I was about eleven years old when I recall hearing my first “novelty” song”
The Flying Saucer sold over a million copies, and rose to the #3 position on Billboard rankings for 1956. It was the very first of what would be called a “mashup” recording today. It’s novelty made it very popular, and it was constantly being played on the radio. This tune opened up the floodgates for a tsunami of strange and weird songs. Continuing the space theme was The Purple People Eater:
Just a few years later (1962) a Halloween novelty song was introduced that we still hear over fifty years later. Here’s Bobby Pickett appearing on American Bandstand:
To get a sense of how times have changed since then, watch Ray Stevens sing about Ahab the Arab (1962)
Everything is so serious these days, we seem to take too little time to just chill. Sometimes I just like hearing a silly song:
Finally, one that I’ve never grown tired of. Warren Zevon at his best:
Okay, I’ll admit it, sharks fascinate me. Of course the thought of being in the water with one scares the hell out of me, but as long as they’re in the water and I’m not, we’re just fine.
I’m also a major fan of the movie Jaws. I saw it in the theater when it came out in 1975 and at least once a year since. Yeah, that’s 42 times, but really it’s more than that. We watch it aleast once every summer, and inevitably watch it again sometime later in the year. I’m guessing with no exageration, I’ve seen Jaws seventy-five times. I guess I’m sort of a Jaws Junkie:
“It’s a Carcharodon carcharias, it’s a Great White…”
And like the movie, we have a Great White shark hanging around New Jersey these days, and her name is Mary Lee.
Ocearch is a scientific organization that tracks sharks. They have been in business since 2011. Mary Lee is a mature female Great White they caught and tagged off Cape Cod on September 17, 2012. At that time she was sixteen feet long and weighed 3456 pounds. She is named by the way, after the mother of the Ocearch expedition leader.
Ocearch captures live sharks and attaches a tag to their dorsal fin, which “pings” a satellite whenever the shark comes close to the surface, allowing the shark to be tracked in real time.
In the almost five years Mary Lee has been wearing a tag, she has been tracked for almost 40,000 miles. She has traveled up and down the East Coast, from Cape Cod to Florida. She has gone east as far as Bermuda, and quite recently been as close as one mile off the Ocean City, NJ beaches.
The thing that’s interesting about Mary Lee, is that while she is tracked almost daily, she has not actually been seen in years, giving rise to speculation that she may be considerably larger these days. Tracking provides location data, but there are still gaps.
Why, for instance, does Mary Lee go up and down the coast, back and forth on a regular basis? There have been suggestions that she has a boyfriend who hangs out in Cape Cod, and she goes to visit, gets pregnant, then heads out to sea to deliver her pups. No one really knows.
We do know she’s become very popular. She even has a Twitter account, @MaryLeeShark, with over 115, 000 followers, and a Facebook page with 70,000 likes. Local newscasts up and down the coast follow her progress, and report it an on-going basis.
As with many things, Jaws has a basis in reality. In 1916, five people were killed by a shark in New Jersey; in Beach Haven, Spring Lake, and sixteen miles up the Matawan Creek. Author Peter Benchley denied that this was inspriration for his novel, but read the link at the bottom of the page and see what you think.
There are more than 480 species of sharks, but the Great White is the best know (possibly because of the movie), one of the largest, and certainly the most feared. A full grown Great White can easily exceed twenty feet in length, and weight 4300 pounds. Between 1958 – 2014, there were 2899 reported shark attacks on humans, 548 fatal, around the world. About seventy attacks are reported every year.
The Great White shark is ancient, and fossils going back sixteen million years have been found. They are found around the world, but prefer water temperatures between 54-75 degrees (F), which is why they are so prominant off the US East Coast. Click the links below for all the information about the Great White you might ever want.
Me — I just checked on Mary Lee. As I finish writing this, she’s cruising back and forth between Ocean City and Sea Isle City New Jersey. She’s just a few miles off shore, swimming back and forth, and back and forth.
So if you’re down the Jersey shore this summer, take a look out toward the horizon — not that far out, actually. She’s out there, all two tons of her, and I’m sure she’d love to meet you.
Memorial Day is coming soon, and it is the oddest of holidays. The observance began just after the Civil War, and was originally called Decoration Day. It was not officially declared a national holiday until 1971.
The day has one purpose, and one purpose only; to honor those who have fallen in battle. The “decoration” terminology refers to the earliest traditions of “decorating” the graves of the fallen with an American Flag and sometimes flowers. It is the most solemn of holidays.
It is also the most ignored. Memorial Day has become the unofficial “first day of summer”, even though summer does not really start until June 21st. Stores have “Memorial Day” sales, resort areas open in high gear, and barbecues abound. There are Memorial Day services, to be sure, and they are held all around the country. But they are often sparsely attended, mostly by veterans or those who have lost someone in war. The somber day has been co-opted into a glitzy Memorial-Day-Sale-go-to-the-beach-have-a-barbecue-day.
I used to get angry at the way Memorial Day had become perverted. To make it worse, they moved the traditional May 30th date of the holiday to one of those floating Monday holidays, making a long weekend and giving people a day off. Ironically, the people in the armed forces don’t get off.
I’ve been thinking about it a bit lately, and have asked myself “What would Monin think?”.
Francis George Monin was a friend of mine, a very good friend. We served together in the Marines, two years aboard the aircraft carrier USSEssex. He was in my wedding. He was killed on July 5, 1967, twenty-nine days after arriving in Vietnam. He was 20 years old when he died.
Monin was from Buffalo, New York. I met him at the Marine Corps Sea School in Portsmouth Va. We trained together there for eventual assignment to one of the ships in the Navy fleet. In those days, large ships, carriers, cruisers, battleships carried a detachment of Marines, usually about 60. This was a tradition going back to the Revolutionary War. We trained together, and spent the next two years aboard ship. In April 1967, our tour was up. I went home to get married, and on to Camp Lejeune. Monin went to Vietnam.
We heard about Monin getting killed, and decided to name our first child, if it was boy, after Monin. My son was born on March 28, 1968, ironically while I was in Vietnam. His name is Francis, but everyone calls him Frank.
We never called Monin “Francis” or “Frank” or anything like that. He was always just “Monin”. That moniker later evolved into “Monin Marine”. He got that nickname because Monin was a true Marine. It was all he ever wanted to be; a John Wayne Marine. He was solid, and steady and completely dependable. You could count on Monin for anything. He was one of the true patriots.
He also liked to have fun. Monin was a beer drinker, and we drank a lot of beer during those years. When we were in port, Monin and I would frequently go into Boston’s notorious “combat zone” to drink on off-duty nights. The combat zone was the area in Boston where the sailors and Marines hung out. There used to be an area like that in many cities, places the civilians generally avoided and the military people partied.
And drink we did. We usually got something to eat, sometimes took in a movie, and then hit the bars. We would stagger back to the ship in the wee small hours, always stopping at a local greasy spoon for a 3am breakfast before going to the ship for a few hours sleep. Monin insisted that eating breakfast then would prevent a hangover. It didn’t work, but we did it anyway.
We had good times; lots of them. Monin loved to tell jokes. He wasn’t real good at it, but he told them to anyone who would listen. He liked to have fun. He was always in for any adventure. He was always up; I never saw him down.
Monin would like barbecues, especially if there was beer. He would like a get-together with friends where he could tell his jokes. He enjoyed life, and enjoyed being with his fellow Marines. He wouldn’t want people grieving over him.
I think if I were having a Memorial Day barbecue, Monin would be one of the first I would invite. He would come and have a good time.
So yeah, Memorial Day has a purpose; maybe more than one. Remember those who have fallen to keep you free. Plant a flag, say a prayer. Then go out and have fun.
“The conventional army loses if it does not win.
The guerrilla wins if he does not lose…” Henry Kissinger
We’re losing. I’m writing this in the aftermath of the Ariana Grande terrorist bombing in Manchester, England yesterday (May 22nd), killing twenty-two mostly young people and injuring scores more. This one caught my attention, not because it was unusual, it wasn’t, as you’ll see from the list below. It caught my attention because my Grandaughter is a fan of Ariana Grande, a singer I know nothing about.
Evidently in this incident, the terrorist suicide bomber was a 23-year-old Muslim who’s parents were Libyan refugees. CBS News reported that he was “known” to British authorities. Apparently, according to news reports, the Brits have some 3500 “known” potential terrorists along with about 400 returned ISIS fighters back from Iraq and Syria walking around in their streets.
Wrap your mind around that if you can, because I can’t.
Apparently the British have enough on these individuals to classify them as “potential” terrorists, but not enough on them to lock them up. They can’t lock them up, but when one of their “knowns” blows himself up along wth scores of innocent people, the response is that he was “known” to them.
I don’t want to pick on the British. We have terrorist “watch lists” as well, and my guess is they are pretty extensive.
We can watch them, they can be known to us. And then they can blow up pretty much any venue, any time they damn well please. Even when they are known to have gone to Syria and fought with ISIS, they are only “monitored” in Jolly Old England.
An Ariana Grande concert; thousands of kids, many barely in their teens, flocking to have a night of excitement watching their favorite singer. They got more than they bargained for.
Now the terrorists have a new target — our kids. What could bring more terror than killing children? The “known” terrorist got away with it. They’ll do this one again.
April 7, 2017 A man driving a hijacked beer truck struck pedestrians at a Stockholm department store, killing 4 people.
March 22, 2017 A man drives his rented SUV into pedestrians at London’s Westminster Bridge, killing four people. The attacker then stabbed a police officer to death.
Dec. 19, 2016 A hijacked truck plows through a Christmas market in Berlin, killing 12.
July 14, 2016 A truck driver targets Bastille Day revelers in Nice, killing 86.
March 22, 2016 Suicide attacks on the Brussels airport and subway kill 32 and injure hundreds. The perpetrators have been closely linked to the group that carried out earlier attacks in Paris.
Nov. 13, 2015 Islamic State-linked extremists attack the Bataclan concert hall and other sites across Paris, killing 130 people. A key suspect in the attack, 26-year-old Salah Abdeslam, is arrested in Brussels on March 18, 2016.
Feb. 14, 2015 A gunman kills Danish filmmaker Finn Noergaard and wounds three police officers in Copenhagen. A day later the gunman, Omar El-Hussein, attacks a synagogue, killing a Jewish guard and wounding two police officers before being shot dead.
Jan. 7-9, 2015 A gun assault on the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and an attack on a kosher grocery store kills 17 people. Al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula claims responsibility for the attack, saying it was in revenge for Charlie Hebdo’s depictions of the Prophet Muhammad.
May 24, 2014 Four people are killed at the Jewish Museum in Brussels by an intruder with a Kalashnikov. The accused is a former French fighter linked to the Islamic State group in Syria.
May 22, 2013 Two al-Qaida-inspired extremists run down British soldier Lee Rigby in a London street, then stab and hack him to death.
March 2012 A gunman claiming links to al-Qaida kills three Jewish schoolchildren, a rabbi and three paratroopers in Toulouse, southern France.
July 22, 2011 Anti-Muslim extremist Anders Behring Breivik plants a bomb in Oslo then launches a shooting massacre on a youth camp on Norway’s Utoya island, killing 77 people, many of them teenagers.
Nov. 2, 2011 The offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris are firebombed after the satirical magazine runs a cover featuring a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad. No one is injured.
March 2, 2011 Islamic extremist Arid Uka shoots dead two U.S. airmen and injures two others at Frankfurt airport after apparently being inspired by a fake internet video purporting to show American atrocities in Afghanistan.
July 7, 2005 52 commuters are killed in London when four al Qaida-inspired suicide bombers blow themselves up on three subway trains and a bus.
March 11, 2004 Bombs on four Madrid commuter trains in the morning rush hour kill 191 people.”
Polar bears, the icon of the global warming movement: theatened, endangered, possibly headed for extinction because of mankind’s indifference to saving the planet. Really?
The polar bear (Ursus maritimus) is a carniverous bear who roams the Arctic Circle area. It feeds mostly on seals. It is a big bear, and a male can weigh as much as 1500 pounds and stand nine feel tall on it’s hind legs. They are actually related to the brown bear; their distinctive color presumably evolved allowing them to survive better in their habitat. They live both on land and on sea ice, roaming their territory looking for prey. They are vicious animals, and will eat a human being as readily as a seal. Other creatures they encounter are just food to them.
Their “territory” is pretty large. The area north of the Arctic Circle is over 7 million square miles in size. For reference, the continental United States is about 3.2 million square miles.
The polar bear is considered a “vulnerable species”, by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, largely due to concerns about global warming. This group has classified 5196 animals and 6789 plants around the world as “vulnerable”.
So how many polar bears are there, and how is their “vulnerability” measured? That’s where it begins to get murky.
Part of the problem is no one knows how many polar bears there are. The only way to count polar bears is to fly over them and count. Since their territory is so large, and they are constantly on the move, this is not a practical method. So what we have are estimates. Since much of their territory has been poorly studied (Wikipedia), estimates by biologists run from 20,000 to 31,000 polar bears in the world. Nineteen “subpopulations” have been catagorized, based on sightings of groups of bears in various areas.
Modern tracking of the bears has only taken place since the 1980’s and is expensive, tagging and tracking bears by helicopter. While there have been increased reporting of bear sightings around populated areas in recent years, some scientists argue that this should not be interprteted as increases in the bear population. Counting of subpopulations is scattered, and some groups have not been counted since 1992.
The bottom line is that all counts of polar bears are estimates, based on very limited information.
Those worried about the fate of the polar bear contend that shrinking Arctic polar ice reduces the bear’s habitat and food supply, eventually leading to the extinction of the bear.
The Arctic Polar Ice:
In 2009, Al Gore warned the Polar ice caps could be gone in five years:
So is Al right? Obviously his 2009 prediction didn’t quite work out that way, the ice is still there. But is he right in general?
Maybe, maybe not.
It seems almost impossible to get anyhing but conflicting data on the Internet. I looked at dozens of sites; official, semi-official, quasi-official and unofficial. — All kinds of different “answers”. I’m certainly not a scientist, but all the contradictions made me want to pull my eyeballs out. So here’s what I surmised:
It seems that over the last several million years, the Arctic has undergone over twenty glacial/interglacial (cooling/warming) periods. Some of these lasted for millions of years. The most recent interglacial period, known as the Holocene Interglacial period, lasted about 11,700 years. After warming during the Medieval Warm Period (950-1250 AD), there was a cooling period from about 1300 to 1850, which has been called the “Little Ice Age”. Although we appear to once again be in an interglacial period, It is not clear the length of time this will last, nor the cause.
There has been shrinkage of the Arctic ice in recent years. Of course it recedes and expands seasonly, but overall there has been shrinkage. I tried my best find out how much, but again, numbers are all over the place. Again it seems as much based on “estimates” as anything else.
From what I can put together, the Arctic ice pack has a size of about 5.3 million square miles. This shrinks currently to about 1.3 million square miles in the summer. Most of the sites I looked at suggest the recent overall loss is about 13-15 thousand square miles per year. Some said that this is about 2 percent, but if you do the math, it’s actually .2 percent — big differerence. At that rate, the ice will turn to water in about 500 years.
Maybe, maybe not. Climate is a funny thing; it doesn’t follow rules, certainly not any of the rules of man. Over the eons, climate change has gone warmer to colder, to warmer to colder, over and over again. In any case, the Arctic Ice is not likely to melt in the next few years as Al projected.
Personally, I think it all has to do with the shifting of the magnetic poles, but more on that in a future article.
So over all, I’m not too worried about the Polar Bear. If things change enough, they’ll likely just move south and turn brown again, like their cousins.
I missed 1968. Of course 1968 really happened, and I was alive then, but I missed it. I missed it because I was in Vietnam, and almost totally unaware of the tumultous events that took place that year. So many dramatic events took place that they changed this country, and indeed much of the world. 1968 was the most significant year of my lifetime, and I wasn’t there.
When these events took place, I was barely aware of them. In Vietnam we had a single radio station, AFVN, which stood for Armed Forces Vietnam. It was the only radio station we ever heard. Fortunately or unfortunately, AFVN was heavily censored. We only heard what they allowed us to hear, and issues that were considered too “controversial” were not broadcast. As a result of this, I only learned of many of the major events of 1968 when I returned home late that year.
Looking back, I do believe 1968 changed everything. Let’s look at the year month by month and see what happened.
1968 started out innocuously enough. In January, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau premiered on ABC. Johnny Cash performed his historic concert at Folsom Prison, and the Green Bay Packers defeated the Oakland Raiders in Superbowl II.
Things started to get dicey around the end of January. On January 21st, A B-52 carrying four hydrogen bombs crashed in Greenland. One was never recovered under the ice. On the same day, the battle of Khe Sahn began in Vietnam.
On January 22, Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In debuts on NBC, and on the 23rd, North Korea seized the American Navy ship USS Pueblo and it’s crew.
To cap the month of January off, the Tet Offensive began in Vietnam on January 30, and by the next day , Viet Cong soldiers were attacking the US embassy in Saigon.
1202 Americans were killed in Vietnam in January
February 1st: In what would beome one of the most iconic and controversial photographs of Vietnam, photographer Eddie Adams captured the execution of a Viet Cong captive by Saigon police chief Nguyen Ngoc Loan.
On February 6th, the Winter Olympics opened in Grenoble, France. On February 8th, three protestors were shot and killed and 27 injured at the University of South Carolina by state police, in an incident that became known as the Orangeburg Massacre.
During February, actors Nick Adams and Gary Coleman died, and actors Josh Brolin and Molly Ringwald were born. Singer Frankie Lymon died of a drug overdose.
2124 Americans were killed in Vietnam in February
March started off calmly enough. Johnny Cash and June Carter were married on March 1st, and actor Daniel Craig was born on the 2nd.
Then, on March 8th, a Soviet ballistic missle submarine sank 90 miles off Hawaii, with the loss of all the crew.
There was a nerve gas leak at the Army’s Dugway Proving Grounds, 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, on the 14th.
On the 16th of March in Vietnam, the My Lai Massacre took place.On the same day, Senator Robert Kennedy entered the race for the Democratic nomination for President.
My son was born on March 28th. I was notified about his birth by the Red Cross about a week later.
On March 30, Celine Dion was born, and on the next day, President Lyndon Johnson announced he would not seek re-election.
1543 Americans were killed in Vietnam in March
April 2nd: Stanley Kubrick’s film, 2001 A Space Odyssey, opened in Washington DC.
On April 4th, Martin Luther King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee by James Earl Ray. Almost immediately, riots broke out all across the country. Riots took place in over one hundred cities, with the largest in Chicago, Baltimore, and Washington DC. The riots lasted for the better part of a week, and over 45 people were killed.
On April 11, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1968.
On April 13, there was a total lunar eclipse, the first of two in 1968.
Anti-war protests in New York shut down Columbia University on April 23rd. Timothy McVeigh is born on the same day. The musical Hair opened in New York City on April 29th.
1410 Americans were killed in Vietnam in April
Early May settled down a bit in the U.S., but student protests expanded in Europe, especially in France, perhaps inspired by American anti-war protests.
May 17: Anti-war protestors, known as the Cantonville Nine break into a Selective Service office in Maryland and burned draft records. Two involved were Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan and his brother Phillip.
On May 22, the U.S. Navy nuclear-power submarine USS Scorpion sank in the Atlantic, with the loss of all on board. On May 27, civil rights protesters rioted in Louisville, Kentucky. The rioting lasted two days and two people were killed.
2169 Americans were killed in Vietnam in May
June 5: Senator Robert Kennedy was shot in the Ambassdor Hotel in Los Angeles by Siran Siran, a Jordanian. He died the next day.
James Earl Ray is arrested on June 8th for the assassination of Martin Luther King.
1146 Americans were killed in Vietnam in June
All things considered, July was a relatively quiet month. The country seemed to take a breather. The CIA did launch it’s controversial PhoenixProgram in Vietnam on July 1, Saddam Hussein first came to power in Iraq.
On July 17, the PLO committed it’s first skyjacking (El Al Flight 426), and Pope Paul VI issued his enclyclical Humanae Vitae, concerning birth control.
813 Americans were killed in Vietnam in July
August 5-8 :The Republican National Convention selected Richard Nixon at the party’s nominee for President. Spiro Agnew was named Vice Presidential nominee.
August 20-21: 750,000 Soviet Union and “Warsaw Pact” troops invaded Czechoslovkia, using 6500 tanks and 800 aircraft, in the biggest invasion since World War II.
August 20-30: Massive rioting took place at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago, as the Democrats nominate Presidential candidate Hubert Humphry and Edmund Muskie for Vice President.
On August 28, John Gordon Mein, US Ambassador to Guatamala is assassinated in Guatamala City. He was the first American ambassador ever assassinated in the line of duty.
1080 Americans were killed in Vietnam in August
September 6: 150 women arrived in Atlantic City to protest the Miss America pagent. The first of the “bra burning” demonstrations, this was considered to be the first large feminist/women’s liberation demonstration.
Hawaii Five-O debuts on CBS, and becomes the longest-running show on television until 2003. Sixty Minutes debuts on CBS.
September 30: Boeing Aircraft introduces the Boeing 747 to the public.
1053 Americans are killed in Vietnam in September
October 7: Singer Jose Fecliciano’s stylized version of the Star SpangledBanner at the World series creates huge controversy.
October 11: NASA launches Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo mission.
October 14: The Department of Defense announces it will send about 24,000 soldiers and Marines back to Vietnam for involuntary second tours.
October 18: At the Summer Olympics in Mexico City, two African-American atheletes raise their fists in the black power salute.
600 Americans are killied in Vietman in October
November 5: Richard M. Nixon wins the Presidential election, defeating Democratic candidate Humbert Humphrey, becoming the 37th President of the United States
On November 20th, the Farmington Mine disaster in West Virginia kills 78 miners.
On November 24, four men hijacked Pan Am Flight 281 at JFK Airport in New York City, and flew it to Havana, Cuba.
703 Americans were killed in Vietnam in November
On December 20, the Zodiac Killer begins his deadly spree in California.
December 24: Apollo 8 enters obit around the moon. Astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders become the first humans to see the far side of the moon.
749 Americans were killed in Vietnam in December
1968 was not an easy year to forget. Assasinations, riots, and chaos seemed commonplace that year. 16,899 soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines died in Vietnam.
The year was a breaking point. Something snapped, and it seems possible today to look at the years before and after 1968 and see dramatic differences. Every now and then in history major events seem to compress into a short period of time. 1968 was such a time, the only one like it in my lifetime. I hope I never see another.
I recently finished watching “Westworld”, an HBO television series based on the 1973 movie with the same title. Both were the story of a theme park filled with animatronic characters who interacted with the guests. The characters, called “hosts” were so advanced it was practically impossible to tell them from the human being “guests”. Without going too far into the plot line, this, in my opinion was an extraordinarily well-done science fiction story which seemed to be far too close to reality for comfort.
The capacity to feel, perceive, or experience subjectively. It is the ability to feel (sentience) distinguished from the ability to think (reason)
Westworld isn’t the first movie to explore the notion of artificial inteligence running amuck.It started with Hal 9000, the infamously intelligent computer in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 A Space Odessy (1968).
“I’m sorry Dave, I’m afraid I can’t do that…”
Since then there have been countless movies about computers and/or robots turning on humans. In some cases the robots were monstrous and evil (Terminator). There were action/adventure robots (I,Robot), creepy (Ex Machina), and the franky disturbing A.I. Artificial Intellgence, by Steven Spielberg.
The standard definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is intelligence exhibited by machines. Generally, this is thought of as machines that imitate human cognative functions, such as problem solving.
The incredible recent advances have made AI an everyday experience. For example, search for something on Google. As you type in a few letters, suggestions begin to appear, as though Google is attempting to read your mind, and find out what you are looking for before you finish typing it. This is the common use of an algorithm, a self-contained sequence of actions to be performed. In the Google search (predictive text or autocomplete), to fill in your search, Google analyizes the last 10,000 searches in your geographical area, your bookmarks, your recent searches, your web browsing history, and the patterns of your browsing and searches. In other words, Google carefully looks at your behaviors as you fill in that search box, returning suggestions before you can even type them. Scary? It probably should be, but we’ve grown so accustomed to it, we really don’t even think about it. This is artificial intelligence from a machine, or in this case software, solving problems for you.
Google searches are of course, commonplace today. We accept them as part of our normal lives. How about Siri or Alexa? We ask them questions, they give us answers. We’ve adapted to speaking to our phones and computer systems, or is it speaking “with”? When does that interaction between man and machine begin to get muddy? — meet Samantha:
So when does the computer beome “real” ? When is it more than a machine?
British code breaker and inventor of the Enigma machine Alan Turing proposed a test (now known as the Turing Test), which suggests that if a person communicates with a machine, and cannot tell if the communication is from another person or a machine, the test has been passed. To paraphase a line from Westworld when a “host” is asked if they are human or machine, the host replied, “If you can’t tell , what difference does it make”?
So, could computers and artificlal intelligence become self-aware? Could they become sentient? Far fetched, perhaps, but some pretty smart folks have some qualms.
Stephen Hawking, the British physicist often referred to as one of the smartest people in the world, told the BBC “The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race. It would take off on its own, and re-design itself at an ever increasing rate,” he said. “Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete, and would be superseded.”(1)
Bill Gates seems to agree: “I am in the camp that is concerned about super intelligence,” Gates wrote. “First the machines will do a lot of jobs for us and not be super intelligent. That should be positive if we manage it well. A few decades after that though the intelligence is strong enough to be a concern. I agree with Elon Musk and some others on this and don’t understand why some people are not concerned.”(2)
Tessla founder Elon Musk seems to suggest the same thing: “I think we should be very careful about artificial intelligence. If I were to guess like what our biggest existential threat is, it’s probably that. So we need to be very careful with the artificial intelligence. Increasingly scientists think there should be some regulatory oversight maybe at the national and international level, just to make sure that we don’t do something very foolish. With artificial intelligence we are summoning the demon. In all those stories where there’s the guy with the pentagram and the holy water, it’s like yeah he’s sure he can control the demon. Didn’t work out.” (2)
The question seems to be whether or not machines with AI can become conscious, or self-aware. Watch these tiny robots take a test:
“…It may seem pretty simple, but for robots, this is one of the hardest tests out there. It not only requires the AI to be able to listen to and understand a question, but also to hear its own voice and recognise that it’s distinct from the other robots. And then it needs to link that realisation back to the original question to come up with an answer.”
To find out how this little robot became self-aware, click link below:
This is the creation of an artifical superintelligence, one so sophisticated that it could become runaway, causing it’s own “intelligence explosion”, out of the control of it’s makers. The argument is that it is possible to build a machine that is more intelligent than man, and this machine begins to rebuild itself, literally writing it’s own software, growing more and more intelligent as it goes. A concept known as Moore’s law suggests that this is not only possible, but plausible and even likely over time.
Is this real, or just the stuff of vivid imaginations and screenwriters? Several of the people mentioned above are part of the Future of Humanity Institute, which seems to take these things seriously.
So maybe humans will be ruled by machines sometime in the future. Or maybe it’s just fun science fiction. Which brings us back to Hal:
I happened to see an ad for an emergency generator on Amazon recently. For whatever reason, I scanned the listing for comments. One person asked, what I suppose, is the pressing question of our modern times: “Will it power a Kuerig?”.
I thought about that for a minute: A winter storm, a blizzard, power out everywhere. Hunkered down, hoping we don’t freeze to death with the heat off. What concerns me the most?How can I get my Kuerig to work?
Don’t get me wrong, I think the Kuerig thing is nifty; cute little cups that make just the right kind of coffee mixture you crave: Starbucks, Folger’s, Green Mountain. Whether its Nantucket Blend or Breakfast Blend, Hazelnut or Sumatran Reserve, it’s all in that little plastic cup. Pop it in the machine and you’re just seconds away from paradise. It’s just not my kind of coffee.
Coffee. I’m a serious coffee drinker, old school type. I started drinking coffee probably around the age of ten. I peaked in my twenties and thirties, when I was drinking a dozen or more cups a day. During my waking hours I was never without a cup of coffee. Back then, we made our coffee like this:
This was called a percolator. Fill it with water, put coffee grinds in the basket inside, put the pot on a stove (or campfire for that matter), and heat the water. The water boiled, pushed up through the grinds, and like magic, coffee! The height of simplicity. No electric, no fancy gadgets, just coffee, water and heat. Coffee was, and still is a simple beverage. Basic. Fundamental. Just ask the old cowboys.
Coffee was also cheap. For many many years a ten cent cup of coffee was standard in many diners. I remember a popular brand was Maxwell House, “Good to the very last drop” coffee. There were of course, other brands, but coffee was coffee. — Well apparently not.
In the late 1980’s, I met a woman from Seattle. She had come to New Jersey and brought her own coffee with her. She was the first “coffee snob” I ever met. She would brew her coffee in her motel room and bring it to a restaurant in a thermos rather than drink the restaurant coffee. She fussed and opined about the wonderful coffee in Seattle, and how backward we were in the rest of the country. I got to taste some of her wonder brew. It was good, but I didn’t see the fuss. I thought she was a bit of a snobby twit, and I think the coffee was Starbucks, which had not yet come East at that time.
The Coffee Shop
According to US News and World Report in a recent article, Americans pay an average of $2.70 for a cup of coffee in a coffee shop, leaving an average 20% tip ($.54), bringing the cost of that cup of coffee to $3.24. So what does that cup off coffee cost the retailer?
Coffee prices have varied over the years, largely due to trade agreements and growing conditions, but since 1976, the wholesale market price of coffee has remained between $.50 and $2.50 per pound. As of this writing, it is selling for $1.46 per pound on the commodities market. The mean price of coffee has been about $1.40 for forty years.
According to the Specialty Coffee Association of America, one pound of coffee should yield 48 six ounce cups. Cutting that in half, we’ll suppose we can get 24 twelve ounce cups ( a Starbucks “tall”) from that pound. At the wholesale level, that’s a cost of about $.06 (six cents) per cup.
From the wholesaler, the coffee must go the the roaster, who roasts, packages, and ships the coffee to the distributor, bringing the cost per pound to around $3.00. Add in miscellaneous costs for loss, shrinkage, other overhead, and profits, and we’re looking at about $6.00 per pound to the coffee shop retailer. That’s $.25, or twenty-five cents per cup.
Of course the coffee shop has lots of costs too; cream, sugar, the cup, napkins, and all the other overhead associated with running a retail business. So if the coffee shop owner doubled his costs (100 percent markup), the coffee would cost the customer fifty cents per cup. If the shop tripled the cost, it would be seventy-five cents, quadrupled it, $1.00 per cup.
Which brings us to the average cost of $2.70 per 12 ounce cup. That’s a markup of almost 1100 percent!
The current price for our Maxwell House ” good to the last drop” coffee is running $6.00 – $8.00 per pound at the retail store. One pound of Starbucks coffee retail is about $15.00.
So let’s recap at this point. If I buy a pound of Maxwell House for, let’s say $7.00 per pound at Walmart and make it at home, it costs me about $.29 (twenty-nine cents) per cup. If I buy a pound of Starbucks and do the same thing, it’s about $.63 (sixty-three cents).
Which brings us back to Keurig. In order to get a 12 ounce cup (keeping this apples to apples), you must buy the K-Mug pods. The price of these, from the Keurig website are about $14.00 per 12-pack. That makes the cost of your 12 ounce mug of coffee from the Keurig about $1.17 per cup. I couldn’t find Starbucks K-Mug size, so we have to extrapolate a bit, making your 12 ounces of Starbucks K-Mug size about $1.76 per cup.
Before I go any further, let me stipulate to any coffee aficionados or “foodies” out there, I understand the “differences” in coffees — different types of beans, different growing areas, blends, etc. I get it. There is no need to tell me I’m comparing apples to oranges. People are willing to pay premium prices for all kinds of things, and if that is your desire, by all means, pursue it. I’m just painting with broad strokes here.
Here’s how I see the bottom line:
If I drink three cups of my $.25 per cup Maxwell House a day, that’s $.75/day or $273.75 per year.
If you drink 3 cups of $1.76 Keurig Starbucks per day, that’s $5.28 per day or $1927.20 per year.
If you buy 3 cups per day in a coffee shop at the average price of $2.70 per cup, that’s $8.10 per day or $2956.50 per year.
Coffee sales in the United States alone are over $18 billion annually. Americans consume an incredible 400 million cups per day (half the population averages 3 cups/day).
Coffee prices are crazy, but some of the people who buy it are even crazier. A coffee shop in New York City recently opened selling “extraction” coffee (I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care) for as much as $18. per cup. (New York City, Most Expensive Cup of Coffee). Some coffee aficionados are equating these coffee prices with the prices of craft beers, another overpriced commodity. Not to be outdone, Starbucks now has a “Reserve” coffee selling for around $7/cup.
“Starbucks, which introduced millions of people around the world to higher quality coffee and espresso drinks and now must find a way to avoid being labeled pedestrian when compared with upscale rivals like Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia, which are popping up in U.S. cities….” Yahoo News.
And so it goes. That ten cent “cup of Joe” is now a designer product, capable of being sold at extraordinary prices. Enjoy your Kuerig. You might want to consider purchasing a generator to power it if the electric goes off.
The world is holding it’s collective breath at the moment, courtesy of a pudgy, demented thirty-three year old with a bad haircut.
Kim Jong -un, son of Kim Jong- il, and grandson of Kim Il Sung, is the third psychopath in a line of psychopaths who have ruled North Korea since 1948. Grandpop Sung started the Korean war in 1950, and the family has managed to stay in power and in the headlines around the world off and on ever since.
The 1953 cease-fire, creating North and South Korea allowed the South to become a vibrant world-class economy, while the North under the illustrious Kim family degenerated into a dark and dismal place.
Ostensibily Communist, North Korea is in reality a cult-state, with loyalty to the Kims a necessity for survival. The history of this family is mysterious, including indicators that the name was stolen from another family. That being said, the idiosyncracies of the family are well reported and can be found elsewhere. Our focus is on the current Kim, and why he matters.
Little is actually known in the West about Kim Jong-un. Little was seen of him publicly before his rise to power. Even his date of birth is not absolutely certain. Details of his early years are sketchy or kept secret. Rumors that he once attended Western schools under a pseudonym cannot be confirmed. There are many reports of these stories and rumors which can be found elsewhere. He was declared the supreme leader of North Korea following the death of his father in 2011.
Since taking office, Kim reportedly has ordered the execution of several high ranking officials, including an uncle and likely a half-brother. It’s quite clear he will do anything to hold on to power.
North Korea began working on developing nuclear weapons in the 1980’s, under Kim Jong Il. In 1985 they agreed to participate in the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weaons, but withdrew from the Treaty in 1993, after prohibiting United Nations inspections. Under President Bill Clinton, the United States tried to steer North Korea to peaceful uses of atomic energy; including providing two light-water reactors to North Korea in return for an agreement they would not pursue weapons production. The wheels came off this cart when the Koreans gained access to Pakistan’s nuclear technology in the 1990’s. North Korea conducted the first test of a nuclear bomb in 2006.
The North Koreans tested a second nuclear weapon in 2009, larger than the first. In 2013, an even larger test was conducted. A test in 2016 may have been a hydrogen bomb, far more powerful than previous atomic weapons. During this same time, the North Koreans began developing and testing increasingly larger long-range missles. On September 9, 2016, they conducted the fifth and largest nuclear weapon test to date.
Throughout the period of North Korea’s recent nuclear development, the U.S. offered various “carrots” to North Korea in exchange for the agreement of the North Koreans to abandon their weapons program. The “carrots” included offers of oil and food. Years of talks with other interested countries including the United States, China, Russia, South Korea, and Japan led nowhere. While there are lists and lists of the “objectives” achieved by diplomats, it is clear North Korea was simply using the talks as a cover while they continued to develop more and more powerful weapons.
Negotiations with North Korea have not worked. Sanctions by the U.S. and United Nations and others have not worked. The clock is ticking, and the parties involved, and indeed much of the world, may be heading toward a precipice.
North Korea has a formidable military, and they are not afraid to fight. During the Korean War (1950-1953), the North Koreans (with the help of the Chinese) fought the United States and United Nations allies to a standstill armistice in 1953. The UN Forces lost over 178,000 dead and 33,000 missing, along with over 450,000 wounded. Over 33,000 American troops were killed, and over 7,800 are still considered missing in action.The North Koreans/Chinese suffered over 367,000 dead and over 700,000 wounded. It is estimated over 2.5 million civilians were killed.
Today, the North Korean military is substantial. Over 700,000 frontline troops, 4200 main battle tanks, 4100 armored fighting vehicles, and 4300 artillery pieces account for some if it’s ground forces.
Its Air Force has 944 fighters and attack aircraft, along with over 200 helicopters. While North Korea has no aircraft carriers in it’s navy, it has over 70 submarines, a cause of great concern, expecially if they develop long range missle launching capabilities.
The bottom line is this: North Korea has a formidable military. They are not Iraq or Afghanistan or Syria. It would be beyond foolish to think that the United States could “take them out” quickly or painlessly. Any conflict with North Korea would likely bring casualties in the tens or even hundreds of thousands, many of them American.
Strategies and approaches
There are few potential ways to approach the situation with North Korea, and frankly none of them are good.
Diplomatic — This is the approach that has been tried for years to know avail. The United States and the United Nations have attempted to have “talks” with North Korea, and gone nowhere. The “carrots” of oil, food, and financial remuneration in an attempt to get the Kim government to play nice have not worked. Sanctions, mostly financial, have also not worked, often because North Korea was getting help on the side from such places as China and Iran. Years of talking and “negotiating” have all been one sided, with North Korea using the time to develop bigger and better weapons.
Clandestine — One of the more far-fetched notions recently has been “decapitation”; the notion that we could sneak into North Korea and assassinate Kim Jung-un, and possibly his high ranking advisors. The rumor was even floated that Seal Team Six, the team responsible for killing Osama Bin Laden were training for the job. Kim isn’t hiding in a safe house near Islamabad, he is heavily guarded by fanatics. Any attempt to sneak in and kill him is more likely in a movie than real life. There could be an exception to this, however: the Chinese. It seems likely the Chinese have well-inflitrated the Kim regime with spies. It seems somewhat plausible that they could have the resources to get to Kim and eliminate him. That being said, it’s still a stretch of the imagination.
Pre-emptive strike (non nuclear) —
North Korea is approximately 120,000 square miles, about the size of Pennsylvania. It has military bases scattered all over the country:
(Click on picture for larger image)
The map above shows only North Korean air force bases. There are naval bases and scores of army bases, many at least partially underground and hidden in the mountains. Taking out these bases is not a simple matter of firing cruise missles, as in Syria. A non-nulcear pre-emptive strike would have to be massive, and the logistics of planning such a strike would telegraph the activity long before it could be used.
Pre-emptive strike (nuclear) —
The doomsday option. The U.S. could indeed strike North Korea using nuclear ICBM’s. Such a strike would allow North Korea no time to prepare, and no ability to respond. The country would be destroyed, with millions of casualities. This option would almost certainly open the door to World War III, with consequences no sane person would even want to contemplate.
The bottom line is that there are no good choices here. None, not one.
We come back again to Kim Jong-un, and more importantly the current standoff between he and President Donald Trump. The United States wants North Korea to abandon it’s nuclear weapons, and North Korea is indicating it is doing the opposite; developing bigger weapons and better delivery systems. Years of negotiations have gone no where and the pot is at the boiling point.
There have been suggestions that Kim must know that regardless of outcome, war would inevitably mean his death and the end of his dynasty. The sense is that this would somehow cause him to back down in the end. On the other hand, there have been suggestions that rather than “lose face” to the Americans, he would be willingly suicidal, and take his country with him.
To be sure, Kim may be insane or quite sane; there have been many like him before: Idi Amin in Uganda, Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and certainly Adolph Hitler. All left their mark of destruction, up to and including world war, but all with one exception — none of these monsters had nuclear weapons. He cannot be left to his own devices, and time is not on anyone’s side. His technology seems to be improving faster than the experts had originally imagined. If the day comes that he can mount a nuclear weapon on an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S., or place a submarine with nukes aboard off the American coast, it is already too late.
The one possible solution here are the Chinese. While Korea is not a Chinese “puppet”, most of it’s survival depends on the Chinese for trade and support. China does not want a victorious South Korea or reunified Korea on it’s border, but neither does it want millions of Korean refugees pushed across the Yalu River by a war.
The Chinese could possibly wage and/or assist in a coup against Kim. Removal of him and his most fervent supporters could take the pot off the the fire, possibly allowing for a less extreme governing force in North Korea. It seems at this point only the Chinese could do something like this, and if they did, everyone wins. If they don’t do something, this pot will continue to boil out of control, and everyone will lose.
Let me start off my saying I am not much of a sports fan. When I was a kid I followed baseball and collected baseball cards. In the mid 70’s, I followed hockey and the Philadelphia Flyers through their first Stanley Cup win. But that’s about it. I have my opinions about professional sports today, but I’ll keep them to myself.
What I do enjoy are sports movies. Football, baseball, hockey; I enjoy them all. I enjoy them because to me they are about what sports can really be, a metaphor about life.
My idea for writing this came after I sat down the other night and re-watched the movie Invincible:
I liked Invincible for a few obvious reasons: It was about my local team, the Philadelphia Eagles, and it was a true story; the story of the most unlikely player to ever make the NFL.
The movie is uplifting and fun, but most of all it’s about the underdog having his day in the sun.
Thinking about this, I realized that almost every sports movie made follows this same theme – overcoming all odds. Virtually every sport has had movies like this, and I’ve enjoyed almost every one. There are football movies:
Remember the Titans
Honorable mention: Rudy, Brian’s Song, Any Given Sunday , The Blind Side.
Then there’s baseball:
Field of Dreams
Honorable mention: The Natural, The Babe, Eight Men Out, Cobb
and there is Hockey:
I started making a list of sports movie and discovered there are far more than I realized, covering every imaginable sport. I’ve seen most of them, often more than once. Besides the clips here, there are any number of heart warming and inspiring movies: Chariots of Fire, Seabiscuit, A League of Their Own, Friday Night Lights, Bull Durham, The Bad News Bears.
I think one thing sports movies do is remind us what we can find inside ourselves, if we dig deep. The characters in these movies, often based on real-life people, aren’t super heros. They are regular people who overcame obstacles, sometimes great ones, to achieve a goal. Their purpose is to inspire, to pull us to our feet, to believe that even what seems impossible might be possible afterall. Underdogs can be heros.