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    Just Because We Can…

    We are all familiar with the adage, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should”.  There are times when the status quo and the beauty around us that enriches our lives is best left alone, unchanged.

    Enter today’s computers capable of making calculations far faster than humanly possible, machine learning and artificial intelligence.  Media touts how wonderful these machines will make our lives. Others fear robots will one day replace us.  All of this is worthy of debate to allay our fears and better inform us of what we can expect.  But sometimes we need to take a step back and think about just how far technology may go if left unrestrained.

    In January, Huawei, the Chinese technology company under fire by a host of governments who fear Huawei is a tool China uses to hack into computer networks and threaten security, announced that it programmed a cell phone to complete Franz Schubert‘s Symphony No8, otherwise known as his Unfinished Symphony.  Composed nearly 200 years ago, musicians and composers have debated for decades about what the symphony might have been if Schubert had completed it.  The conversations were deep and steeped in musical history.

    Now, according to Huawei, a cell phone programmed with artificial intelligence (AI), with some assistance from a human composer, has completed Schubert’s symphony.  Huawei will unveil the results in February.  You can watch their promotional campaign on YouTube by clicking here.

    The AI completed symphony, albeit with some assistance from a human, will no doubt cause music aficionados to argue that no machine can ever replace the genius of Schubert and that Huawei’s exercise is nothing more than a parlor trick.  In some ways, it probably is and relatively harmless in its own right.

    If you watch the video, however, take particular notice of the tag line.

    “If we can do this, what else could we make humanly possible?”

    It all begs the question, “Will computer generated logic someday replace human creativity?”  Are we living on the verge of interacting with the likes of StarTrek’s Mr. Spock or Hal from Sidney Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey?  When will “humanly possible” be replaced with “robotically possible”?

    As a society, we need to think more about AI and avoid blindly advancing technology for the sake of discovery.  I know that some would see this as a naïve viewpoint from a Luddite, but the fact remains that we simply do not know or understand where this will lead.  While discovery and exploration have been part of our DNA, past efforts have always had some level of acceptable and manageable risks.  This debate is not about refraining from exploration and discovery.  It is about better understanding where this is all going.  Unlike Huawei’s parlor trick in completing Schubert’s symphony, what Huawei and many other technology giants are doing is anything but a game.

    Consider this.  We simply do not know how AI will affect our grandchildren and generations that follow.  After all, there is no question that we teach today’s children less about how to learn to read and write and more about how to use technology.  Why bother to learn if all you need to do is search Google or ask Alexa for any answer you seek?  Books may soon be doomed to the junk drawer with all of our old music CDs.

    Enjoy Schubert’s completed Symphony No. 8.

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    As Politicians Claim Victory, America Becomes the Victim

    After the longest government shutdown in history, Congress and the White House have three weeks to make a deal on immigration reform or the country faces the choice of another shutdown or a presidential proclamation that we have a national emergency that requires his unilateral action to build physical barriers on our southern border.  Three weeks to settle arguments that have failed resolution for over fifteen years.  Only a Las Vegas handicapper is capable of putting odds on any bet that the two sides will come to an agreement.  Even with odds, that is not a bet I am likely to make.

    We do have an emergency but it is not just about our southern border or immigration.  While that is certainly a crisis, the true emergency facing our nation is a failure of leadership on both sides of the aisle.  In response to President Trump’s offer this past weekend that could be a start to compromise, Nancy Pelosi immediately criticized it as “not enough” and continued her rhetoric that a wall is immortal.  Senator Chuck Schumer echoed similar sentiments.  On the right, pundits like Ann Coulter accused President Trump of caving and others said he “lost” the fight.  Everyone took sides, ignoring the issues for the sake of partisan politics.

    So once again, we watch the spectacle to which our politicians seem addicted.  A spectacle that is not about what might or might not be best for Americans, Dreamers, DACA and TPS recipients, and the border agents risking their lives as illegal immigrants continue to flood the country.   Instead, it remains a partisan fight over who wields power in Washington and who will win the White House in 2020.  Neither side appears ready to compromise as each continues to kowtow to the extreme wings of their respective bases.  As the leaders of the two parties continue their mindless bickering, no one can argue against the reality that people are suffering and dying – both Americans and illegal immigrants – throughout our country because of a failed immigration policy.

    Three weeks.  That is how long our Washington politicos have to prove to America that they can lead through reasonable debate and compromise, putting aside partisan politics at this critical time.  Whether that will happen depends on all of them and I will not blame the Democrats or the Republicans if they fail.  I will blame them both and urge anyone I know to vote every one of them out of office, from top to bottom, in 2020.

     

     

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    Christmas Trees? Really?

    Yet again, Melania Trump has found herself in the headlines, this time over her choice of White House Christmas décor.

    The first lady proudly unveiled her “American Treasures” themed ornamentation in late November, soon becoming a source of mockery with her particular choice of all-red Christmas trees lining the East colonnade. According to a statement from the White House, the theme is meant to “honor the unique heritage of America” and “shine with the spirit of patriotism.”

    While she also included many traditional aspects of holiday adornment like evergreen trees that twinkle in gold and blue hues in the Vermeil Room and the gingerbread house replicating the National Mall displayed in the State Dining Room, the  Scrooge’s among the critics are fixated on those crimson red trees. People are referring to them as “Melania’s red Christmas trees of death,” and the “forest of red-blood trees.” They’re even comparing the topiary to the red-clad women of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” and the sea of blood from the movie “The Shining.”

    This backlash comes as no surprise considering last holiday season the First Lady of the United States was judged for decorating a White House hallway with planters of white tree branches that critics called “the most terrifying domestic space in America.” Whether it be the clothes she wears or the décor she chooses, Melania continues to be no stranger to the harsh and myopic lens of media.  But if media has not taken the attacks down to Christmas trees, have they gone too far?  Would any other FLOTUS get this much pushback for her choice of holiday décor? Not in my memory.

    Regardless, there is no denying how much work she put into making the White House look as beautiful as it does.  Instead of trying to find negatives in everything about Washington, let’s take a break and get in the holiday spirit and celebrate the blessings we all enjoy.  That is what Melania hopes we can all do and embrace her creativity as a welcome change.

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    Election Day Roundup

    A record-breaking number of women ran in the midterm elections this year, including an unprecedented number of women of color. Women like Rashiba Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, Veronica Escobar, Slyvia Garcia, Sharice Davids and Deb Haaland all made history by representing  a variety of different ethnicities now adding to some diversity to the House. In addition, New York’s Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez took home a momentous win while also becoming the youngest woman ever elected to Congress. The 29-year-old Democrat will serve New York’s 14th district.

    Altogether, Democrats made a net gain of about 40 seats with a huge victory in the House of Representatives. As for the Senate, Republicans increased their majority by 2 seats. Democrats also gained 7 state governors, at least 350 state legislative seats, and about 7 state legislative chambers.

    Recounts were undertaken in Florida and Arizona as both Senate and gubernatorial races were too close to call. In the end, Republicans came out on top in Florida with former Congressman Ron De Santis winning the senate seat and Governor Rick Scott winning the race for governor . In Arizona, Democrat Kyrsten Sinema took home senate victory, defeating her Republican opponent Martha McSally.

    Both Democrats and Republicans alike can agree that voter turnout was much higher this go-around than in previous elections.  According to NPR, it actually hit a 50-year high.  More than 48% of eligible voters cast a ballot, which is up from 41% in 2014. CBS News revealed an estimated 113 million people took part in the elections, even making history by exceeding 100 million+ votes. Regardless of who won or lost individual elections, the unprecedented voter turnout is the real victory in this election cycle.

    Did you vote?

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    The Passing of a Great American

    We all mourn the passing of George H.W. Bush, our 41st President.  He served this nation with dignity and honor.  A war hero and the youngest bomber pilot in WWII, he survived a crash, was rescued at sea by a submarine, and went on to be a Congressman, Ambassador to China, Director of the CIA, U.N. Ambassador, Vice President and, finally President of this great country.  It has been written that no one has ever had a better resume for the office than President Bush.

    The jobs he did while serving our nation were stellar. He cleaned up the CIA after it was discovered the agency was spying on Americans.  He fostered growth with China, lessening tensions.  He brought pride and dignity to the U.N. with his staunch support of American ideals.  As President, he led us to the end of the Cold War and the war in Iraq after it invaded Kuwait.  No one has done more for our country.

    He lost his reelection bid to Bill Clinton. Many believe Ross Perot’s third party candidacy cost Bush the election.  Others say it was his support of new taxes despite his promise not to raise them.  But he reversed his campaign promise only after reaching a compromise with the Democrat controlled Congress and doing what he knew was right.  He showed the kind of compromise we have not seen in decades.  Ronald Reagan knew how to compromise with Tip O’Neal and Ted Kennedy.  Bill Clinton knew how to compromise with Newt Gingrich.  The late President Bush equally embraced compromise even when it cost him votes.  In each of their presidencies, the country did better.  Where is that spirit of compromise today?

    If there are any politicians in Washington who are sincere in their praise of George H.W. Bush now that he has passed, let’s see if their words have any meaning by the actions they now take to, in Bush’s words, make this a kinder and gentler nation.  My fear is that our leaders on both sides of the aisles and in the White House are incapable of bridging their differences and following the lessons of Reagan, Clinton, and Bush.

    Rest in peace, President Bush.  We already miss you.

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    Respect Those Who Truly Sacrificed Everything

    Much is in the news about Nike’s signing of former NFL quarterback, Colin Kaepernick.  As anyone who is a political junkie or sports fan knows, Kaepernick was the first football player who chose to kneel instead of stand during the national anthem, doing so in protest over what he believed to be discrimination directly and indirectly sanctioned by U.S. and local governments.  A great debate ensued that Nike has rekindled by signing the ex-player to a lucrative contract to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Nike’s motto, Just Do It.   The new campaign’s tag line is, “Believe in something, even if it means sacrificing everything.”

    The reaction has been mixed.  Some applauded Nike’s decision.  Hundreds of other posted videos burning Nike clothing and tweeting objections.

    While I prefer not to further engage in the merits of the debate, there is one thing I’d like to suggest.

    I invite Mr. Kaepernick and Nike to visit the American Cemetery and Memorial in Florence, Italy.  Interned in its 70 acres are 4,399 soldiers who died in WWII fighting in the hills and streets of Italy. The cemetery in Florence is one of 24 foreign cemeteries where American soldiers are buried.  In total, these sacred memorials are the final resting places for more than 130,000 soldiers who died defending our freedoms.  The memorials also honor the souls of more than 100,000 who remain missing in action. These men and women made the ultimate sacrifice so Mr. Kaepernick can remain free to protest about injustices he perceives.  To characterize what he’s done as “sacrificing everything” is an abomination.  For Nike to endorse such hypocrisy through an advertising campaign geared to making profits is an insult to the memories and true sacrifices of the nearly a quarter million soldiers laying under foreign soil.  And while some of the proceeds are being donated to Kaepernick’s Know Your Rights charity, I have not seen any reports that Nike is donating anything in the memory of the dead soldiers.

    So I say this to Mr. Kaepernick and Nike:  Shame on you.  Protest all you like but respect those who, unlike Mr. Kaepernick, truly sacrificed everything.  And all that is required to do so is the simple and time honored gesture of standing for our national anthem.  Is that too much to ask?

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