paid for work, rather than working for free is a basic right that does not or should not even require a written law.

“I want you to do extra work for me but I don’t want to pay you for it”. Does that sound right?









Trade deal details secret, but no secret that we keep losing jobs…

May 10, 2015

Admittedly I know little of how these trade deals, such as NAFTA, work. And I certainly don’t know how the Trans Pacific Partnership President Obama is negotiating is supposed to work — I understand the details are secret.

But I do know the reality: jobs keep being shipped overseas or over the border, where wages are extremely low and working conditions are horrendous. In fact, workers sometimes have no rights at all.

Nonetheless, the president hypes up the trade deal he is negotiating in secret at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon. Nike may have its headquarters there but it only employs a few thousand people in the U.S. but millions elsewhere, mostly in Asia.

Nike sneakers are real popular in the ghetto. People have been killed for them.

Too bad we don’t make them here. Then people would have jobs and hopefully would not be killing other people over tennis shoes.


But let me insert this: It’s not that we don’t have industry here. In fact, after posting this, in my job as a truck driver I was sent to the place I am at now — a paper products plant in Oregon. I’m picking up paper grocery bags (hey good for the environment; biodegradable paper instead of plastic) and while I am waiting, besides writing this, I took a gander of the workers out on the floor busy producing those bags and readying them for shipping. Made in America, jobs for Americans. And of course the raw material is from our own natural resources (maintained in a sustainable way I would hope).


They say trade protectionism does not work.

All-out protectionism with its extremely high tariffs on incoming goods would present a problem because of course we want to export our own goods overseas. We need a balance. But we need to produce stuff right here in the good old USA. Too much of our society is unproductive.

We could all afford to pay a little more for our shoes, as long as they were of high, long-lasting quality.

We cannot afford to let our own society waste away.

I mean we are not going to employ everyone in Silicon Valley designing games or phone apps. Someone actually has to make and fix things of real utility value. And we all cannot be hedge fund managers or participants either.

I really wonder if the powers that be in either of our major political parties really get that or really care or have the will to go a different direction.

Also, much of our energy and money is going to fight the bogeyman ISIS.

Certainly we need to protect ourselves, but sending out drones all over the world that kill innocent people along with the bad actors and eavesdropping on our citizens like the Gestapo or KGB or Stasi is not improving life here at home. And sending our military into the Middle East to try to deal with the chaos there is not tending to our own society.

For my own part I cannot complain, but I see a society falling apart around me.

Still looking for the leader or leaders who will show us the way out of this morass.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who has worked for the Obama administration in the past, and whose politics generally align with the president, is strongly opposing him on the trade deal. She claims it will mean more lost jobs for American workers and that provisions in the agreement could even be detrimental to curbs on Wall Street excesses.

I have not found any detail on the latter charge, but in fact, details on the whole trade agreement proposal seem to be secret.

Our economy depends upon trade. I know this first-hand as a truck driver. Much of what I haul is imports, but I also haul exports (as well as domestic products traveling from point to point within our nation). But I would not want to be competing with workers who earn half or less than what I do and who work under harsh conditions.

Also, I recently read about toxic building material being imported from China. And we know that China manipulates its currency to make its exports more marketable.

If consumers were more savvy much of this could be dealt with through the market place. We should be demanding quality and safety and we should buy American where we can.

The president says that Warren is wrong on her trade deal criticism and charges that she is playing politics. It may well be that she is using the charge in part to drum up support for a presidential run on her part — even though she claims she is not intending to run.

Since details on the trade deal are secret, there is really no way to judge on all of this.

But it is no secret that much of the monied class is quite happy to ship jobs overseas to put labor on the defensive.

The people do have the power to change things if they would just use it, except that they need candidates on their side.

But big money donors have the advantage.

Nonetheless it costs nothing to vote (but of course you need someone you have confidence in to vote for).

Minimum wage of minimal value; a return to an industrial economy and better trade deals is what we need…

May 7, 2015

Just read — okay skimmed over — an opinion piece by Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York about the need for raising the minimum wage — there is such a thing as a state minimum and a federal minimum.

I think the minimum wage may be an unfortunate necessity because of the stinginess of employers in general — well they call it competing in the market place, but I mean how many vacation homes and yachts do you need?

But I think the minimum wage is of only small value. It works as a kind of bench mark on the value of labor. People who gain raises at a much higher level get paid partially on the basis of how higher those raises are than the low standard of the minimum wage.

I’m a long-haul truck driver and I get paid primarily by the mile. Much to my chagrin trucking is exempt from a lot of the labor laws — the industry has a strong lobby and independents or gypos like to run the miles — hours mean little. Nonetheless the minimum wage I think has some effect on the hourly rate we sometimes get for waiting or doing short-haul work (although the bulk of the waiting is unpaid — it just comes with the program. I’ve accepted it).

But I said in another post that if your goal is the minimum wage, that is not much of a goal. I think minimum-wage jobs should be reserved for the young, for temporary workers, and for oldsters (like myself) who want to earn some extra bucks (although I have a full-time job and am not applying).

Unfortunately with the employment market being what it is a lot of over-qualified people are working minimum-wage jobs or ones not far above it. Also a huge number of people are simply stuck there because of a lack of training, lack of available work at higher levels, and other factors I suppose.

We really need to return to a full-fledged industrial economy, where there are more jobs and more jobs with relatively higher wages than there are now, automation notwithstanding.

We are being sold down the river by all of these trade deals I am afraid. Maybe trade deals are not bad, but maybe we need to make better deals.

I have something to say to those who shake their heads when I can’t seem to do something…

March 2, 2015

“I’m looking at this resume and I can’t figure out what you want to do.”

That’s what the prospective employer told me.

You see I was out of work. I had been permanently laid off from a fairly good job (for that time in my life). Initially I had been a journalist, a newspaper reporter. But I had not gone far in that. Never broke out of the small time. I quit several of those jobs. And then I worked at other stuff.

And I was probably meant to be a journalist or maybe even a lawyer.

I was not meant to be someone who works with his hands or who does hard physical labor or who does something that requires mechanical skill, or even finger dexterity. Yeah, that last one. I took a job aptitude test at a state employment department (or unemployment department as most call it) when I was out of the army and had suffered through almost a year at a wood products manufacturing place, and the result was that among other things I flunked “finger dexterity”. It seems I could not put round and square pegs in a peg board fast enough (heck I knew that from that factory work). But then, what did I show an aptitude in?


That was the answer from the lady who gave me the test. She suggested I go to college. And I’m not being sarcastic or sardonic here (or maybe I am), she actually said that. I mean the message seemed to be that college was for those who are no good at anything.

Well with fits and starts I did over the course of many years. And I graduated from a state university in the top third of my class. But my major was political science. All I ever got from that was prospective employers either raising their eyebrows or laughing.

(And you might ask why I majored in poly sci. Well I was short on time and money and the subject matter in those classes came easy to me.)

But now that I am 65 and a half and have been working at long haul trucking for nearly two decades I have come to the conclusion that one certainly has his for her aptitudes and there are some things try as one might he or she will never excel in or even be able to do, on the other hand, with enough practice and with incentive, like you have to eat and pay the rent, most things one can do and do rather well — despite what others say along the way.

And to the people who shake their heads when I try to do something and have problems doing it. I say:

F… you!

Oh, and to that employer who could not figure out what I wanted to do: at the time I just wanted a job.

I’m sure he did me a favor by turning me down.

Strangely though, it was a type of truck driving.


I think my late wife was a little disappointed when I flunked the written test for a city garbage truck driver position (that was before I became a long haul driver — but I would have flunked it anyway).






Minimum wage is not the answer…

February 21, 2014

I have mixed emotions about talk of raising the minimum wage. I have always thought it mean spirited the way some employers like to keep wages so low but at the same time I have to say there is no future in working at low-pay jobs and the best thing to do is to move out of them — easier said that done, no doubt.

I mean it is a sad state of affairs if you have to depend upon the government setting your wage scale (well that is unless you work directly for the government).

For people too far into the game or for people of just plain limited ability there is not much hope likely. But for everyone else, especially young people, the only way out is to improve your skills and make yourself more valuable to employers. And I know from painful experience that if you choose a line of work that historically does not pay well or is too limited or might be prone to be becoming outdated you’re probably looking for trouble. I mean if you choose something you feel you just have to do then you also must be prepared to live with the good but the bad too.

In this ever-changing and technology-driven world of work there just is no future in unskilled labor. It’s really kind of scary.

As far as mandating that, say, fast food workers, or food service workers make more per hour — that is a government mandate, I’m not sure how that works. The first tactic of the employers will be to hire fewer people and maybe even let some people go — making the ones left work that much harder. And in the food service industry there is already a movement to eliminate many jobs. While I don’t think I have been to such a place, there are restaurants, besides fast food places, I think, that have no waiters — you order through an electronic device (at least I think I saw a story to that effect). And I imagine it would not be too far of a stretch to see robots replace the wait staff.

At some point in the distant future we may start all over again and go back to being human, either through preference or some cataclysmic event. But until then, moving out of minimum wage is the answer. I don’t think a government program is going to be as effective on that as individual initiative. It’s really done one person at a time. Some people are willing to invest in their own future and others not.

And still, there may need to be some government-imposed floor on wages. But you can’t just mandate everyone be paid some artificial figure called a “living wage”. Economics does not work that way. If everyone made the same, whatever they made would be worth nothing — think about that.

I’ve seen the future and it does not look promising

December 4, 2013

Just read a few articles that basically say that delivery by drones is no joke and that it is not only Amazon looking at it but others, to include pizzas being delivered in England.

What we all know or should know by now is that probably a majority of the work we all do could be done by drones or robots or computers. Very few occupations are completely immune. I recall a few years ago a relative of mine suggesting that occupations where you use your creative and thinking skills were safe — not really. While computers don’t yet think like humans, they do have their own kind of intelligence and they already have replaced heretofore creative and cerebral work or at least there have been experiments in using them in some cases. It must have been 20 years ago or more that I read a story that said a computer was used to write a novel. I never read the novel or novels, but that’s scary. Then there was the story that a robot was used or tested as a kindergarten teacher. And what about lawyers? So much of what so many of them do is boiler plate stuff. That can be replaced by computers. Ever heard of Legal Zoom? And in law offices and all offices, word processing programs have replaced a large portion of the clerical staffs.

As I am always noting in this space, I am a truck driver (I’ve done other things too, such as journalism), and I can see the handwriting on the wall. The field of transportation is highly susceptible to being taken over by driverless vehicles and drones and pilotless airplanes. The technology is here and has been used already — Just waiting for the necessary laws (California already allows driverless cars — and how that works I have not a clue) and perhaps the necessary infrastructure.

And I don’t mean to be using poor taste, but that commuter train crash a few days ago in New York was apparently the result of human error, the engineer, it is being reported now, admits he basically fell asleep. So the argument that you are better off having a human at the controls in the interest of safety does not seem to hold. In fact, experts and politicians are calling for safety mechanisms to be installed on the trains that detect speed and can slow them down or stop them when necessary.

If you have children, you need to counsel them to do well in school. The old adage that, well if nothing else you can work in fast food is not going to hold. In fact you may not even be able to get a job at a regular restaurant. There is a move at some to do away with most or all of the wait and counter staff via automation. You’re going to need special skills and a deep understanding of automation to work anywhere in the not-to-distant future. Even that is not going to be a guarantee.

Now here is a thought, and please don’t misunderstand me, I am definitely for social programs, but if we did not have so many and people just had to work at something to make a living, then probably a lot of jobs would survive, because supply of labor would outstrip demand, and employers would find the need to automate not as great. I’m not sure about that, though. Once the ball starts rolling methods change and we are not likely to go back in time.

Automation taking away our livelihoods coupled with climate change and never-ending war in many parts of the world don’t paint a nice picture of our future. Somehow getting older does not seem so bad after all.


At my first newspaper job the bane of our existence in getting out a daily newspaper was the uncooperative back shop — the composing room where people worked at typesetting and what was then called paste up. I was happy when most or all of that was replaced by computer technology (I had already changed newspapers, but the whole industry went that way). But now, technology has all but replaced the traditional newspaper. What goes around comes around.

Those who pick up skills along the way generally keep employed, or solving unemployment on the personal level…

November 21, 2013

I was looking for something to write about in this space and then I ran across an article about something like 38 people applying for each low-wage job (part-time at that?) at a new Walmart store opening up in Washington D.C.  I didn’t even finish the article (yet). What caught my eye was some statistics it was using about the unemployment rate among those with various levels of education, such as no high school, high school, college. And as you might expect, it said the rate is lower among those with higher educations.

And then there is always the ongoing argument or discussion about the worth of higher education, to include the fact that so many college graduates, already deep in debt from borrowing to finance their education, cannot find jobs.

At 64 years of age, I can safely say from what I have observed the key to employment is being willing and, more importantly, able to do what someone else needs to be done. Yeah, works almost every time. Regardless of your education (well most of the time) if you are able to perform work (manual or otherwise) someone else needs to be done you will have a job.

Simplistic I know. And yet so true.

As my dad always told me: you should learn a trade so you have something to fall back on if what you really want to do does not work out. I did not follow that advice to a tee, that is not directly.

His advice was not original. People have been advised that forever.

In my own life I just bumbled along. But somewhere in my late middle age I learned the truck driving trade (not my first pick of things I always wanted to do) and have not been without work since (save a bout of disability due to health).

Now I don’t for a minute suggest that is the key. No I would suggest a far better trade or skill. And yet, it worked for me.

Not all trades or skills require a degree or license or such. People just learn things by doing them on various jobs and find that what they learned comes in handy on other jobs.

Now the following is not exactly an example of what I am talking about but it comes to mind nonetheless:

Once another trucker and I arrived at a newspaper to deliver rolls of newsprint. But there was a problem. The lift truck the man at the newspaper dock was using would not work. Well my trucker friend in another job did some work on forklifts. He found the problem — it was something about a loose fuel line as I recall — and fixed it. Now there is a man who could get a job. He picked up some skills along the way. I guess what I am trying to say is that sometimes you have to be not too narrowly focused. It helps to be somewhat multi-talented.

What I am trying to say is that people who want to work and who in fact end up getting work are usually those who open their eyes to what is in demand at the time and also who pick up skills along the way. And that can start young. I am not a good example personally, and yet in my younger days I was certainly offered a lot of opportunities:

My dad was a newspaperman, but he grew up on a farm and there he learned some skills, such as carpentry and home (and farm) electricity wiring, and plumbing. He did a lot of handy work around the house. I should have paid more attention. But once when I was little he was wiring a light switch and said: “pay attention, you might need to know this some day”. Years later when I had a home of my own, that came in handy.

During high school and at times later I did some amount of farm work, driving tractors and such. On one occasion I worked for a farmer and he said if I stayed on through harvest he would have me drive a big truck from field to processing plant. I went on, though, and became employed in journalism. But wouldn’t you know it? years later I attended a short course in truck driving and went into driving semis — the earlier offer by the farmer could have come in handy later.

And here’s a real good one as far as I am concerned:

When I was in the army in Germany I was a crew member on a tank. As tank crew members we did crew maintenance. As part of that, when mechanics needed to work on our engines we undid various bolts to assist them in getting at the engine and transmission which was then lifted in one unit right out of the back of the tank. But I had a fellow crew member who was a black guy. I mention his race only because I’m trying to make a point. There is always the lament that unemployment is high among minorities. Well he went a step beyond crew maintenance. He learned how to undo the brakes, something the mechanics usually did. I had no clue. But he took it upon himself to learn. Now there is someone looking to build skills for future employment. I mean you never know.

And this holds true in all types of work — in the field, in factories, in offices, everywhere.

All of this is easier said than done, I know. Sometimes you are kept busy and not offered the opportunity to do anything else. But some people just seem to ignore that roadblock.

I don’t claim to be among those. But I will pat myself on the back for the following:

When the newspaper trade finally played out on me during that era of corporate downsizing a couple of decades ago I sought help through some public agency (veteran’s?). After a discussion with a counselor, the guy tells me:

“I could put you in a training program but I see you as someone who is just going to go out there and get a job.”

Really. He said that. I was discouraged, temporarily. I mean how much help is that? But then I did what he said. I was desperate for sure. And sometimes that’s what it takes.

I should add, now that I think about it, that tagging along with my dad as he made photos and covered various news stories, to include fires and floods, gave me a head start in journalism.

All this does not solve the lingering unemployment problem and the fact that there are way too many people and fewer and fewer jobs, due to the rapid movement of technology even more than economic conditions.  But when you’re unemployed it’s a personal problem that public policy and politics and such is not likely to solve for you personally. I was just making some observations from that personal point of view.


Hey check out my new video edition of Tony Walther’s Weblog: http://youtu.be/PMupDfggVIM