The goal of the Linux-Society (LS, dating back to the mid-90s as a professional club and tech-mentoring group) has been a purely-democratic Information Society; many of the articles are sociological in nature. The LS was merged with Perl/Unix of NY to form multi-layered group that included advocacy, project-oriented learning by talented high school students: textbook constructivism. Linux has severe limitations such that it is useless for any computer that will, say, print or scan. It is primarily used for webservers and embedded devices such as the Android. (Google is high-invested in it).

Technology is problematic. During the heyday of technology (1990s), it seemed it had the democratic direction Lewis Mumford said it should have in his seminal
Technics and Civilization.

Today, we are effectively stuck with Windows as Linux is poor on the desktop and has cultured a maladaptive following. Apple is prohibitive, and all other operating systems lack drivers, including Google's Android, an offshoot of linux.

In the late 90s there was hope for new kernels such as LibOS and ExoOS that would bare their hardware to programs, some of which would be virtual machines such as Java uses. Another important player was the L4 system that is a minor relation to the code underlying the Apple's systems. It was highly scientific but fell into the wrong hangs, apparently, and has suffered from having no progress on the desktop. There is a version, "SE" that is apparently running in many cell phones as specialized telecom chips, but is proprietary. SE's closed nature was only recently revealed, which is important because it is apparently built from publicly-owned code as it is not a "clean room" design it may violate public domain protections, and most certainly violates the widely-accepted social contract.

Recent attempts to enjoin into L4 development as an advocate for "the people" have been as frustrating (and demeaning) as previous attempts with the usual attacks to self-esteem by maladaptive "hacks" being reinforced by "leadership" (now mostly university professors).

In short, this leaves us with Windows, which is quite a reversal if you have read earlier posts here. But, upon Windows, we have free and open software development systems in the forms of GTK+ (the windows usually used on Linux) and the Minimal GNU Windows (MinGW and MSYS) systems. It is very likely this direction that development should go (that is, on Windows) such that s/w can then be ported to a currently-valid microkernel system that includes a driver system that can be adapted by hardware developers to reuse of their windows and apple drivers.

From a brief survey of L4, it appears that the last clean copy was the DROPS system of the early 2010s, was a German effort that used the Unix-like "OS kit" from an American University.

If we are going to be stuck on Windows, then it seems that a high level approach to free and open systems integration, such as creating fully transparent mouse communication between apps so that they can seamlessly work together as a single desktop (rather than deliberately conflicting). This would be very helpful for GIMP and Inkscape, both leading graphics programs that are strong in the special ways, but suffer from an inability to easily interrelate.

Another important issue is the nature, if you can call it that, of the "geek" or "hack." Technology is formed democratically but "harvested" authoritarian-ly --if I can coin a term that Mumford might use. Authority is plutarchy: a combination of aristocracy and oligarchy that is kept alive after all these millennia by using, or maligning, the information society as a part of the civilizing (or law-giving) process that embraces the dialectic as its method. Democratic restoration, that is to put humanity back on an evolutionary (and not de-evolutionary) track, I think, will require the exclusion of the "geek" from decision-making. As is, the free/open s/w culture attempts to give leadership to those who write the most lines of code --irrespective of their comprehension of the real world or relationship with normal users. We need normal people to somehow organize around common sense (rather than oligarchic rationalism) to bring to life useful and cohesive software and communications systems.

Interestingly, the most popular page on this site is about Carl Rogers' humanistic psychology, and has nothing to do with technology.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Mystery Over the Road

Trucking and the Amerian Psychology

"Where there is mystery, faith is aroused. Where there is faith, there will be heaven"
Yagu Menenori, Samurai ~1650

Knowing the common history of labor and the nature of truckers, it seems incredibly simple to understand the power and survivability of the world's largest labor union, the Teamsters, named for the horse drivers that preceded the engine age. Their symbol is a pair of horses over a shield.

Trucking, in its most respected version, long haul, is a fundamental American culture. Over the road truckers live in their trucks for three to five weeks before returning home, work long hours but the work is not necessarily physically demanding. The job is as hard as staying awake and holding a steering wheel for long hours, and chatting on the short-distance CB radio. Difficulties in the profession are related mostly to health and that results from diet and lack of exercise. The food of the truck stop kitchens is good but rich. Truckers can easily look forward to a truck stop meal, they may even be friends with the restaurant waitresses and very often a whole roast or side of pork is waiting to be sliced. Conversely, a truckstop cannot afford poor service, word will get around via the CB radio. Discipline of the road requires picking up loads, delivering them hundreds or thousands of miles away, and a return to a truck stop awaiting to be dispatched to a new load. The concept of going for a jog or a hike is unheard of. Some junior truckers strap bicycles to their rigs, but this is rare. Truckers do very little for their hearts and suffer disproportionately as a result, heart disease being the biggest killer in America.

Discipline seems to be a word rarely associated with trucking, truckers are felt by common society to be low life's and time spent listening to a CB radio near a busy truck stop will very likely give that impression. This is a false impression however, truckers are generally some of the better paid members of their communities as they often come from poorer parts of the nation, specifically the Deep South. Trucking is a Southern industry and a Yankee will have difficulty getting into a conversation on the CB radio. Dinners including diverse members of the same company will usually be dominated by the South with Yankees fighting to get a word in edge-wise. My stock come-back to any Yankee comments is “I resemble that remark” (from Groucho Marx) which gets a laugh and relaxes the atmosphere.

The psychological nature of trucking is unique. There is in my opinion a benefit to the functions of the brain from long distance driving. I am certain there are boosts to the production of necessary chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine which is its own "natural high." Many truckers simply can't wait to get back on the road after a short stay at home. This gives truckers unusual self confidence. Combine this with the influences of a rural background you can create a very ornery and potentially loud crowd at a truckstop, especially during a televised ball game or car race in a driver's lounge.

Truckers, within their culture, enjoy unusual camaraderie. Striking up a conversation is as easy as talking and any common topic will do, road conditions, friction with enforcement, load rates or recent experiences. The joke is that the difference between fairy tale and a trucker story is that a trucker's story starts with.. “you just ain't gunna believe this” rather than “once upon a time.” Truckers stop to help one another at the side of the road, their trust is implicit.

When it comes to the concepts of freedom and independence, truckers present a double jeopardy, even a triple threat. America, as the most western of nations, is based on independence, our sacred documents derive from Native American law as much as from European Enlightenment, where the word freedom decorates virtually every political statement. Truckers, especially those who own their trucks, seem almost perplexed at the concept of infringement on their personal freedoms since examples of social control are so few and far between. Rebel still defines the Southerner nearly a century and half after the Civil War. The final factor in the freedom equation is the reason for that rebellion, a struggle for an particularly extreme freedom, the right to take rights from others. I am, of course, referring to African slavery in America. I have learned that much of the past still remains in the cultural mindset and regional loyalties seem to defy societal logic.

The combinations of this extreme self-confidence with rural self-reliance, our native natural character and a history of labor victories through the Teamsters union implies that the over the road truckers could very easily disrupt the flow of all goods around the nation for just a short time and guarantee an increase in rates to the industry making truckers some of the better paid labor workers in the nation. Truckers are by in large armed as well, almost all having had military experience and own a disproportionate number of the several hundred million guns in America right now.

The single most mysterious fact about life over the road is that truckers have failed to organize, and have instead been compliant with an industry where the governmental forces are closely related to a trucking industry obscenely known for corruption and every imaginable abuse. Laws controlling truckers are designed to appear to attempt to protect the motorist public from irresponsible truck drivers but are really there to provide the industry with the cheapest possible human resource and to stress truckers continuously to deny them the where-with-all to organize. When truckers succumb to the stress, (true to the corporate style of control) the trucker is vilified if there is a tragic accident. Trucking is presently the only growing industry in America yet the largest trucking companies show worker turnover at about 120%. Ironically, in the present transportation and communication environment, the vast majority of common goods could be dispatched to drivers via the Internet by the shippers themselves. In particular, produce movers, (called garbage haulers in the industry) could be instantly and completely eliminated by the use of laptops, websites and the creation of freight information clearing houses to assure shippers that drivers will take care of the goods and they will arrive on time.

Companies operate in what are called authorities where they are given governance power by federal law. The results are what one would imagine where companies control workers as if they themselves are autonomous enforcement agencies. Abusive dispatching and corporate deceptions are enforced by the safety officers with demeaning and threatening language. The largest produce hauler in the country is the Prime Corporation of Springfield Missouri. In a previous incarnation they were called Midwest Trucking and ran out of Texas until they were dismantled by the State of Texas and the federal government for the crime of literally stealing trucks from their owner operator drivers through dishonest leasing practices. They found a home in Missouri, however, in a city controlled by the former chief federal attorney, John Ashcroft, who was fired by the present conservative president for his reactionary attacks on the basic rights of Americans following the World Trade Center attack. The abuses at Prime continue, where Prime finances the purchase of a truck for an owner operator and then puts the the operator on the beach for long enough to prevent the driver from making the last payment. The truck then gets repossessed. Local Missouri courts are clearly Prime shills and Prime invests a lot in creating false impressions among the citizens of Springfield. While Springfield is an important city for freight hauling services, native Springfielders rarely work for them. Prime has countered this by creating a seemingly "mom and pop" hauler called Wil-Trans. Truckers applying there they are avoiding corporate Prime, and are told they will be part of a independent brotherhood of truckers. They will, from time to time, pull Prime trailers. Because of this Prime, they say, handles their driver testing and the drivers are sent to the Prime orientation sessions. Reality strikes when Prime human resources hands the prospective drivers Prime's tax forms and contracts.

Independent truckers, owner operators, are affected by a caveat in the law. They are small corporations and therefore cannot legally organize to influence their rates. Doing so enacts laws designed for huge corporations to prevent the formation of trusts and monopolies. The struggling family trucker is held to the same standards as Microsoft, while Microsoft is allowed to operate the world's largest monopoly and family truckers are denied even the possibility of testifying on their behalf in congressional hearings.

With so many human dignity issues and so much potential for organization, laws can be changed to deal more proportionately with the family-owned business. Exactly what is holding back truckers from organizing today is a deep question that goes beyond the industry itself and into the psychological nature of the rural United States, especially the core South. While traveling as a trucker I trucking visited as many cultural venues as I could, including museums, against the backdrop of the trucking culture.

During the first three months of 2005, I drove with a senior driver from North Louisiana, and I listened to him speak admiringly about the Ku Klux Klan. I barely need mention his lack of respect for Black Americans but what surprised me was his denigration of the French speaking Americans, the Cajuns. While we in society think of Cajun and Louisianan culture to be synonymous he referred to them as swamp animals. His biggest regret in history seemed be the infiltration of the KKK by German Neo-Nazis in the 1980s.

He painted a picture of the old school Klan far different than the one I had read about, it was moral enforcement organization respected by both Blacks and Whites. Differences between one kind of race hate crime and another kind of race hate crime are irrelevant to me. My co-driver non-the-less fit a more human pattern that Carl Rogers mentioned in relation to political situations, that there can be two layers in a person. One exterior is designed to please the surronding culture and another, deep inside, satisfies the soul. He told me of how he would escape from his church worship on Sundays and sneak into the Black church to hear the gospel choir. He also told endless stories of how "the old colored woman" cooked this or that, a pretty endless list of Lousiana farm and swamp animals. There was an amusing incident when the boss's wife asked my co-driver what she should do with her goat. Not realizing she meant the goat was a sick pet, he suggested barbeqing him with a certain sauce. They got passed this guffaw.

I also wondered at many of the Southern Black attitudes where regional loyalties override common sense. Blacks at times seem to enjoin in anti-Northern sentiment. This is confusing to people from my area of New York since we have a proud of a history in fighting for Black causes from Freedom Riding back to the ending of slavery.

As a trucker I wonder what can break this historical trend to get truckers to follow the democratic process of petitioning the government to, for the first time, do the right thing with respect to over the road freight.


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diversitygirl said...

I'm probably the ONLY real commentor in this group. I was looking for info on trucking culture and life on the road stuff. I found your blog the most informative and insightful so far. Much of the results I got from searches in Yahoo and Google were sites owned by trucking companie sand articles on HIV/AIDS related to trucking (I don't know why they should be related, but Google seems to think it's important). Thanks for a great article! I might come back to read more about trucking and truckers.

blah said...

I'm a sociologist and I study the specific labor issues you mention with over the road truck drivers.
You make some interesting points, many are incorrect but interesting no less.
Having said that I will say that I am glad you actually cared enough about the topic, which is dear to my heart b/c I once drove OTR, to write this piece.
Well done,
R Hargrove

john_van_v said...

Hmmm, he says I am incorrect, but he is not specific, nor does he offer alternate views -- which I find typical of socio- and psychologists. Frankly I think they are full of crap for the post part.