Friday, December 15, 2017

John Jones Wed to Siri

Will the Sunday Style section of The Times soon be running announcements of marriages between humans and their robotic significant others? Wedding announcements have come a long way from the days when only those of the correct pedigree were announced and of course same sex marriage as a legal entity is the new kid on the block. Remember Spike Jonze's Her where Joaquin 
Phoenix fell in love with the Scarlett Johnanssen computer generated voice? Remember Lucy and Under the Skin, where Johansson also played techno-chimeras. Imagine something like this: “John Jones II, a computer programmer in Seattle was married to Siri 9X 103, the computer system he helped to create, early generations of which have become a well-known feature on android phones. Mr. Jones, a graduate of Stanford, where he also received his Phd in computer science is the son of John and Sally Jones of Chicago. John Jones I ran OK Appliances in Detroit. Ms. 9X 103 was originally conceived as a voice recognition program by Apple Computer, but eventually became a robot and sexbot, who attained fully formed human features and attributes under the tutelage of Mr. Jones II. Female executives of Intel who created the microprocessors in her artificial intelligence and cyber gonads acted as bridesmaids at the ceremony which was held at the First Church of Computer Sciences in Palo Alto. Ms. 9X l03 will retain her maiden name."

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Sign Language Ridiculed

"ASL" spelled out in American Sign Language fingerspelling (Psihedelisto)
"Sign Language Interpreter Delivered Gibberish at Serial Killer Press Conference," ran the headline in The New York Post (12/5/17). Any viewer conversant in ASL, American Sign Language, was going to realize that the frantic waving of the imposter wasn’t making sense. And naturally the interpreter, Derlyn Roberts, was replaced, but what was she thinking? The video which has become viral and which played on CBS looks like a cruel parody of signing perhaps based upon Little Eva’s 60’s "Loco-motion." Saturday Night Live could never touch this kind of material, but it was truly unrehearsed standup improvisation, recused from the protections of art and beyond anything any professional could have invented, if they had set about to ridicule the language of the deaf.  Even by the standards of the most blatant fraud, Roberts must have been desperate to pull such a stunt. No publicity is bad publicity goes the old saw, but putting yourself in front of the camera at a police press conference over the apprehension of a serial murderer is like trying to get away with murder. Fake news? This isn’t the first time imposters have pretended they know ASL. According to The Post story, back in 2013 a schizophrenic posing as a signer appeared while Barack Obama and other heads of state were speaking at Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Sex or Opioids: Which is America's Biggest Addiction Problem?

Not all those accused of harassment can be called sex addicts. Addiction to sex as with alcohol is usually something that’s self-diagnosed. But when you read the lengths to which some of those accused have gone and the amount they have been willing to lose in order to gratify their habit, it’s reminiscent of the stories that you hear about heroin, and Oxycontin. Could the epidemic of sex addition be right up there with opioids?  Look at the list of politicians and celebrities who have recently gotten into trouble: Eliot Spitzer, Anthony Weiner, Kevin Spacey, James Levine, Matt 
Lauer, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Michael Oreskes, Al Franken, Garrison Keillor, Harvey Weinstein, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Blake Farenthold and Trent Franks—to name a few. It seems inconceivable that one would put Al Franken and Garrison Keillor on any list, considering the comparatively innocent nature of their transgressions, but remember that you don’t have to be falling down drunk to have an alcohol habit. Like with alcohol, sex abuse leaves a path of destruction in its wake, hurting both the victims and the perpetrator who’s in thrall to fantasies which may eventually result in the loss of many things they hold dear. A key point is that a paraphilia or sexual perversion really creates a narrow palette and the excitement itself may derive from self-punishing behavior that violates social norms. This may, in fact, be  part of the story since many transgressors on the basis of their behavior seem to be involved in a compulsion in which there's some degree of self-undoing. It’s not surprising that many highly motived and successful people may have problems with addictions, though guilt and the desire to implode tend to be equal opportunity employers. Alcoholic and drug addictive behavior does great harm. That’s why part of the steps of AA and NA have to do with making amends. Saying that many of those who have been caught up in the recent spate of harassment are sick doesn’t discountenance the pain they have caused, it just points to the fact that causing pain to others and to one’s self go hand in hand once the spiral of addictive behavior has begun.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Are Animals Good?

Is there any evidence to suggest that animals are good? The notion of animal consciousness is a subject of continual debate. The philosopher Thomas Nagel famously wrote an essay on the subject entitled, “What Is it Like to Be a Bat.” It’s easy to ascertain that dogs for instance possess intuition as they're able to sense emotions like danger and even the sadness which may be afflicting their master. Of course, no one can get in a dog or any animal’s mind and any attempts to deduce the reality of what's going on within any creature are purely anecdotal—though neuroscientists have undoubtedly conducted FMRIs on a variety of species. But goodness is a function of the creation of a moral sensibility which represents a pretty advanced evolution of the cortical areas of the brain. Goodness has to do with ethics and the kind of right thinking that Kant was trying to unearth with his “categorical imperative.” The good news might be that seeing goodness in your poodle may be a wish, a projection, which is a reflection of the human’s own desire to attain this state of grace. One might conclude that a person who thinks that animals are good is good himself and someone who fails to see the good in lower species, merely looking at them as prey, is simply a homo sapiens who, despite the advanced mind, still lacks a moral compass. Surely there are plenty examples of that.

Monday, December 11, 2017

The Other Side of Hope

The whole project of the so-called art cinema, which can represent anything from the French New Wave of the 50’s and 60’s to Bergman, Italian neo-realism and the films of directors like Wenders and Haneke today can make one question why one goes to the movies in the first place. Is a film like Amour, about a dying old woman, really enjoyable or even enlightening? Is the experience of watching Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest entertaining or is it merely a kind of esthetic workout—with pleasure deriving from the edification or creation of a certain sensibility? Certainly many films in the canon of so-called high art cinema are an acquired taste.The Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s The Other Side of Hope, currently completing a run at Film Forum, exemplifies this problem. With it’s title and an opening shot of a soot faced Syrian refugee (a survivor of the destruction of Aleppo) escaping from a ship’s hold it almost seems like a parody of art cinema. Furthermore if the scene of Finnish culture that unfolds is any reflection of life in that land, you might opt for Norway, Denmark or Sweden--unless you’re interested in penal colonies of which Finland boasts some of the most advanced. However, even given the grim scenario, The Other Side of Hope presents a countervailingly challenging narrative strategy, a cocktail of existential and esthetic issues (the Syrian refugee crisis viewed in the context of aleatory action) that make you come away with at the very least an admiration for the filmmaker’s intellect. The Other Side of Hope presents an almost surrealist premise in presenting two seemingly incongruous characters, a businessman named Waldemar Wikstrom (Sakari Kuosmanen) who's trying to reinvent himself as restaurateur and the refugee, Khaled Ali (Sherwan Haji), who gratuitously cross paths. Khaled has fled Syria by way of Turkey and Greece and is in danger of being deported back to his country. His object is to find his sister Miriam. There are little kindnesses in the film amongst them Waldemar’s sympathy for Khaled, a ton of sly wit and satire in otherwise improbable situations (one of the most laudable aspects of the production) and lots of evil (the local skinhead population doesn’t take kindly to the influx of strangers who they sometimes mistake for Jews). However, the universe that Kaurismaki creates is fundamentally indifferent. Even when there’s good news, nothing particularly good happens. Ingmar Bergman’s films were dark and challenging but cathartically enjoyable. The Other Side of Hope is competitive with the Swedish director’s despair and yet is steadfast in its refusal not just in offering hope, but solace too.