Faith is the New God

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Gobekli

Engraving from Gobekli Tepe

In Yuval Harari’s masterful look at the history of the human race, Sapiens, he relates that 10,000 years ago the human race went from being hunter-gathers to farmers. During this Agricultural Revolution, Man domesticated a few key species of animals and plants and settled down to create home. The question is why did this happen. Scholars used to think that it was advances in Man’s intelligence at this time that made him able to decipher Nature’s secrets, enabling him to tame sheep and cultivate wheat, and abandon the more dangerous life of being hunter-gatherers. Harari calls this a “fantasy” and “history’s biggest fraud.”

Studies of ancient skeletons from this period show that humans paid dearly for the transition to a dependence on wheat. For instance, they moved from ten-hour work weeks to hunt and gather food, to forty to sixty-hour work weeks to grow it. And with this change came new obstacles–slipped discs, arthritis, hernias, worse diet, hunger and disease. Wheat demanded a lot – cleared fields, space, water, nutrients and a secured area, so that no pests or animals destroyed your crops.

With no evidence that humans became smarter at this time of their history, what could have made them discard a lifestyle where they worked less than ten hours a week for their food, had a healthy, varied diet, and the freedom to roam and live wherever they wanted?

One of Harari’s answers is survival of the species. You could now, under the best circumstances have lots of babies who also require lots of attention, have them in one place called home and keep them alive more easily rather than carry one or two around with you as you gathered and hunted.

Oh, and there’s one more reason Harari suggests why you might want to settle down to change your lifestyle and feed a lot of people in a consistent fashion.  God.

Of all the human genera–Homo Neanderthalis, Homo Erectus, etc.— Homo Sapiens were the most social of the human species, a community of gossips, of storytellers, of animals who liked to share consciousnesses. They not only survived but beat out the other species of humans because they had the ability to tell stories together, and create fictions that helped them thrive.

One of those fictions over the years is money. It has no inherent value, but because we all agree that it has value, the financial system works. Another is God. We could gather and tell stories about God or Gods,  why we we’re here and collectively believe in the same set of stories and characters.

For proof of this connection to God, Harari points out that the first wheat was domesticated in southwest Turkey within miles of the Gobekli Tepe. This is a monumental Stonehenge-like structure from the period seven thousand years before Stonehenge was created, covered with spectacular engravings. Large quantities of food were required to feed the many people it took to build and use these monumental structures. The structures, as far as we can tell, have no practical purpose, except for the worship of God or Gods.

Man has always wondered, has always needed to explain who he was as part of the universe, has always made up stories of why we are here. To do that, he has built many monuments to God(s).  The form God(s) have taken has changed with the culture, but the need for God(s) have remained constant. That’s a human need at our very base. Let’s call that need faith. Faith that Man fits into the universe and has reason to be here.

Harari suggests that we are the only animal that went from a middle place on the food chain to the top in an extremely short period of time. Evolution had time to deal with other animals who ascended the food chain, to balance things out. With Man this evolution is currently behind and trying to catch up. That has added to our need for God(s). We are a little neurotic about whether we really belong here, on top of the food chain or not.

This same neuroses fueled the Scientific Revolution which started about 500 years ago. Now we weren’t just hunting for, or growing our own apples, we were asking why they fell to the ground. We went from thinking we knew everything to thinking we knew nothing and therefore questioning everything. Through this we have learned so much about our world, studied so much about our world and changed so much about our world.

But science is rudderless. And the basis for it is a lust for knowledge. We’ve made the causes to advance humanity since the Scientific Revolution, but haven’t really considered just how global were the effects of our actions: food chain neuroses.

So we race against time. We reverse engineer everything. We deny the overall causes we have made in the universe, even as Nature delivers the effects of those causes as a planet out of balance. We recycle and hope. And still protect our nest-eggs by buying stocks in conscious-less companies and build our houses on flood plains.

Our current lust for knowledge has so many times led us to think that we have outlived the need for faith. We think we live separate from nature. In the past, we committed ourselves to social structures and moral structures based on living with these stories of faith in an organized way. But now, we don’t need God, we say. That is an old- fashioned concept, we say.

Still, as a race, we seek for things that bring us together.  This need for faith that I propose is at the core of being human still creates amazing things communally–whether it is culture, tribe, village, town, city, nation, sports culture, brand culture.

Some admit to our need for faith, but say that it doesn’t matter what we believe in, as long as in our chosen groups we believe, and everyone else does too. That is how faith works.

This works for a while. But ultimately it is not very holistic and our place in the universe is lost. We can have faith that the Yankees are going to be great this year or that Chanel is a cool brand, but that doesn’t cut it when you get laid off or your girl friend walks out.

That’s why we’re in a sea change, right now. We are post Scientific Revolution. It is time to understand how our individual faith works and use it to become more responsible, to dialogue, to tell and gather around positive causes and stories

And we will know when we are on to something when each of us finds that “open space created by dialogue—whether conducted with our neighbors, with history, with the nature of the cosmos—that human wholeness can be sustained,” says SGI Buddhist leader Daisaku Ikeda. He goes on, “The closed silence of an autistic space can only become the site of spiritual suicide. We are not born human in any but a biological sense; we can only learn to know ourselves and others and thus be trained in the way of being human.”

As I said at the beginning of this essay, Harari’s book is masterful, but he has a very modern Achilles heel. He believes most deeply in his own intelligence. And once he follows that road alone, he ends up in a very dark alley. Without faith and human heart- to-heart connection, he fears everything the future could bring, and frightens himself and us with the twin Frankensteins of cloning and building technological human beings.

He forgets the human need for faith that raised a culture of worship from nothing in ancient Turkey, and so have many others.

What does that faith look like? Where do I go to get it? I don’t know. I met a Nichiren Buddhist 21 years ago and then married her. That’s who I got it from.

Nichiren Buddhism is just one cultural religious practice that can help. It talks about the enlightened nature of things — that everything has its dark side and its enlightened side. It says that everyone has the potential to be a Buddha—an enlightened human, but the struggle to do so is a consistent key to how we must live every day. It says that we are our environment (not that other guy), change ourselves and our environment changes. Then it gives us tools to train our humanity to go towards the light, on a daily, weekly, yearly, lifelong, culture-long, nation-long basis.

There are other moral-ethical-historical-religious structures, stories and principles that can help us get there. Pick one. Because the one thing we have proven time and again through the darkness of the human soul, is that we can’t do it alone. We need each other.

When our negative, secular culture wants to tell dystopian stories of our disasters and demise, our job is to tell and gather around positive causes and stories. Our job is to take actions to create positive culture. Our job is to remember that at the core of our human being is a need for Faith.

 

 

In this Window, President Viola Swamp

You remember Viola Swamp, don’t you? She is the character from that book you read in Kindergarten and First Grade, Miss Nelson is Missing. She is the antagonist who appears when the children in Miss Nelson’s class misbehave so badly that sweet Miss Nelson has to take serious measures. Her measures are to dress up as Viola Swamp and get those kids to take their studies seriously. “She was a real witch,” the book exclaims.

I would posit that the American Experiment is behaving like Miss Nelson’s class was—making faces, throwing spitballs at the ceiling, even rude during Story Hour. There is a collective need of the lazy to have things done for us, there is a collective greed to want so many things that our houses are full of junk and we support the faceless corporations whose only thought is to sell us that junk to enhance their bottom line, not the quality and heart that goes into good product, there is collective racism to keep the blacks and women and LGBTQ’s down “where they belong”. Like Miss Nelson’s class we want it all our own way and are unwilling to look into our own souls to rectify anything that doesn’t immediately serve us, we think.

Trump is our Viola Swamp because through his negative role modelling, he is showing us what we have become–the ugliest side of our karmic shallowness. Which is a reminder of what the Buddhist leader Nichiren Daishonin said in 1260, “When a nation becomes disordered, it is the spirits that first show signs of rampancy. Because the spirits become rampant, all the people of the nation become disordered.”

But thanks to Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump and capitalists wildly overplaying their hand, the American Experiment has never been so awakened. Look at what has happened while Trump has been in office: the rise of the progressive agenda, the commitment to issues that most Americans believe in but he has vowed to kill for special interests once and for all (action on global warming and the environment, action on LGBTQ, action on women’s rights, action on this society’s ingrained racism, action on universal health care, a government that works for the people, voter apathy, use of the military for power only, the list goes on.)

“Nichiren Daishonin teaches that the direction of a nation is decided by its people and people are governed by their beliefs. Therefore, the beliefs that guide people’s actions will decide the course of society. The basis of society, he emphasized, does not lie in its political structure, but in the beliefs people hold in their hearts,” ( July Living Buddhism page 6). True in medieval Japan, truer today.

Through Swamp/Trump we are starting to understand what is in our hearts. What WE feel this nation was (or should have been) built on. We have gotten off our sofa to protest, wear masks to keep others safe, raise money for progressive causes. If you were to write a children’s book about it, you would see that Trump/Swamp hasn’t missed ONE aspect of who we are and what we are realizing is important to us as a nation, a people.

And more than ever, Biden is not a candidate, but an action, that we the people take, to address the things we feel are wrong.

It is too bad for poor Donald Trump, that to be as effective a Viola Swamp as he can be for America, he can’t also be Miss Nelson. But his Viola, is exactly what we needed.

Ask the Answer Seeker

Top Seven Ways to Prove You’re Seeking Answers Outside Yourself

1. You use the strategy of the shopping mall instead of the strategy of faith.

2. You start every sentence with “Please oh please oh please God, if you do this one thing for me I’ll be forever grateful.”

3. You decide the answer to life is Twinkies and you eat 300 to prove it.

4. You call your guru on Monday, your mother on Tuesday, your shrink on Wednesday, your zen meditation master on Thursday, and then say screw it and visit your bartender on Friday.

5. You think you see the devil in everyone but yourself.

6. You run faster and faster to succeed and find yourself more and more lost.

7. You tell off someone you love because you know they’re right.

 

Best Seven Ways to Slander the Present Moment

  1. Worry about what is going to happen next year.
  2. Hold your breath.
  3. Look deeply into your iPhone. Very deeply. You are getting sleepy, very sleepy. When I say the word ‘post’ you will follow my every command until Mark Zuckerberg snaps his fingers.
  4. Think to yourself, of yourself, for yourself without dialogue or engagement with anyone else.
  5. Plan the world’s greatest anything without doing any of the work or research.
  6. Think that one day you will eat pie in the sky.
  7. Blame your shoes for the faults of your feet

 

 

Church of Dog

IMG_1557

Rev. Charlo 

“My dog is my shepherd. I shall not want. He pulleth me to strange poop in green pastures. He leadeth me to temptation where he finds the meat morsel in the garbage. He delivereth me from myself.”

Isn’t it interesting that dogs seem mostly happy to lead their humans around to see what nature used to look like? The weeds and grasses, the pooping in the bushes, the smell of rain about to arrive, the look of the clouds as they scud across the sky. I raise my head from my iphone long enough to consider this. And then it’s back to a different reality, one that is probably less real than the one my dog is leading me through.

That’s because dogs have something to share; a command of the world that we do not. Their senses are more acute. When God gave Man a larger brain, it didn’t come with a very good set of senses. As a result, we build and build and text and text, but rely on small animals to place us in the world we were born into, and out of the ones we create.

With the loss of religion and our burgeoning unconscious disrespect for nature, it is our dogs who connect us. We are pulled back into nature out of our technology centers by a little scout, a pilot.

He leadeth me into my own neighborhood daily, and bringeth me such neighbors as haven’t seen me in a while.

“I’m just looking at the changes in the neighborhood,” says Alyssa.

“How nice,” I say, and my dog Charlo noses her leg.

“Yes, it changes from day to day with what we do, and season to season with what God does,” she goes on. “I love what they’ve done to their front garden, these people. I don’t know their name.”

“Mary,” I reply.

“Yes, that Mary, she’s done a great job here. Look at those flowers. Did Madeleine go to college, I haven’t seen her around.”

“Yes. We’re empty nesters now,” I reply. “And this weekend Maria is away in Florida.“

“Oh, you should come visit, I know that Browning would be happy to see you.”

“Would be delighted to.”

This doesn’t happen when you have no dog to walk.

And, walking the dog brings other non-dog-walking acolytes out. An elderly lady with a mini-leaf blower in one hand walks out her front door and spies us.  “Hi pooch. What’s her name. Oh she’s a cutie. Oh, sorry, boy? Well no wonder he’s so standoffish. He’s got to show who’s the boss.” Then she recedes to her doorway and blows the four leaves that have accumulated on her welcome mat far out into the street, like somehow nature is impinging on her humanity.

I don’t mean to over idealize other creatures, just to say that they are closer to the actual world—the one we are born into and die out of– than we are.  Charlo has his biases. It is tribal I am sure. He always greets the poodles with a nice wet nose, but the German Shepherds can be a block away and he will strain at the leash, growl, bark and attempt to viciously attack while being held by this thin nylon woven thing between us.  The same is true for Pit Bulls.  Some ancient wrong by warring dog tribes that has never been righted still rankles him, and so suspicions and paranoia reign.

You see, they are only a little above us, these dogs. Not leagues. But if we’re to understand our own humanity, they are a necessity.

“He restoreth my soul. He guideth me in the paths of righteousness. Even though I walk through the street of careless garbage, I will fear no evil, just wrap your leash more tightly around my left hand and tug more often.–‘Don’t eat that Charlo, that’s disgusting.’”

 

 

Self Help Books You Won’t See on the Bestseller List

self-help-bookstore

Chasing Your Tail to Success

Take Hold of Your Life! — But Be Home for Dinner

Slacker Tracker– Are You One? Nahhh

Who Me? Dealing with Low Self Worth

How Much Do You THINK It’s Worth—A Guide to Your First Billion

Don’t Look Up–Building a Business in Your iPhone Without Having to Deal with Actual People

Wear a Mask— A Garbage Collector’s Book of Wisdom

Does Your Wiki Leak?—Identity Theft for Seniors

The Goodasses Guide to Being a Baddass – The Nice Guys Guide to Schizophrenia

Beautiful Cow, Beautiful You – Milking Your Way to Beauty

Your Best You and His Best Him — Creating Your Best They

Action Figures For Fat Asses — Taking Inaction Seriously

Dead Phone Club–Navigating the Twenty Twenties by Losing Power

Making Hard Times Harder—The Hidden Value of Stubbornness

Don’t Sweat the Handcuffs –7 Ways to Solve Prison Perspiration

Reach For It—How to Get Things That Don’t Belong to You

Awaken Your Inner Beef—How to Argue and Chew Meat at the Same Time

 

New Newspaper

IMG_2413It was a deal too good to pass up. Sure, I buy a newspaper, now and then, mostly TheNew York Times. Sure, I also click through to stories that people have sent me online and scroll through. And oops, I just reached my limit of ten free articles per month. But until last Tuesday, no one had offered me a deal like this. After my ten free articles, I was offered, as a New Yorker who reads The New York Times, the deal that if I wanted to pay a dollar a week, I would get complete access to The Times’stories on my technical devices. $4 a month. A little difficult to pass up.

So, I went for it. And soon I was scrolling through lots of stories on my phone, as freewheeling as a teenager in a hot-rod on the open road. In fact, too freewheeling. Something was the matter. It was still the news. It was still The Times. But it didn’t seem to have as much weight, not as much gravitas. I could scroll through disasters and political crises with the tip of my thumb. Stop and read, scroll and view. Free-wheeling.

But here’s the problem. That’s also the way I FELT about the news after reading it in this little thing in my palm. Thirty-three deaths due to arson, scroll on. Various entities making a laughingstock of our democracy, can’t touch me! The planet going to pot, hee hee!!! Watch me pop a wheelie!

It was a little like reading a comic book. Paragraph of content, graphic photo ad about matching men’s and women’s underwear, paragraph of content, graphic photo ad about Broadway play about hell. I’m all for not being traumatized by the daily diet of bad news, but this was something else. I wasn’t really getting any news. I was the Teflon reader, a glass between me and it.

So, I decided to invest in an old-fashioned newspaper again. $3. Not cheap. A big old broadsheet New York Times. Same stories. Different wrapper. When I opened it with two hands and two arms, my chest expanded. There was a physical world laid out before me that I could choose to read or not; allow my eyes to skip about and land, then dig in. My fingers got inky, the newspaper wouldn’t fold the way I wanted it, but somehow, reading the same story in newsprint that I had read on my iPhone, had way more impact and meaning.

In addition, I didn’t have to think, “Gee I wonder if there’s a good article in the Science section I should check out.”  No. I couldn’t avoid the Science section. It fell out on my lap and welcomed me in inky delight with a large photo of a duckbilled platypus as big as my head. The platypus was asking me, begging me really, to read about his plight. Why wouldn’t I want to read about a duckbilled platypus? But I never would have reached this article in my phone. I wouldn’t have a platypus in my lap that I had to decide what to do with. I would have had to search out Science or KNOW that today there is an article on duckbilled platypi. And probably, in my haste to read the latest comic on impeachment, would have forgotten that science, let alone duckbilled platypi existed. This is called work. I don’t want to do work when I read the news, I want to be in a contemplative mode and consider the world–all of it–and take it in as it surrounds me. I want to wave my arms attached to newsprint back and forth in front of me and fold and open like some dancer of life.

When I had finished with the newspaper, there was that split second moment of should I keep this or should I dispose of it – the corpus of news, the body. No matter what my decision was, it was a decision: that second of conscience that rears its head. And then I kept it or threw it away. But the news itself had entered my motor skills (beyond the thumb) and again, made an impression. No such impression or decision was ever made with the tip of my thumb and my coquettish eye.

Is it just me? Am I a dinosaur? I will check my phone, glance at my phone, read a quick update on my phone, be protective of my phone, be disgusted that I need my phone, but seriously read, properly digest and contemplate a worthy article on my phone? No. My life is larger and more sublimely complicated than any three square inches of plastic.

Inalienable

plastic forkThere are certain costs to being human. I would call them inalienable costs, except I’m not completely sure what inalienable means. Is it like, not an alien? No, that would be unalienable. None of us are aliens except to ourselves. Maybe it means that there are little aliens inside of us and those aliens are not free to leave us because they are inalienable. However, when these aliens ask for things, and that in fact is their purpose in life, they LOVE asking for things and dragging us down, there is a cost.

What I’m trying to say is that when you buy a Nutty Buddy because you really want ice cream, but you happen to be on an interstate in Idaho and that’s all the gas station convenience store has to sell and when you bite into it it’s so hard you chip a tooth because it’s been in that convenience store freezer since the French Revolution, and you get to the cone part and it’s so chewy it’s like gum. That’s a cost! You expected something made yesterday at a creamery in Vermont!

Think about plastic forks. You used them once and then tossed them, including that box of 500 you got at Costco, but only used 12 for Sunday’s BBQ. Who needs 488 forks? Only the Devil. No big deal, they cost $4.99 and they’re taking up space. But that’s exactly what the other nine billion people on the planet are thinking and as a human race, the plastic fork crisis is entering a new and more dangerous phase. That is a cost.

So what do you do? Do you storm and rage, blame everyone but yourself, ask for an audience with the queen, invent an algorithm that will disappear forks???

No, you admit that there’s a cost to being human. Make yourself a nice latte and think about it. I have been gifted 488 plastic forks. Time for salad.

Absolute victory in life isn’t over obstacles it’s over yourself.

Pill break. This pill has been engineered by very smart people (and yes most of them were men but things are changing, that was the times, you can’t blame them for that) to remove warts from behind your ear lobes, and frankly you’ve been looking a little like Dumbo recently, despite the fact that this one little pill could cause depression, skin rash, tumors in tabby cats, and a strange unnatural urge to call people Chuck. That, my friends, is the cost.

Perhaps this alien self-help column is the last straw. Perhaps you are reconsidering that you ever were my friend. Remember the time I told you I’d hold your place in line while you went to the bathroom and I got the last four REM tickets for myself before you came back? Listen, I’ve never doubted you and in fact put up with your political screeds when I understand it is just disappointment because you expected our leaders to lead us blindly and say, “Good leader,” instead of having some part in the whole historio-mythical-American-circus dance yourself,  do you have any idea what a profound moment this is, and no, I don’t really care that you smoked hash with my best friends on that yacht and never even invited me. So, you can’t divorce me because I divorce you, friend. Your kind of friends I don’t need. I’m the best person in the world I know and who wouldn’t want me as their friend?

See how loud those aliens can get if you let them go on and on? You see, that’s a cost.

Do you think these costs are free? No, they have a cost. Time to alienate them. Here’s where I would like to express another Buddhist principle, if you’ll allow me. If not, skip forward.

Obstacles reveal your true essence.

And you might as well apply that to the race as well. You see what I mean?

Remember that Nutty Buddy? Are you really going to let a mushy Nutty Buddy from the French Revolution define who you are–that guy/gal who ate that awful Nutty Buddy? That was the cost. You paid the cost. You’re not going to complain all day and hang yourself because of a fucking Nutty Buddy are you?

And just what IS your relationship with plastic forks? You could be the Gandhi of plastic forks if you so decide. Gandhi was an inspiration, what about you? Just because you are drowning in plastic forks does that mean you can’t be an inspiration, a hero for the planet? No. Use your initiative. Human ingenuity is the promise of the race. Design a trendy hair clip from a plastic fork that anyone can do at home. Bam! You’re a hero. Your inalienable rights are to face the cost of being alive and to leave the planet better than when you found it. That is the only cost that matters. You have aliens inside?  Get out your forks and alien-eat them.

Dig in!

Geezers Three

A few new and a few old favorites from “A Geezers Garden of Verses”

Nervous Man
There was a nervous man,
Lived in a nervous house,
He had a nervous dog
And a nervous little spouse.

He had a little tic,
That twitched in every case,
And when he raised his eyebrows,
It twitched right off his face.

He cursed his nervous habits,
And his life of nervous need,
But dared not change them,
Oh no no!
Who knows where that would lead?

But sometime dreamt a difference,
But somewhere saw a start,
And through his dreams and passions,
Was reminded of his heart.

 

My Body
(Sung to the tune of “My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean”)
My body lies when it feels healthy,
My body’s a stranger to me,
It whispers of life’s limitations
Oh bring back my body to me.

Ohhh, bring back
Flashback,
Bring back my body to me, to me
Throw back,
Fast track,
Bring back my body to me.

It’s weathered my trials and my troubles
It’s been such a great friend to me,
It promised me multiple lifetimes
But suddenly wants to be free.

Oh bring back
Soul black
‘Scuse me again but
I have to pee.
Bring back, with no slack
Bring back my body to me.

There’s no point to singing this ditty,
You can’t reverse time back to youth,
Life’s good but it ain’t always pretty
Much better when you face the truth.

Ohhhhh, let go,
Go slow,
Beauty is something to stop and see,
Joy knows,
Aches go
Along with the license to see.

 

Trumtpy Dumpty
Trumpty Dumpty
Sat on his Wall,
Trumpty Dumpty
Had a great fall.

All Twitter’s forces
And all the smart set,
Couldn’t find Trumpty
Without internet.

 

Small Complaint
I have this little ear thing,
It makes me kind of deaf.
If you would like to reach me,
Speak not unto my left.

My right-hand side still hears okay,
Except upon occasion,
When I don’t like the things you say
And need a quick evasion.

I have this little knee thing,
A teeny, weeny pain.
It hurts me when I’m walking,
From jogging I refrain.

And swimming, yoga, making love,
Can’t stand that little ache,
My choice is keep on truckin’
Or start to plan the wake.

I have this little defect
I can’t remember words,
Like regiment and labrynthe,
My speech is quite absurd.

I know it’s not dementia,
My mind is like a trap.
The words get trapped ‘tween
Brain and tongue,
And fear to leap the gap.

 

And now for a few old favorites…

I’m a little teapot
I’m a little teapot
Short and stout,
Last night I was Moses
Speaking on the Mount,
Increasingly these episodes
Are what I am about,
Don’t tip me over
I’m filled with doubt.

 

Mrs. Muffet
Mrs. Muffet
Had a fat tuffet
When people commented
She told them to “Stuff it”.
Along came a spider,
Decided to ride her,
She smashed that arachnid
Like a supercollider.

 

Wee Willie Winkie
Wee Willie Winkie
Runs through the town,
Upstairs, downstairs
In his nightgown.

Is anybody watching him?
Where the Hell’s his nurse?
Somebody call 911,
Old age is a curse.

 

Mary had a Nurse’s Aide
Mary had a nurse’s aide
His skin was black and glowed,
And everywhere that Mary went
Her aide was sure to go.

He followed her to vote one day
Which was against the rule,
It made poll workers laugh and say
“You can’t vote here you fool!”

 

Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe
There was an old woman
Who lived in a shoe,
Her social security
Hadn’t come through.
The government told her
It had no more bread,
She whipped them all soundly
And sent them to bed.

Other News

In other news, the Laws of Gravity have been struck down by the Supreme Court as being unconstitutional. In a 4 to 3 decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes for the majority affirming the right to fly off into the upper atmosphere if necessary.

Meantime, a night blooming jasmine flower will make a guest appearance on The Today Show, becoming the first jasmine to do so. When asked why she had chosen to blossom during the day, she said, “I’m your best kept secret but don’t try keeping me in the dark. I make my own scents!”

In other other news the Bayer Corporation has bought Monsanto and made arrangements to offer free aspirin to sick bees, if they can just teach the bees how to swallow it.

Still some other news, the problem of too many plastic shopping bags in the oceans has been solved by a Japanese entrepreneur. He has engineered a way for ocean fish to swim into the shopping bags. Shoppers then stand on the beach with their right hand in the air and wait for the next tsunami. Dinner is delivered.

In grant research news, the fellows at the NRA have made research grants available for scientists who want to develop smart bullets. “Responsibility should fall to the bullet,” said a spokesperson. “There is no reason we can’t manufacture a bullet that can sense it’s headed towards a third grader in Mrs. Reed’s class, not a four point buck; then engineer it to stop, have a cup of coffee, maybe catch up on social media, until a real four point buck decides it needs to learn to read and then BLAM continues its trajectory and slaughters that baby.”

Today President Trump fired long-time ally and friend Donald Trump. This unexpected ouster was roundly criticized by Democrats, while members of his own party cheered. “How can he fire himself when he was not duly elected,” claimed presidential candidate Amy Klobucher, “there is a process for these things.” Leading psychologists on the other hand felt the move would help heal his split personality and allow him to gain a more authentic self on the campaign trail. Trump campaign sources, off the record, hinted that this could give Trump the edge in the 2020 election. This way, when one of them is impeached, the other can still run for president.

And in news about the news, everything you read is not about you, you just think it is. Use that. Read with your brain, your heart, your soul. If you think it’s fake, it’s fake. Move on. Don’t get your panties in a twist.

News about bus companies is always boring but here’s a little spice: Tardy Bus Systems, Inc., when faced with the problem of consistently late buses, has decided to inseminate them with Dumbo sperm. We’ll check back in 22 months.

Now news of the Other. They’re out there. They want blood. They’re a Stephen King novel. Or so politicians, who have something to gain, would have you think. however, contrary to popular belief, like you, they live on planet Earth. And every one of them has a heart and a family and a story to tell. Listen.

 

 

Artificial Intelligence is Neither Artificial Nor Intelligent

We invented it. Right?

So much for the artificial part.

And please don’t insult my intelligence by calling it intelligent.

But, here’s an example of how we might have thought it was both artificial and intelligent. Doctors these days are specialists. We have sooo much knowledge about the human body (slightly less about cats) that it’s impossible for one doctor to spend a lifetime to learn it all. So, there’s one guy who kind of knows about the various parts and the problems the body encounters (he’s called a GP which stands for Generic Problem-solver) and he looks at you and then looks into his phone to get the number of the guy who knows more about whatever you came in complaining about than he does. And then he sends you to him. The economics work because each time a doctor looks into his phone to get a number, he gets paid.

But the GP is at the bottom of the ladder and so he’s kind of looked down upon by doctors who have spent their lives studying everything about index fingers, for instance. You can do a whole post graduate study and research on index fingers to become an indexologist. So, if you’re just a normal person with a sore index finger, the GP will send you to the indexologist and they both get paid. Nice, right? And then up and up through the layers of doctors until you find the doctor who can finally diagnose the problem, that your fingernail needs clipping.

So, this is the pyramid of human intelligence. Everyone knows just their own little bit. And these pyramids have solved a lot of things. But when one person dies or gets Alzheimers his little part of it may disappear.

Think of the actual pyramids. Someone built them, individuals together knew each inch of how they were engineered, but all we have today is a nice pile of stones and a lot of questions. That particular pyramid of knowledge is all top and no bottom.

It’s the same with so-called artificial intelligence. Someone invented a language that would instruct computers to stand on the back of a heaving pachyderm, for instance. And when you give those words to a computer that understands it, they do indeed stand on Dumbo’s back. The computer is then labelled as “pretty smart” by the guy who invented the language and by other humans who think that the guy who invented the language is pretty smart, and Dumbo is well, Dumbo. This is how pachyderms lose their place in the pecking order. But that is not what I’m writing about today.

Now here’s the rub. Other humans learn the language that the guy invented but they use it slightly differently to program the computer to jump through flaming hoops, for instance, and then slightly differently again to stand with dogs in a line on their hind feet, and then slightly differently yet again to salt peanuts. In fact, they use the language to get the computer to do so many circus tricks, that they get the Nobel Peace Prize for Ringmasters.

But, and here’s the problem, they change the language the first guy invented just a little bit…a tiny little twist to fit their needs, so that when the first guy said jump and the computer jumped on Dumbo’s back, the second guy has changed it to “jup” and the computer will grab the hands of its partner and fling itself from one trapeze to another without a net. Cool right? Except the guy who got it to jump on Dumbo’s back, way back when, is dead or gone or forgot how he did it. He’s human after all, and he was using pick-up sticks to figure the right probability and they don’t make pick up sticks any more. Either way, the path is lost. But the computer remembers. Yes, we still have a computer that under certain conditions will jump on the backs of pachyderms.

Now, what if you bought one of those computers. And what if the company you bought it from feels that computer does so many things that it‘s starting to confuse people who for the most part are analog thinkers. So, they hire a bunch of people and put them in a call center and they try and teach them all to be GPs.

“I don’t know,” they say when you call and your laptop is stuck between the legs of a pachyderm. But they look into their iphone and transfer you to someone who might know more. So, the knowledge that one guy invented and got a prize for and others thought was cool, and then someone else made a business plan of and sold computers to other humans that did those intelligent things, is now fungible. It might exist or then again it might not.

At some point it was real. At some point it was intelligent. Someone made it jump, but it wasn’t you and the computer you bought to make it jump can’t do it anymore, or only under certain circumstances. But it CAN do operations on the hind legs of dogs to make them easier to train. It’s only artificial to you because you didn’t invent it and you don’t understand it or what it takes to accomplish its tasks, so it is artificial to you, and authentic only to the man who invented it, who has forgotten. It was intelligence, but let’s be real, it’s not YOUR intelligence and it’s not the phone operator/ help desk man’s intelligence even though he was trained to be nice when they told you this and it’s not even the computer company’s intelligence. So, it is labelled artificial intelligence.

Do you follow?

Humans need other humans to put together enough intelligence to do intelligent things. That’s the way it is. Let’s face it, left to our own devices we’ll stick marshmallow peeps up our noses. That’s true artificial intelligence.

Seeing Eye Man

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My little dog Charlo has gone blind. Something called SARDS—Sudden Acquired Retinal Degeneration Syndrome. My wife says it’s the paint stripper I put on the landing, he probably got some on his paws. The doctor just says, it happens to some dogs as they age. They can go blind in as little as 2-3 days. He might have been blind for a while before we caught it. We took him on vacation and he started running into things. Perhaps he knew the lay of the land at home, but in a new space he was out of his element.

Now taking him out on walks is a whole new ballgame. He follows the scent trails on a completely empty sidewalk. They mosey here and there and he follows it like it’s gold. Nothing is there to the naked eye. Perhaps someone dropped a half-eaten McDonalds French Fry there in 1979. But he still smells it. My little white lapdog has become a rabid bloodhound.

They say dogs have an amazing sense of smell. Maybe it’s the 300 million olfactory receptors they have in their noses compared to our six million. Or the fact that the part of the dog’s brain that analyzes smells is 40 times greater than ours. They actually have a whole separate passageway for odors. We share ours with our mouth. Either way, his nose is now clearly his sense of choice. It leads him on.

Can he smell cement? He’s blind but somehow he knows the difference between the cement curb that is coming up vs. the asphalt road he is crossing. He steps up to the curb without missing a beat. How does he do that? Sometimes I think that maybe the bottom half of his retinas still work, but I know that makes no sense.

We are now more linked. Instead of just a curious dog on one end of a leash and his iphone zombie owner on the other, we are now focused on the task at hand, like one organism. And it is glorious.  We find the sun, we find the dirt patches for pooping, we follow the most curious trails. How did our neighbor’s yard suddenly get so interesting? There’s a smell trail I can’t see that meanders over towards the rose bush, but if he gets that far, I have to pull him back so he doesn’t poke his nose.

I have taken to giving him instructions with the leash as if he is a horse: pull up to jump the curb when I worry that he doesn’t see it, pull left around that garbage can, since he can’t see that it is right in his path on the sidewalk, etc.

Charlo seems to have no distress or subconscious angst about being blind. In fact, I’m not sure he is fully aware of it.  He still trots along, head held high, taking the lead down the sidewalk he can’t see. On the rare occasion that I’m not watching and he runs into a branch across the way, he simply does a doggy double take, realizes there’s something in his path, picks his way around it and moves on just as confidently.

This mid-winter morning it’s cold and naked and dead. We never walk the block from Prospect St. to Washington on Depew. It is filled with too many food bits and garbage. What is it about this block that makes people want to fling old overflowing refried beans containers from cars? Is there something about the hedges there that hide crap better than those higher or lower on the street? Maybe the neighbors just don’t care here and so are fine with leaving things to rot. If I had an entire happy meal shoved under my hedges, I would pick it up and put it in the trash.

But today, the sidewalk that leads to this block is better cleared of snow, so begrudgingly we turn up it. Of course, the first thing I spy is a full loaf of bread in a plastic bag and think oh my god, Charlo will have a field day. But he misses it entirely and goes nosing about two feet up from it. I want to tell him, Buddy, you’re missing the big bonanza, but he is super busy.

Then he finds something, he thinks. He is shaking with anticipation like a drug addict. It is on the grass strip under the snow. He buries his nose in it, digging beneath the slight snow cover into the soil. Noses here, noses there. I can’t pull him back from it, he uses all his energy to plunge his nose into the dirt hole he has created. “Come on, Charlo,” let’s go!”  I’m dragging him by the leash.

Finally he unearths something, it might be…what is it? Yes, I think it is!  He chews it and it crunches. A tiny year-old dog turd. Yechhh.

Since Charlo’s sense of smell has sharpened, so has mine. I lift my nose as we walk, wondering even in mid-winter, does this non-descript hedge bush with tiny leaves have a smell I somehow have been missing all these years? I long sometimes to get down on my knees and follow the invisible trail he is tracking right into the center of the road. He’s certainly a more dangerous companion blind. And I must play my part and be his seeing eye man.

He’s also gained a late yen for adventure. His nose will take him places he would never dream of going when he was sighted. And he continues to find ways out of our yard, even after I have fixed the obvious gaps in the fence. How does he do it? I put him in the yard and a minute later, like Houdini, he appears on the other side of the neighbor’s fence. He never did this when he had eyes.

The beauty of it is, he is out of his old comfort zone, or discovered a new one based on smell. Prior to being blind he never wanted to spend time outdoors. He’d go out and do his business and then want to be back in. Now you take him home from a long walk and he immediately wants to go into the back yard. He’s a true seeker now. More enlightened.  He just can’t get enough of that smelly wilderness.

We rarely walk the dog together, my wife and I. Something about it being a chore, I guess. Although often we are out with the dog and look around and wonder at the world in a way that we never do in any other context. But tonight, we need to be together. A neighbor has committed suicide and we are moody. Of course, some combination of the dog and the will of the leash leads us right to her house. And that’s all my wife needs. She walks up to the door bravely and knocks

“What are you doing,” I ask incredulously. Before she can respond the door is opened by the husband. My wife and he share a long sorrowful hug and Charlo and I are drawn in with hugs and ‘come in’s’ and Charlo smells a kitchen. There are several friends here commiserating, none of whom we know, and before I can rescue Charlo from the kitchen, the 20 year-old son comes down the stairs and stares at us. He is white, drawn. I grab Charlo from the kitchen and make some excuse about him being blind and the son’s eyes focus suddenly.

“He’s blind,” he asks.

“Yes,” I say, “but it’s turned him into a bloodhound. Did you know that dogs have 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses and we have only 6 million?”

He looks me in the eye, which is shocking from this young sullen figure, and almost smiles.