Posts Tagged ‘waste’

…like the day before Christmas

20 March 2020

As more pronouncements occured regarding how best to “flatten the curve,” I thought it might be wise for me to go out and do my weekly shopping a day early. The day was forecast to be sunny (it was at least partly sunny all day) and of moderate temperature after a series of long rains.

I brought my bike with me in a quite sparsely-populated train. The first thing I realized was that I had forgotten my camera, and so this post is unillustrated. I was wondering if anyone would try to enforce the six-feet rule on the train. It wasn’t until we reached the first station in Folsom that a security person got on and checked for evidence of paid fares. And though she didn’t mention the six-feet rule (there being only two passengers in the whole car), I noted that she just looked to see that I had a CONNECT card, but didn’t take it from me and hold it under her scanner as she normally would have.

Folsom Winco was, thank goodness, not overly crowded. There were a lot of older people there, many a good deal older than my 65 years. Winco was keeping its bulk bins open (I wondered if they would), but had run out of certain items, such as dry roasted peanuts to make fresh-ground peanut butter. They were also out of organic rolled oats. Sometimes I think they could just switch to totally organic and probably only suffer a minor loss of customers!

The lady running the self-serve checkout machines had to help me with an item that didn’t register the same weight when I weighed it as it did when I bagged it. She commented on the flourishes I used to enter the product codes and swipe the bar codes, saying she found them entertaining!

I packed everything into my panniers, and placed a little zipper bag (found at Goodwill) inscribed with the message “see you at the barre” on the top of the rear rack using a couple of bungee cords. It contained some water, a couple of odd items that didn’t fit easily in the side bags, and a fig bar. And I was off.

In the first field I bike through to get to the river, I found the Miner’s Lettuce now overgrown with grasses, the blue allium blooming all over the place, and a lovely yellow borage (probably what’s known as “fiddleneck”) popping up in places. Then I spied a small raptor in a short tree just ahead. It flew off as I approached and tried to catch something on the ground but was apparently unsuccessful. Eventually it flew back and sat on a post not far away and let me look at it. It had a lovely mottled brown plumage and bright yellow feet.

I then joined the main trail. It was quite busy! At first it seemed like the usual crowd of Saturday fitness bikers, then I started seeing families and older people. I realized that with school cancelled and many jobs suspended, this first sunny day of the week was the perfect time for families to leave their dreary homes and enjoy the out-of-doors. I heard one guy comment as he passed, “The park’s just like the day before Christmas!”

Importances

In these days where touching someone or going out for a frivolous social event – or work – runs the risk of “unflattening the curve,” our leaders have had to wrestle with the question: “What’s too important to close down?”

Here in California the “winners” have been: hospitals and other health care facilities, core infrastructure services that most of us never think about, food distribution businesses, food growing businesses – even breweries, homeless shelters and the like, news media, gas stations and auto repair shops, banks and credit unions, hardware stores, home repair workers, mailing and shipping companies, educational institutions if they can find ways to do their work without having people touch each other, laundry services, restaurants but like schools – take-out only, office supply stores and similar supply businesses, delivery services, transportation that supports essential activities, care-givers, professions needed to support essential activities, childcare as modified by certain guidelines, and employees needed to maintain essential operations in business (like security guards and whatever).

When I was a lot younger I would have looked at this list and felt that it made sense. But back then I would have wondered, well, why do people do all those other things besides these things? Now I have a better idea of why they do. But that doesn’t change the fact that the above-listed activities are some of the most core activities in any human community. If any one of these goes bad – like health care, or food – those affected are in some deep doo-doo. And yet in our society these days, many of these activities are operated as for-profit businesses.

In theory, if some human activity ceased to be profitable, it could not attract investors, would go unfunded and eventually collapse. But that can’t happen to any of these essential activities, can it?

And although there may be some wiggle room in the grey areas of moral choices, the basic answer is, no, that can’t happen to essential activities.

My thought on this is that if you try to force any essential human activity into a situation where it can’t survive unless it can pay investors interest, then you are going to run into some major problems sooner or later.

One scenario is that the investors – normally represented by the Board of Directors – force managers to do whatever is deemed necessary to keep the activity profitable. In other words, managers are pushed towards throwing moral values and humanitarian values – which is why most of these ARE the essential activities – out the window in favor of a value system based on whether the activity can make money or not. We know that this has happened to many human activities. A vivid though imperfect example is the field of mental health.

The other scenario is that the activity somehow manages to make the necessary financial adjustments in a way that preserves both the core values of the activity and its financial attractiveness. We know this doesn’t always happen, and that we have lost or risk losing some of these core activities simply because they can’t figure out how to make themselves viable.

My more recent realizations about all this stem from Hubbard’s assertion that money is basically just a form of energy. That led to the understanding that every activity must inflow more energy than it uses just to operate at all. In a purely physical system this excess energy is often referred to as “waste.” In a business it is often called “profit.” And in a non-profit it may be known as “reserves” or some similar concept.

In a physical system, the ratio of energy output to energy input is called “efficiency.” However, attempts to apply this concept to human systems have not always been that successful. One reason is that the economists don’t always factor in the costs (or energy use) of all those essential services needed because we are human. If this mistake is committed and the result is a recommendation that new hires be paid less (or some similar move), then that mistake may contribute to what we call “poverty” for some workers; they can’t make a “profit” on their own labor!

The complications resulting from the various pressures of life and less-than-rational human responses to those pressures are many and varied. One example which I looked into a while back is public transportation. I don’t know about other places, but in the Sacramento area, customer (rider) revenues only account for about 20% of the operating costs of the system. If the Sac Regional Transit District couldn’t get state and federal money (support from taxpayers who don’t use the system) then it couldn’t provide the services it does now. I don’t know if it could even operate.

Another I have been looking into recently is the mental health system in California. It’s problem is that not enough people want to be mental health workers, and a lot of communities don’t want anything to do with having a mental health facility in their area, or otherwise have a bad image of the subject. In this case, the activity is currently over-funded but is unable to provide the services demanded of it. In short, it’s a criminal system. It wastes almost all the energy poured into it, so everyone’s getting tired of it, even though everyone knows that better mental health would help society in so many ways.

So this is one of the huge shortcomings of “modern” society: It has real problems drawing the line between brag and fact, and forcing essential activities to get good products instead of resorting to criminality. Just today I read an article on the history of coffee production. It gave me chills! The amount of inhuman treatment of workers that had to be undertaken to make coffee profitable was utterly despicable. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that coffee is basically just a legal street drug and only masks the true problems people are having in being alert and productive with a temporary “high.”

I hope this latest challenge gives some who care about such things reason to pause. Over and above all the gory details about how this outbreak actually came about, we have the irritating fact that the medical knowledge – even the spiritual knowledge – that, if used, would have made this attack much less serious than it has been, has been with us for decades now, neglected and unused. We can’t just blame our ills on “profit motive.” We all need what sometimes gets called a “profit.” There are more basic failings at work here. We have known about them for some time now. But we have only begun to properly handle them. Not in time for this challenge. What about the next one?