Local ministers ask, “what would Jesus do?”

 

I tend to stay away from the emotionally charged issue of religion but this is one opportunity I can not resist.  I am so happy and excited about the three articles that were published in the Hampshire Review on January 23rd 2019, I could just bust!  The first article was written by Don Kesner who confronts a popular TV evangelist who claims Jesus is on his stage in person (I thought it was an altar)!   Conveniently, only the TV evangelist could see him.  For a minister to pull this kind of stunt shows that our religions have ventured far from the teaching of Christ.  Don goes on to point out that the Bible says that “judgement begins at the house of God” (1 Peter 4:17).  In other words, it means that Christ’s first action would be to denounce the exploits of many religions! The next time I see Don, I am going to give him a big hug and thank him for writing this great article.

If Don has not gotten your interest, Alanna McGuinn, the Minister at the United Methodist Church in Capon Bridge, went on to say this: in Corinthians 12: 12-31a,  Paul urges us to work together for the glory of God by recognizing and celebrating the diversity found in the body of Christ, i.e. the church.  In other words, love and respect every human being regardless of race, ethnicity or religion!  In a time when many folks focus on our differences as something to be afraid of, Paul would say that diversity is necessary for the advancement of the kingdom.  Just saying Alanna…Jesus should go to your church!  It is so exciting for me to hear religious leaders in our little community acknowledging the errant ways of some in the religious community!  Said simply, if you are going to espouse that you are a Christian then your behavior should be Christ-like in all ways!

Finally, and certainly not least, we have the Rev. Roy Knight who says that ” the Bible is inspired by the word of God, but that inspiration is ultimately telling us that salvation comes from Jesus, not the Bible!”  He goes on to say, “At some point, Christians need to decide whether they value their interpretation of specific verses over the actions of Christ himself”.  So well said!  Explained another way, “Christians can overemphasize the importance of the Bible and under emphasize the life of Jesus”. I really love this next part,  ” Quoting Jesus saying things like “love your enemies” and “love your neighbors as yourself” is now seen as “liberal” among many political conservative Christians”.  Wow Roy, I do not think anyone could have said that better but, I wonder how far some of the evangelists have wavered from the teaching of Christ.

Folks, since the beginning of civilized man, religions have played a major part in helping us survive in what often seems like a chaotic world.  The gods of the American Indians explained the stars were holes punched in the sky by ancient trees.  At one time people had a god for everything they did not understand.  Even today there are a multitude of religions around the world with varying interpretations of what God is and how he wants us to behave.  Religion plays a major part in modern society creating a place to congregate and share or discuss thoughts and ideas.  It also creates a community of people who support all people in need, not just the ones who believe the same way!  In today’s world I fear many of our churches are not using the actions of Christ as a guidepost in their everyday decisions.  I am not a religious person but I try to live my life in a way I think Christ would have approved.  If I were asked if I am a Christian, I would have to say yes, I follow the teaching of Jesus. So, if you see any of these local ministers walking around, make sure you tell them how much you enjoyed their column in the Hampshire Review on January 26th…even if you do not go to their church.

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Climate change, meet global dimming. Explaining the acceleration in climate change.

Let’s make this simple. For our purposes, earth is a very large spaceship with many rooms. Correspondingly the sun is like a large gas furnace that can put out many gazillions of BTUs. If one part of the spaceship is too cold, then another part of the spaceship is going to be too hot. If one part of the globe is getting too much rain, then another may be experiencing a drought. Our metaphorical rooms we are in here on the east coast are currently colder than most artic regions, and accordingly, there is another place on the globe that is much hotter than normal.
All this said, the real lunacy here is that some individuals still choose to ignore the indisputable scientific research so as to take this current weather aberration as proof that global warming (which should be called global climate change) does not exist. Let’s look at the chart of earth’s temperature over the last 100 years.

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As you can see from the chart, the temperature of earth has risen almost 1 degree Celsius (1.8 F) over the last 100+ years. Some people believe that this is a result of natural forces. One can not totally dismiss this idea unless one studies long-term temperature changes on our planet. With the removal of natural disasters such as volcanos, earthquakes and asteroids from the data, earth’s temperature generally changes very little over long periods of time. ‘By long periods of time’, I mean thousands of years. Most scientist believe these changes are a consequence of fluctuation or pulsations in the sun’s energy output.
Our current situation is in no way similar to the standard temperature variations that the earth has endured. For the entire earth’s temperature to rise almost 2 degrees F in 100 years is unprecedented. Even if one could find any increase in the ancient temperature data, that does show an unexplainable hike in the earths temperature similar to what we are experiencing today, this does not take into account the CO2 that we are pouring into the atmosphere in-ever increasing amounts. Everyone knows that CO2 is a greenhouse gas, which traps the sun energy in the atmosphere, not allowing the natural release of energy into space, much like a very large piece of insulation that only allows energy in but not out.
As a species some of us will survive global climate change. We may have to move New York City and many other large cities inland, New Orleans will be a great scuba diving venue and weather patterns will of course change in ways we can only imagine. The ocean has already risen 1/2 foot and ice caps are melting faster than anyone predicted. Deserts will become oases and jungles will become deserts, but we are very adaptable and many of us will survive.
One last point I need to address: the concept of global dimming, a concept which very few have heard of. For the last 50+ years scientists have been conducting a simple experiment around the world. They use a large shallow metal pan and place water in it to measure the rate of evaporation, which indirectly corresponds to the amount of solar energy that reaches the ground. Over that time, it was determined that there has been a decrease in the energy reaching the earth’s surface, until 1990, when aerosols were banned worldwide. At that point in time global dimming slowly changed to what is called, global brightening. Global brightening is when more of the energy from the sun is absorbed by the earth, rather than is reflected back into space. A proposed explanation for the early decreased in solar gain is the increase in particulate matter in the atmosphere from to cars and smokestacks. In more recent times there has been a reversal in this trend as a result of fewer car and smokestack emissions, thus allowing more energy to reach the ground. Now for those of you with a nimble mind, consider the consequences of the more recent increased solar gain and increased greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere. Oddly enough, we may have been slowing global climate change until 1990; this being due to the fact we were dumping so much particulate matter into the air! More recently, as we continue to clean up the air, we may actually see an accelerated rise in global temperatures. And this corresponds to what the world is seeing, the ever-increasing destruction of our polar caps and rise of the ocean.
So there you have it: global climate change in a few short paragraphs! It is happening and will continue to happen and we will have to learn to accept whatever an angry Mother Nature chooses to throw our way. Current calculations say that even if we were to stop putting CO2 in the atmosphere today, it would take many years for the earth’s weather system to return to something similar to what currently exists. Meanwhile, storm and rain patterns will be altered, ocean temperatures will increase and we will be like children on a scary ride at the amusement park, always wondering what is around the next corner.
There is one doom’s day scenario that people need to know about now. There is an extremely large mass of frozen methane (methane Hydrate) at the bottom of many of our oceans. If oceans temperatures continue to rises, these large deposits will begin to melt, and that folks, will be the end of the world as we know it! The oceans will turn red and the air will become poisonous and flammable. As I stated, this could be brought on by the warming of earth’s oceans, which is exactly what we are doing. Maybe we better get busy terraforming Mars just in case!

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http://www.nasa.gov/topics/earth/features/upsDownsGlobalWarming.html

Global climate change is very real!

Several years ago the World Bank has issued a report stating that the average temperature on our home planet, earth, is going to rise almost “ 7”  degrees in the next 40 years. Many of you probably say that this is of little concern. Of course, those people living along the coast are probably not in that group. I would imagine that many people living in New Jersey and New York have joined the ranks of believers in global climate change. After several years of increasingly weird weather patterns and warming trends around the planet, many die-hard anti-global-warming people are finally beginning to see the light. Many scientists for the last 30 years have been trying to warn us of the coming change in climate brought on by the industrial revolution. The science is simple and well researched; when you add significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere, more of the sun’s energy is trapped on the planet. This in turn causes temperatures to rise which then causes ice caps to melt, the oceans to rise and weather patterns to shift. The one point that many people do not realize is that if the ocean temperature rises enough, there will be a release of methane, a very potent greenhouse gas. There are immense stores of methane at the bottom of our oceans which are kept in balance by very cold sea water. If ocean temperatures continue to rise, this methane will be released and life will threatened on our little blue marble, which may then become more red than blue if methane levels are high enough. Increased levels of methane have already been observed over both polar caps, especially in areas where the ice has begun to crack. If this happens, the temperature of the earth will begin to rise much faster than anyone can predict.

So, all knock-knock jokes aside, what do we do to avoid this oncoming catastrophe? The truth may not be something you want to hear. There may be precious little we can do to slow this thing down. I will use the super oil tanker analogy to explain our problem. Oil tankers have tremendous amounts of mass and because of this, when they are moving they have tremendous momentum. That’s what keeps you from slowing down a car when its moving forward. When a tanker approaches a port it begins to slow down many miles from its destination. When the captain decides he wants to make a turn, he must make his decision many miles before hand. The global warming momentum that has been generated by our carefree use of the earth’s resources is larger than anyone can imagine and is not going to come to a stop because I walk or ride my bike to work. Now, if enough people decide to park their cars, conserve energy at home, try to recycle as much as possible, we may begin to slow the super tanker, but it is going to take many years for the tanker to come to a full stop.

This does not mean we should not try to save our home. It simply means that we are going to have to dramatically change our way of living, learn to recycle everything, begin to use energy more wisely, carpool whenever possible and become friends with the earth rather than viewing our earth like a taxi, a way to get us where we are going. Of course, science has some ideas that might eventually become feasible, like scattering aluminum glitter into orbit around the earth to reflect sunlight.  Throwing iron into the ocean to help plant life gobble up CO2 is another interesting ideas but these are all untested and could create other problems that we cannot anticipate at this time. In the end, it all comes back to us, the consumer. We can determine how this all unfolds by using products that are green  and earth friendly. The saddest thing of all is that we humans do not generally react responsibly until our house is on fire; then and only then, do we go out to buy that fire extinguisher.  As far as nature, Mother Earth or Gaia are concerned, it is simply the passing of another species who grew too big for their pants and became part of the fossil record.

Charter schools, a wolf in sheep’s clothing

Last year when our teachers were courageous enough to walk out and force the legislature to address their needs and the needs of the children, I was impressed with their resolve.  After all was said and done and they received a 5% pay raise, I warned several of the teachers to be ready for the backlash this year. Having made the powers-that-be back down would not come without repercussions.  Here we are in 2019 and the sneaky bunch of crooks (legislators) are attempting to ram through an education bill that would be totally raucous to our school system.  If the parents who have children do not let their voices be heard, we could take a giant step backwards in West Virginia Education.  Everyone needs to call their West Virginia legislative representatives immediately!  In addition to larger classes for teachers, the state would begin to promote Charter Schools which I will address in the following paragraph.  Although West Virginia has moved a small amount away from the bottom in school performance, we are still near the bottom in many important areas.

There is no doubt that our schools are in disarray and not producing the quality of student we would like but many schools across the nation are facing the same dilemma..  I have written about this issue repeatedly, but the answer is not CHARTER SCHOOLS!  In theory the idea of Charter Schools sounds great.  Create a school to compete with the public school to force them to get their act together.  The truth of the matter is more devious.  Charter schools are a way of allowing people of higher means to send their child to a supposedly better school.  Let me explain how it works.  When you send your child to a Charter School, you are allowed to deduct a large amount of your tuition from your state taxes (not federal) to compensate for the expense.  That means that the state will receive less revenue because of the deduction.  If you do not make that much money, this may not be a useful deduction.  In addition, the public schools will receive less revenue due to students leaving and experience an even greater money crunch.  These new Charter Schools will not be built in Hampshire county but in areas where the population is more dense.  Also realize that these schools are built to MAKE MONEY!  They are meant to be a profitable venture. That means less money to the kids and more money to someone who probably does not even live in the state.

Do you really want to make school better?  If you do, read the following short list:

  1. Pay your teachers a competitive wage so they do not have to leave the state and you attract better teachers
  2. Give control of the classroom back to the teacher
  3. Get rid of the excessive testing  (this will save millions)

Do these three things and schools will improve quickly. I promise, I have been there.

The media. The good the bad and the ugly.

Like many of us, I probably watch a little too much TV.  I have to admit that there are some shows I really enjoy watching.  I have grown up with the media for the last almost 70 years.  I remember the little square 12 inch black and white TV, although I do not remember watching that much until I was older.  I recall shows like FATHER KNOWS BEST, STAR TREK, KUNG FU and LEAVE IT TO BEAVER to name a few.  During this time the media quickly learned that they could advertise products to a large market during these shows.  Back then, commercials and TV shows were somewhat simple compared to today’s high tech, thoroughly researched, mind invasive productions.  For example, in the early days, cartoons were very passive with occasional slap stick humor.  I think it is safe to say that Micky and Mini Mouse were pacifists.  Compare that to today’s toons.  Basically there are three types of toons on TV today.  First we have the adult toons which include violence, abusive language and lots of destruction and sexual connotations.  Next would be the toons for the teens and preteens, these shows are simply a gateway from Winnie the Pooh to the adult toons.  Often these toons include subtle sexual undertones, not quite offensive language and a good amount of violence.  Finally we have the children’s toons which very subtly are teaching society norms which is totally up to the producer.  Some of these toons do teach good decent human behavior and others get into the addictive buying nature of our society or even gentle nudging of social norms.  Many of these children’s productions are suitable to young children but soon fall by the wayside when the child happens to watch one of the toons for older children.  It’s sort of like sugar, once a child is allowed to eat sugar products, there is no going back to the less addictive bite of a delicious apple. Or another example, a fellow teacher once asked me the rhetorical question, “How can I compete against TV and video games?”

I would love to debate with anyone who believes that the media industry has not been a substantial part in shaping the values of our society.  Here is a great example.  When I was growing up the word queer was a mysterious word to me.  Apparently, unbeknownst to me, there was this group of people, predominately guys, who liked guys.  It was never spoken about in the media or around the dinner table. The only time you ever heard the word, queer, was when guys were referring to each other in a derogatory nature!  You could be labeled queer for a variety of reasons such as, you ran too slow or your hair was too curly.  It was totally up to the person deciding who was queer!  Anyway, later in life I worked at the Greyhound bus terminal in Washington, DC and there were many guys of the queer persuasion.  I must say I was a bit uncomfortable at first but I soon decided to live and let live.  I met several guys who were gay and they seemed like nice guys so my issue was settled.  Now, move ahead to the last five years.  The gay population was ‘coming out of the closet’ and society was having a difficult time accepting the alternate life style of these folks.  Enter the media.  In there own, sometimes crazy way, the media has helped us understand and accept people with alternate life styles with a barrage of movies and shows depicting the life of gay people.  Some of these shows caused quite an uproar in the beginning but slowly the noise died down and people began to realize that these were good people with just a different slant on their own sexual preferences.  So, I would have to give the media a thumbs up in this area.  Sometimes I think they overdo things, but the end result has been rather positive.

 

Now, one would think that with this type of power to change attitudes, the media would try and help society grow up, but I fear that is not always the case. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) the average child will witness 200,000 acts of violence before the age of 18!  That is almost 30 a day!! I don’t want to sound like an alarmist but has anyone noticed the increase in violence in our society lately?  We lead the developed world in violent acts created by our own citizens!  We don’t have to worry about Mexicans or other multinationals killing our citizens, we are well trained and capable of doing it ourselves.  Our country had almost 40,000 gun related deaths in 2018 alone!

I do not have any clear-cut answers to these issues but good old common sense tells me that the media could help our world become a more peaceful place to live.  But I fear it goes back to the same answer many of my writings do, money and greed.  The media, which has the power to make the world a better and more peaceful place will choose the dollar every time.  If they can make a movie that sells, there is no limit to what horrible acts they will depict in the movie. They will cut off heads, scare the living hell out of you with horrific scenes, shoot people’s faces off with large guns,  cut them in half, run over them with cars and trucks, but make no mistake their favorite way of killing people is with ever bigger guns!

So this is what I want to say to the media, “wake up and smell the gunpowder”. Our society is in trouble.  We are at the end of being the technological and social leaders of the world.  Part of this is your fault.  Rather than promoting science and math and culture, you have promoted a society riddled with violence and corruption to pad your pockets with ever increasing amounts of money.  Make no mistake, as our country heads down this well traveled road that many societies in history have ventured, your profits will fall along with every thing around you and some day you will wonder what went wrong?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the woman who saw the future.

When you have lived for as long as I have, you witness many systemic inequities in the ways of man.  It is hard for me to imagine that the subjugation of a human being due to the color of their skin was legal, but it was for a long time in most of the civilized world.  It is difficult to fathom that women are still not guaranteed their rights under the US Constitution, TODAY!  The equal rights amendment has never been passed in the United States!  The new movie about Ruth Bader Ginsberg, ON THE BASIS OF SEX, is at the movies right now and is a wonderful movie to help understand the evolution of women’s rights.  At the forefront of this movement is a tiny lady with a tremendous amount of courage and determination.  I encourage you to see it!

Ruth Bader Ginsberg as a young women

The year is 1975 and Ruth Bader Ginsberg attempts to enter the job market.  Graduating at the top of her class from a very prestigious law college, she encounters a job market that was unwilling to hire her as a lawyer.  The reasons given for refusing to hire her ranged from the disruptive influence of a female in the office, jealousy of the wives, to what if you decide to have a baby. Frustrated with a society that was unwilling to acknowledge her as a lawyer capable of doing work that was considered man’s work, she set out to change the law.  Her husband was a very accomplished tax lawyer.  He presented her with the idea of pursuing her goal through a small tax case dealing with a man’s right to claim a tax deduction as his mother’s caretaker.  After winning this case she used it as a springboard to launch a myriad of cases attacking small legal battles that discriminated by gender.  Slowly and methodically she won 8 of 9 cases that ensured that gender not be considered when making a ruling.  The tide was changing and Ruth Ginsberg was at the front of the storm.  She would go on to be on the Federal court and then in 1993 was confirmed to serve on the highest court in the land, The United States Supreme Court.

Ruth and her daughter

Ruth has vision and imagination.  These two qualities are what allow her to move forward, solve problems and create a better world.  She had the ability to see a behavior that was accepted as correct at the time, realized it needed to be changed and represented people to seek justice through the courts.  This is the kind of vision that helps to make the world a better and fairer place.  The point I am trying to make is our society usually discourages this kind of behavior.  If one thinks outside the box, expect to be criticized, expect to be ostracized, and expect to be ignored during promotion time.  If one wants to move up through the ranks, follow the rules, do not question anything and enforce rules that seem unfair regardless if you think they are.  This is the way to the top in much of the workplace.  If you want to make this world a better place, speak out!

Below is a summation of the current status of the ERA.  Even though some states are ratifying it, the initial deadline has not been extended and is expired.

 

No longer pending

  • The Equal Rights Amendment (proposed 1972) would have prohibited deprivation of equality of rights (discrimination) by the federal or state governments on account of sex. A seven-year ratification time limit was initially placed on the amendment, but as the deadline approached, Congress granted a three-year extension. Thirty-five states ratified the proposed amendment prior to the original deadline, three short of the number required for it to be implemented (five of them later voted to rescind their ratification). No further states ratified the amendment within the extended deadline, thus it failed to be adopted. On March 22, 2017, the 45th anniversary of Congress’ submission of the ERA to the nation’s state lawmakers, the Nevada Legislature became the first to ratify the ERA after the expiration of both deadlines[103] with its adoption of Senate Joint Resolution No. 2 (designated as “POM-15” by the U.S. Senate and published verbatim in the Congressional Record of April 5, 2017, at pages S2361 and S2362).[104] The Illinois General Assembly ratified the ERA on May 30, 2018.

Dear Board of Education, stay small!

Sometimes it is hard to understand why people/organizations do the things they do and other times it’s pretty easy to figure out why.  Usually money is the key component to almost every decision.  That is one of the main reasons our education system, country-wide, is heading down the toilet. All the political talk is thrown around constantly telling us how bad our schools are and how they are going to make them better, bullshit!  Here in our little county of Hampshire, most people acknowledge that our schools, as a whole, could use some major improvement.  There are a few schools that are doing well at the elementary level but as a whole we are pretty bad. Superintendent Pancione is a good person and with the proper financial support, under his leadership, we could develop into a good school system, but he is a man in the driver’s seat without a steering wheel.  Let’s look at the current issue on the Board of Education’s agenda right now.

They are considering consolidating our elementary schools into four or five schools in the near future.  This is a way we can use resources better and guess what…save money.  There are still some people in Hampshire county who were schooled in one-room school houses and many of them are considerably smarter than a lot of the kids we give high school diplomas to now. Yes, in some ways there are advantages to large consolidated schools but let’s think about this for a minute.  Here are some of the reasons bigger is not better in a school, especially elementary school!  As a school gets bigger, many kids disappear into the woodwork, in my high school of 3000, no one knew anyone and teachers taught students not individuals.  A couple of years after graduating from high school I met my physics teacher at an event, this is the real truth, he said to me, seat number 25, I said yes sir and moved on.  He was one of my favorite teachers but did not know me by name!  When I left Maryland to move to West Virginia and teach, one of the first questions I was asked was, which school I wanted to teach in, Romney Junior High or Capon Bridge Junior High.  I asked them how many students were in  Romney and they said about 500.  I asked them how many students were in Capon Bridge and they said about 220.  My response was, I guess I’ll be going to Capon Bridge!  The following years at Capon Bridge gave me something that I had never experienced before, community!  We were a family of about 250 including staff and students.  Yes, we had our problems and academically we were pretty bad off but we were a community and every one knew and watched out for everyone else.  There is no price tag for that.  There is no amount of education that will overcome the loss of community.  The state continues to squeeze the purse strings of education and we are being forced into a totally underfunded school system fighting to keep its head above water.

There has to be a point where the public says, enough is enough, we are not going to let you deprive our children the community that a small school can offer.  With parents working god-awful hours and pursuing the ever diminishing American dream, often times the school is the only place a student can feel loved.  IT IS TIME FOR PARENTS TO GET OFF THEIR BUTTS AND INSIST THAT THE SCHOOLS STAY SMALL!  One of the things Hampshire gave me was a sense of community and it would be a sad day to take that away from future generations of our students.  Board members, snap out of it!  Protect our schools, do not join the bandwagon of individuals who do not understand what a community school is. Many of you went to small schools and you would not give that up for anything.  Citizens of Hampshire county, do not let them do this.  STAND UP AND MAKE YOUR VOICES HEARD!!!!!!

 

Getting old is a B***h, or is it?

There is nothing as final, for us insignificant humans, as death.  It comes in all shapes, sizes, colors and shades.  Sometimes it comes slowly, dragging on for years and sometimes it sneaks up on us with absolutely no warning.  As I approach 70, I see the increasing need to utilize as many living moments as possible.  I refuse to live this life with one foot in the grave, constantly wondering about this magical afterlife where there are no taxes, disease, indigestion, nagging spouses, flat tires… oh the list is endless!  I choose to live in the present and utilize as many opportunities as life presents.  This approach may lead to some uncomfortable situations but the rewards from seizing the moment are usually worth it.  It is so easy to say no to new opportunities.  These opportunities are generally scary in nature and may lead us to places we did not expect to go.  But don’t you see, these are the places where the blood flows a little faster and the heart beats a little stronger,  these are the places where life is lived!

I hear people say, and I am sure I have said it myself, that people in general are a pain.  It would be much easier to live alone in the woods and never see another human.  Yes, this would be easier, but with the bad comes a whole lot of good.  Life is not about things!  It is not about cars or houses or beautiful clothes. I am certain you have either said this or heard it in your day to day travels.  Life is about people and the endless interactions we have with them if we choose. The happiest people I know are the ones who have many friends and are not afraid to try new things even when it is a little scary.  Scary, within reason, is good!  It makes you feel alive!  So, snap out of it, turn off the TV, and when an opportunity presents itself, grab it like there is no tomorrow, because quite honestly, there may not be a tomorrow!  This life is a one-way ticket, sort of like going to the amusement park for the day.  You are in this big amusement park we call life, and you are the boss, you decide what rides you want to ride. Don’t leave the park without having experienced the whole thing.

Artificial Intelligence or AI, what you need to know.

 

Creación de Adán (Miguel Ángel).jpg

Thanks to the media, many of us already know a great deal about Artificial Intelligence (AI).  Some of the innovations we have seen in movies are scientists working hard to make robots that look and act human, cars driving themselves, factories needing less humans to function, phone calls from robots (BOTS), intelligent phone answering machines,  sex robots, virtual reality programs and the list continues on.  What does this mean to humanity?  What is our purpose if AI does all the jobs that we have always done?  In the near future McDonald’s and all the other fast-food places will produce food with robots and not teenagers.  I’m not sure how you feel about this, but I personally am relieved that hormone-charged adolescents will not be making my food.  We humans have been through many apocalyptic changes in our existence.  We survived the industrial revolution, although its continuing effect on the environment is still lurking in the shadows. We survived the nuclear age so far.  We survived the black plague with virtually no medical knowledge.  We have survived two world wars.  We even survived the last ice age.  In the end, although excruciatingly painful to our human family, many of these calamities have made us stronger as a species.

Today we face a new obstacle, Artificial Intelligence.  We are now staring into the eyes of the most serious threat that we, as custodians of the earth, have ever faced.  The very essence of what life is could possibly change.  The melding of AI and humans is in its infancy and moving faster than is probably prudent.  Some futurologist think that this is an evolutionary step where man melds with AI to become smarter, stronger and more resistant to the whims of the universe, therefore more likely to survive.  Some of the smartest and most successful people in the world are now telling us to move cautiously into the world of AI.  Elon Musk, owner and creator of Tesla and Space X, says, “AI is man’s biggest threat”.  When one of the smartest men in the world says AI is man’s biggest threat, I think we should probably listen to him!

So why is AI a threat to humankind?  I think the best way to explain this is with my chocolate peanut butter analogy.  A TV commercial several years ago depicted a man walking down the sidewalk engrossed in his peanut butter jar.  Unbeknownst to him, a fellow human was walking towards him immersed in his chocolate bar.  Both men were so involved with consuming their particular food that they failed to see each other and collided.  The one man says to the other in an irritated way, “you got chocolate in my peanut butter!”.  The second man responds, “you got peanut butter in my chocolate!”.  Together they both bite into the combination created by the collision.  As they look at each other in amazement and smiles form across their faces, the words come across the screen: REESE’S PEANUT BUTTER CUPS.  No, I have not lost my mind, there is a connection.  AI could not create the concept of a Reese’s Peanut Butter cup, only we can.  Computers do not make these kind of mistakes.  They may lose files, break down or a multitude of other things we have become all too familiar with, but they will not generate new ideas!  New ideas often come from mistakes.  Please do not misunderstand me, computers are capable of solving problems with immense numbers of variables.  In the last year or so the program called WATSON, made by IBM, looked at all the data created by the city of Chicago and solved the rat problem. Now the computer tells the RAT PATROL where there will be a problem and dispatches them to prevent it.  ( IBM’s Watson, the Jeopardy-beating “thinking machine,” is studying to take the federal medical licensing exam. It’s doing legal discovery work, just as first-year law associates do, but faster. It beats humans at finding lung cancer in X-rays and outperforms high-level business analysts.)  Without computers, some of our most sophisticated airplanes would not even fly. They are too complex for the human mind to keep up with the variables that arise in flight.  So, back to the original question, why is AI a threat?  The letters AI should give you a clue, Artificial Intelligence.  We are currently the only intelligence occupying this planet.  There is no competition.  We decide what stupid thing we are going to do and generally do it with little regard to its impact on the world.  Assuming that AI emerges and develops a rudimentary understanding of right and wrong, and cares about the planet as a means of self-preservation, then it may well decide that it is not going to let us do something stupid!  More and more there is talk of using AI in military situations. What if the AI decides it does not want to take the lives of a group of people?…or, what if it decides that people are extraneous?  To bring this all together, like the peanut butter cup, many of man’s greatest ideas came about from an accident.  We are imperfect and that’s what causes us problems and also makes life more interesting.  AI will not make mistakes and may have little tolerance for them.  We may become obsolete or even worse, a nuisance!

Oh my, this is getting scary.  Are you beginning to see the problem?  AI could lead to a smart, exciting future for mankind or it could lead to one of those horrible movies where the computers take over the world.  Movies like Terminator, I- Robot, The Matrix, Eagle Eye, Ex Machina, Her, Transcendence, Robocop or The Day the Earth Stood Still, are sci-fi stories that reflect different futures with AI.  They range from horrible for humankind, all the way to rather inconsequential to our existence,  but make no mistake, AI will change the future in ways we cannot yet imagine.

Sometimes when people talk to me about my articles they ask me if I have any answers and I usually say, I don’t think so. In a world controlled more each day by corporate interest and less concerned about the human condition, I have a hard time seeing some light at the end of this tunnel.  I guess my best advice is to grab your ankles and hold tight.  It may be a bumpy ride.

 

Am I thinking too much, or not enough? Looking for happiness.

 

 

I have what some consider an analytical mind.  My mind is thinking about things all the time, not just things like paying bills or fixing a problem with the car, but phenomena I observe on a daily basis.  For example, when I see light reflecting off the surface of water, I am thinking of the texture of the water surface and how it affects the absorption of light and heat which in the ocean could be a big deal.  When I work with students and observe a certain behavior I contemplate the environment and genetics that led that child to behave in a certain manner.  There is nothing that I see that does not evoke some cerebral response.  I have learned to keep quiet about these observations so as not to cause people’s eyes to glaze over in boredom, but the constant assault of ideas never stops.

So, this morning I was lying in bed trying to force myself to get up and begin the day and I started thinking about the drug problem that has encompassed this nation and probably the world.  So many people have died, and many are currently addicted with little or no help available.  Families are being ripped apart every second from addiction.  The pain and suffering that is blanketing our country is touching everyone.  To think about a problem like this, one has to strip away all the obvious answers and look for some universal constant that explains why this has become such a large epidemic.  First, and most important, drugs have always been a part of human behavior.  From early man who realized that certain foods turn into alcohol if you do the right things, all the way to the Indians who learned that opium can be extracted  from poppy seeds, a drug that allowed them to talk with the gods.  The problem is not with the use of drugs but the quantity of drugs available!  The Indians had to collect and process a lot of poppy seeds to make a small amount of opium and it was probably not that potent.  In other parts of the world, making alcohol requires a tremendous amount of work collecting available fruits, processing them and allowing the product to ferment to an intoxicating beverage.  Tobacco used to be more difficult to obtain and had far less available nicotine compared to modern tobacco.  In other words, drugs were labor intensive and if you wanted to get high, you had to put in some serious labor. So, drugs have always been a part of the human experience.

Now, lets look at today’s drug scene.  Pharmaceutical companies produce enormous quantities of thousands of types of drugs of which some are life saving, some help us deal with pain and some are abused.  In a world where people lived by the golden rule this would not be a problem, but in a world permeated with greed, this can be an issue!  Although we see an avalanche of ads on the media telling us of the altruistic nature of the drug industry, there is an ugly underbelly.  Certain drugs that are produced by the drug complex are addictive and have been adopted and distributed by the illegal drug industry.  If the pharmaceutical companies were truly good in nature, they would make every effort to curtail the non-legal use of these addictive drugs.  This does not seem to be the case.  Anyone who wants to can walk out your front door, or take a short drive and buy most any drug illegally!   Yes, they tend to be expensive and that causes an all together additional problem which I won’t go into now.

Let me step back a few feet and add an additional factor to this scenario. Humans are pleasure-seeking creatures.  It is the basic nature of our species to search for a plane of existence that is pleasureful. We do not like pain. We do not like stress. We do not enjoy feeling depressed. We want to be happy!  Now one must realize that happy means many different things to many different people. If you have not noticed, our modern society has little interest in any of us being happy.  In today’s world it is important to be on time, dressed right, pay the bills, raise children, drive on congested roads, smile most of the time and do what the boss tells you to do regardless if it’s correct.  We live in a very stressful environment not designed in any way to make us happy. So now I can move on to my finale.

To lay this out simply, humans have relied on drugs for ritualistic ceremonies for eons.  Today, drugs are readily available to anyone who wants them.  As I said before, humans are pleasure-seeking creatures and we live in a society that does not meet our primal need of being happy. If you bunch all these things together and you don’t see the reason so many people want to get high or need to get high then you just wasted about five minutes of your time reading this article. Before any effort to battle an increasingly addicted population can be made, we must tackle the reasons people turn to drugs.  As our society becomes more rigid and demanding, the use of drugs will continue to rise. It is a natural reaction to the stresses being placed on people, the more stress, the more drugs will be a part of the coping agent.

To finish up I would like to add that there are probably a hundred other factors contributing to this drug epidemic including parental models all the way to genetic predisposition, but all these factors, in my mind, pale to the fact that we live in a stressful environment where thanks to a greedy pharmaceutical industry we have unlimited access to addictive drugs. Unless we become a happier society and lasso in the drug companies, no amount of money or programs is going to halt the direction we are headed. The way I see it, we are in for a bumpy ride.