June 7th, 2004

Salon, 06-04-04, What Happened to the Leisure Time?

Kind of on the lines of “What happened to my flying car?” the question was, “What happened to all the leisure time the future was supposed to have brought us?” The “50’s Future” promised that machines and new technologies would undertake so much labor that people would chiefly have time to enjoy themselves. Obviously, this hasn’t happened to anywhere near the extent predicted, but then again neither has ‘free power’ or personal aircraft. Computers and automation have increased human productivity immensely, but economic pressures have also tended to erode the forty-hour work week. “Labor-saving” devices such as automatic washers, etc., do not so much permit the homemaker to relax and eat bonbons as act as “force multipliers” that allow people to work on something else while the machine is doing its work, (“Household robots” haven’t lived up to expectations, either--.) which is basically necessary to maintain a home without servants (or children--).

Modern conveniences, especially electric lighting and the automobile, also tend to support the axiom that “work expands to fill the time available,” in that they make additional activities and commitments possible. We noted that, if we were traveling from our place on the south side to Sue’s place on the north (five and a half miles), if we were traveling by foot or horse, it would be a much more substantial commitment of time and effort to attend. Instead, we tend to think little of haring off fifteen or twenty miles for an evening event, even in the winter (unless the weather is REALLY bad). So, in part, we expand our commitments partly because we can—because our lives are more interesting when we do more. We may, in fact have more discretionary time than our predecessors had, but there are more options to expend it on.

A Momentary Taste of DucKon, 06-05-04

Saturday afternoon, Georgie and I drove down to northern Chicago to visit DucKon, a small convention in its thirteenth year. DucKon doesn’t bill itself as a ‘relaxacon,’ but its niche seems to be as a haven for recreational subfandoms that have been squeezed out of larger Chicago-area cons. Specifically, there are almost full tracks of activities related to Klingons, “furries”, and techy fandom of the “build a blinkie” or zapgun style. We had been asked to help out Henry Osier with the scheduled Masquerade, a task which ended up being superfluous: there was only one genuine masquerade entrant (Milwaukee costumer Nancy Mildebrandt) and one last-minute refugee from furry fandom. There had already been a fursuit parade earlier in the day, and the Klingons in evidence weren’t considering their outfits as “costumes.” (One of the fan distinctions I learned early on was that between “costume” and “garb”, which is something you wear in persona, as with SCA.) While it was fun to see our Chicago-area friends (and we acquired a few more books from Larry Smith’s extensive inventory) we had a hard time finding panels that interested us. The best was “Building a Better Ray Gun,” chaired by Isher Weapons designer Tulio Proni, which discussed the real world limitations of beam weapons given present physics and engineering: hint, don’t throw out your firearms any time in the near future. “After Tolkien” was a well-done little panel on what to get kids to read after Tolkien (or after Harry Potter), but which didn’t really tell us anything we didn’t already know. “Skeptics vs. Psychics” was Round 13 in an ongoing series at this convention, and interesting for expounding on the current research on psi phenomena and how brain research such as MRI may link in. We had a pleasant dinner with Henry at the hotel coffee shop, slogged through the very brief masquerade and introduced the performers who would fill the time (largely the indefatigable Great Lukeski), and then drove home. It was a lovely day for driving, and we had good traffic both ways, so it was a pleasant outing even if the original purpose kind of petered out. The visit makes me think that I wouldn’t sign up for a full DucKon in the future, but a day trip just to shop the hucksters and see friends might be worth it.

Ronald Wilson Reagan, R.I.P.

At DucKon we got the news that former president Ronald Reagan had passed away at age 93, which made him our longest surviving US President, as well as the oldest to take office. The privacy his family has maintained due to his Alzheimer’s disease meant that no one was aware he was seriously ill, but it had been known that his physical health had begun to decline, and his mental state had been severely deteriorated for some time.

My feelings about Reagan are distinctly ambivalent, colored by pity for his long, slow demise, which fate I would not wish on anyone. Nevertheless, the efforts to “canonize” Reagan as “the greatest President of our time” which will undoubtedly gain momentum now, make me want to vomit. Reagan had the great good fortune that his bold move to spend the Soviet Union into oblivion succeeded, which is the basis for his reputation. Other than that, his policies on the “trickle-down” economy, and deregulation (which gave us the savings and loan meltdown, among other failures) continue to do great harm, especially as carried on by the present administration. George W. Bush also carries on the Reagan examples of secrecy, tolerance of corruption, disregard for budgetary deficits, and reckless foreign policy. Few people, other than us Reagan critics, recall that more members of his administration were indicted than any other President’s, including Nixon, and FAR exceeding Clinton. His grandfatherly manner disguised a ruthless politician, as those who worked with him in the California governor’s office or the actor’s union well knew. My bet is that history in the long term will evaluate him as the author of many evils which are haunting us still.