|Civil War Veteran Aaron Beck|
Sharing the adventure of writing and researching the story of Isaac Beckley Werner (1845-1895) homesteader, agriculturalist, inventor, journalist, scholar and political activist
|Civil War Veteran Aaron Beck|
Is Artificial Intelligence a positive tool or a threat to humanity?
|Medical Challenges of Covid, Art by Lyn Fenwick|
The pandemic was what awakened us to the potential of AI. If you are curious, I recommend that you visit https://financesonline.com/ai-trends/ to learn more. That article explains how AI can "spot anomalies early enough to give them time to dynamically respond to the threats." Having recognized the threats, AI can move more quickly to create simulation modeling, workforce planning, and demand projection.
Using AI to confront covid showed us the importance of quick responses and constant oversight, and having seen the value of AI, its development and use has advanced rapidly. The question is, while we are smart enough to have made rapid advancements in AI technology, are we wise enough to establish ethical guardrails to avoid the abuses AI can accomplish?
|Challenges on our Planet & in Deep Space|
Google has announced a new computing device capable of doing in 3 minutes and 20 seconds what current supercomputers could not complete in under 10,000 years. I cannot even wrap my mind around that capability.
I struggle with blocking robocalls on my phone, and I am struggling with learning how to do the same things I did efficiently on my old computer on my new computer which has, so far, intimidated me. I respect the fact that younger minds can deal more easily with the current computer world than I can, but are they wise enough to remain smarter than the computers they create?
We already know about the threat of spying on us through face book and the websites we visit, the ability to deceive us with altered images, the use of computers to draft essays assigned by teachers rather than doing the research and writing yourself, and the loss of personal skills once valued, like creating art, poetry, music, and cursive penmanship, relegating those skills to computers. Are we willing to abandon too many of the things that define humanity, the ethical judgements, the wisdom of generations, the refinement of beauty in art and music, the very exercise of intelligence that allowed us to create these computers?
Or, is this just a generational thing that parents and grandparents for centuries have viewed with skepticism and worry about the natural evolution of new thinking and the opportunities of technology? I don't know. But, I do know that the younger generation must be smarter than our generation has been because they are going to be responsible for far more dangerous decisions than past generations faced.
Let me start by admitting what most of you already know: I haven't considered myself as young for a very long time. Next, I should tell you, I am not on TikTok. However, you probably also know that I am curious. When I saw a young woman screaming into a camera something like 'she loved TikTok and couldn't live without it, and if that destroyed the United States she didn't care' I decided maybe it was time for me to learn a little about TikTok.
One of my sources was a post on Oprah. "The use of artificial intelligence--like using facial recognition for its filter and filling one's feed with highly customized recommendations--the app is able to provide its users with exactly what they want and nothing they don't want." Their users are primarily ages 24 and younger."
|Lyn with Clark's dog Jack and her dog Curley, pals through high school.|
You have probably heard that America is concerned that China, which is the source of TikTok, may be using it as a tool to get a glimpse into American thinking through the choices and participation of American viewers. I certainly got a glimpse of one such American when I watched that young girl screaming that she didn't care if America was destroyed. Apparently, China thinks Americans between age 24 and younger have an attention span of 15 seconds, because that is the common length of the videos on TikTok! However, references to shorter and longer videos can be found. The lengths I have found online range from 3 seconds to 12 minutes, with other lengths cited in between
Should America be concerned? First, let me say that I have never watched TikTok and do not plan to watch it. The concerns range from censorship to the influence of public debates to young people using it for social activism to manipulating popularity (or lack of popularity) by prioritizing content.
What concerns me is that young Americans are exposed to reinforcing an attention span of 15 seconds by watching clips that length consistently. There is a certain discipline in learning to focus attention on something or someone for a long period of time. It concerns me that we may be weakening that ability by reducing the habits of enjoying things that take lengthy attention.
It also concerns me to learn that China has banned Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Why would they maintain a platform that is shown worldwide but forbid their own citizens from watching American programs.
TikTok says its mission is to "capture and present the world's creativity, knowledge and moments," adding that it allows young people to express themselves. Remember, however, the common allotted time is 15 seconds. How much worthwhile creativity and knowledge can be fit into 15 seconds?
|One of Lyn's well-worn piano practice music books.|
Now I am about to reveal just how very old I am, by describing how I used my idle time when I was 24 and younger. Actually, after leaving high school I was a full-time student, a 30-hour a week employee, and a wife, so if there had been such a thing as TikTok it is very unlikely I would have had time to waste on it. So, here are the ways I used my free time at age 18 and younger.
1. I read books. Lots of books of all kinds. I traveled the world and went back in time and was rich and poor, male and female, black and white and brown, exploring the world, meeting countless nationalities, meeting heroes and villains, and experiencing countless other things because I lived those things in books.
2. I drew pictures. They weren't necessarily good, but I got better as I tried.
3. I played the piano. To be honest, much of the time I practiced because my mother required it, but I came to love it, because I was good enough to play popular music.
4. I wandered. I walked miles and miles on the sandy roods around the farm, often making up stories as I walked, wandering shelter belts observing trees and weeds and bugs and tracks in the sand, learning to mimic birds, and observing the natural world.
5. I sewed, a skill my mother taught me that I have used my entire life.
6. I followed my father around the farm, learning things from him, such as the names of trees, how to check seeds using damp paper towels between two pieces of glass, how to use tools, and listening to tales of his childhood.
7. I cooked, helping my mother and becoming responsible for cooking in the summer while my mother worked in the garden and canned.
8. I played--with the cats and dogs, with my family, with visiting friends and family--horse shoes, bat gammon, croquet.
9. I learned how to be comfortable with solitude, perhaps to fill it with some activity but also to just enjoy being alone.
Those are the things that make me worry about today's kids who rarely live in solitude--without the television, without their phones, without their computers, without something or someone to entertain them.
In making this list, I put reading first, because reading expands your mind, but I believe solitude is also essential for kids to learn to reflect on themselves and the world around them. I am grateful that I grew up on the farm where I could see the stars at night and wander fields and pastures. Few kids today have that experience, but somehow, they need to find solitude somewhere so they can discover how to be alone with themselves. If 15 second "creativity, knowledge, and moments" are all that people are satisfied to have, that really is something to worry about.
Last week's blog brought a comment I appreciated, so I decided to answer it in this week's blog so everyone could enjoy the conversation. The person did not leave a name, but the comment regarded the credibility of reporters in the past, specifically pointing out that even Walter Cronkite did not always avoid inserting his opinion or bias. I felt that the person's comment deserved a reply.
Probably the classic situation of Walter Cronkite expressing a personal opinion occurred not on the Evening News but rather on a special report on Vietnam that he hosted after visiting the war zone. He specifically said, "I think if we examine this carefully, we have to see that there's a stalemate in Vietnam. We're not going to win and the best thing we can do is get out." No question that he did express an opinion, although not on the Evening News in that case.
The rules for reporters differed in the past. In 1949 the Fairness Doctrine was introduced, requiring those who held a broadcast license to present controversial issues of importance with both sides. Some of you will remember the dueling talking heads on television.
However, in 2011 the FCC abandoned that doctrine. Here's the problem: The First Amendment says, "...Congress shall make no law respecting...abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press... There are some exceptions, the most common example being that you do not have the 'freedom' to shout "Fire" in a crowded movie theater. However, for the government to moderate the news easily, there is a risk of violating the intention of the First Amendment. It has been decided that it is better to rely on ethical standards established by journalism associations and individual news organizations, as well as the ethics of journalists themselves, than for the government to impose rules. These basic objectives of responsible news sources include truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability. Unfortunately, not all reporters abide by those objectives today.
Newspapers that were once the primary source of news in America are dying. Today television and the internet are the primary sources for news. Too many of us choose news sources that report what we want to hear rather that what we need to know. Last week's blog offered some ways to search for accuracy, and in case you missed reading that you might want to scroll back to it.
There are examples of even reputable reporters and evening news hosts getting it wrong. Some of you may remember in 2004 when Dan Rather reported that George W. Bush had received preferential treatment getting into the Air National Guard to avoid the draft, relying on what turned out to be a questionable source. CBS fired executives for that, and Dan Rather ultimately stepped down. In 2015 Brian Williams got in trouble when he stated on another evening show that he had been in a helicopter in Vietnam that was hit by a missile. In fact, it was the helicopter ahead of him that was hit, but even so, being that close was probably frightening. Williams blamed his memory of the event 12 years ago for having caused his mistake, but nevertheless NBC put him on leave for 6 months and he was replaced by another evening news host, even though the misstatement had not been made during his news broadcast.
I personally liked both of those newscasters, but Bravo to the networks for adhering to strict standards of accuracy.
Sadly, today preposterous misrepresentations and outright lies are reported with no repercussions. If the freedoms we Americans enjoy are to continue, we must do our part. With freedom comes responsibility. Of course, those people getting rich from ownership of news sources should respect the importance of accurate reporting, but if they don't--and too many don't--it is up to us. Learn to fact check and sample more than a single source if you want to be sure of what you read and what you hear. If you feel a news source is not honoring "truthfulness accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability, perhaps you should consider finding other news sources. It really is up to all of us, for if we stop tuning in, news sources will take notice.
|Collection of Powerful Newspaper Editors|
My parents subscribed to at least three newspapers--Pratt Tribune, St. John News, and The Hutchinson News. We watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News every night that he was on. Edgar R. Murrow highlighted important news for us from 1951-1958. We were quite comfortable that we knew what was going on in our community and the world. Of course, we didn't.
We no longer need to depend on 30 minutes of news in the evening, nor of only one or two people delivering it. We don't have to wait for our favorite news program. We can get our news on television, the internet, and our phones. But, we trusted Walter Cronkite and Edgar R. Murrow. Can we trust all of the people delivering the news today? Sadly, no we cannot, but what we can do is research what we are being told.
I spend a great deal of my time researching the blogs I write. The internet is full of information, but sadly, it is also full of misinformation. Even more sadly, many people are willing to go in search of what they want to believe, rather than what is accurate information. However, all of us are at risk of sometimes being fooled, even when we are trying to get accurate information.
If you are a sport's fan, you know about 'instant replay.' How many times have you been certain that the football was over the line or the other guy touched the basketball last, and been wrong when you watched the instant replay? Instant replay is a great tool when it is used correctly, but my recent blogs have discussed how technology can also be abused. In response to one of my blogs about students entering key words online to obtain a custom essay for the specific subject of an assignment, one of my blog readers shared how much time his daughter has to spend investigating the essays turned in by her students to determine whether it was written by a computer rather than the student.
This is the world in which we live. If you have found a news source that you like and you consult nothing else, you may be ill informed, particularly if that news source has a bias. Most of us have certain biases, mostly harmless, but our source for accurate news should not be careless about facts.
So, how can we tell whether or not we are being misled? Here are some suggestions:
Start by watching or reading more than one source of information.
Is there an obvious bias? Or, are there conclusions that don't make sense?
Is the source a journalist or just a commentator? A commentator is free to share his or her opinion without explaining how the conclusion was reached. A journalist is meant to tell facts accurately.
Use your computer to fact check the information. There are organizations and individuals who search out facts to determine the accuracy. Don't rely on just one. Some good cites may have a bias, perhaps left leaning or right leaning. Or, sometimes people just get things wrong. If you try several fact checkers, you can get a sense of possible bias on certain subjects, and that will help you decide whether to check another fact checker. Here are some fact checkers I have used: FactCheck.org; Wikipedia.com; Snopes.com; TruthOrFiction.com .
Not all opinions stay on the opinion page, and even the most conscientious people can get things wrong. Sometimes there isn't a single right answer, and bias is something nearly all of us struggle with. But the ways we can be misled are becoming harder to recognize, and we need to do what we can to get things right.
Remember Flat-Tops and Bobby Socks?
|My brother, Class of 1954|
Are you old enough to remember the shoulder pads of the 1980s, popularized by the television show Dynasty? I am, and whenever I see current fashion trends that I find unattractive, I remind myself of those shoulder pads. Yes, I did have a few of those in my closet. However, even with that reminder, I can't understand the current popularity of "gym" shorts in the middle of winter. Flannel pajama bottoms as street wear seem to have subsided, but at least they were warm. Yet, today I have frequently seen bare legs beneath short jackets in near freezing weather. Those shoulder pads I wore looked stupid, but they didn't give me pneumonia.
When I was in high school we did have a dress code. For girls, dresses were required except for Fridays, and maybe then only if it was a game day. For boys it was jeans and shirts. Perhaps in my school days the enforcement of dress codes fell on the parents; however, I have seen enough 'first day of school' pictures posted on face book by proud mothers to know that my parents would not have let me out of the house (let alone dressed for school) in something that tight or short. Styles change and so do what parents find acceptable, but I was not aware of the turmoil that appropriate dress has caused in some schools. I guess other disputes in schools are filling more headlines than reporting dress code disagreements.
Today, the suggestion to "Dress appropriately" isn't very helpful for adults or children. Whether it is a wedding, a dinner party, a baby shower, or a brunch, if the hostess doesn't drop a hint, it is difficult to know what to wear, so how are adults supposed to keep up with proper attire for their kids? A survey found that since 2000 the number of public schools with a defined dress code increased 21%. That survey found that only 2% of schools reported no dress code at all.
Some of the requirements and prohibitions would seem unnecessary, like the need to wear shoes. Others seem more related to particular problems in a community, like no gang insignia. Yet others seem related to modesty, like no bare shoulders or deep cut blouses, shorts of a certain length, or excessively tight clothing. The modesty requirements often draw criticism that girls are being more restricted than boys.
A recent government report indicated that 93% of school districts have dress codes or policies, and some of those schools have ignored differences in student cultural or physical differences, such as ignoring that curls or kinky hair may not easily comply with restrictions on "excessive curls" or hair no deeper "than two inches when measured from the scalp." (That reminded me of the back-combing styles of my high school era. I doubt that some hair-dos would have met the 2" requirement!)
On the positive side, uniformity of dress can reduce clothing being a visual division of students, reducing the socioeconomic status of students. It may even create a sense of belonging, being part of a team, and for kids with a limited wardrobe, uniforms or less emphasis on clothing may make them feel more as if they can fit in. In communities where keeping strangers out of the building is important, dress codes can make intruders more apparent.
On the negative side, freedom of expression may be limited, minority students may resent being forced to accept styles of others, and if the dress code is so strict that personal taste and traditions are prohibited, some may feel alienated.
Even if dress codes are not imposed in a community, reflecting on some of these issues may bring a fresh perspective to what is going on in today's schools.
Blogger Michelle Riddell suggested in her blog about High School Dress Codes that since part of teaching should be to prepare students to make responsible choices, perhaps collaborating with students on a dress code policy might be a way to get them to dress appropriately.
One of Riddell's comments made so much sense to me, pointing out our society's obsession with image and its direct link to the irony that "students get harangued for wearing the very clothes they are targeted to buy. Yet, someone else designed, advertised, manufactured, and sold the styles we blame on youth culture--and then unilaterally [with school dress codes] decide to ban."
Educator Suzanne Capek Tingley suggests three simple ideas: 1. Make sure kids know what's expected. 2. Avoid embarrassing dress code violators. 3. Understand your students' concerns.
Since this blog was inspired by my discomfort of seeing bare legged young people in cold weather, has my research on dress codes taught me anything? Let me apply Tingley's "simple" guides: 1. What is expected
? That educated young people should realize that bare legs in near freezing temperatures is foolish. 2. Avoid embarrassing: Their bare legs are not my responsibility. 3. Understand their concerns: Once I was young and foolish too.
I'm not sure I passed Tingley's test!
I hope that readers can find a few giggles in this imaginary letter to the woman who once knew all the answers to proper etiquette, as some of us try to stumble our way through changing times...
Dear Emily Post,
Where are you when you are needed?! Does a successor to you even exist?
I know you may have heard me complain about how some group of education experts decided to eliminate the teaching of cursive writing, believing it was no longer needed with the shift to computers. Yes, I love the many positive ways I use my computer--although it is getting troubling when it impolitely begins changing things I was just beginning to understand. And, if it is so smart, why can't it recognize those intruders that try to sign us up for things we don't want or need.
But, back to my reason for writing, why didn't you explain to those education experts that we might miss the pleasure of receiving a handwritten thank you note. An email is just not the same thing. Yes, it is true that I appreciate the convenience of ordering gifts online without having to get dressed before noon--a bad habit I acquired during covid when all of us were stuck at home, but that is beside the point. The point is that a personal thank you note would be nicer, and nicer still would be the ability to read the note. Truely, I do appreciate getting an actual thank you note, but the penmanship is difficult to read, and that is sad since I know that the writers did their best.
If those experts thought that teaching cursive was no longer necessary, why did they ignore spending just a little more time showing students how to make printing legible. And, was there some purpose for encouraging them to crowd their writing across the top of the page, as if they meant to write more and were interrupted.
I don't mean to sound whiney, but whose idea was it to advise brides and grooms that they had 6 months to finish their thank you notes. Yes, I know that notes were once the responsibility of the bride, but now, with both the wife and the husband working, don't they share the task of writing the thank you notes? That would seem fair, and with both of them writing, shouldn't they finish sooner? If 6 months is now the acceptable time couples have to send thank you notes, I'm afraid I will no longer remember what I gave them.
It is nice that now the bride and groom often have websites that tell me what they would like to have and how to order it. I especially like those websites that notify me when my gift is received, so that I don't worry that the gift was lost in the mail. But, is that notification the modern version of a thank you note?
And Ms. Post, since I am writing, could you please remind the older generation that it is very difficult to know how to prepare the refreshments for a party when invited guests fail to return the stamped reservation cards enclosed with the invitation. Phone numbers and e-mail addresses are also ignored, and I don't understand what those funny little squares with the squigly dots are for. It is very embarrassing to run out of food, and humiliating to have a table full of food and only a handful of guests that choose to come.
And while I am writing you, I must share my concern about what is appropriate attire. Once we knew exactly what to wear when we received an invitation to an event, but please my dear Emily, could you revise your advice about proper attire for occasions. The old rules don't seem to matter. It is very awkward for those of us 'of a certain age' like you and me, to navigate the social world today. The more I think about it, perhaps you are as confused as I am. Perhaps all the answers you had for us died with you in 1960, although it was thoughtful of you to leave behind The Emily Post Institute to carry on your work.
Sincerely, A Confused Fan (of a certain age!)
Emily Post was born in 1872 and died in 1960. She was the daughter of a wealthy architect, and her mother was the daughter of a wealthy coal baron. Her biographer described her as "tall, pretty, and spoiled." She married a prominent banker and had 2 sons. They divorced after 13 years because of her husband's affairs with chorus girls and fledgling actresses. She began writing when her sons were old enough to attend boarding schools, and her work included magazine serials, travel books, books on interior design and novels. Her first etiquette book was written in 1922 to great success, and led to numerous editions, as well as radio programs and newspaper columns on good taste. She was not the first nor the last to write about etiquette, but her influence extended beyond her death and her name remains a synonym for good taste.
It seems lately that too many of the lawyers on television aren't necessarily the best examples of the profession. You may have asked yourself why any honest person would want to be a lawyer. To counter some of the impressions those lawyers may have given you, let me begin with a quote from Abraham Lincoln: "Let reverence for the laws, be breathed by every American mother, to the lisping babe, that prattles in her lap--let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges; let it be written in Primers, spelling books, and in almanacs, let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in courts of justice." Obviously, Lincoln saw the need to educate all Americans of the meaning and importance of our laws.
Today, on television and the internet there are lawyers who purport to express their legal opinions, and there are non-lawyers who also express their opinions about the law, and there are those who express their opinions as if it were the law... There are also those who are lawyers that intentionally misrepresent the law. What is a person to do in such a world of information and misinformation?
Lincoln's advice that all Americans learn to revere our laws and know what they say so we are less easily hood-winked is great advice. I will also add some excellent advice from Barbara Jordan: "It is reason, and not passion, which must guide our deliberations, guide our debate, and guide our decisions."
I will add my own opinion about those whom I generally disregard. Those who shout, who call others names. who refuse to listen to anyone else's ideas are unlikely to gain my respect. It seems to me that if you have a good idea to share, the best way to do that is a respectful conversation.
Should you judge lawyers by the clients they represent? Sometimes, but not necessarily. If ethical lawyers represented only the innocent, we would no longer be able to uphold our American belief that those accused are to be considered innocent until found guilty. People would quickly learn who represented the good guys and who represented the bad guys, and the presumption of innocence would mean nothing!
Just as lawyers gain reputations through their conduct, so also do news reporters. Those of you old enough may remember the CBS evening news moderator, so widely respected that he was often referred to as "Uncle Walter." In that era of television reporting, it was expected that the news would be delivered without bias, well checked before it was aired.
Today the goal seems to be post "Breaking News" first, with less emphasis on accuracy and getting the full content. That race to get the news first inevitably results in errors and incomplete information. Just as bad, and maybe worse, is the delivery of 'news' by commentators who make no apology for their bias. There is a difference between reporting the news and commenting an opinion.
|Dole Institute, copyright Lyn Fenwick|
Recently the misconduct of lawyers has been in the news, and unfortunately more such news is likely. Although a lawyer must defend his client, that does not mean the lawyer may ignore his own responsibilities. In representing a client, a lawyer cannot "commit a criminal act that reflects adversely on the lawyer's honesty, trust worthiness, or fitness as a lawyer in other respects." ABA Rules of Misconduct
Civics is no longer taught in many high schools. It is certainly not "breathed by every American mother [into] her lisping babe" as Lincoln urged. Many, if not most, Americans have not read the Constitution, nor do they understand the responsibilities of lawyers. Perhaps in coming days, the brief information in this blog will be helpful in understanding current events.
|Larry's Toys, Copyright Lyn Fenwick|
I often make special cards as gifts for my husband. (Aplogies for the dark image. It was taken through the glass of the framed image and is darker that the actual drawing.) This particular gift for him has many childhood memories included in a single colored-pencil drawing. including several of his toys, wooden blocks with his initials displayed, his childhood cowboy boots, marbles, the rug his mother bought on a family trip, and his grandfather's three-drawer chest. But in the center of the drawing is a Valentine card with a cowboy, given to him by a classmate at a grade school valentine exchange.
I do not remember if this art was a gift for him on Valentine's Day, but with the valentine in the middle of the drawing, perhaps it was. If so, the drawing on paper would be a traditional gift, for in the 1700s, gifting handwritten notes and letters on Valentine's Day on paper began. Beautiful penmanship in that era was highly regarded, for both men and women.
A student at Mount Holyoke College, whose father was a stationer, is credited with introducing Valentine cards in the United States. Cards had become popular in England, and when the girl received an English Valentine card, she got the idea of making cards to sell in her father's stationary shop, where they became very popular.
By Mid-1850 manufacturers were making Valentine cards. The New York Times criticized the growing tradition, saying, "The custom has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished the better." Less than a decade later Valentine cards had boomed, noticeably after the Civil War.
The tradition has continued to thrive, so much so that it is a significant revenue source not just for florists and restaurants, as well as chocolatiers, but also Perfume & Lotion shops, and lingerie stores. Other merchants have also recognized the Valentine market with such items as a waffle iron shaped like a heart, and kitchen pots and pans in red enamel.
Ladies should not forget the gentlemen in their lives, for there are gifts now particularly for men. Wine, and accessories for wine are favored, as well as games and men's socks. In that category, there are also Valentine Slippers for both men and women.
My husband and I do not overlook Valentine's Day, but long ago we gave up the tradition of crowed, noisy restaurants, where you may be rushed to clear your table for the next seating of customers. Decades of gifting has accumulated more things than our shelves and drawers can hold, and we are content without the newest trends. That is not to say that we no longer regard Valentines Day as special, and if you peeked in our window that evening, you might see flickering candles and a meal we prepared together. Reminding friends and lovers that they are still appreciated should never go out of fashion, and although social media has eclipsed cards and phone calls, you might make an exception for Valentines this year.
This is not the first time I have blogged about my feelings that eliminating cursive penmanship from school curriculums was a bad idea, although I realize beating that drum is a lost cause. This time, however, the joke is on those professors who decided that with most correspondence being done on laptops, penmanship was no longer needed. It has turned out that bypassing handwritten assignments has made cheating easier.
That professor didn't seem very happy about the prospect of requiring the students to write their essays in the classroom by hand. Given the penmanship of most students today, I can understand why a professor might hate grading hand written papers!
Recently I blogged about the ability to create art by entering a few details about the subject, with a few additional details to use in the composition--such as 'a golden retriever hunting quail in a field of harvested corn at sunset.' With that much information, assuming a computer with access to thousands of images entered into its resources, a computer could create an attractive composition using artificial intelligence.
|Seeing a sheep being sheered instead of a computer describing it|
A few days ago, I learned of the ability to use computers filled with enough information to create that person's image so that the person's voice could be imposed on the image to create what appeared to be a live talk. In short, the old saying "Seeing is believing" is no longer trustworthy.
So, here is the problem: While we can create professional papers on about any subject in minutes, create art that is beautiful, and appear to be delivering a recorded live program, are we really teaching and interacting? Are those using technology to supply the content of an assigned essay, or the art student using artificial intelligence to create a composition, or the speaker and his audience truly interacting? Are we neglecting the development of our own minds, our sensitivity for observing and creating beauty, our skill of interacting with others by listening not just to their words but also body language and drawing out those hesitant to speak.
Decades ago when I was teaching, I discovered cheating by my students. When I expressed my disappointment to an older teacher, he replied: "Cheating isn't bad, cheating badly is bad." I was astonished by his comment. Unfortunately, I fear that since that teacher's comment was made to me years ago, the honor system has plummeted. It does seem to me that technology has opened up an entire new world for cheating. However, isn't it possible that in many cases the person we are cheating is ourselves?
My husband and I had the good fortune of careers that took us to many places, and we would not trade those experiences and the friends we made. However, this blog is about Texas, and specifically, it is about a cowboy poet named Larry McWhorter. If you want to know what a cowboy poet should look like, sound like, and represent the honorable character of a true cowboy, just google Larry McWhorter, cowboy poet. He looked the part and had the voice for reading his poetry, and the authentic life to know what he was writing about when he wrote his poems. Cancer cheated him, and those of us who knew him, out of the long life he deserved. The last time we saw Larry was in the hospital. Instead of flowers, I had the nerve to take him a poem I had written for him.
We became friends not through his poetry but through his business building pipe and cable fences. We had bought some acreage in the country and wanted a fence to go all the way around it. His business name was Fiddlestrings, and he was an outstanding craftsman with pipe and cable fencing. We thought his bid was high, but it turned out that the limestone post holes, the curves and shifts in terrain, and his stubborn determination not to settle for anything less than perfection took months longer than he had anticipated. Of course, some of that time included interruptions to jot down poems that came to him as he worked.
By the time he had finished our fence, his recognition as a cowboy poet had grown, and he had published a book of poems and had gained a reputation as an entertainer. We hired him twice as an entertainer, and he was a hit both times. But, his greatest gift was as a friend. At his funeral the sanctuary and the church classrooms filled, with a crowd standing outside, and I am sure each person believed that he was a close friend.
The poem I wrote for him was titled "McWhorter's Last Fence / Apologies to Fiddlestrings. I will share the first two stanzas and the last two stanzas of my 10 stanza poem, as well as pictures of the fence he built for us.
The job began in April
with the pasture full of flowers.
Grass was green and skies were blue.
He didn't mind the hours.
He worked long days on pipe and wire,
and when each day was done,
it hardly seemed he's moved ten feet
from where he had begun.
Yet, when the fence was finished
and lay stretched across high plains,
what he saw was strength and beauty.
He forgot about the pain.
Stinging nettle, sun, and fire ants--
all had put him to the test.
But, he'd kept his word to do the job,
and always done his best.
Lyn Fenwick, (c)
From the time I was a little girl I wanted to learn to draw. None of the schools I attended had an art program. In the 3rd and 4th grade we cut out shapes for the season--pumpkins for Halloween, Trees for Christmas, Bunnies for Easter. The windows in our classroom were divided, and each of our seasonal shapes filled one window.
I never really gave up on the idea of learning to draw, and on my own I learned a little. I also volunteered as a docent for an urban museum and learned a great deal from the training I received. I joined art organizations and learned more. I even took a few classes. I bought books and visited museums. I didn't give up.
|Portrait from a photograph: Lyn Fenwick|
How silly of me. Recently I was watching television and learned about AI used to create art with Artificial Intelligence. What does that mean? It is the simulation of human intelligence using computers. Computers can be trained to think and act in the same way humans can.
These computers can learn, and the more it learns the better the output it can produce. If the computer has thousands of specific descriptions or images you have put into it, the more specific the result of what it can produce will be.
So, if you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl at the zoo" that is one level of description, but it you tell the computer you want a "picture of a little girl about 8 years old with blue eyes, freckles, and red hair pulled back into a pony tail, leaning on the wooden railing of the elephant pen," you are going to get a portrait much closer to the little girl you wanted to create, assuming you have "taught" the computer by entering all the information it needs to complete your description of the girl.
|Copyright: Lyn Fenwick|
The question remains, are you an artist? Did you create the picture of the little girl?
Another question might be, does it make any difference how it was created if the end result is a satisfactory portrait of the little girl you set out to draw?
But, perhaps the next question should be will you experience the same satisfaction by creating the portrait with AI as you would have by using your own hands and shaping and coloring to complete the image? Is there something missing in an AI portrait that can't be exactly explained but has failed to capture the indescribable spark that art requires?
Is going for a drive in the country the same if your hands are not on the wheel? Is the pride of training and practicing and sacrificing to improve as rewarding if everyone who entered the race gets a trophy?
We human beings should be asking these questions.
|My Great Grandparents shortly before immigrating to America.|
The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the French to pay tribute to the United States for its democracy. The Statue honored the end of slavery and other tyrannies and represented the friendship between France and America.
Today we associate the Statue with the sonnet by Emma Lazarus, the most famous part of the sonnet being "Give me your tired your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" At the dedication ceremony of the Statue of Liberty, the emphasis was on the French who fought with Americans against Britain during the American Revolution and the commitment shared by France and the United States to liberty. The famous poem by Lazarus was not added to the pedestal until 1903.
Yet, for generations the words of that poem have represented the reality of immigration for millions of Americans whose families immigrated to America to escape all sorts of misery. In the beginning there was little regulation of immigration and naturalization at a national level. Rules and procedures for arriving immigrants were determined by local ports of entry or state laws. Naturalization was handled by local county courts. The shift to National authority gradually began in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The Immigration Act of 1891 led to the U.S. Bureau of Immigration. The opening of Ellis Island as an inspection station occurred in 1892, 6 years after the dedication of the Statue of Liberty. However, it was the Constitution adopted in 1787 that gave the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization.
The Naturalization Act of 1790 enabled persons who had resided in the country for two years and had kept their current residence for a year to apply for citizenship, provided they were a free white person and of good moral character, and any court of record could perform naturalization. Soon, the residency requirement was increased--in 1795 to 5 years residence and 3 years notice of intent to apply for citizenship. Three years later, in 1798 it increased to 14 years residency and 5 years notice.
This brief summary makes clear that settling on rules of naturalization have been complicated from our beginnings. From white men to black men born in America to black men naturalized, to restrictions on Asian men, to voting rights for women, to the Page Act passed in 1875 to bar immigrants considered "undesirables," America has struggled with whom they wanted to admit and for what privileges. We have also imposed voluntary repatriation to Europe and Mexico, as well as coerced repatriation. The Chinese exclusion laws were not repealed until 1943. We have excluded on the basis of literacy, disease carriers, and "postcard wives" who were brought to America by men who had selected them from photographs.
In truth, nearly every one of us is the descendent of an immigrant. Our immigration policies have almost always been messy. This blog is not written as a suggestion of how it should be done nor as a criticism of how it has been done. Rather, it is just a reminder that how to do it has never been easy.
|Iris I can see from my window|
The view from the window above my desk is the same view from which I have observed the world since I was a child. The row of lilac bushes I loved every spring is now a bed of iris, but the lilac bushes aren't far away, ...only a few steps to the west, where my mother transplanted them to form a patio created with concrete my father had salvaged from the adjacent farm he had bought. The barn was torn down to raise crops instead of cows. Over the years that salvaged concrete had served many needs, one of which was being piled into the frame for the front porch when my father replaced the wooden floor with a new concrete floor. Did that stabilize the new concrete or just reduce the amount of new concrete needed? We were a thrifty family, and we tried not to let anything go to waste.
Mother's thrift was primarily in the kitchen and at her sewing machine. There was a canning jar in the refrigerator, and at the end of meals if there were leftover vegetables in the serving bowl, or even just a bit of juice, into that jar it went. If somehow a piece of meat had been left on the platter, it went into the jar. By the end of the week Mother would transform the odd collection of leftovers into soup or stew, although she might have needed to add a package of ground beef from the freezer.
She was a master at the sewing machine, and the prettiest prom dress I ever had was created from red taffeta lining from an old coat and curtain fabric for the kitchen windows that she had decided not to use. I was mortified. How could I go to a party dressed in curtains and coat lining! It took old photographs to convince me that it really was the prettiest dress she ever made for me.
|Black swallow tail caterpillars devouring my garden|
But, back to the view from my window... Today I see the foundation from the old hen house from my window, but once there truly was a hen house, and collecting the eggs and feeding the chickens was my job. If I forgot to close the doors in the evening to keep varmints out at night, I had to go out after dark to close the doors. Today it looks like a few steps, but when I was eight, in the darkness it looked like a mile. The chicken house had been torn down when we came back to the farm, but I didn't want the old foundation removed. Now that old foundation keeps the Bermuda grass out of the herb garden. Consistent with my family training, I found a new purpose for something old.
At some time in my teen years, a daybed was put in the alcove of my window. The wall to the right of the window was just wide enough for a peg board, and I faithfully arranged and rearranged photographs, invitations, cards and other odds and ends--things that had a special (if temporary) meaning to me. I guess little has changed. Today that wall holds my FHSU Alumni Achievement Award and the plaque recognizing my Georgia Author of the Year Award presented by the Council of Authors and Journalists. I believe there is just the perfect place for the Notable Kansas Book Award for 'Prairie Bachelor.' Old habits are hard to change.
As 2022 draws to a close, perhaps some of you are thinking about New Year's Resolutions I have written about that in past New Year's blogs, and some of the replies that have been shared with me related more with failure to keep those resolutions than with the resolutions themselves. In short, many people admit that even when they made the resolution they knew they wouldn't keep it. They were just lying to themselves. So, this year, rather than writing about New Year's Resolutions I am going to share some thoughts on telling the truth.
"In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
George Orwell, author
Several weeks ago, I was watching television and an author was talking about his book, titled, "The Post-Truth Era. Ralph Keyes is not a professor. He lives in Ohio and writes articles for magazines such as Esquire and Good Housekeeping. He has appeared on The Today Show and was on Oprah. I did not anticipate a scholarly book when I ordered "Post Truth," nor is it one. I was surprised when the book arrived to learn that it was published in 2004, now 2 decades ago. His subtitle is "Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life," which reveals that the topic is not particularly new, as my next quote makes clear.
The truth is not always beautiful, nor beautiful words the truth.
Laozi, ancient philosopher
When I began reading Ralph Keyes' book he soon explained the he was not going to write about "all lies and every liar." What he was focusing on was "concern about casual lying, its effect on how we deal with each other, and on society as a whole." In fact, he believed the casual lie was getting worse. That led me to ask myself, is dishonesty getting worse? It seems to me that it is, but one thing is certain, lying had been around for a long time, and our founding fathers have had something to say about it!
Half a truth is often a great lie.
Rearching for a more recent American philosopher, I turned to that great thinker--bless his cotton-picken-heart--Elvis Presley, who said:
Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time,
but it ain't goin' away.
The author of The Post-Truth Era was pretty hard on lawyers, suggesting that truth and lies in the courtroom do not mean the same thing as they do one the street. When I was a practicing attorney, I prepared many people for testifying in court and in preparing for depositions, and I never told anyone to lie. I did tell them, however, not to allow opposing counsel to put words in their mouths. Answer yes or no if the question is clear and specific, but if he has tucked in extra details that aren't accurate, don't accept his question as appropriate for a yes or no answer. "I don't know, I don't understand, and I don't remember" are perfectly appropriate answers, if you really don't know, understand, or remember. If you watch the news, you may know that an attorney has put himself in a difficult place by instructing his client to say "I don't remember," not because she did not remember but rather as a way to avoid answering the question. Apparently she was told that she would be safe to avoid answering the question, because 'no one could know whether she remembered or not.' Bad Advice!
There are few reasons for telling the truth, but for lying, the number is infinite.
Carlos Ruiz Zafon, novelist
While it might be possible that someone could get away with pretending not to remember, the truth is that once discovered the pretense is grounds for prosecution because the person had lied under oath.
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters
cannot be trusted with important matters.
Ralph Keyes concludes his book by saying that 10% are ethical by nature, that a different 10% have no ethical inclination at all, but 80% move back and forth, depending on circumstances. It seemed to me when I grew up in a small community, honesty was admired and generally practiced by most people. Perhaps that was because dishonest people were known and those doing business with them knew better than to do business on a handshake.
Maybe lying to ourselves with a resolution to stick to a diet which only lasts until the first bowl of ice cream tempts us is not important, but I am still idealistic enough to believe that our "Post-Truth" era is a threat. As S. Somerset Maugham said, "The fact that a great many people believe something is no guarantee of its truth."
However you decorate for the holidays, or even if you don't decorate at all, Happy Holidays to Everyone!
|Christmas stockings from the past|
The men would find comfortable chairs to settle into and tell yarns and catch naps, while the children would play with the toys Santa had brought. If it was the tradition not to open packages until after the meal, they would sneak packages from under the tree to shake and squeeze in hopes of guessing the contents.
The day was orchestrated carefully, rarely changing much. If someone failed to bring a favorite dish, there was likely to be grumbling, and if someone dared to alter a recipe, it would be noticed.
Yet, if you watch television today, you would assume that those old traditions have passed...that everyone today is flying to some beach resort or traveling to the mountains to ski.
Out of curiosity, I went online to see if family Christmas dinners are out of fashion. The results of my research are inconsistent. I found that between December 23rd and January 2nd 112.7 million will travel 50 miles or more for the holidays. Another site said 113 million would be away from home. Another said one in three would travel for Christmas.
However, a survey of 2,000 people found that 73% spent time together, and that was true of Christmas more than any other time of the year. Another survey found that 82% try to be together every year.
My conclusion...spending the Christmas holiday is not out of fashion, but what people consider spending it together is not necessarily like their Grandmother's Christmas. It may not be on December 25th, it may be at a resort, it may be virtual, and it may be a bit of fibbing if asked by an interviewer. But, apparently most families do have traditions that are significant to them, even if their family group is a family because they choose to be, not because they share the same mother or father.
Sometimes I buy a book only to discover it is not at all what I thought it was. When I was younger, if I started a book, I finished it. At some point I realized there are too many wonderful books in the world to waste time on disappointing choices. (I must admit before I go further that some of the books I stuck with before I allowed myself to abandon a disappointing book turned out to be wonderful reads.) However, even today I do try to give each book a chance, even if it is no more that a skimming rather than truly diving into it. Recently, I chose one of those books that disappointed me, but I did discover a few good quotes, and one of them inspired this blog.
|The Era of Flat-Tops and Back-Combing|
My husband and I married right out of high school. The odds for success were risky. Even before our marriage, divorce rates had begun to rise. By 1965 rates reached for individual couples divorcing to 2.5%, jumping to 3.2 by 1969. Between 1950 and 1999 the divorce rate doubled from the likely hood of 11 to 23 divorces per 1,000 married women between the ages of 1 and 64. For two kids ages 17 and 18, it might have seemed that we had stepped into a rapidly ascending elevator going up in the wrong direction.
Statistics vary from study to study, but there is a degree of consistency about the particular years during which divorces are most likely to occur. The most common years are 1-2 and 5-8, and within those groups, 2 years stand out...the years 7 and 8.
My husband and I have long since passed those early danger years and will soon be celebrating another wedding anniversary ending with a zero. Where have those years gone? Which brings me back to the quote that inspired this blog. When I found the quote, I slipped a book mark in that page. Later I told my husband, "I have something I want you to read." I didn't tell him what it was, and he didn't know what the book I was reading contained. I just handed over the book with the book mark in place and pointed to the quote. It reads"
is leading innovative lives together,
being open, non-programed.
It's a free fall: how you handle
each new thing as it comes along.
He read it and then said to me, "That's about what we did, isn't it?" And it was. He enjoys joking that he married a girl with a cosmetology license who was supposed to work in a beauty shop and put him through college and instead he ended up putting me through Law School. I counter that his career moves took me to two New England states, Texas, New York City, back to Texas and then two Southern states and then back to Texas. He counters that rebuttal by reminding me that he brought me home to Kansas in retirement to the 4th generation family farm where I was raised. (By the way, I never got a job in a beauty shop, but Larry had received a lot of "free" haircuts!) The quote above ends with these words:
As a drop of oil on the sea,
you must float,
using intellect and compassion
to ride the waves.
Before all of this starts sounding too romantic and personal, I must quote what the book author shared immediately before this. He wrote, "Marriage is not a love affair, it's an ordeal." I did not show that quote to my husband!
Today, in 2022, about 50% of married couples eventually divorce, and 60% of second marriages end in divorce. For third marriages it is 58%. America has the 5th highest divorce rate in the world. As for Kansas, we rank 9th among the states at 9.2 %. The statistics in this paragraph are from World Population Review Website. The other statistics are from a variety of sources.
The history of divorce is interesting. The 1st divorce is believed to date back to 1706 B.C. in Babylon. The name comes from the Latin term "divortere," meaning to turn differet ways. The first known divorce in the American Colonies was when Anne Clarke was granted a divorce from her absent and adulterous husband by the Quarter Court of Boston, Massachusetts. Kansas was more generous that many state courts, for unlike the states where the husband could basically take the children away from their mother in a divorce, Kansas recognized the woman's right to her children as well.
In thinking about the challenges of marriage, I should not overlook the shy efforts of our Prairie Bachelor, Isaac Werner, whose courtship efforts never quite got far enough for marriage.
Perhaps I should have saved this blog for Valentine's day, but then again, there are many engagements at Christmas! So, I will close with a final quote from the book:
When seeking your partner,
if your intuition is a virtuous one,
you will find him or her. If not,
you'll keep finding the wrong person.
I am far from the right person to give advice on marriage, and that is not what I have intended to do. Blame the quote that I stumbled on! I have no advice to give, but I have told a few couples that our marriage succeeded because there never came a time when both of us at the same time thought a divorce was what we needed. Sometimes that's all that it takes--one of you who thinks it is worth trying harder to save something worth saving. Maybe there is something to that old song: "You've got to give a little, take a little, and let your poor heart break a little--that's the story of, that's the glory of love!"