AI Addendum

Little did I know when I posted last week’s column on the dangers of AI running our lives that I’d experience the most egregious example of genuine AI stupidity this week.

I was visiting a friend where there was an active Alexa unit nearby. We told it to play a couple of songs we wanted to hear, which is about all an Alexa unit is good for IMHO, although that feature isn’t worth the pitfalls it presents in terms of loss of privacy and security, but that’s a whole ‘nother post.

When it was time to leave, I thought I’d let Alexa bid adieu for me. I said, “Alexa. Play ‘Hello, I Must Be Going’ by Groucho Marx”. Well, Alexa is a young thing and might not be familiar with the brilliant Marx Brothers, nor with “Animal Crackers”, the film whence the song came. She said in no uncertain terms that she didn’t have access to that fun little ditty. Fortunately, she had a another number she was sure we’d find a perfectly suitable replacement.

What did she play for us? Johnny Cash’s rendition of the old hymn, “Were You There?”:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

I’m failing to make the connection, either between the hymn about the crucifixion of Christ and the song I requested (unless a blasphemous reference was intentional) or between the estimable man in black and the outrageous man in the greasepaint mustache, but that’s Alexa for you.

Sleep well knowing she’s listening and AI is in control.

Artificial Intelligence or Genuine Ignorance?

[A genuine Blog Snax© post!]

We’ve been told all along that AI will be controlling our lives eventually. It will drive our cars, determine our medical care, identify us by our appearance, as well as our purchases and preferences.

Unless there are incredible leaps in the technology, the future is bleak, based on my observation of the current use of AI.

Example: On Instagram, one of the few social media platforms I subscribe to, I’m inundated with cat and dog videos. I have less than zero interest in cat and dog videos. They annoy me no end. I’ve never watched one, much less lingered on one, which would supposedly trigger the “swamp this guy with cat and dog videos!” trigger. I don’t buy or search for cat or dog related products. So why does Instagram insist on showing me these videos?

There are countless clothing ads and recipes yet I’m the last person anyone would call a clothes horse (99% of my clothes were free and have dates on them going back to the 80’s) or a foodie (my idea of a gourmet meal is a burger and fries from a now defunct establishment).

Hair styling, knitting, jewelry, colleges, souped up cars and trucks, and so much more that are wasted on me. Why? AI.

Then there’s Amazon. I’ve vented on this before. (Buried somewhere deep in this post.) When you buy something, they always give you helpful ideas about what to buy next. First, if you’re letting Amazon decide what you need, punch in, folks. You’re losing it. Second, they always recommend I buy another of what I just bought. Coffee maker, refrigerator, cell phone cover? Who couldn’t use another one of those, just in case?

That’s AI for you. Someday, that will be the technology that will guide the surgeon’s scalpel (if there’s a surgeon at all) during your open heart surgery. And driving that bus heading toward me on the highway.

Maybe they’ll show cat videos at my funeral.

Stevie Wonder: Prophet

It’s patently obvious that Stevland Hardaway Morris, a.k.a. Stevie Wonder, is a musical genius. I can’t think of many people in history who have created such an extensive catalog of brilliant music. Three consecutive albums of his won “Album of the Year” Grammies, a feat never achieved before or since. I’m just scratching the surface of his prowess, both musical and personal. Scan his Wikipedia entry for more details of his incredible contributions.

It boggles my mind to think that one of his masterworks, the album “Innervisions”, my personal favorite, was recorded when he was only 23 years old!! (What were you doing at 23?) Not only was it an outstanding musical tour de force, it also revealed one of his heretofore unknown gifts, that of prophet.

Read these lyrics from the great song, “He’s Misstra Know-It-All” and tell me whether this guy precisely described our 45th president 43 years before he was elected:

He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Playin’ hard
Talkin’ fast
Makin’ sure that he won’t be the last
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Makes a deal
With a smile
Knowin’ all the time that his lie’s a mile
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Must be seen
There’s no doubt
He’s the coolest one with the biggest mouth
He’s Misstra know-it-all

When you tell him he’s livin’ fast
He will say what do you know
If you had my kind of cash
You’d have more than one place to go
Ooh

Any place
He will play
His only concern is how much you’ll pay
He’s Misstra know-it-all

If he shakes
On a bet
He’s the kind of dude that won’t pay his debt
He’s Misstra know-it-all

When you say that he’s living wrong
He’ll tell you he knows he’s livin’ right
And you’d be a stronger man
If you took Misstra know-it-all’s advice oh oh
Ooh

He’s a man
With a plan
Got a counterfeit dollar in his hand
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Take my word
Please beware
Of a man that just don’t give a care no
He’s Misstra know-it-all (look out he’s coming)

Dum bum bum ba bum bum,
Dum bum bum ba bum bum
Bum bum bum bum bum say
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Can this line, take his hand
Take your hat off to the man who’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Every boy take your hand
To the man that’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
Don’t you know he’s got the plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
You know damn well he’s got the super plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Give a hand to the man
You know damn well he’s got the super plan
He’s Misstra know-it-all

If we had less of him
Don’t you know we’d have a better land
He’s Misstra know-it-all

So give a hand to the man
Although you’ve given out as much as you can
He’s Misstra know-it-all

Check his sound out
He’ll tell it all
Hey you talk too much you worry me to death
He’s Misstra know-it-all

(Although I’d never noticed this until hearing the song recently for the first time in a long while, I’m not the first to make this connection. It bears repeating, however, because it serves us all well to (1) be reminded of Stevie’s brilliance and (2) further expose the target of these lyrics as the scoundrel he is.)

Mixed Messages

Saw this sign on the side of a building during a recent bike ride:

Okay, I’m good with that. I’m a massive proponent of supporting local businesses.

But wait! Pull back a little and we see the bigger picture:

What am I supposed to do with this cognitive dissonance? Subway spreads like a deadly pandemic across the face of this country. Fine. Let Iowa, Florida, and New Mexico have their nasty, mass-produced, generic sandwiches. But here in the Boston area, home of some of the best local sub shops east or west of Tuscany, Subway is unnecessary at best, a cancer at worst, eating away at our culture like the rot slowly consuming the shack in this photo.

Run away! Run away!!

The NFL’s Priorities

The NFL’s Cleveland Browns signed Deshaun Watson. He didn’t play at all in 2021 and he faces civil lawsuits for sexual misconduct from 22 different women. He has lost endorsements from Nike and Beats. But the Browns, perennial NFL bottom dwellers, believe in him.

Now, it’s possible that every one of those accusations is false. It’s as likely that Donald Trump will win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Watson’s resume includes exactly one playoff win. He has never made it past the first round of the NFL postseason.

Meanwhile, Colin Kaepernick, who had the gall to exercise his constitutional right to protest this nation’s continued oppression of African-Americans, can’t get a cup of coffee in the same league. Here’s a guy who has a 4-2 record in the playoffs with one Super Bowl appearance and he can’t get a job in a league with an overabundance of poor and mediocre quarterbacks.

In other news, the Cleveland Browns have announced they’ll be playing reruns of “The Cosby Show” during the halftimes of their games.

Happy First Day of Spring!*

Today, March 1, is the first day of spring. Many will deny this, claiming that the first day of spring is somewhere in the 20’s of the month. That’s fine if you’re into stars and constellations and such. If you care about the weather, however (and for what other reason would we anxiously anticipate the season of rebirth?) you celebrate the start of the season on the first day of March.

The fact is that March 21 is the vernal equinox, the first day of astronomical spring. But who cares about equinoxes or astronomy?!? What we (or, at least, I) care about is the weather and that means meteorological (that’s weather, folks) spring, which begins on March 1.

Happy Spring!

(See this article for a full explanation.)


*This brief post marks the debut of Blog Snax® q.v.

How Charles Saved Christmas

There’s a school of thought that credits Charles Dickens, more than any other, with creating the Western version of Christmas as we know it today. (Read more about it in this post from seven years past.) There’s truth to that, but another Charles has done an even greater service to the season. And he used yet another Charles (actually, a Charlie) to do it.

Imagine the 4th of July where no one mentions the Declaration of Independence, the revolution, or even the USA. Or Memorial Day without a reference to veterans who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Arbor Day without trees or Thanksgiving with no gratitude. Even worse, your birthday without mentioning you!

Unthinkable, right? Think again.

No matter your religious affiliation, it’s hard to argue that removing the birth of Christ from the celebration of Christmas isn’t blatantly unfair and patently illogical. It’s also impossible to deny the truth of it.

I went Christmas shopping yesterday. In one store, there was a display of (supposedly) Christmas ornaments. Among their number were included:

  • A Dallas Cowboys football player
  • Grogu, the baby Yoda from The Mandalorian
  • A nutcracker wielding a candy cane as a weapon
  • the Stay Puft Marshmallow man
  • Harry Potter memorabilia
  • Spiderman
  • vehicles of all shapes and sizes and colors
  • Mario and Luigi
  • a lamp made from a shapely leg in fishnet stockings

…and a whole host of other cultural icons, many of which didn’t exist ten years ago and will be forgotten ten years from now.

I don’t question the cultural appropriateness or whimsy or profitability of any of those. They have their place. However, am I a Scrooge or, worse, a right-wing ideologue to ask why there wasn’t one single reference to the events that got this whole snowball rolling in the first place? To put things in perspective, I searched the online list of the 1,126 “Christmas” ornaments sold by Hallmark, purveyor of those insipid Christmas “romance” films, that I confess to watching. It turned up exactly four that had an explicit reference to the Nativity. Sure, there were snowman angels and Precious Moments cuties but only four that referenced Jesus, and then only barely.

That brings me to Charles and Charlie. For over 70 years, “Peanuts”, the comic strip and characters created by Charles (Schulz), has been a staple of American culture and Charlie (Brown) has been its greatest symbol. Back in 1965, those two put a stake in the snow that has since been the sole standard bearer for the cause of “keeping Christ in Christmas.” They didn’t do it by whacking us over the head with a Bible or a Yule log, nor by scolding or judging the culture. They did it with a little boy clutching a security blanket and telling a simple story that has changed the world more than any other event in human history.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

I shudder to think what Christmas in America would be like without Charles and Charlie.

An Amazing Post!

Tears for Fears once sang “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. A great song and an audacious claim. I believe there’s some truth in it, though. Few would admit it but I believe there’s a little part of everyone that wants to control everything. Maybe it’s the frustration of knowing we actually have very little control over anything in our lives. Controlling something would be a step in the right direction. Or so we think.

I’ll confess that more than a little part of me wants to control more than just a little part of the world. I’ll start right now with my first decree:

The word “amazing” is banished from use forthwith!

Yes, “amazing” is the latest in a long line of words that have been so misused and overused that they’ve ceased to have any meaning. Thus, it must be removed from the lexicon. It has joined the rogues’ gallery of words and phrases that are mutilating our discourse. Others, such as “awesome”, “like”, “literally”, “actually”, “just”, “really”, as well as beginning sentences with “so” for no apparent reason, will be dealt with over time. They must all go and they will when I’m in control.* (In the interest of full disclosure, I’m guilty of leaning heavily on all those verbal crutches.)

Back to “amazing”…

Listen. You hear it everywhere. This movie is amazing. That restaurant is amazing. Some team, book, or blog (!!) is amazing.

Worst of all is when someone calls you amazing. After all, what is being said about you? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. Assuming (and this is a huge stretch) the speaker is truly amazed, it says one of two things. Either they have a low level of amazement (I vote for that one) or something about you is truly amazing, for better or worse. And that’s the key point. There is no value judgment in the word. It’s not saying anything positive about you. Kind of like the doctor in the Seinfeld episode who calls both Elaine and an ugly baby “breathtaking”.

The subprime mortgage debacle was amazing.

“New Coke” was amazing.

Hitler was amazing.

Donald Trump is amazing in his own way. (And it’s not a good way.)

So, I literally think we should just… Ignore that. Let’s dispense with the word altogether.

While we’re at it, how about the current addiction to swearing? When I was in high school, there was a poster on the wall in the guidance counselor’s office. It read, “Profanity is the attempt of a weak mind to express itself forcefully.” That’s the only thing I remember from any guidance counselor, but it’s a maxim worth thinking about. Because they’re so ubiquitous, those words have little or no shock value remaining. There was a time when dropping just one of them in a routine guaranteed a favorable reception for a comedian. (Just ask Albert Brooks about his experience in San Antonio.) Not anymore. They fall with the frequency of snowflakes in a blizzard and with the same effect. One alone simply dissolves into nothingness. Pile on enough and conversation comes to a standstill, buried in inanity.

Rather than be heavy-handed about this whole thing, I propose making it into a game. Everyone in the US will be issued a buzzer from the game Taboo. Just like in that game, anyone will be allowed to buzz anyone else who utters one of those verbal pariahs. Speakers will stammer and struggle to avoid the rejected phrases as they do in the game, beginning every sentence saying, “Um, this is a thing that you might, um, literally…” BZZZZZZ!! How much fun will that be?

No more meaningless words, lots of buzzing. Win, win!

Vote for me.


* The alert reader will note that my list doesn’t include the verbal tics we hear and use constantly: I mean, kind of/sort of, really, y’know, um, uh. Stamping those out would cripple most people conversationally, including me. There’s no need to do that.

Yet.

Quick opportunity announcements!

There are two opportunities coming up imminently that I want to share:

100th Anniversary Celebration!

My paternal grandparents, whose story inspired my novel “A Song in the Storm”, were married on September 11, 1921. We’ll be celebrating the 100th anniversary of their marriage with anyone who wants to join us at the Old Mill Coffee House in Chelmsford, MA, from 1-3 PM.

We’ll have a cake to share and delicious coffee (or so I’m told; I don’t drink the stuff 🙂 ) and baked goods will be for sale in the shop, as will their usual assortment of excellent locally made products. Do I need to say that copies of my books will also be available for sale?

Support the battle to destroy MS before it destroys anyone else!

On Saturday, September 18, I’ll be doing my annual fundraising bike ride to fight the scourge of multiple sclerosis. If you’d like to support me or my team in this effort, click on one of these links:

Support Rick

Support The Vineyard Square Wheelers

As you’ll see on the web site, this ride, normally held on Martha’s Vineyard in the spring, will be in Concord, MA, because of Covid.

Covid or not, MS continues to ravage lives, so we don’t take the year off. Please consider sponsoring us as we ride to destroy this destroyer of lives.