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For Whom the Siren Wails

It starts off as a low rumbling felt in your intestines, almost like a premonition although you know the precise time it will begin its wailing, and rises in a discordant crescendo calling everyone and everything, people, cars, trees, clouds, and moon to stand still a moment to remember loved ones, friends, and those you don’t know but who touched you with their stories, who fell trying to protect our country or were killed for no other reason than that they loved and walked in our country.

During the minute or two that the siren wails across our land, there is time to think your thoughts or just to be carried along on its waves as on an ocean of sadness. I had two thoughts during the wailing.

The first thought was one that comes back to me every year since I came to this country back in 1978, about the cognitive dissonance that Israelis must feel when their Memorial Day, a day of mourning, licking one’s wounds, transmogrifies, changes key from a minor key to a major key, as immediately following the end of Memorial Day ceremonies, our Independence Day festivites begin and we whip out our plastic boppers, foam spray, and firecrackers. I have a feeling that those who truly mourn, those who have had a loved one amputated from their lives, do not or can’t switch emotions, like masks, so fast, that those who do move on from mourning to joyous festivities, never truly mourned. Maybe I would feel differently about this if the order were swapped: first celebrate our Independence Day and then, immediately following, commemorate our Memorial Day. That might make us better understand the cost of our independence . Maybe the true mourners would feel more consoled seeing their compatriots coming towards them than seeing them move on.

My second thought was about a joint Memorial Day ceremony of Israeli and Palestinan mourners who acknowledge the pain of those living on both sides and brings together Israeli and Palestinian families bereaved by the conflict, that has been going on for the last 14 years, albeit in spite of many obstacles and bitter contention (https://www.israelhayom.com/2019/05/06/supreme-court-rules-palestinians-may-attend-joint-memorial-day-event/). Although we have a saying that one should not judge a person in the moment of his or her grief, some Israelis have attacked those participating in this ceremony rather than allowing them their legitimate expression of grief. I have seen pictures of Israelis consoling Palestinian mourners and vice-versa. I sincerely hope this annual ceremony continues and attracts even more mourners from both sides because, only then can the people on both sides demand peace from their leaders. Don’t get me wrong on this score. I don’t believe the joint Memorial Day ceremony can merge with or replace the State Memorial Day ceremony because the purposes are not the same. The State ceremony is meant to praise acts of heroism against enemies, acts of ultimate sacrifice for the common good and for brothers in arms, and the purity of our cause. The joint Israeli-Palestinian ceremony is meant to find common ground and to empathize, if not with our enemies, then with the parents, spouses, and children of our enemies, to console them and to allow ourselves to be consoled, and to express hope for a time when we will know war between us no longer and forget there ever was.

Both Memorial Day ceremonies are legitimate and serve their purposes, but maybe one day in the not so distant future they will not be necessary.

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Everything You Thought You Knew about Races Is Probably Wrong

Ok, I don’t mean to belittle or denigrate the knowledge or opinions of professional biologists, geneticists, etc. They know that the concept of race may only be useful in identifying a few genetic traits appearing in certain groups of people and not others. We share 96% of our DNA with chimpanzees (see https://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2005/08/chimps-humans-96-percent-the-same-gene-study-finds/) and 99.9% of our DNA is common across all races ( see http://www.genomenewsnetwork.org/resources/whats_a_genome/Chp4_1.shtml).

It makes about as much sense to apply racial classifications based on skin color as it does to create racial classifications based on brown-eyed, blue-eyed, red-haired, blonde-haired, or brown-haired people.

Now, if you’ve followed me up to this point, let’s take a look at the physics of colors. The different colors most humans can see are due to the red-, blue-, and green-sensitive color receptors (cones) in our retinas. In combination, those three cone types allow us to see red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and certain transitional colors between them. These colors are derived from the different wavelengths in ambient light. White is the sum of all color wavelengths and black is the absense of any color wavelengths.

The way colors mix in physical light is different than the way they mix in pigments of paint, so don’t be confused by the two different media.

What we see with our physical eyes are the light waves reflected off the objects around us. Physical properties of those objects (people, animals, plants, things, etc), cause different wavelengths of light to be absorbed by those objects. An object that is actually green would be seen as the sum of the rest of the colors that are not green; in other words, a mixture of blue-red. A red object would be seen as blue-green. A blue object would be seen as red-green. The cones in our retinas pass a color negative up our optic nerves to our brains , just like color-sensitive photo paper that has been immersed in developer fluid.

Some of you are probably beginning to see where I’m going with this.

Not yet?

The people we call blacks, whom we see as black or dark brown are actually white or light tan, or any other color besides black or dark brown. The people we see as white, pink, or light tan are actually black, dark brown, or dark blue-green.

Anybody who has put up a sign saying “whites only” would be advised to take down those signs before there is a misunderstanding as to intent.

I’m jus’ sayin’.

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The Wrong Answer to the Immigration Problem

I’m going out on a pretty shaky limb here. I’m about to say something that is sure to draw fire from both the liberal side of the political spectrum and the conservative side.

Although America has shown itself to be cruelly negligent in its dealing with the immigration problem on its borders, specifically in its treatment of migrant families and their children, the answer to the dilemma is NOT to open wide the floodgates of would-be immigrants into the United States. Just to be crystal clear, I am not saying “the right answer is not to open wide the floodgates”, but “opening the floodgates is the wrong answer.” It might become the right answer in the future, if America were to increase the resources it possesses to deal with the problem and decides to change the way it allocates those resources (but I am getting ahead of myself).

The USA is ranked #120 (out of 183) among the nations with the highest rates of death from malnutrition between Costa Rica (#119) and Egypt (#121). 0.64% out of every 100,000 Americans die from malnutrition every year ( https://www.worldlifeexpectancy.com/cause-of-death/malnutrition/by-country/ ). In 2017, the population of the United States was 325.7 million people. 0.64% of 325,700,000 means 2,084,480 men, women, elderly, and/or children die from malnutrition in America every year.

This is America not being able to take care of its own people, even though it is one of the richest nations on Earth. Apparently, Capitalists see these numbers as the cost of doing business in America. How exactly is America to take care of a flood or even a trickle of immigrants?

Singapore, Moldova, or Belarus might be able to take in some immigrants since people there don’t starve to death or die from malnutrition.

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Message in a Bottle

Hello,

I know this message is written in a language that is not native to you. Neither is it native to me. I don’t speak your native language and you probably don’t speak mine. I hope that the language which I’ve selected for this message is common enough for the both of us to understand each other and to express our ideas.

I know nothing about you except that you are the one who has picked up the bottle and managed to coax this message out of it. You know nothing about me except that I am the one who wrote this message and stuffed it in the bottle. You may be asking yourself why I did it. I suppose it’s because I wanted you to pick up the bottle and read the message, and I didn’t know of any other way to get it to you, the message, that is; I don’t care about the bottle, once you’ve retrieved the message.

I try to imagine you. I won’t tell you what all I imagine about you because you’d probably think it’s silly and they’re probably all wrong.

If you’ve managed to get this far, I’ll tell you what I believe about you. There are quite a few things about you that are similar to me. You love your children. So do I. I’d give my life for mine as you’d give your life for yours. You honor your parents and grandparents, even if they’re no longer living. So do I. You’d do anything for your family, make sure they have everything they need, work long and hard for them. So would I. You want the best life possible for them. So do I. You have friends who would give you the shirts off their backs and you’d do the same for them. Some of those friends are like family to you. So do I. So are friends for me.

The truth is, you don’t know everything. Neither do I. Nobody does. There are lots of things you know but there are lots of things you don’t know. It’s the same with me. The things you don’t know, you have to guess at, you have to trust someone or something, you have to believe that it’s true. It’s the same with me.

But let’s face it. We have our differences too.

Your leaders tell you bad things about us, that we are your enemies. Our leaders say the same things about you. The truth is, some of us really are bad. I suspect that some of you are really bad too. Our leaders say we can’t trust you. Do your leaders say the same about us? It’s not just talk. Some of you have killed or injured some of us and some of us have killed or injured some of you. I don’t know who started it. Do you know? We tell different stories. We have different histories. They all go back so far that nobody really knows for sure what is fact and what is fiction. They also go forward into rosy futures that can’t all be true because some of them are mutually exclusive. It’s a zero sum game.

Our differences are real, but so are our similarities. Why is it that our differences seem to blind us to our similarities? I’m not saying we should ignore our differences. I am saying we should be motivated by our similarities to keep on looking for a way through the valley of the shadow of death, relying on understanding and empathy of and for each other, rather than fear and hatred. Don’t wait for our leaders to lead us to peace. They won’t. They can’t. It is far easier for them to lead us to war. Peace won’t come unless there’s trust and trust will only come one by one, two by two, three by three …

*

I wrote this message, put it in a plastic bottle, drove to the border between us, and threw it over the wall. I have no idea whether anyone on the other side picked up the bottle, pulled out the message, and read it. I waited for several hours but nobody threw the bottle back over the wall to our side.

*

The previous paragraph was slightly inaccurate. I was walking next to the wall on the border between us when I saw an object tossed over from the other side. It landed close by and I saw it was a bottle. At first I thought it was a molotov cocktail or something similar. It didn’t have a rag stuffed in the neck of the bottle or anything like that but I did see what looked like a note inside the bottle. My curiosity overcame my caution and I walked over to the bottle and extracted and read this note. It didn’t know quite what to make of it or what to do with it.

*

The previous two paragraphs are untrue. As a matter of fact this whole note business is complete fiction. I wrote it in the firm belief that there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be true sometime, somewhere, that someone might write a note like this and someone else might read it, that they might feel each other’s pain and prayers and loves, that those prayers and successes and victories might no longer be at each other’s expense.

Not that it makes any difference to a God who created the Universe and all things in it, but I am an Israeli Jew and those on the other side of the wall are mostly Palestinian Muslims. The only prayers that reach God’s ear are prayers for peace among all His creations.

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Why Machines Could Be – But Aren’t – Conscious

I couldn’t have stated this anymore elegantly myself. I was just about to write a similar blog post today on why there’s no reason to assume AI systems couldn’t be programmed to be conscious but decided first to google whether some such article had been posted. Basically, consciousness is just the sum of all our thoughts, sensations, emotions, memories, motor controls, etc., each of which are simple, in principle, to emulate with algorithms. There is no need to duplicate analog or biological elements or processes in silicon although that would also be a possible way to go, albeit not very parsimonious (Occam’s Razor).

Daniel Toker

I recently had a brief back-and-forth with Bobby Azarian about his new article on Raw Story. Azarian, a neuroscientist at George Mason University, argued thatartificial intelligence (AI) could never be conscious. I highly recommend reading Azarian’s article: it’s a great distillation of some key concepts in the philosophy of mind, and he makes an argument that is well worth considering. For the most part, I agree with Azarian’s reasoning regarding current A.I., but I don’t think his argument precludes the possibility of future A.I. being conscious.

First, a summary of Azarian’s key points:

  1. Computers are Turing Machines, which means they can perform operations on symbols but can’t recognize what those symbols mean (which requires a mind).
  2. Consciousness is a biological phenomenon, which is produced by processes very different from what happens inside a computer. While brains are in some sense “digital,” since information is carried by a neuron…

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“Phantom Limbs” . . . and other poems in responses to your last Wednesday Writing Prompt

I am proud to have my poetry included in G Jamie Dedes​’ Wednesday Writing Prompt and to have one of my poems a centerpiece among so many other talented poets and heartful poetry …

THE POET BY DAY

“Do not ask your children
to strive for extraordinary lives.
Such striving may seem admirable,
but it is the way of foolishness.
Help them instead to find the wonder
and the marvel of an ordinary life.
Show them the joy of tasting
tomatoes, apples and pears.
Show them how to cry
when pets and people die.
Show them the infinite pleasure
in the touch of a hand.
And make the ordinary come alive for them.
The extraordinary will take care of itself.”

William Martin, The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents [recommended – read it too late and wish I’d read it sooner. Would be a great holiday gift for young and/or about to be parents]



These are responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, Zero At Bone and Marrow, November 28, in which I asked folks to write about their children. These poems bare in common…

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“A Dark Matter” … and other responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt

I am honored to be included among so many fine poets and to be in G Jamie Dedes’ spotlight. For those of you who don’t yet know Jamie, she uses her own wonderful poems to prompt us and inspire us to write our own poems. Jamie has often been my muse …

THE POET BY DAY

“We sit and talk,
quietly, with long lapses of silence
and I am aware of the stream
that has no language, coursing
beneath the quiet heaven of
your eyes
which has no speech”
– William Carlos Williams, Paterson


These responses to the last Wednesday Writing Prompt, your darkness, my light – how is it that love transforms us, October 3, 2018, delight, intrigue, thrill your mind and touch the heart. I know you will enjoy them and the two “value-added” sections (Frank’s lastest victory and Mike’s comment) as much as I have.

Kudos and thanks to Renee Espiru, Frank McMahon, Sonja Benskin Mesher, Marta Pombo Sallés, Mike Stone and Anjum Wasim Dar. A very warm welcome to Christi Moon. I’ve been reading her work on Facebook for some years and am delighted to have the opportunity to include her here today.

I’ve included links to blogs or websites where available…

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