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Caseythoughts I have railed in the recent past about the way words are being changed in a political sense to benefit certain parties, to the detriment of the language. I don't mean the change of nouns to verbs, as that is going to happen with nary a wince from even those of us who take language seriously, but the substitution of more politically palatable terms because one word or phrase is considered political dynamite or unacceptable in the effort to get a political goal accomplished. Sometimes it reminds me of George Orwell's 1984 where 'war is peace' and vice versa with the government being the perpetrator of violence on the language and making sure that people only get the 'sanitized and acceptable version of the government's viewpoint.

Changing 'low income housing' to 'affordable housing' gives an opportunity to ignore the real needs of the working poor, without really addressing those needs, while giving a politically acceptable name to what, in essence, would get the middle class's ire and dander up. At the same time it gives subsidies to builders of apartments which get the approval of the middle class that only the middle class and above can afford, while forcing the working poor to the fringes and out of the county. But, the politicos can say they are working on 'affordable housing' which gives a nice sheen to the efforts, while leaving the most deserving of 'affordable' housing still waiting on a three year waiting list for Section Eight, or just a decent place to live. We can't be calling these projects 'low income', can we? Might offend the neighbors (like Trumansburg).

Anyway, in another example of this language bait and switch, how about the word 'quota'?? We got rid of that one quickly and seem to have substituted 'race based admission' to make it more palatable and to give the impression that institutions are trying to make up for past discrimination and have 'blinded' themselves to other considerations. These 'admissions' are now under fire from, of all groups, another racial group that has suffered centuries of discrimination in America, Asian Americans. Asian Americans are suing Harvard (the case has gone on for a couple of years, working its way through the Federal system) for 'race based admissions' which, for all intents and purposes, are quotas by another name. Forget grades, SAT scores, extracurricular activities, sports and community activism, this group sees a system based on reverse discrimination, on racial quotas (how many Asian Americans can we admit?), and very apparent bias.

Another example of Orwellian language twists and turns. I remember Admiral Zumwalt of the sixties, the head of the US Navy, stating in a famous Z-gram 'Equal is equal, get it?' when the Navy was accurately accused of racism. In another way of putting it, a quota by any other name is still a quota, and does not belong in this country. Any race based quota (no matter what you call it) is something that we're supposed to be against. Will the courts see it that way?

These recent days in the local news, we are looking at the prospect of another nefarious change in a 'loaded' word. Even opponents of Trump's tariffs (which will cost all of us money, make no excuse on that issue, as tariffs are a tax, pure and simple). How about Ithaca changing the word 'tax' to 'charitable donation'?? Encouraged by that Master of Obfuscation, not to mention Man of Shady Connections, Andrew Cuomo, Ithaca has decided to try to call your exorbitant property taxes 'charitable donations' to circumvent the new federal limit of $10,000 on local and state tax deductions. Most states looked at this change in federal tax law as a potential impetus to readjust state income taxes and property taxes, in tune with the Congress's idea that individual taxes, especially state and local, are too high and eating away at jobs and productivity (do you really think that there is any other reason for New York to be losing population so drastically in the past thirty years??

They're moving folks, not dying, and we have lost more than ten reps in Congress due to this voting with their feet). New York is trying a new shell game with, quote, a 'workaround' of the federal laws which would 'enable' (another word game) you to 'donate' to Ithaca up to 95% of the property tax you would be paying to the city, thus giving you the opportunity to 'write off' your hard earned money to the 'charity' called Ithaca. Money that could/should go into more productive areas instead of the city treasury, I guess. Once the money is in that 'gift pot', God knows what that money hole does with it (sure isn't being put into street maintenance, is it, as I look at yellow brick under the blacktop of certain city streets) but now you can see your thousands of dollars in taxes called, smilingly, a 'charitable donation'. Watch Tompkins County try the same thing.

Although the IRS may very well call this Ponzi scheme/shell game/three card Monty scheme what it really is (much akin to people in the past claiming 99 dependents on their 1040, hiding gambling winnings, etc) Ithaca seems intent on making a go at convincing their overtaxed residents to 'donate' to this so-called 'fund' and receive, I guess, a stick certificate with Svante Myrick's signature (and maybe a logo referencing 'Most Enlightened City' as declared by Utne magazine).

Meanwhile, I recommend that if, say, you make a $10,000 'donation' to the city 'in lieu' of your property tax bill, you should assume that if the IRS disallows this sham and sends you a bill, you don't count on Ithaca refunding your 'donation', or for that matter allowing you to sue them. Franklin was right (Benjamin, not necessarily Franklin Crawford, God bless him, wherever he might be...) when he opined: 'In this life, only two things are certain: death and taxes.' A tax by any other name is still a tax, and lawyers who tell you otherwise are probably on the city payroll. Or maybe Common Council. As I stated previously, be aware that the county has got to be watching this one, wondering if they can convince themselves this is a bucket of money to be slopped up.

The latest edition of Wired has a fascinating and thought provoking story about a guy by the name of Alex Vardakostas (his friends call him Alex Cheeseburger), a thirty three year old entrepreneur in California. You may have heard recently of 'Flippy', a machine/robot that flipped hamburgers at California restaurants. It debuted to a great ballyhoo in Pasadena, then was quietly and quickly retired, because it couldn't keep up with burger orders and was deemed worthy of 'improvements'.

Alex did not have anything to do with that invention. He is the son of immigrants who opened a hamburger joint, and he is a 'techie'. An inventor. And to make a long story shorter, he has invented (with a lot of start up capital and ingenious partners) not just a machine that flips hamburgers, but actually slices, assembles, cooks and presents artisnal (don't you dislike that word these days?) hamburgers to order, by smartphone app. He has not sold this machine to any fast food restaurant, but opened his own joint called 'Creator' in San Francisco, with the burger bot, stacked with towers of tomatoes, onions, lettuce, pickles, ground beef, fresh buns, all to be assembled in about three minutes, to your exact order on your smart phone. A human is still necessary to load prepared stuff, of course, but there is a real underlying thinking to Alex's machine, which has performed flawlessly and accreted m millions in venture capital angel's money.

But, here's the amazing thing (besides its flawless debut). He says that "our device isn't meant to make employees more efficient. It's meant to totally obviate them." In case you think this is another case of displacing all those low income hamburger joint employees, keep reading.

Alex V.'s idea isn't about destroying low paying jobs, per se. It's about shaping the future of 'fast food', 'dining', and this future still has plenty of humans with roles to play. He sees 'burger flippers' as trapped by their jobs and our perceptions of them and their skills, and ending the clinging to those jobs. He says these people (do you personally know any of them outside of the hamburger joint, in their anonymity?)are capable of so much more; people like us say 'oh, flipping burgers is all they can do'. Alex says this is "bigoted... we can do a lot more than flip burgers. They just haven't had the chance", while we moan about automation, not seeing the real potential of human endeavor and potential.

He's right. We view those jobs as a place for people who have limited options (how many parents have spoken to their children and said 'what do you want to do, flip hamburgers the rest of your life?', in a pretty snarky tone, in reference to a less than stellar report card...).

The fast food worker supposedly has a median wage of $21,000 (maybe gross... maybe) and more than half of these workers receive some form of public assistance (as the anti-WalMart folks like to yell). If the automobile put blacksmiths and buggy whip makers out of business, that newfangled technology put the newly available workers to work on the assembly line (also branded by twentieth century pundits as 'mindless work').

Now that automation is replacing people on those assembly lines, we seem to have run out of ideas and new thinking, except to bemoan technology (yes, including me sometimes). Do we call 'hamburger flipping' a demeaning dystopian look at the future of fellow Americans displaced by 'Flippy'? Is it possible we are not farsighted enough to see the near future and its human possibilities? Are we condemning ourselves to a pointless future (I hear Kurt Vonnegut asking in an early short story: 'What the hell are humans FOR, anyway?') of Taco Bell or McDonald's until THAT job gets automated?

Has our education system short-changed us in education, and insight, that is useful and futuristic? Forward thinking? Is pessimism (especially mine) unfounded unless we decide that if the future is robots, instead of utilizing the potential of millions of young (and not so young) minds freed from the slavery (yes, emotional and financial) of low paying jobs that we mistakenly think are the future, instead of finding ways to invest the newfound bounty of billions of online sales taxes (recently allowed by Supreme Court) and sports betting in the states (who will surely tax it) and fund really great school systems, not at the state level, with all its bureaucracy, but at the local level where we can decide how to spend for a future of kids and adults reaching potential yet unknown. And make sure the poorest schools get the attention first. Hire a 'futurist' for each school district to look at the potential of those kids that we have condemned, as a society without realizing it, to feeling that all the future they have is burger flipping. It's what they believe because it's what we mistakenly believe. Automation and 'robots' might have the potential, but only if we free our minds to think anew. We cannot solve problems with the same brains that created those problems. In otherwords, if you want different, then think and do 'different'.

Two more random thoughts. In East Hill Plaza the other day I saw a mash-up of two pretty well known bumper stickers. One sticker was a 'pink pussy hat', alluding to the demonstration in Washington DC the day after Inauguration Day in 2017, the words 'I marched' on it, and the other sticker with various religious symbols and the word 'CoExist' on it. You know the one. You've seen both, but the two next to each other (put there by the same human, I would assume) confused me. After hearing and seeing some of the violent, seditious and even obscene quotes that emanated from that march, 'CoExist' seems a drastic contradiction, at least philosophically. CoExist? I'm confused, but I guess these are confusing times.

Finally, Mike Pompeo came back from North Korea supposedly empty handed, but apparently he did bring a gift to Kim Jong Un from the President: a copy of Elton John's 'Rocket Man', referencing the President's insult of the North Korean leader on Twitter. Wouldn't it be something if, instead of empty-handed, Pompeo was handed a CD by Kim, referencing his own comments last year calling Trump 'mentally deranged' and a 'dotard'. In Pompeo's hand would be a CD of Patsy Cline's 'Crazy'. Or, if you wish, fill in a title with your own favorite and appropriate song for the chest-thumper-in-chief. That would have been a neat-o radio contest, huh?

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