Archive for June, 2019

Destiny

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Destiny is a funny thing. Many people feel, deep in their soul, that they are here for a purpose. But one of the odd things about life is that it is generally left up to us to figure out what that purpose is.

If your life is a book, then your true purpose is an exercise left for the reader.

But what if you could pull back the curtain, take a peek, cheat just a little bit? Suppose that one day you got a glimpse of your actual reason for being here?

Would that knowledge increase your resolve to fulfill your Destiny? Would it give you a more confident step, or a tighter focus? Would it steel you to your purpose?

Or would it have the opposite effect? Would some persistent little voice within you whisper “Hey, wait a minute. Don’t I have a say in all this?”

And in that moment you might realize that there is a deeper truth: That your truest destiny is to do everything you can to defy Destiny.

Camps

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

This week Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said that our federal administration is putting people into concentration camps on our southern border, “where they are being brutalized with inhuman conditions and dying.”

House GOP Conference Chair Liz Cheney and other Republican lawmakers objected to her use of the term “concentration camps”, arguing that this term should be reserved for the Nazi death camps of WWII.

So I looked it all up, to find out what the real history was.

It turns out that the Nazis created about 20,000 concentration camps, as well as six death camps. In the concentration camps, prisoners were used as slave labor.

This sort of reminded me of the American internment camps for our own citizens in WWII. Many thousands of Americans, mostly United States citizens who had been born in the U.S. and had never lived anywhere else, were forcibly taken from their homes and thrown into camps. In some of those camps the prisoners were used as slave labor.

Basically, you were thrown into one of those American camps if you were an American citizen who was ethnically German or Italian. Your accomplishments or credentials as an individual didn’t matter. If your family roots happened to be German or Italian, you were out of luck.

Even if you had spent your entire life in the U.S., everyone knew that someone from a German or Italian American family could not possibly be a real American. Your house and property were conficated and and your entire family — men, women and children — were thrown into a prison camp for the duration of the war. To add to the fun, after the war ended you didn’t ever get your house or property back (in case you were wondering).

In his internal government communications, president Roosevelt referred to these American camps as “concentration camps”, and they did indeed exactly fit the current dictionary definition of “concentration camps” — as opposed to “death camps”, a term generally reserved for Auschwitz, Dauchau, and the four other places where the Nazis shipped large numbers of people specifically to be murdered.

And it turns out that the Americans who suffered through our own version of that experience much prefer the term “concentration camp” to describe what they and their families went through. Our government, understandably, prefers the gentler sounding term “internment camps”.

Speaking of terminology, in Liz Cheney’s objection to AOC’s use of the term “concentration camps”, she said that the people in the Nazi camps were “exterminated”.

As it happens, quite a few of my relatives in my grandparents’ generation were murdered in those Nazi camps, and I feel uncomfortable with Cheney calling what was done to them “extermination”. We are not cockroaches.

So yes, we Americans are once again keeping lots and lots of people — men, women and children, entire families — in concentration camps. It’s just something we do.

Oh sorry — one correction. Turns out that the American citizens thrown into the WWII American concentration camps were not ethnically German or Italian. My mistake.

Father’s day, extended again

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Why do humans walk vertically?
Because they can’t stand being horizontal.

Why don’t people understand how sound insulation works?
Because it is baffling.

Why were the almond and cashew locked away?
Because they were nuts.

Why didn’t the old car wheel work?
Because it was retired.

Why didn’t the injury cost anything?
Because it was treated.

Father’s day, extended

Monday, June 17th, 2019

Yesterday, as a way to amuse myself with a Father’s Day theme, I started to create dad jokes. I’m not proud of this, but I’m also not ashamed of it.

By now, a day later, I have built up nice little set of dad jokes. Some, admittedly, are very bad. But in their defense, the others are all worse.

I may be moved to reprint them here tomorrow. You are under no obligation to read that post.

Consider this fair warning. :-)

Virtual remake

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

As machine learning advances, it becomes progressively easier to transfer styles from one work of art to another. For example, if you supply enough side-by-side examples of photographs and impressionist paintings of those photographs, an ML algorithm will then be able to produce an impressionist painting from any photo.

I’ve been wondering whether we will eventually be able to broaden the reach of ML for style transfer. For example, suppose we took the brilliant 1934 film The Thin Man starring William Powell and Myrna Loy.

Many young people today might find that film inaccessible. It’s in black and white, the styles, attitudes and cultural variations are more than eight decades old, and the humorous banter and double-entendres that once worked so well might seem incomprehensible to Millennials.

But suppose we could run that movie through a style-transfer machine. Instead of a brilliant 1934 film, we might get a brilliant 2019 film. The algorithm would find a modern equivalent for every clever line of dialog, every flirtatious look, every subtlety of class distinction.

We might very well end up with a modern classic. Or maybe it wouldn’t work at all — maybe the result would be simply painful to watch.

That would be interesting too. After all, an outright failure might suggest an upper limit on the powers of machine intelligence to replicate the nuances of human culture.

Day of rest

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

It’s been so long since I took a day to rest and recover from the craziness. I had forgotten what it feels like to chill just for a little while, rather than working like crazy, all the while running around making a mad dash from one thing to another.

Today I finally allowed myself to slow down, be with people I love, and take in the wonder of simply being alive.

I am happy to report that it feels great.

Flurry

Friday, June 14th, 2019

New Yorkers rush by
Like a flurry of snowflakes
Each one is unique

Dinner conversation

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

I was having dinner with a friend this evening. At one point my friend said “Maybe I’m just terrified of life.”

I considered my answer carefully. Clearly my friend was sharing something very important with me, and it was important to be respectful of that.

“Yes,” I replied, “life is the second most terrifying thing.”

It turns out that we both heartily agreed on that point.

Books as gifts

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

A book is rarely the most expensive gift you can get someone. Sure, you can give somebody a first edition, and that is an entire thing unto itself.

But when you just gift somebody a book simply because you think they will enjoy reading it, you’re making a powerful statement. You are saying things about the receiver of the gift, but also about yourself.

Books are very flexible as gift objects. I like to give books to help celebrate a friendship that is doing well, but also as a balm when a friendship is in trouble.

Of course the book itself is not the true gift. The true gift is the thought and care that went into choosing just the right book.

Assuming, of course, that the recipient knows how to read between the lines.

Only those

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

only those you love
can truly cause you sorrow
that’s why you love them