Archive for June, 2024

Happy Birthday (89), AA!

Monday, June 10th, 2024

Addiction and Recovery

(Reprinted in honor of AA’s founding, June 10, 1935.)

By Bob Gaydos

(This is an updated version of my Addiction and Recovery column, which appeared in the Times Herald-Record of Middletown in 2012.)

By Bob Gaydos
    It is one of the best-selling and most influential books of all time, with more than 30 million copies having been sold and millions of lives changed by what is contained on its pages. Yet it is not exaggeration to suggest that a majority of its readers don’t know the actual name of the book.
    It is known, proudly and even reverentially, by most who have read it as the Big Book. Officially, the book’s title is “Alcoholics Anonymous,’’ the same as the famous 12-step program for treating alcoholism (and other addictions) described within its covers. The Big Book received more recognition for its influence recently when the Library of Congress included it on a list of “Books That Shaped America.”
    There are 88 books on a list that ranges from Thomas Paine’s “Common Sense,” to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan the Ape Man.” The common factor among all 88, according to the Librarian of Congress James H. Billington is that “they shaped Americans’ views of their world and the world’s views of America.”
    While it may not be for everyone, the Big Book has certainly shaped people’s views and lives. Since it was first published in 1939, it has been the textbook, if you will, of how to get — and stay — sober, for millions around the world. AA, of course, has spawned numerous other 12-step programs to deal with addictive behavior. And, while basing its recovery program on established spiritual, psychological and medical precepts, Alcoholics Anonymous has also widened the dialogue within all three areas and influenced the way practitioners in those fields deal with addiction.
    The authors of the Big Book are Bill Wilson and Dr. Bob Smith, the founders of AA. But they had plenty of help from some of the original 100 AA members whose stories were included in the first edition. Many recovering alcoholics today regard it as remarkable that Wilson, the primary author, wrote two of the main sections of the book — one being his story — when he had less than four years of sobriety.
    One could say the Big Book is a classic example of what it preaches. Much of the recovery program contained is take from the Oxford Group, A Christian fellowship that emphasized self-examination, making amends and working with others. (Wilson and Smith both were members of the Oxford Group for significant periods.) But the Oxford Group’s heavy religious emphasis did not sit well with many of the other drunks who were early member of AA. As a result, most references to “God” were eliminated or changed to a “Higher Power of your understanding.”
    Editing also changed the preachy “you” to the inclusive “we” in describing how
alcoholics got sober. Thus, this is what we are and this what we did. If you follow these suggestions, “Rarely have we seen a person fail who has thoroughly followed our path.”
    What do current members of AA think about the Big Book? A sampling of recent comments:
  • “When I first read it, I had to say, ‘(Expletive!) I’m an alcoholic. How did they know?’”
  • “I used to walk around with the Big Book (in early sobriety) like a protective shield.”
  • “It helped me understand I have an allergy.”
  • “In many ways it’s like the bible for alcoholics. It provides direction and order.”
  • “Think about the impact. One person reads it and passes it on to others for more than 30 million.”
  • “When they get (the Big Book) people are usually in such pain, they will read it.”
  • “It gave me a guide for living, far beyond just not drinking.”
  • “Simple rules for broken people.”
    There’s a significant local angle to this story. When it came time to publish the book, Wilson and the others chose The Cornwall Press, a now-defunct printing operation in Cornwall. Because they were going to charge $3.50 for the relatively short book, they wanted it to look impressive, so they used thick paper and the widest possible margins. Hence, the “Big Book” nickname. Subsequent printings were smaller in size, but the name stuck.
     The first press run was for 4,800 copies, with the promise from the printers that more would be printed when the first copies were sold. But even those original copies were in limbo as the printer refused to release any books until they were paid for. Although printed in the winter of 1939, only a few copies were paid for at the time. The significant release came in early 1940. Today, with inflation, “Alcoholics Anonymous” sells for around $10, but many AA groups simply give copies to new members, continuing to spread its message. Alcoholics Anonymous today estimates membership at more than 2 million worldwide.
rjgaydos@gmail.com
Bob  Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

What Did You Do on D-Day?

Saturday, June 8th, 2024

By Bob Gaydos

President Joe Biden reaches out to touch a U.S. soldier's tombstone as he and first lady Jill Biden tour the Normandy American Cemetery on the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2024 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

President Joe Biden reaches out to touch a U.S. soldier’s tombstone as he and first lady Jill Biden tour the Normandy American Cemetery on the 80th anniversary of D-Day on June 6, 2024 in Colleville-sur-Mer, France.

   “Where were you on D-Day this year, Daddy?”

     “Well, honey, I was at work, as usual, but I did take the time to see how the leaders of our two political parties remembered that fateful day 80 years ago that led to the defeat of the German army in Europe. After all, without the bravery of those Allied soldiers on that day, the Nazis might have prevailed and you and I might not even be having this conversation.

     “Anyhow, I read that President Joe Biden was in France, at Pointe du Hoc, a point on Normandy beaches where Army Rangers scaled 100-foot cliffs to capture machine guns and ammunition from the Germans that was to be used against Allied forces on Omaha and Utah beaches.

   “The president said in his speech, ‘As we gather here today, it’s not just to honor those who showed such remarkable bravery that day June 6, 1944. It’s to listen to the echo of their voices. To hear them. Because they are summoning us and they’re summoning us now. They’re asking us what will we do? They’re not asking us to scale these cliffs. They’re asking us to stay true to what America stands for. They’re not asking us to do their job. They’re asking us to do our job. Protect freedom in our time, defend democracy, stand up to aggression abroad and at home, be part of something bigger than ourselves.’ ”

    “And where was Donald Trump, daddy?”

     “Well, honey, being out on bond after just being convicted in New York of 34 felony charges for trying to illegally influence the 2016 election in a case involving an extramarital affair with a porn star, Trump, the leader of the Republican Party and its probable presidential nominee, was at a campaign event in Arizona, speaking to a group of young MAGAs in training. 

    “He blamed all our country’s troubles on Biden and immigrants unlawfully entering the U.S. from Mexico, encouraged Republicans to oppose the president’s plan to put a temporary moratorium on border crossings, which Trump has also proposed, because it would help Biden’s reelection campaign.

   “Trump also commented on the happenings ‘here in Texas’ regarding banning abortion and said the state’s Republican governor, Greg Abbott had ‘done a very good job.’

     But, of course, Trump was in Arizona, where he did not mention Normandy or Nazis or D-Day or veterans, although six years ago he did refer to veterans buried in France as ‘losers’ and ‘suckers.’ Also in Arizona this year, he did vow to use his power to get revenge on those he calls his enemies if he is elected president. He did not speak about doing our job to protect freedom and democracy.

   “Oh, President Biden also met and thanked a group of veterans for ‘saving the world.’

   “And that’s what the men running for president of the United States of America did on D-Day, honey.”


rjgaydos@gmail.com


Yikes! AI Wants My Job!

Monday, June 3rd, 2024

By Bob Gaydos

How will AI affect knowledge workers?

How will AI affect knowledge workers?

 I accidentally (by not being in charge of the remote) wandered into a YouTube Ted Talk by Cathie Wood the other day and, realizing I was a hostage, I half-listened for a while.

      Wood is founder and CEO of ARK, an investment company that in recent years has made her millions as well as making her the darling genius of every stock market/investment show on regular TV and YouTube. Tesla was her not-so-secret word. She’s soured on Nvidia. But that’s not what grabbed my attention this night. This talk wasn’t about what stock to buy. It was about artificial intelligence. AI.

    “Did she just say ‘knowledge workers,’?” I asked the person in charge of the remote.

      “Uh huh.”

      “What the heck are ‘knowledge workers’?” I said quietly to myself, so as not to disturb anyone actually listening to the talk. Google will know.

       And it did.

       A variety of Human Resources sources told me pretty much the same thing. “Knowledge work” requires a high degree of cognitive skill, competence, knowledge, curiosity, expertise and creativity in problem-solving, critical thinking, gathering data, analyzing trends and decision-making. The work involves solving issues, making judgments. Applying knowledge.

     It sounded important.

     “Heck,” I thought to myself, “I was a knowledge worker.”

      One source# confirmed that with this list of  professional knowledge workers:

  • Accountant
  • Computer Programmer
  • Consultant
  • Data/Systems Analyst
  • Designer
  • Engineer
  • Lawyer
  • Marketing/Financial Analyst
  • Pharmacist
  • Physician
  • Researcher
  • Scientist
  • Software Developer
  • Web Designer
  • Writer/Author

    There I was. At the bottom of the list, but it was alphabetical. I was and still am a knowledge worker, at least in the words and world of Cathie Wood and all those other CEOs of hedge funds and Big Tech companies. 

      I used to be content being identified as a newspaperman or journalist. It was simple and understandable to everyone for about half a century. I wrote stuff to let people know what was going on in the world and maybe help them make sense of it. I tried.

      But the Internet introduced a new brand of people doing the same thing. Sort of. First, there came “influencers.” These are people who post information on social media platforms for others to view or read and react to. Well, I did that. Still do. But I didn’t get any contracts from companies to push their jeans or sneakers or other products. I guess I was not a very influential influencer.

      Then came the most insulting of all terms, the one so many professional HR people on Linkedin seem to be looking for daily: “Content creators.”

        The operating philosophy here seems to be, “We don’t really care how good or accurate or timely or well-written or even creative your content is, as much as we care that there’s enough of it to occupy our platform daily. Click bait is acceptable.”

        Some of the “content” is readable. Much is not, at least in the judgment of this knowledge worker.

        However, the salient point in this discussion is not so much who is or who is not a knowledge worker, but rather, is this a job title in danger of disappearing, not because the titans of industry have figured out yet another way to label mere mortals in a condescending manner, but because their seemingly vital jobs will be filled by computer chips.

      Wood, remember, was talking about AI. The question being, how will AI affect the need for all these knowledge workers in the future? Can these big firms save a bundle of money by having AI do the work of knowledgeable, creative people who are good at solving problems and decision-making? 

    To which I reply, “How can such a knowledge worker today even recommend a change that may eliminate his or her job?”

     AI is far from there, as anyone who watches some of the prepared programming on YouTube about how to make your life better, or what country to move to or Medieval history is aware. The content is often comparable to a poorly written fifth-grade essay plagiarized from a variety of sources and a “narrator” who often can’t pronounce the words correctly.

   It’s clear no human had a hand in presenting this program and, apparently, no human ever bothered to edit it to make it less amateurish. Because, you know, money saved. The lure of AI.

Cathie Wood

Cathie Wood

           But this is just the beginning, as Wood reminds us, and the Big Techs will go as far as they can, unless someone (Congress?) says “That’s too far.”

      The HR specialists I found in my knowledge worker capacity noted that “knowledge work” is intangible. This means it does not include physical labor or manual tasks. But if you work with your hands and you’re good at it, don’t get too cocky regarding artificial intelligence and your future. Wood has another scary word in her vocabulary: Robots. She loves them.

      Now, to be fair and thorough, I must note that there’s also another word that has been applied to people who do what I do, which included writing daily newspaper editorials for 23 years: Pundit.

       Here’s how Wikipedia, defines it: “A pundit is a learned person who offers opinion in an authoritative manner on a particular subject area (typically politics, the social sciences, technology or sport), usually through the mass media.”

        I’m not trying to beef up my obituary, but I think that fits me and this pundit suggests that other knowledge workers pay close attention when millionaire influencers like Cathie Wood start talking about replacing them with computerized content creators. Eventually it won’t be just rising stock prices and amateurish YouTube shows.

       And that’s my Ted Talk today.

(# Much of the information on knowledge workers in this column is from a piece by Robin Modell for Flexjobs. She is an experienced journalist, author and corporate writer and a contributor to the On Careers section of U.S. News & World Report. Clearly, a knowledge worker.)

rjgaydos@gmail.com