Sunday, November 20, 2011

Potpourri II

It’s one of those weeks when I’ve had a few things on my mind to talk about. So, it’s a potpourri week (did I steal using potpourri for this purpose from Jeopardy or did we both steal it from somewhere else?) 

No, Grandpa, you graduated school in 1976, not 1977

In the last couple of years I’ve been discussing with people my belief that in two generations, that is – at the worst, my great grandchildren, will have a computer right in their heads. They will be cyborgs in a real sense. My only doubt about it is that it might be much sooner than that. Naturally, over time, the cyber part will greatly increase, just as computers in my lifetime have gone from room filling monstrosities owned only by the largest companies that could perform a task or so, to desktops that could run games or a maybe a word processing program to little phones you can hold in your hand which seem almost magical to the older generations.

The power of these cyborgs may become so superior to ordinary humans that no ordinary parent would want their own child not to have all of the advantages. The genie, or shadow, or whatever it will be called, will cure deceases, increase all performances, eradicate normal learning time or limits, bad habits and obsessions, sharpen every sense and make what is fantasy no less real than anything else in your brain.

Just to take one example, because the possibilites are endless, at some point, it may just seem ridiculous to continue with things like sex since you will be able to realistically dream any fantasy you want for pleasure while conceiving babies without physical contact (they can already do that). To give other example, when you can someone the image of anyone you want to talk to, alive or dead, real or imagined, why would you need to even leave your house? You could go anywhere or have anything come to you without moving. Of course, we can take this all the way to the premises of The Matrix or the Terminator movies, but, you’ve seen those and know the risks.

Sometimes I add that I hope I am dead before my grandchild says to me something like the title to this section, because age will lose its last advantage - experience.  But, who knows how I will feel if I'm alive when it happens (and if they can hook up an already grown person)? It took me a while to get used to cell phones and email, but now they are completely integrated in my life. I have even considered the possibility of getting – don’t be freaked out now – some ipad like device, now that the prices are crashing. On the other hand, I still resist getting my emails outside of my home, but really – what is the practical difference between that and getting cell phone calls and text messages on the fly? Hard to see any but the most technical difference, although the junk and work email I receive at home makes me want to continue my practice. Later on the ipad and Kindle.

Of course, I’m no expert or even well informed about computers or cyborgs or anything related. I just learned what SEO means (if you don’t know, you are more of a Luddite than I am and that is sad). But, when I pontificate about the likelihood of computer chips being implanted in humans upon birth (for whatever reason, I imagine at the juncture of the spinal cord and the brain), I notice that other people seem to like it and sometimes later restate the same thoughts to me, sometimes just weeks later, usually in the form of “they say that . . . .”  That’s okay, as I haven’t invented or even conceived of anything that many other people haven’t thought or written about before me. It’s been a science fiction plot pretty much forever. All I really say is my conviction that I think this will happen before most people do (if they have ever thought about it) and believe that we already have the rudimentary technology for most of it.

What do we need for this futuristic process?

Computer hardware and software. This already exists, of course, and if you are reading this, you use it, probably every day. And, it has already made its way into humans. A working robotic arm complete with a nerve graft has been operated. Scientists have made brain computer interfaces that allows quadriplegics to move a computer cursor, though it is external right now. This is, of course, just the beginning.

Miniaturization. The capability to have a superchip the size of a pea or as thin as a sheet of paper does not seem far away, does it? As I stated above, the earliest marketable computers filled a room, and  now we're down to tiny little phones that even poor people can own. That’s just marketable computers. The University of Michigan has developed what it claims is the first complete millimeter size computer. Take a penny out of your pocket and look at it. That’s way, way bigger than this computer. Look closely at the word “ONE” on the penny. That also is way too big. Now take a look at just the letter “N.” That’s the size of this little computer. How soon before a commercially viable one is made? A few years? How soon before it is the size needed to put in a human? I say 10 years, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 5 either. How small? Already they have made chips a few atoms – I said atoms – thick. That means millions in the dot on the letter "i" in the words "millions." Do we need it smaller than that?

Safety. I see two minor issues here. You can’t just put stuff in human bodies willy nilly, because your body may reject it as an immune response – typically, this is done by covering it in a collagen fibers as a type of scar tissue (yes, I looked that up). When these fibers thicken it can compress the enclosed object causing pain or malfunction. However, we know that they put all kinds of things in people's bodies already – organs, metal, balloons filled with silicon, etc. – and have mostly mastered this problem. They have also placed chips in animals with gps locaters surrounded by bio-compatible material (I’ve read glass is the most useful material), but without batteries, and which are only activated by being scanned from the outside. If it has gone beyond that, I am not aware of it. The other safety aspect is damage caused by radiation from the device. I don’t believe this will be much of a problem either, but more of a fear. Frankly, though radiation poisoning can be real, I don’t think any of the radiation fears we read about electro-magnetic radiation from power lines or cell phones are much of a concern. In any event, if a mini-computer or chip presents more of a problem, it will be solved by shielding.

Problems – The more we use technology to solve our problems, the less we are capable of surviving without it. Already this is true in the high tech world we live in. It is believed right now that an attack from a high altitude nuclear bomb would create an electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) that will throw us back to the stone age. And, I don’t just mean it will be a year without street lights and the internet. Pretty much everything electronic – and these days, what isn’t? - will stop working and possibly hundreds of millions of Americans, at least, will be dead in a year. One year. Doubt it? The first shielding for an EMP was used back at Trinity when we exploded the first nuclear device in 1945. Still doubt it? Watch and then ask yourself why we don’t actually do something about this very real thread? And there is so little we really need to do - relatively inexpensive shielding.

The other big problem with be extra-personal involuntary control ("EPIC attack," I just made the name up, but I like it). It refers to control of cyborgs by external computers either from the government or private persons. Imagine if the government could convince you of any fact they wanted simply by downloading it into your brain. Imagine if you could be given a computer virus. I expect that will be an ongoing battle, just like internet security is now.

This is all very real. I would find it incredible if we do not have cyborgs in my lifetime, absent unfortunate accident or illness leading to an early death. Of course, like most technology, they will just get better and better. The science fiction of today is really about to be overtaken by science. Whether this is good or bad is up to us, not the technology. But, I really don’t think I want to be around for it.

Natalie Wood

We’re not done with this? Are you kidding me?

Why are they opening up the Natalie Wood case? She drowned in 1981, 30 years ago later this month. Every one on the boat has by now long spoken their mind - the Captain, her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and Christopher Walken, then a young actor co-starring with her, and now a famous one, who may or may not have had a thing with Natalie. Not for the first time the Captain has made some provocative statements to the media and the L.A. Sheriff’s department is opening the case up once again, supposedly because of tips from multiple sources, but also admittedly because of the media pressure. Ridiculous.
The Captain has made statements before and nothing came of it. Both he and Wagner have published accounts in books. There was no sign of foul play that I have ever read before, but apparently, there was a witness on a nearby boat who says she heard screams from a woman that she was drowning and a male voice saying help was coming. If so, the Captain didn’t hear it (though, admittedly drunk) or Walken (who was supposedly asleep by all accounts). Were they all in it together? No one jumped in to save her? Come on. Additionally, an EMT who saw the body said that rigor mortis had not set in six hours later, indicating she was not dead all that long. If there was any credibility to these reports, why wouldn’t Wagner be a suspect? If he’s not a suspect, why didn’t he hear cries for help?

There definitely was a very heated argument that night between Wagner and Walken over Wood’s commitment to acting (Walken's position) as opposed to her caring for her and Wagner's children (Wagner's position), and she disappeared sometime later after things cooled down between the two men and was later still found drowned after a search. The boat’s dinghy was found on the shore, but the paddles were tied down. She had only recently gotten over her terrible fear of water but it did seem unlikely to me that she would have tried to take a dinghy in the dark over open water by herself. One theory is that she heard the dinghy banging on the side of the boat, tried to retie it, and fell in. That does not sound far fetched to me at all.

Now the Captain says he lied 30 years ago about what happened, and he blames the argument over her for her death. Obviously, that is an opinion, not an accusation. But, he has also claimed he saw bruises on her when he identified the body. If so, why didn’t the police see them? And why would Wagner not be a suspect? The sheriff’s office has unmistakably said that Wagner, who now occasionally appears on NCIS as the parent of a lead character, is not. Who does that leave? The Captain? That doesn’t make sense, since he’s the one who brought it all up. Christopher Walken? Again, everyone says he was asleep at the time.

I could have sworn that I had written on this in the past, but, I can't find it in my archives, so I guess I imagined it, or maybe I wrote it and then posted something else (I do that and forget a lot). I admit, as celebrityish and gossipy as it is, I do find it fascinating.  I’m not a cyborg yet, you know.

Wood was a beautiful woman, of course (very much my type too, although she was grown before I was born), but I was not a big fan of hers and didn’t even like West Side Story very much. I saw the movie when young and then saw the play on a secondary run on Broadway, during which I fell asleep. That may be heresy to say, as the show is considered a classic, but I think America is the only good song in the whole show.  

Then again, Wood did have an important role in one of my favorite movies, Miracle on 34th Street when she was a little girl, and that is really how I think of her still, not as the sex symbol she grew into.

Do I think this new investigation is going anywhere? No. Just in the media. Could I be wrong? Sure I could. But only if there is a smoking gun and it doesn’t look like there is.

You can’t make enough lists like this
Speaking of Miracle on 34th Street, it is not only one of my favorite films (maybe THE favorite) but the original was also the greatest Christmas movie of all time (I always warn - do NOT see the remakes). I’ve written too much about it in the past (12/22/08) to spend a lot of time on it here, but there is no limit to the amount of times I can give a list of my favorite Christmas movies, which, like all my lists, is subject to change.  

10. It’s a Wonderful Life. Jimmy Stewart classic that flopped at first, but became for many the ultimate classic of the genre.

9. Miracle at Morgan Creek. Nowadays, it is a virtually unknown movie, but it was ground breaking at the time, and very funny.

8. Bad Santa.

7. When Harry Met Sally. Like the next one, there are a few holidays scenes, particularly at New Years. Billy Crystal’s best. Meg Ryan’s second best.

6. You’ve Got Mail. You could argue that this is not a Christmas movie, but there were a few Xmas scenes, and I love this movie so much, I’m including it. Its predecessor, Little Shop Around the Corner, a Jimmy Stewart vehicle was terrible in my opinion, but was definately considered a Christmas flick. So, going with it.

5. Babes in Toyland. Laurel and Hardy. The print I’ve seen on tv the last few times is damaged but still viable. There was a time this movie was in my top two or three movies period, but little boys grow up, a little anyway, maybe just enough to knock it down to no. 5.

4. Elf. Will Ferrell playing a human raised by elves. It could have been horrible, but I’ve probably watched it twenty times and planning twenty more.

3. Serendipity. John Cusack back in the days when he played charming characters with the irresistible Kate Beckinsale and an effervescent Jeremy Piven at his best.

2. Love, Actually. A movie I never would have seen if my daughter didn’t insist. Great music and I think nine interwoven stories, one better than the other.

1. Miracle on 34th Street.

Runner ups: Scrooge, Home Alone, A Christmas Story, A Muppet Christmas Carol. I am not a fan of Holiday Inn and White Christmas, as much as I love Kaye, Astaire and Crosby. I feel the same way about a sullen David Niven and too charming Cary Grant in The Bishop’s Wife. But, see them at least once.

Mrs. Malaprop redux
On 4/26/07 I introduced the New Miss Malaprop, who is also known as my Insignificant Other (Are your reading this, honey? Gulp.) She has the incredible tendency to merge different words and sayings together and make other word puzzles that defy description. I’ve been trying to keep a record, but, I am really bad at it. If more than a few minutes go by and I don't write it down, I can’t remember them, no matter how funny. However, I have recorded a few more that I post here. Some of these you have to think about:

I refuse to answer upon the grounds I may be discriminated.

* * *

She finally saw the light at the end of the tunnel.

* * *

Mrs. Malaprop: You don’t even know Jesus.
David: I know more about him than you do.
MM: No you don’t.
D: Okay, name the four gospels.
MM: Old or New Testament?
D: (laughing)
MM: I don’t know. 1, 2, 3 and 4?

* * *

It’s not worthwild.

* * *

MM: [Telling me about speaking to someone who was about to wake a dog] I said to him, don’t you know the expression - let sleeping babies lie?
Me: MM, the expression is actually about dogs – let sleeping dogs lie.
MM: Whatever.

* * *

Me: Don’t be so intransigent.
MM: I am not in transit!

* * *

Me: I don’t need more than three plates.
MM: What if you have a big shin ding?

* * *

How little they forget.

Can our leaders please learn just a little history

I have a feeling I’ll be talking to myself on this one. History is my passion, but, of course, I don’t pretend to know everything about it. There are many whole areas that I know nothing or next to it about. And I sometimes have to look things up because my brain just goes – uhhh, even if it is something I, and everyone, should know. And, once in a while I say something dumb that I should know better, because we are human and make mistakes (at least, we are for a while). I mention this because I don't expect anyone to be perfect. But, nevertheless, when someone is supposed to be an expert and makes some historical reference, usually something about the founding fathers, often with great certainty, and it is wrong, it that just annoys me.

For example, one day I was watching C-Span and the author of a book on the Constitution and the Constitutional Convention made a comment that Alexander Hamilton could not have been president because he wasn’t born in this country and the Constitution prevents it. I was a little surprised because the very same short provision in the constitution he cited for his opinion also says that anyone who was a citizen at the time the Constitution was ratified could in fact be president. And though Hamilton had pretty much ruined his chances of getting elected by outing himself on a sexual scandal (and then, of course, dying), he had been, of course, a citizen at the time of the Constitution for many years, having served in the Revolutionary War (although many non-citizen foreigners did), then serving as a representative at the Constitutional Convention himself, later as the first Secretary of Treasury and he was even appointed by Washington as the Major General of the Army. To suggest he was not a citizen would have been absurd. But, this author, who had just had finished his book, wasn't suggesting it, didn’t even seem to have actually read this provision. What made it worse was that later that day I heard two so-called pundits on television smugly re-state this proposition about Hamilton, as if they thought of it themselves that day. Of course, they were just as wrong, but this is why I get peeved about it. They should all know better.

Now, for what set me off about this, this week. I was listening to an oral argument in the Supreme Court that took place earlier this week. C-Span, tv's greatest gift to mankind, replays them. Very complicated stuff, as usual, about whether the president had a right to control what a passport says if the way he does it also violates a federal law passed by congress and signed into law. I am not sure what the outcome of the case will be, though I side with the plaintiff who submits that the congressional act is superior in this case. But, when the Solicitor General of the United States, who should be an expert on early American history, as it plays a major role in so many cases, made an important point about the Washington administration, he gratuitously stated that his cabinet had included Thomas Jefferson (right), Alexander Hamilton (right), James Madison (whattttt????) and John Jay (double whattttt????), I was floored. I was hoping one of the Justices, some of whom had to know (I hope), say – “What are you talking about?” No one did. For the record, Madison was in congress during Washington's two terms and then Secretary of State years later under Jefferson and then president himself. Jay was the first Chief Justice, Governor of New York (where he was instrumental in freeing the slaves), and a critical ambassador (minister).  But, neither was in Washington’s cabinet, and anyone even remotely familiar with it, as the Solicitor General must be, should know that.
Senators, congressmen and other run of the mill politicians, of course, quote the forefather’s so freely and inaccurately, I can't keep up.

Okay, now that you’ve said to yourself – Okay, soooooo? – I’ll move on.

Eye of Newt
Speaking of history, the present rise of Newt Gingrich, who has a doctorate and taught history before entering politics, as he determinately eyes the presidency, annoys me. Not because of anything he says about history, but because I affirmatively don’t want him to win the nomination.

I should mention that I predicted he would not run because I thought he was smart enough to know he would do badly, but he has not only proved me wrong by running, but, after embarrassing himself several times early on (like, when he was caught repeatedly contradicting himself about Libya or when his entire staff quit after he went on a two week Greek Island cruise with his wife and now claims that he gained valuable knowledge about the problems of Greece), he has actually started to do quite well in the polls, even topping some of them.

Of course, I think he and everyone realizes he may be Queen for the Day. The cultural right has sent Bachmann, Perry and Cain to the top in succession, and now that one after another has shown themselves not up to snuff, and is now, at least (I imagine) promoting a professional, Gingrich. He is a pro. He was Speaker of the House in the 90s, unofficially advised the Bush administration and deeply immersed himself in policy so that he can probably easily out argue anyone on the stage with him, except maybe on some issues Ron Paul.

So, if he is so professional, why don’t I want him to win the nomination? Starting with the fact that I presume, like I do with every candidate and president, that he has good intentions and is patriotic, and despite my dislike of attacking candidate's characters, I am going to talk about his personality, because that is actually what I have against him - not really most of his general policies. In my humble opinion, he

- is too arrogant and narcissistic to be president – and remember I am comparing him to other politicians! His feelings of superiority are self evident to me every time I hear him speak. This is, of course, very subjective, but conservatives who find Obama to have these characteristics are going to just love Gingrich when he turns his charm on them.

- is one of the most partisan politicians around. Politically, he is a flamethrower, a non-violent version of the ante-bellum Southern crowd that wanted war, and he does not know compromise. He seems to worship Reagan (at least, the semi-legendary version), but Reagan was capable of compromise – Gingrich is often not, unless he is absolutely defeated.

- cannot bear making mistakes and makes ridiculous excuses for himself. His excuse for his serially contradictory comments on our involvement in Libya was that Obama made him do it – he was reacting to him. His excuse for taking at least $1.6 million from Freddie Mac was that he was acting as their historian – a hysterically funny excuse, except that it is so obviously a complete lie. His excuse for making a commercial with Nancy Pelosi about the importance of dealing with global warming is that he just felt that conservatives should have a voice in the conversation about the environment (who says they shouldn't? He still still didn't need to make the commercial.) 

- is a hypocrite and untruthful when in trouble (yes, much worse than Obama or Romney or many, many others). He suggested Barney Frank and Chris Dodd should go to jail for their dealings with Freddie Mac, while his company made millions off representing them. He lambasted President Clinton for his adultery while he was himself cheating on his wife (now, unable to make excuses, he admits it – big deal).

- is religiously bigoted to an extent that exceeds conventional conservative religious concerns, demonizing gays, American-Muslims and those who don’t pray (who, he said in debate, could not be moral). He believes, and I don’t know how this could be constitutional, that mosques should not be allowed to be built in America while churches cannot be built in Saudi Arabia (which, makes sense how? – do we now base the first amendment on what foreign countries do? That doesn’t sound like a conservative position.)

- too in love with a younger wife. His Greek adventure with her in the midst of campaigning, leading to the bolting of his entire staff made me doubt his judgment even more than I would otherwise. This is, not surprisingly, the least of my reasons.

Besides all that, I would like someone who can beat President Obama, and it’s not him. He is way too vulnerable. Whether guilty or not, he also pleaded guilty to an ethics violation while in congress, and his attempts to explain it away have always sounded weak and defensive.

Despite these concerns of mine, right now some conservatives I personally know think he’s just nifty, despite earlier being disdainful of his marital dishonesty.

Yet, ironically, he has taken positions far to the left of other conservatives which have sunk other politicians, and are the reasons that conservatives don’t want Romney - including on immigration (pro-guest worker), health care, global warming, flex-fuel engine mandates for auto makers and even disparaged Paul Ryan’s budget plan. What gives? Why don't they look at him like they look at Romney. It may be that he just makes the right religious noise, now that he has found religion. He is the cultural right's last hope to defeat Romney before they have to get on board. And they just don’t trust him (you can understand why), and that is all there is to it. 

That's all folks.


  1. "She's Got Mail", "Love, Actually" great movies????? Who is the Mary writing this stuff? "... the effervescent Jeremy Pivin.." How GAY is that? Next time I see you and have the urge to whack you in the head, I'm going to blame it on an "EPIC attack". What a ma-roon.

  2. They are great movies. Great dialogue, great music (especially Love, Actually), fun acting and yes, Jeremy Pivens was probably the best part of Serendipity - effervescent still works for me. Go ahead, call me a girly-man. It's okay. I will still tear up at Miracle on 34th Street this year 3 times, even though I know it's coming.

  3. I'm with Bear on the movie rankings. One of the 3 times a year I agree with Bear. Actually our movie tastes are pretty close. But no need to mock you any further at this holiday time of year.

    As I recall you can draw rather well in a comic strip style (Didn't you used to draw Garfield and Pink Panther?)So, I suggest you create a comic called Miss Malaprop. A one frame rendition of these would be hysterical. Sort of like a Far Side or Family Circus. I'll bet it would catch on. And considering the piss poor offerings in many newspaper comic pages these days I think it would work.

  4. Well, I guess we now know what is more important for most people. Politics? Science? Murder? No, no, no. Movies? Of course.

    As for the comic strip idea, I am actually a terrible artist. I did draw Garfield, which I learned to do in lieu of studying in law school. But, it is really easy after practicing a few hundred times. I did try to create a comic strip in law school called Bonehead, in which, not surprisingly, the lead character's head was shaped like a bone, but I couldn't even draw stick figures well enough. Apparently, my lack of talent knows no bounds.

    By the way, considering that you watch Dancing with the Stars (which you never should have told me) and Bear thought Cinema Paradiso was a great movie, I'm not concerned with the film criticism here.

  5. Conchis9:34 AM

    I'm with Bear and Don on some of your film selections. And Don has great idea about the cartoon. David, you draw well -- certainly in the cartoon style. Why should MM's fame be limitted to the those who know her (and adore her for her many wonderful attributes) and to the readers of your blog. The world needs more smiles and you and MM can meet that need. Happy Thanksgiving weekend!

  6. I don't think she would like her name published, but, she read it and doesn't mind me writing it. She forgot about the first one I wrote. Personally, the quality I speak about here is my favorite thing about her.


Your comments are welcome.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .