Friday, October 7, 2016

Robots Rising

Ever since I read the book The Rise of the Robots and discussed it with a group of very smart people, I have been startled by the amount of artificial intelligence (A.I.) already among us and wonder how much of the future it will determine.

I'm sure the article "Adding a Zero" in this week's New Yorker (the one with Donald Trump as Miss Universe on the cover) was written with the "wow" factor in mind, and it doesn't disappoint.  If you think self-driving cars, airbnb, Uber, and Dropbox are pointing to the future, you are a fossil.  And so am I.

One takeoff point in the article is a profile of Sam Altman who plants a very large footprint in Silicon Valley.  He's tired of people saying he is on the autism spectrum but he is certainly aware that many of autism's "drawbacks" work to his advantage.   Even as Altman and his colleagues work on A.I. being able to incorporate social skills and empathy,  his leadership does not draw upon them.  This makes me wonder if autism will turn out to be a useful adaptation in the evolutionary march ahead.

In the meantime, I know it's boring -- not cute -- when I say I haven't been able to figure out all of the functions of my computer or cell phone. I do like reading about this stuff even as I am left in the dust.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What We Wore

Elsa was telling me about Open Studios Day in Newburgh, NY.  It's a poor town whose Mayor has encouraged art as a way of bringing joy and notoriety to the community.  (Elsa said it reminded her of Cuba.) She was thrilled by an art installation of dresses.  First the dresses, then the story of their significance to the women who wore them.

I immediately thought of wedding dresses.  For in the galaxy of gowns, these surely are bright stars.  My dress was ankle length (did that idea ever last?) purchased at Bonwit Teller.  I wanted one from Saks Fifth Avenue because I had worked happily at their Detroit store one college summer.  But this Saks was so snooty they demanded an appointment before they would let me look. So friendly Bonwit's got my business.

My dress was worn three times.  By me, and two good friends.  The result?  Two divorces and one enduring marriage.  I'd say this is tough but common for my generation.

Another wedding dress with a story was the one my friend Marcia -- as a widow -- bought years after her husband's suicide.  She didn't have a groom or even a romance at the time but she was determined to have hope.  "I can see myself wearing this some day," she smiled.

Marcia died before the imagined wedding.  Since it was cancer that killed her, I'd say this too was sadly all too common.

P.S.  to Ruth:  I still have the book you gave me:  Love and Loss and What I Wore.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Diviner

C'mon friends.  Look with me in another direction.  There's a much more intriguing story developing right now than the one about the ever unpopular Donald and Hillary.  Okay, it's the baseball race, and some of you will say that it's not serious enough for your attention.  So then, just have some fun with it. We can use some fun.

The hero is Theo the Diviner.  The one who makes it rain where only parched earth prevailed.  First he did it in Boston,  the place where -- despite its "founding of the Republic" history --  fielded the hapless Red Sox. There was the curse of trading Babe Ruth which doomed them to nipping at the heels of the big time Yankees.  Then came the beautiful young Theo. Eighty six years of misery washed away.

Can he do the same here?  Can he find the underground stream?  There is so much to wash away. The more than a century of failure.  The curse of the goat.  The unbearable mistreatment of Bartman.

I love sports because it brings us -- safely -- the unpredictability of life.  It's a harmless war where we get to love our heroes, hate the "other", and the only suffering is maybe with our purse or our blood pressure.

And, would'nt it be fun if the ultimate fight is between the unstoppable Cubs and the red hot Red Sox?

Monday, September 26, 2016


Yesterday, images of water flooded my mind.  I woke up to the news that the sensational Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez, just 24, had died in a boating accident. This, after getting here from Cuba.  After saving himself and his mother from drowning.  Death snatched him up after all.

Then, I saw the movie Sully.  You know --  the story of the clear headed pilot who landed his plane on the Hudson river.  All of the 155 passengers survived.  The water didn't take any of them and this time death was disappointed.

I imagine that a successful brush with death gives us the ultimate high.
So, is it the knowledge that every defeat of death is temporary that makes us so destructive?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Family Stories

My grandson Miro is going to come to visit.  He just graduated from college in California.  The last time we talked he said he wanted to know more about the family.

My grandmother was a seamstress who wore a housedress to work at the B.R. Baker Men's Clothing store in Toledo.  They would let her come out from the back room to say hello to us when we visited from Detroit.

Then, we would go over to the tire store owned by my two uncles.  I remember the smells.  From the big cigars they smoked or held unlit between their teeth. ("Ugh!" when they tried to kiss me.)  And, of course, from the tires.  They let us go into the back room where the tires were stacked in enormous black piles.

Sometimes we would visit my Aunt Rose.  She baked cakes at a deli.  This time the back room was the kitchen where we would find her dusted with flour while stirring chocolate batter with a wooden spoon in a huge bowl.

The very cool thing about Aunt Rose is that many years later her children encouraged her to write a cookbook and she was on the Johnny Carson show!

The cookbook has disappeared  -- but I still have the stories.  I still have them, Miro,  if you are interested.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Out of Jail

Our attitudes about race and class determine our decisions in so many ways.  I've overlooked or forgotten so many times I was insensitive -- and I'm nowhere near the front lines.  Last night I watched a group of sincere people on TV having one of those "conversations about race" that we think will help.  Everyone agreed that jobs were crucial to any progress.

The moderator seemed happy to announce that the Mayor was going to find a way to hire more police.  "Oh, so 500 more cops are going to be out there shooting at us?", a young man replied.  I didn't see that one coming.

I was married to a man who owned a business with a warehouse.  He was approached by an organization that finds jobs for ex-offenders.  The representative pleaded:  "He's been trained for warehouse work.  We watch our people closely." Apparently there was a law that prevented finding out if the ex-offender had been in for marijuana or murder.  We considered it, but eventually decided "no."  We used the excuse that the other workers may not feel safe.

Much later it turned out that the woman in charge of keeping the books and paying the bills had embezzled thousands of dollars from the company over the years.  She came highly recommended. No one thought twice about hiring her.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

The Night I Met John Carlos

Maybe someday the statue of John Carlos, Tommie Smith and Peter Norman will be regarded with the same reverence as the Raising of the Flag at Iwo Jima.  Not yet. Far from yet. But the arc of justice is bending.  And, as Donald Trump and his followers gasp and flail,  it bends a little more.

I was thinking about this as I noticed Dave Zirin's post that a statue of the "great salute" of the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City was being installed in the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Dave Zirin is a sportswriter (Nation magazine, Edge of Sports), humanitarian, activist and all round great guy.  He covers the place where sports and social justice intersect.  He's having more company  now, wouldn't you say?

I met Dave at a book signing several years ago and we have stayed occasional email friends.  I met him again with John Carlos by accident in a coffee shop in Evanston.  They were speaking at Northwestern on their book tour for The John Carlos Story -- The Sports Moment that Changed the World.

I got to chat with both those champs that night.  Very special indeed.

By the way, if your wondering about Peter Norman, he was the Aussie silver medalist who stood in solidarity with John Carlos and Tommie Smith.  Dave says it was John Carlos who insisted Norman be included in the statue because "that's just the kind of guy John is."