Machines, Monkeys and Man: An Unscientific Comparison

20 03 2019

Let’s talk about ourselves, shall we? 

Let’s talk about why I – a world-class coward – can say with calm and confidence that we are every bit as special as we think we are.

Silicon siblings, artificial intelligence and machine learning are moving from sci-fi to mainstream at a speed that has many of us growing ever more wary of the technology. The fear that we will be replaced by machines, that humans will be rendered obsolete, is the stuff of blockbuster films and weird nightmares.

This duo is definitely putting top-end pressure on us, but there’s the “how far have we NOT evolved” question from the other end . . .  “We’re nothing but a bunch of monkeys in clothes!”

Well, there’s the other side of this ugly two-headed coin.  Given the state of our world, our apparent inability to treat each other and the only place we have to live with any respect, it is not a big leap of imagination to think we’ll be throwing feces at each other, sooner or later.

In a piece titled “How Humans and Apes Are Different and Why It Matters,” published in the Journal of Anthropological Research, Agustin Fuentes wrote,

The human baseline of creative cooperation, the ability to think, communicate, and collaborate with increasing prowess, transformed us into beings who invented the technologies that support domestication, economies, large-scale societies, warfare, and broad-scale peace. This collaborative and imaginative capacity for creativity also drove the development of religious beliefs and ethical systems, and even the production of artwork.        

And THERE IT IS. The simple and, to me, irrefutable reason why we are better than machines or monkeys:


There may come a day when a machine can produce an original work of art. Monkeys are pretty clever and can learn to do complex things, including cooperate with others (except when they want to throw feces), but we are the only ones who make art and consume art for the sheer joy of the thing.

It’s true that our brains will never approach the ability to store, retrieve, and manipulate data with the blinding speed and accuracy of the most basic computer. That said, our brains have the amazing capacity – need – to feel joy, grief, anticipation; we live, which is a lot more than just existing.

Yeah, I know, humans do not have opposable toes, either, but homo sapiens still beats the other apes, hands, if not feet, down. No shit!

Paint was sacrificed. Oohs were uttered. Joy was had. Niece’s kitchen was unharmed. Grandkids were happy – and so were grandmas!

Stuck in the Middle

13 03 2019

My, my my. We are a fractious bunch, aren’t we?

There are SO many things for us to fight about. No, I am not going to give examples and I am not going to choose sides and I am not going to present any arguments for either side of . . . what was it we were (not) talking about?

What I am interested in is how we can live together – family, friends, neighbors – in peace, while we find ourselves in such polarized and polarizing times. 

Here’s my idea:

Come toward the middle.

I believe that the way to ease the internecine tensions in our good old USA is to get close enough to each other that we don’t need to shout to be heard.  While we’re at it, we can stop throwing stones and start offering hands.

I can hear many of you gently admonishing (hollering at) me, “We will not compromise our values.  They are wrong about (fill in the blank – I’m not gonna do it) and they need to open their eyes and see that.

That might be true. They might be wrong. The problem is, how do we (whichever side is playing that role in your scenario) get them to listen to reason? Surely not by the method of choice for many of us, which is pretty much to stand across the schoolyard and yell insults at each other. That is a lose-lose strategy. Until we can get close enough to talk, instead of shriek, we are losing the opportunity to explain why our ideas are good and sound. We are losing the chance to learn things we did not know. We are losing the ability to cooperate with others to achieve something good.

I love a good bumper sticker or meme, but my life is bigger than that. Hell, it’s even bigger than a Tweet thread.  Everyone else’s life is also fuller and more complex, so let’s try to talk more and yell less.  At one time or another, you know we’re all just clowns (to the left) and jokers (to the right) . . .

And now, I hope you all have a 1972 earworm. It’s hard to feel mean when you’re humming Stealer’s Wheel.

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.
This was about 10 years after the song was released, but Hank and Ken and I and our crazy happy followers sang it loud.

Miss Muse Calls the Tune

6 03 2019

A lovely artist friend posed a question to the people in her circle, asking those who write creatively – poetry, lyrics, stories, journals, and the like – whether they use paper and pencil or type.

I type.

The question made me consider, for the first time ever, why I type, instead of handwrite, as many of the others seem to prefer the scratch of graphite on page to the clack of an overused keyboard.  More than one commented on needing the feel of the motion of writing to connect to their muse. I was feeling pretty shallow for all I do is peck on keys, then I read this response:

 “There is no wrong or right way to do it. I don’t write but I do play guitar and usually I pull out my phone and hum stuff if I have nothing near.”


The reference to music is what turned on the light. I played piano pretty seriously for years, so typing does not feel mechanical to me; it feels musical.  

I hope you like what I’m playing.  I think it has a good beat and you can dance to it.

Yes, this was over 50 years ago!

Yes, this was over 30 years ago!
No, I can’t play this anymore – only ever got it to about quarter-speed, at my best!


27 02 2019

Well, it’s happened again. I survived the end-of-year holiday feasting, my birthday, and even discount Valentine’s candy only to be tripped up by the last week of this short-but-anything-but-sweet month.

We’re so close to spring . . . but not so close that I can resist the siren call of a nice pot of thick chili with cheese and sour cream and tortilla chips or a warm cinnamon-laced bread pudding or a house-perfuming pot roast with potatoes and gravy or a half-dozen still-warm cookies right from the oven.

Yep, I’ve succumbed to comfort food, and lots of it.  I justify my frenzied baking and cooking by reminding myself that the oven’s heat allows the furnace to work a little less hard and I’m being so frugal by using up all those carbs in the pantry.  Who am I kidding – I just love the taste of this stuff and my seasonal affective disorder has worn my willpower down to the nub!

There are just two more days in this wretched month, so Flabruary will be Marched right out of my life on Friday.  Meanwhile, here’s a lovely home remedy for the late-winter lethargy.  I find a large dose is most effective in releasing endorphins (and pants buttons.) Enjoy! It’s flabulous!

Blueberry Cobbler PKL

 3 ½ c     blueberries

 1 c          sugar

1 c           flour

 2 t          baking powder

 ½  t        salt

 1 C         milk

 ½ c         unsalted butter, melted

Oven to 375°

In a large bowk, stir together the blueberries and sugar and set aside.

In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, salt, and milk with a wooden spoon. Next, stir in the melted butter and hand-mix it until the ingredients are well incorporated. The mixture will be a bit lumpy and fairly loose.

Pour the batter into a lightly greased 9×9 glass baking dish. Distribute berry-sugar mixture over batter.

Bake 30-40 minutes until batter is brown.  Cool at least 20 minutes.

Sibling Revelry

20 02 2019

Seems a lot of my friends have a similar family conundrum: we just can’t fathom how, after living under the same roof with same rules and same benefits for the first 15 – 25 years of our lives, we can have turned out SO differently than our brothers and sisters!  I was prattling on with my own sister Phyllis about this idea and she took exception to my premise. (I hate it when she shows me – again – that she’s the smarter one.) She agreed that we are, indeed, very different in many ways, but we are also similar in many more that we so take for granted that they don’t even register on us.

There are the simple basics of loving our mother, calling the same house “home,” and sharing childhood memories.  There are also some less obvious (and very mundane) things that prove we’re family, too: comfort food we grew up with translates to easy agreement on which restaurant to choose; our old holiday traditions can still be recognized in the new ones we make for ourselves; we fall into similar patterns of speech when we are together for more than five minutes; and we squabble, ganging up on each other, each taking their turn as odd-one-out on any given day.

There are some things that will never be the same as when we were kids, there are others that, no matter how old we get, where our careers take us, the colleges we attend, the people we marry, seem to be indelibly imprinted on our came-from-the-same-womb brains.

I think I will make a batch of chocolate chip cookies – Mom’s recipe, followed to a T – and call my sister.  We must surely have plans to hatch regarding our brother John.

Phyllis looking innocent, but I know she’s plotting to hijack this sweet ride.

Hope that helmet still fits, John-Boy!

Tag, you’re it!

As You Like It (because I Like You)

13 02 2019

Valentine’s Day is tomorrow.  I am always a little bemused by the stuff other people (at least, if you believe the advertisers) want – what makes them feel loved and appreciated.  No one’s ever invited me to a focus group on the subject, because I would surely not choose what’s touted as the perfect gift to make your significant other feel, well, more significant.  Then, I remembered this beautiful story shared by my friend Kelly in defense, no explanation of a tattoo:

I know there are many of you who have no desire to get a tattoo or don’t like them…I get it…it’s all good!

But…several years ago while I was at work, a dear friend and I were talking about our fathers who passed away. My friend proceeded to tell me that after his father’s funeral he laid on a hill in his back yard and a feather fell from above and landed on his heart.

I then spoke about my Dad, who passed away at a young age, remembering all our good and not-so-good times. Just then, a feather landed on my desk, between us. I’m sure it was coincidence – I DID have a dream catcher on the back wall of my office, so the feather’s origin was no mystery – but that feather has always been a reminder to me that my Dad is always near in spirit.

Kelly’s New Tattoo

Thank, you, Kelly for granting me permission to share your story.

I don’t want a tattoo, but I don’t want a jet-ski, either and lots of other folks do! Like you, I want what makes ME happy.  One of the things that surely makes me happy is to see my friends happy. Whether or not I will ever understand why something makes them happy is not important; it’s only that it makes them happy.

Feather tattoo, fancy car, beautiful sunset, guinea pig . . .

. . . or two . . .

. . . whatever it is that makes you happy; I hope you have it.  Happiness is good for all of us.  Happy Valentine’s Day Eve. 

For Your (Re)Consideration

6 02 2019

Have you ever agreed to do something you thought you understood, only to find out that there was “more to the story” than you imagined?  What did you do?  Did you soldier through the thing, doing the best you could?  Did you self-sabotage, so others would release you from your agreement?  Did you run?

Perhaps you chose to simply state the truth of the matter – you would not have accepted the proposal had you been made fully aware of all the details and that, knowing now what you should have known at the time of the ask, you changed your mind. You withdraw. Not with anger. Not with guilt.  Simply because it’s the only choice to make.

We all have fallen into situations we find ourselves ill-equipped to handle. Sometimes, if it is an emergency, we must find ways to cope to see it through.  Most of the time, though, there is no life-or-death element present in the equation, so why do we tend to blow it up to such harrowing proportions?  When we’re faced with a “change of plans” that we find unworkable without great harm to our finances, health, or happiness, we should just politely bow out.

There’s no shame in changing your mind when the circumstances of the thing have changed.  Mission creep is not only a problem for military actions.  Agreeing to play a friendly game of touch football should not be construed as being prepared to go cleats and shoulder pads and full-contact when you arrive at the field.

 Thanks to two of my dear friends who, from very different experiences and vantage points, led me to this realization: If the question has changed, It’s okay to say no, even after you’ve said yes!

Thank you for your consideration . . . and I hope you’ll not be afraid to say yes to the next ask.