An Algorithmic Existence

(Image Credit: Crispina Kemp)

It was a beaten down path. Beaten down by the excoriating heat of the sun; by squalls of driving rain that brought along with them howling gale force winds; and most of all by indifferent treads of tyres and innumerable pairs of studs and spikes that had become poor, yet affluent synonyms for exercise and health.

But of late the road which was creaking and groaning under the weight of activity had peculiarly been beaten down by stillness and quiet. People had stopped walking, and running. Unblinkingly staring into luminous screens, homo-sapiens were laughing, fighting, venting, jeering and deliberating with unseen chat bots, hidden algorithms and obscure manipulators.

Nature was being sacrificed at the altar of cutting edge finagling. Man was ensnared in the cozy assumption of freedom when freedom was all but obfuscated. Only the twigs that lay scattered on the beaten down path seemed unshackled and unbound.

(Word Count: 149)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #42 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.

 

 

Give People Money – Annie Lowrey

Image result for give people money + review

According to Jason Hickel, an anthropologist at the London School of Economics and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, global inequality, has attained damaging and dangerous proportions. In a fascinating piece titled, “How Bad is Global Inequality, Really?” and published on his website, Mr. Hickel observes that, “the poorest 60% – the ones depicted as the “winners” in the elephant graph – continue to live under the poverty line of $7.40 per day (2011 Purchasing Power Parity).” The elephant graph here refers to a famous and popular graph, originally developed by Branko Milanovic and Christoph Lakner using World Bank data.  This graph charts the change in income that the world’s population have experienced over time, from the very poorest to the richest 1%. Mr. Hickel’s findings paint an extremely somber picture. In his own words, “…the top incomes… well, they have grown by what can only be described as an obscene amount, with millionaires doubling or tripling their annual incomes, gaining some 14,000 times more than the average person in the poorest 60% of the world’s population”.

Whilst umpteen number of measures, ranging from the well intentioned to the ill-conceived have been promulgated over the years to extricate humanity from the pernicious swamp of poverty, there seems to be no ameliorating improvements in so far as outcomes are concerned. While a teeming mass of humanity have been released from the clutches of impecuniosity, the progress has, unfortunately been restricted to a few geographies in general, and the emerging economies, in particular.

A tool for alleviating penury and leveling income inequality, that has recently shot into prominence, is the Universal Basic Income (“UBI”). Annie Lowrey, a journalist covering politics and economic policy for The Atlantic Magazine, in her extremely readable book, “Give People Money”, infuses a new and refreshing breath of life into the concept of UBI. Taking an unbiased, impartial and critical stance, Ms. Lowrey evaluates the merits of UBI as an implementable policy mechanism and concludes that this measure ought to be introduced to supplement – if not supplant – the various means tested benefits that exist by the dozen today. Although a book primarily focused on and having at its core, the American context and economy, “Give People Money” also takes its author to the scorched earth of Kenya and the rural hinterlands of India, as she explores the success and failures of various pre-existing Government sponsored schemes direct benefit transfers.

In Kenya, Ms. Lowrey meets with various beneficiaries and recipients of a UBI experiment instituted by the US non-profit organization, Give Directly. Set up by Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology graduates, Give Directly remits substantial, and unconditional payments via mobile phones to impoverished villagers hitherto surviving – or gallantly attempting to – on a pittance of 60 cents a day.

She visits rural India, getting herself acquainted with complex poverty eradication schemes such as the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Schemes (“MNREGA”), rations of reduced price staples such as rice, wheat, salt, sugar etc. distributed via the ubiquitous Public Distribution System (“PDS”) and above all, the sophisticated cloud-backed biometric ID system called Aadhaar, employing which States have started to link their anti-poverty Programme to the system. Piloted and pioneered by Nandan Nilekanan an Indian entrepreneur, bureaucrat, politician and also the co-founder of Infosys, an Information technology behemoth, the Aadhaar system, in the words of the former Chief Economist at the World Bank, Paul Romer, “is the most sophisticated that I’ve seen”. The basic purpose underlying Ms. Lowrey’s travels is to ascertain whether UBI passes muster vis-à-vis the mixed results of government subsistence programmes.

From Maine, Ms. Lowrey brings to us the harrowing story of Ms. Sandy Bishop. A disabled woman, Ms. Bishop narrates in a heart wrenching manner how she keeps losing food stamps, courtesy the maze of paperwork involved. The banal and absurd degree of bureaucracy permeating systems makes it next to impossible for the neediest and desperate to access assistance even when such help is at hand.

In an age where minimum wages ironically mean just that – minimum – Ms. Lowrey demonstrates a strong bargaining power which could be ushered in courtesy, UBI. This is highlighted with a powerful example of how a family ought not to be going about its lives. The Ortizes, in downtown Houston, hustle and bustle their way through a staggering eight jobs at once! The children are not spared even – forced to sacrifice at the altar of a low paying fast food job, the precious benefits of procuring an education. UBI for this family would be an indispensable boon.

As Ms. Lowrey informs us in dangerous detail, the need for a UBI may soon attain an attribute of inevitability than remaining at the periphery as a viable option. With untrammeled progress and frightening advances being made in the complex fields of Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning and Deep Learning, the world is in for a massive job substitution where robots will take over both blue collared as well as white collared jobs. Ms. Lowrey forecasts that self-driving vehicles alone could wipe out between 2.2 to 3.1 million jobs in the US. Hence the prevalent redistribution policies employed by the state would not attain either the requisite level of traction or the desired length of sustainability to pose a formidable defense to this looming threat of structural unemployment.

The proponents of and for UBI are slowly, but steadily making their arguments known and felt in all the relevant places such as Corporate Boardrooms, Parliaments and the portals of renowned and progressive think-tanks. The Economic Security Project, a new UBI think-tank, deliberates thus: “In a time of immense wealth, no one should live in poverty, nor should the middle class be consigned to a future of permanent stagnation or anxiety.” Michael Faye, the co-founder of the intrepid GiveDirectly that is piloting its UBI in Kenya, tells Mr. Lowrey, “We could end extreme poverty right now, if we wanted to.” Philippe Van Parjis and Yannick Vanderborght make an arresting case for the implementation of UBI in their best-seller, “Basic Income: A Radical Proposal for a Free Society and a Sane Economy” Adding to an already burgeoning number are stellar thinkers such as Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, the authors of “Inventing the Future”, Rutger Bregman, and Guy Standing, a long standing member of BIEN, the Basic Income Earth Network, a primary body advocating for UBI.

While there is an unhesitating recognition of an urgent imperative to make lives better and obliterate avoidable tragedies, we still seem to be entrenched in the dogma of means testing schemes and benefits thereby shying away from instituting complementary or even competing schemes such as the UBI. An as Ms. Lowrey brilliantly emphasizes, the sooner we change this mind set, the better it will be for humanity.

Sabal Palmetto & Ronnie’s Trawler

(Photo courtesy of Artur Malishkevych )

“Look there goes Ronnie’s trawler”, Ben exclaimed, his voice ringing with enthusiasm. Using her elbow to nudge him sharply, Ruth corrected her husband, “Ronnie has a central console boat. This is Wendell’s tried and trusted houseboat.”  Ben could never get either the type of the boat or its owner right. Downright surprising considering the fact that Ben was a veritable water body. Exploring the deep and doing his bit for the preservation of the marine ecosystem was the cornerstone of Ben’s professional life.

Thus chastised, Ben pulled down his hat to protect himself from the rays of a blazing sun and remained silent. The ocean was a brilliant and transparent turquoise. A group of snorkeling enthusiasts squealed with delight at spotting schools of Grass Carp and Peruvian Anchoveta.

However, neither the group merrily treading water nor the tourists peering out the leisurely sailing boat could spot Ruth and Ben. All they could see were a couple of Sabal palmetto trees with scraggy branches. For exactly fifteen years to the day, Ben and Ruth had drowned in a tragic accident when Wendell’s houseboat in which they were sailing, rammed against a giant cruise ship, before capsizing and killing everyone on board.

(Word Count: 200)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Donna McNicol . For more details visit HERE

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, click HERE

 

 

 

The point of Indifference

(PHOTO PROMPT © Dale Rogerson )

The quaint restaurant was a paean to Steven Spielberg. Not only was the rubber killer whale grinning from the ceiling, most inappropriately named “Jaws”, the menu itself was a homage to the ingenuity and genius of one of the greatest movie directors to have graced our time.

“Teething Troubles” was as popular amongst the patrons as an appetiser as was “Minority Reportage” in so far as the main course was concerned. But Venky was least interested in the menu. He was at a crucial crossroad in the journey of life.  She had suddenly turned indifferent. He felt his life diminish.

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

For more stories based on the above prompt, click HERE 

 

Anis and the Sig Sauer P210

(Photo courtesy of DB McNicol via Pixabay )

The crow was no more different than any crow could or would have been, when in a state of tiredness. It’s cawing, though, was a bit out of both sync and strength. The sound emanating from within the beaks resembled a string tension produced by a bad violin.

The wretched bird had chosen to position itself in the most hazardous part of the road – right in the middle of a four lane freeway where vehicles were whizzing past in a whirring and screeching frenzy. Anis, vaulted over the railing separating the highway from the meadows and sprinted across towards the weak bird.

The crow made no attempt to move away at the sight of the approaching Anis. Stooping down, he tenderly picked up the bird and moved away towards a deserted shack. Anis however felt a subtle change in the contours of the bird. The body seemed to be hardening. A chill ran down his spine as the crow looked him in the eye and seemed to smile maliciously. As he desperately tried to ‘drop’ the crow down, it metamorphosed into a sleek Sig Sauer P210 firearm and with its muzzle pointing right under Anis’ chin, it went ‘BOOM!’

(Word Count: 200)

Written as part of Sunday Photo Fiction. Write a story of around 200 words based on the photo prompt given (above). Hosted by Donna McNicol . For more details visit HERE

To read more of the stories based on this week’s prompt, click HERE

Balm & Benevolence

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it goes the popular refrain

A proven technique to ameliorate wanton grief and pain

But matters of the heart don’t correspond to this universal norm

There exists neither balm nor benevolence to tinker with or lend some calm

 

A tablet for sleeping; to bring one to the here and now

Alas! No medicine has yet been invented – and never will – to deal with the woes of love.

(Word Count: 75)

Courtesy of Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt#119

 

 

 

 

Led Zeppelin “UNSOLICITED”

(PHOTO PROMPT © Jan Wayne Fields)

The policeman had an irritatingly uninterested air about him.“Led Zeppelin again? What number was it this time?” Venky realised it was a futile attempt to convince the skeptical cop about his singularly unusual ‘predicament.’

Night after night, Venky had woken up to a cacophony of rock music thundering from the front of his garage. A makeshift stage miraculously appeared, along with a pair of Matterhorn speakers. It was always Led Zeppelin and only he could hear them.

After one song, normalcy resumed as stage & speakers disappeared as mysteriously as they had appeared. Last night it was “The Immigrant Song.”

(Word Count: 100)

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

For more stories based on the above prompt, click HERE