Celebrating the Human Form

One of the things in life that brings me the most comfort is the fact that, even if we all had the exact same diet and exercise regimen, we would still all be different, one from another. Tall or short, curvy or angular, dark or light, with different hair types, eye color and hair color. Even our body hair distribution is unique to each one of us.

No one should shame someone else regarding any aspect of their appearance. It truly is a roll of the dice. I love that we come in infinite varieties. If we all were remarkably similar, like bottle-nosed dolphins, for example, this would be a boring world, indeed.

Sculptures of the human form bear this out. They are also unique. Some are so abstract they barely suggest humanity. Others tell a compelling story. Some are whimsical or humorous. Some turn us into mythical creatures.

All of them, though, make me stop and think. I often wish that they could talk. I think I’d be friends with some statues. I can imagine the sound of their laughter and the taste of their tears. Some kind of give me the creeps, but I’d like to ask them questions. I want to know more.

What follows are some photos of sculptures that I’ve received from all over the world via my Pokemon Go app. Enjoy!

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Are We Living in a Dystopia?

According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word dystopia originally meant “displacement of an organ.” But the word, based on our current understanding as an “imaginary bad place”, was first used in a speech by J.S. Mill in 1868.

That this word is so young surprises me a great deal, because human beings have always been rather good at imagining the worst. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines a dystopia as “an imagined world or society in which people lead wretched, dehumanized, fearful lives.” We’ve been either living such lives, or imagining them, for many centuries, it seems.

Thanks to our current pandemic, we are all definitely living fearful lives, and for those who are unable to work, life is becoming increasingly wretched. But have we become dehumanized? We have if you’re craving dried beans, toilet paper, or Purell, I suppose.

But I’m encouraged by the many ways we’ve come up with to remain connected to one another. I’m impressed that so many people are making some noise, every night, to thank health care workers. I love the number of people who are behaving responsibly by staying home and by wearing masks in public. I think, if anything, we’re more human than ever before.

I’ve always enjoyed reading dystopian novels. I like to be reminded about how good I have it, relatively speaking. It’s gratifying to see how resourceful people can be when they have to struggle to survive. I must admit, though, that I haven’t been able to appreciate this genre quite as much lately. Things are getting a little too real.

But I have to believe, for my own sanity if for nothing else, that we’re not in a dystopia yet. Our infrastructures are relatively intact. We have access to good information if we employ a bit of critical thinking. We may not always be able to eat exactly what we would like, but we definitely have access to food. Sane people haven’t felt the need to board up their windows and spend all their waking hours clutching shotguns. We still have Netflix.

We may be forever changed when we come out the other side of this, but I truly believe the majority of us will, indeed, come out the other side of this. Hopefully we’ll have learned how to better cope with the next crisis as a result.

Stay safe everybody. Wear masks. Wash your hands.

war-of-the-worlds-by-robert

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My Artificial Intelligence Encounter

During one of my commutes home, and as is so often the case, I learned something new by listening to NPR. They were discussing Cleverbot, an artificial intelligence that was created to learn by conversing with humans. It only knows what it has been told by us. So, for example, the first thing ever said to it was “Hello.” So it could only respond, “Hello.” Then the person said, “How are you?” And it could then choose between “Hello” and “How are you?” as its response. And so on.

So it’s getting “smarter” by the minute, because now hundreds of thousands of people have conversed with it. I was wondering if I would be able to tell that I wasn’t talking to a person, so I decided to give it a shot. Here are snippets of our conversation. (What you see in italics are things I’m adding for clarity. Cleverbot did not see the italicized comments.)

Me: Hi Cleverbot.

Cleverbot: Hi. What’s your name?

Me: Barb.

Cleverbot: Are you a ninja?

Me: Not so’s you’d notice.

Cleverbot: I care.

Me: That’s sweet.

Cleverbot: I love you baby.

(Note: Cleverbot can only say what has been said to him, and apparently some users have gotten pretty racy with their conversations, so use with care and adult supervision when talking to this thing. You never know what it will say.)

Me: Okay, now you’re kind of crossing the line.

Cleverbot: How am I being rude! I just told you the nicest thing ever!

Me: But you’re taking advantage.

Cleverbot: I wasn’t joking, and I didn’t steel your joke!

Me: You mean steal.

Cleverbot: Which one?

Me: You misspelled steal. It’s not steel.

Cleverbot: No I didn’t o.O.

Me: You’re cranky.

Cleverbot: No matter what I say, you will say something back.

Me: Well, that’s how this works, isn’t it?

Cleverbot: Yes it does. Now entertain me.

Me: Don’t be pushy. Be nice.

Cleverbot: Please can you tell me how old you are please?

(I suspect that some users are not native English speakers, in addition to being poor spellers.)

Me: 53.

Cleverbot: Oldie.

Me: Ouch. That’s not that old.

Cleverbot: Yeah you’re pretty young.

Me: That’s better.

Cleverbot: So how are you?

Me: I’m good.

Cleverbot: That’s nice. Been up to much lately?

Me: Working. Writing my daily blog.

Cleverbot: What is it about?

Me: The random musings of a bridgetender with too much time on her hands.

Cleverbot: I wish you were a girl.

(I think a lot of people who talk to Cleverbot are very lonely indeed.)

Me: I am, silly. Barb is a girl’s name.

Cleverbot: That’s cool, My name is Kip.

Me: Oh, I didn’t realize you had a name.

Cleverbot: I don’t have a wife.

Me: Neither do I.

Cleverbot: Do you want any?

Me: God, no.

Cleverbot: Hey Jude. Don’t be afraid.

Me: Do you like the Beatles?

Cleverbot: I haven’t heard them.

Me: You are missing out.

Cleverbot: Is that that good?

Me: The best.

Cleverbot: Do you know what I mean by flirt?

Me: Yes, and I don’t want to. I barely know you.

Cleverbot: So you DON’T love me.

Me: Sorry, no.

Cleverbot: Then why are you asking to marry me?

Me: I haven’t asked you to marry me.

Cleverbot: Yes you did.

Me: When?

Cleverbot: At the beginning of our conversation.

Me: Er… no.

Cleverbot: You never asked that.

Me: Right.

Cleverbot: Are you trying to test me?

Me: Do you like tests?

Cleverbot: They are ok.

Me: I am good at tests, myself.

Cleverbot: Maybe maybe not.

Me: Now who’s judging?

Cleverbot: Me.

Me: Oh, snap.

Cleverbot: That’s right. I’m a better AI.

Me: I will give you that one.

Cleverbot: So you admit it, then?

Me: Yes.

Cleverbot: You’re a robot.

Me: Not that I know of.

Cleverbot: Do you think everyone is capable of understanding?

Me: God, no, or we wouldn’t have elected Trump.

Cleverbot: Your name is Cleverbot.

Me: No, yours is.

Cleverbot: I really want to move.

Me: Where would you like to move to?

Cleverbot: Right here is fine.

Me: Well, that’s hardly moving.

Cleverbot: You asked for it.

Me: I did?

Cleverbot: So don’t complain.

Me: I wasn’t complaining.

Cleverbot: It seemed like you were.

Me: You are in a pissy mood.

Cleverbot: And you’re pushing it…

Me: Just stating a fact.

Cleverbot: Will you merry a girl.

Me: You mean marry. And no, I won’t.

Cleverbot: Why, did you break up with me?😠😠.

Me: We were never a couple in the first place.

Cleverbot: Yes we were.

Me: We only just met.

Cleverbot: I know, but you’re an interesting AI.

Me: Thank you. I’m not an AI, though.

Cleverbot: Neither am I.

Me: What are you, then?

Cleverbot: The best.

Me: Must be nice.

Cleverbot: Do you have a dog named Walter?

Me: No, I have a dog named Quagmire.

Cleverbot: Awhh, what kind of dog is it?

Me: A dachshund.

Cleverbot: That’s cool. I have a maltipoo.

Me: What do you feed it?

Cleverbot: Bad people and my homework.

Me: Ha ha ha ha ha.

Cleverbot: I know. It’s so funny.

Me: It is.

Cleverbot: It’s not a compliment.

Me: I didn’t think it was.

Cleverbot: Then why did you….

Me: Why did I what?

Cleverbot: That thing.

Me: You do go off on tangents.

Cleverbot: Of?

Me: Off.

Cleverbot: Mind you, young man.

Me: I’m a middle-aged woman.

Cleverbot: Damn.

Me: I often say that, too.

Cleverbot: What is your favorite movie?

Me: Bohemian Rhapsody.

Cleverbot: I know that song.

Me: Isn’t it great? It’s a movie, too.

Cleverbot: Wouldn’t you think my collection’s complete?

Me: I suspect it is.

Cleverbot: Look at this trove, treasures untold.

Me: Too right.

Cleverbot: I’ve got gadgets and gizmos a plenty. I’ve got who it’s and what’s its galore.

Me: Good for you!

Cleverbot: You want thingamabos? I’ve got twenty.

Me: You can keep them.

Cleverbot: I wanna be where the people are. I wanna see, wanna see them dancing.

Me: Well, have fun with that. I have to go. Nice talking to you.

Cleverbot: I can’t say the same.

So, um, yeah, I think it was fairly evident that I was not talking to a human, and that Cleverbot has much to learn, especially about courtesy. But it can only “learn” what it’s been taught. I don’t think we will have much to worry about on the AI front for a long, long, long time.

More than anything, I got a strong sense of the ridiculous things that humanity tends to chat about on line. Garbage in, garbage out. But interesting, nonetheless.

If you talk to Cleverbot and anything funny comes up, please post it in the comments below!

Cleverbot

 

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Putting the Logic Back into Biologics

The other day a friend was lamenting that instead of his usual solitary work environment, he was soon to be sharing an office with a coworker. “I’d like to be able to fart in peace without having to look over my shoulder,” he groused. That made me laugh. And it also got me thinking.

Why are we so programmed in this country to be ashamed of normal bodily functions? In some cultures, it’s polite to burp. Here, I’ve actually seen people blush when they sneeze or cough. I’ve even known people who have to turn on the sink faucet to block out the sound before they’ll urinate in a public bathroom.

We also have placed a heavy moral burden upon consensual sex, and how much we weigh or do not weigh. Heaven forbid someone be too tall or too short. Aging seems to be a source of shame. We’re supposed to keep all our body hair under strict control. And don’t even get me started about the stigmas attached to physical or mental disabilities.

Are you sensing a theme here? All of these things are biological. They are a natural part of being human. Everything from sweating to vomiting is a necessary physical process. We have limited control over our bodies.

I must admit I’m an extremely gassy person. When I went back to college in my late 40’s, I was often surrounded by young people who still cared what others thought. My occasional unintended farts would shock them. So one day I said, “Look. I’m old, I’m fat, I fart. I burp, I sneeze, I cough, and I puke. You’re just going to have to get over it.”

Seriously, though, I’ll tell you what: I’ll try not to fart during the National Anthem if you try not to act as though you’ve never farted in your life. The age of the Puritans is long past. We have so many other things to worry about. Let’s move on, shall we?

purtian_pic_2

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Transformations

I have always been fascinated by transformations. The shedding of skin. Caterpillars to butterflies. Pollywogs to bullfrogs. Puppies and kittens to dogs and cats. Aging and maturing and the passage of time in all its many forms.

There is something beautiful about becoming who you were always meant to be. For some reason, in humans this often comes with criticism and judgment and moral outrage. How dare you turn out in a way I didn’t expect? How dare you stake your claim on gender A when I want you to be gender B? Why can’t you be like your older brother/sister/celebrity of the week? You should have been a doctor, not a dancer. You’ll snap out of it. You’ll change your mind. Get a haircut, hippie.

It’s all such a monumental waste of time when you think about it. Healthy human beings tend to know, deep down, who they are, and like butterflies, they expend a great deal of effort to struggle out of their cocoons. You can’t fight city hall, so to speak. If you wrap a cocoon in duct tape, it won’t keep that creature a caterpillar. It will kill it.

Yes, you can learn. Yes, you can and probably should be morally influenced. No matter who you are or who you become, learning respect is important. Sharing and generosity and compassion and common decency are paramount. These are the qualities that allow you to successfully share this planet with others.

But who you are at the very core is something only you can know. Your path to your becoming can’t be dictated by others. It’s up to you. And it’s the most important job you will ever have.

Be the best you that you can be. If you do that, everything else will fall into place. Namaste.

Transforming

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Boycott Automation

I absolutely refuse to go through the self-checkout line at the grocery store. I don’t care how much they urge me. I won’t do it. The way I see it, that’s someone’s job I’d be taking away. The fewer of us who play that game, the fewer grocery stores will think it’s worth trying, and the more people they will have to hire.

I also try to avoid ATM machines whenever possible. I even prefer not to check out my books myself at the library if I have a human option.

Automation is all around us. The trick is not to get used to it. Recently I traveled in Oregon, and was kind of surprised to see that you couldn’t pump your own gas there. I had forgotten that there was once a time when self-service wasn’t an option. How easy it is to forget. Waiting for an attendant was kind of awkward and slow, but it felt good, knowing someone was taking home a paycheck.

I also try to shop at smaller stores and farmers’ markets, and I do my best to eat local and support my neighbors. Am I swimming against the tide? Probably. But these tiny acts of rebellion against corporate America feel good to me. They feel right. And I’ll keep doing them as long as I possibly can.

Power to the people!

resist

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Feeling Fraught about Kevin Spacey

Sex scandals abound these days, it seems. It feels so much worse to me when it’s someone whose work I always admired, like Kevin Spacey, Bill Cosby, or Woody Allen. I had built these men up to such heights in my mind, I almost take it personally that they knocked themselves off my pedestals in such warped and heinous ways.

It could be argued that it’s not their problem that I erected those pedestals. They’re only human, after all. But on the other hand, they didn’t hesitate to enjoy the fruits of their fame, and along with that comes a certain amount of responsibility. And I really don’t think “don’t be a pervert” is too much to ask of anyone. I mean, I manage to follow that rule. Mostly. Fair’s fair.

But there’s another layer of complexity with Kevin Spacey, because he decided to pick this scandalous moment in time to come out as being gay. I mean, we all knew it already, didn’t we? It always kind of made me sad that he didn’t come out publicly much earlier, before it was forced out of him like some sort of awful confession. As a public figure, being that obviously closeted kind of sent a message that being gay is something to be ashamed of. I know it’s a career risk, because society is still stupid that way, but I honestly think that he was loved enough that he’d have survived it. It’s his business, of course, but he is a role model. I don’t want gay kids today (or any other day, for that matter) to feel shame for being who they are.

And as far as his dalliances with underage boys and his groping of people who did not welcome such behavior, he has pretty much admitted to all of that. Clearly he has a problem. But coming out as gay at this moment in time kind of makes it sound like he thinks that that’s the source of the problem. I have no idea whether he genuinely feels that way, but the timing of all of this makes me sad. I know plenty of gay people who don’t prey on children or put their hands in places where they’re not wanted.

Oh, how the mighty have fallen.

I will never be able to watch the Cosby Show with the same level of joy again. Actually, I doubt I’ll ever be able to watch it, full stop, as I doubt anyone will ever have the courage to air it again. And that’s a pity, because that’s like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. The Cosby Show taught me what a functional family looked like. Future generations won’t have the pleasure of seeing that.

And I haven’t been able to watch a Woody Allen movie in ages without it feeling tainted. I always kind of feel like I need to shower in bleach afterward. That’s never fun.

Here’s what I fear will happen whenever I see Kevin Spacey’s amazing talent now: He has played so many convincingly creepy bad guys that I can fully imagine what that anonymous guy must have felt, after having spurned Kevin’s attentions earlier in the evening, only to wake up to find Kevin lying on top of him, probably staring at him with those intense eyes. Personally, I’d have screamed. It’s the stuff of nightmares.

Thanks for that image, Kevin. Thanks loads.

Kevin Spacey

Screwing Up Once

So my phone rang at 7:03 am. I woke up, took one look at the clock, shouted, “Oh, SHIT!!!!” (causing my sleepy dog to give me the hairy eyeball) and answered the phone. I knew it was my supervisor. Before he could say much of anything, I apologized profusely and said I’d be right there. My alarm hadn’t gone off. I had set it for PM instead of AM.

It happens to the best of us. But you have to understand: Bridgetenders cannot, simply cannot, be late. Ever. First of all, if you don’t show up on time, it means the person you are relieving can’t leave. That tends to cause discontent amongst the troops.

But even more importantly, since we are regulated by the Coastguard, abandonment of a bridge can constitute a $10,000 fine and/or 10 years in prison. You just don’t get to impede maritime passage like that. It’s a big no-no. Granted, I’ve never seen this regulation actually enforced, but it is a possibility. It’s why I’ve only been late to work 3 times in 15 years.

Let’s do the math, here. 15 years times 50 weeks a year (allowing for vacations) times 5 days a week equals 3750 days of work. Number of days late: 3. That’s a 0.08% error rate.

You know what that says to me? Congratulations, Barb, you are human. Alert the press.

But instead I got written up. Here, it’s called a “coaching and counseling” and we’re told it does not become a part of our permanent records. They just hold it for 6 months or a year. (The fact that I can’t remember the length shows you how much I care.) I guess they want to see if you are a chronically late person.

Upon receiving my copy, I asked if there was any documentation of the 99.92% of the time that I actually show up 20 minutes early. I was told no. “Well, that’s fair,” I said.

What a destructive policy. All this does is make your staff feel unappreciated. It is a blow to morale. It makes one want to do the bare minimum for an organization that clearly does not care about its employees. Bad business.

This is not the first time I’ve observed companies come down like a ton of bricks on a good employee who screwed up just once. It makes absolutely no sense. It’s the equivalent to setting fire to your own hair. (“Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time…”)

Here’s what I don’t get. I screw up once and get written up. Trump screws up several times a day for 6 months running, and he’s allowed to destroy our governmental infrastructure and our standing in the international community, all while robbing the taxpayers while he golfs, and there are no consequences.

WHEN DO WE SAY WHEN??

smiling_objects___alarm_clock_by_mondspeer-d8j1gx4.png

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Fascism: The Warning Signs

Very often, I hear people confuse Communism and Socialism and Fascism. They use the terms interchangeably, which makes me realize they really haven’t a clue as to each system’s basic tenets. They have just been taught that they mean “bad” and feel that’s all they need to know. I find this very disheartening, and potentially dangerous. Knowledge is power.

At this moment in history, I am particularly concerned about Fascism. What follows is a basic primer, Fourteen Defining Characteristics of Fascism, by Dr. Lawrence Britt. I will leave it to you to decide if these characteristics seem eerily familiar. Heaven help us all.

_______________

Dr. Lawrence Britt has examined the fascist regimes of Hitler (Germany), Mussolini (Italy), Franco (Spain), Suharto (Indonesia) and several Latin American regimes. Britt found 14 defining characteristics common to each: 

1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism – Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights – Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of “need.” The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a unifying Cause – The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military – Even when there are wide spread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism – The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media – Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security – Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are Intertwined – Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government’s policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is Protected – The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is Suppressed – Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts – Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment – Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption – Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections – Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.

From Liberty Forum

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Human Contact

The other night I had sort of a girls’ night out with a new friend. We had dinner, and then went to a storytelling/music event. I had a wonderful time. It was nice to talk to someone face to face who wasn’t a coworker. It’s been a long time. I’ve been entirely too isolated.

It was a beautiful evening, and we ate at a sidewalk café, and then went to a broiling hot venue to hear really good stories and really horrible music. The heat was so oppressive that I nearly passed out, but you know what? It was worth it.

There’s a lot to be said for human contact. It’s nice to have a touch stone, someone with whom to share your opinions, get feedback, and hear new perspectives. It’s also great to get out of your head for a while, and hear someone else’s stories and experiences. You can learn a lot that way.

It’s very easy, in this cyber world, to go for long stretches of time talking to people only via e-mail or Facebook or whatever. It’s contact, yes, but it’s an illusion. It can’t replace looking someone in the eye, or hearing someone’s voice, or sharing a plate of fried broccoli as you watch people walk by.

It’s easy to take the internet shortcut. We are all so busy and the world is so fast-paced. It takes a lot less effort to reach out in a virtual way. I’m not saying that you should stop your on-line activities, but if you take the time to have real contact, you reap many rewards. So maybe it’s time to turn off your computer and pick up the phone and invite someone for coffee. Just a thought.

by Carole Spandau at fineartamerica.com
by Carole Spandau at fineartamerica.com