Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Not-So-Living Doll, Revisited

Warning - adult theme ahead. You have been warned.

Last March, I wrote a post titled "The Not-So-Living Doll" that discussed a CNN report about the big business of making high-end, ultra-lifelike sex dolls. Having a perfectly good doll of my own that I married almost 35 years ago, and being in any case unwilling to spend north of $6,000 for a customizable artificial date, I found the story to be of only academic interest ...

... and then I read this article in the online journal Quartz earlier this month: Humans and Robots Are on the Cusp of a Sexual Intimacy We May Never Reverse.

Well, how about that?

The article is based on a study done by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics, the mission of which is, according to its website, "To promote the responsible design, development, implementation, and policy of robots embedded in our society ... to influence the future development and application of robotics such that it embeds the standards, methods, principles, capabilities, and policy points, as they relate to the responsible design and deployment of robotic systems."

The study - which is utterly fascinating and is titled "Our Sexual Future with Robots" - looked at seven "core questions" concerning the ethics and the technical issues of humans engaging in sex with robots. I found four of those questions to be particularly interesting (my comments added):

#1. Would people have sex with a robot? If there are people who will pay large sums of money for high-end sex dolls to have sex with today, I'm sure there will be people who will pay even larger sums of money for sex with a robot that would probably provide a more "reactive" experience while avoiding the potential emotional and financial entanglements of a human lover.

#3. Will robot sex workers and bordellos be acceptable? I think most people, particularly those who oppose the sexual exploitation of women, would accept such workers and businesses. There would, however, probably be the same backlash from religious groups that there is against "normal" sex workers and establishments, for the same moral and ethical reasons.

#5. Could sexual intimacy with robots lead to greater social isolation? We're living in a time when the widespread availability of online pornography ... not to mention simple online game play and the draw of constant communication on smart phones ... already causes social isolation. I'm not sure the involvement of robots would make things any worse.

#7. Would sex robots help to reduce sex crimes? This is an interesting question. One might suspect that allowing persons who commit sex crimes to commit them against robots instead of human beings might help reduce the number of such crimes. However, a human rights lawyer cited in the Quartz article noted that

"... [sex] trafficking has a lot to do with domination and power over another individual: things you can’t experience with a robot."

Robots are already replacing humans in many jobs, and in a dystopian future it's possible that they may replace emotional and physical intimacy for some people. In any case, concern over the relationship between humans and robots has been a fixture of science fiction literature for a long time.

Many years ago, as an impressionable teenager, I was hooked on a comic book series called "Magnus, Robot Fighter," that chronicled the adventures of a heroic human who fought against various robots that threatened humanity ... but as far as I remember, he never ended up having sex with any of them*.

Czech playwright Karl Čapek wrote a play titled "RUR" ("Rossums Universal Robots") in 1920, which predicted robot workers rising up against their human masters ...

 and author Isaac Asimov wrote a classic series of novels and short stories about relationships between humans and robots, starting as far back as 1939.

In the 1960s came a TV comedy titled "My Living Doll" that starred Julie Newmar** as AF-709, also known as Rhoda, a sexy female robot under the care of a psychiatrist. 

More recently, I've been watching the HBO series "Westworld," based on Michael Crichton's novel of the same name, which explores the interaction between humans and hyper-realistic robots that are slowly becoming self-aware and realizing how they are being victimized and exploited. The superb film "Ex Machina" covers some of the same moral and ethical terrain with the android Ava ...

And there are countless other examples of robots good and bad, from Commander Data of Star Trek to the villainous Ash and David of the Alien film series.

As we move into higher and higher realms of technology, augmented reality, and virtual reality, we are facing moral and ethical challenges we've previously had to face only in science fiction literature. We need to be careful.

Brave new world, indeed.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* And believe me, as an impressionable teenager, I'd have remembered that!

** Nobody could say "That does not compute" like she could.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Jury Duty ... Again

You may remember last month, Dear Readers, that I was summoned for jury duty at the local Circuit Court. In Fairfax County, the way it works is that you are summoned to appear for one day. If selected for a jury, you serve until the end of the trial; if not selected, you are taken off the list of prospective jurors and are not eligible to be called up for three years.

Well ...

The same week I received the summons from the county court, I also received one from the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia ... a judicial double-header, as it were. The US District Court summons is a lot different from the local one: first of all, I'm on call for two weeks, rather than just one day; I had to call in after 6:00 PM last Friday to see if I was scheduled to appear today, and I have to call after 6:00 PM every day of the on-call period to see if I am scheduled to report on the following day. Today is the first day of my two weeks, and I don't have to report, but I'm still on the hook until September 1st.

I don't mind being summoned for jury duty, which is a small price to pay to live in the wonderful country I do. But I do wonder why the systems are so different.

For instance, on the day I was called up for Fairfax County, I reported to the jury assembly room at the courthouse, where my summons was scanned in by cheerful court officers. I was allowed to bring my phone and my iPad, and the room provided free Wi-Fi for the prospective jurors while we waited. At the US District Court, however, we are not permitted to bring phones or tablets or anything with a recording capability, which will make things difficult for those who haven't mastered (or who have forgotten) the art of reading actual ink-on-paper books and magazines. And, of course, being on call for two weeks makes it impossible to plan for any travel or daytime events during that period. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!

Well, I guess we'll see what happens. I'll keep you posted. If I miss one or more days of posts over the next two weeks, you'll know what happened.

In the meantime, if you are near the path of today's total eclipse of the sun, please be careful when you watch it ... your eyes will thank you.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


Sunday, August 20, 2017

Musical Sunday

Tomorrow is the big day: the long-awaited total eclipse of the sun that will march across most of the United States for a once-in-a-lifetime supershow by Mother Nature. And what could be a better song to welcome that event than this classic from Bonnie Tyler*?

Remember to watch the eclipse safely, using proper eye protection. 

Have a great day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


* Interesting factoid: "Total Eclipse of the Heart" was originally written for Meat Loaf. Read the story here.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Cartoon Saturday

I hate to say it, but life as an expat is starting to look better and better ...

One person was murdered, two police officers died in a helicopter crash, and scores of people were injured in violence at a "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia (hard to believe it was just a week ago, isn't it?); at least 14 people were murdered and more than 50 others injured when an attacker drove a van down a crowded sidewalk in the main tourist area of Barcelona; in the city of Turku, Finland, two people were murdered and at least eight others injured by a man wielding a "huge knife;" Donald Trump's chief strategist Steve Bannon has been fired, apparently for (among other things) contradicting Trump's opinions on North Korea; and in the Russian city of Surgut, eight people were wounded in an attack by a knife-wielding man who, according to Russian authorities, was "liquidated."

This week, given the way things are going, I thought a few cartoons on the theme "the end is near" might be appropriate ...

It takes one to know one ...

There's always an outlier ...

Is it a "positive attitude" or an "acceptance of reality?" ...

The age of technology has its impacts everywhere ...

This guy needs to be at every station in the Washington, DC, Metro "service" area ...

Well, why not? ...

It is known, as the Dothraki say ...

No, really! ...

I'll believe it when I see it ...

Who, indeed? ...

I hope this collection of cartoons has helped you cope with what was a truly frightening and bizarre week. It looks as if we'll have nice weather here in NoVa this weekend, so I'll try to take out my frustrations by savagely attacking crabgrass and weeds in lawn and garden ... the only sort of violence that makes sense in these difficult times.

Have a good day and a great weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.


Friday, August 18, 2017

Great Moments in Editing and Signage

It's that time again ...

I hate it when this happens ...

I wonder if breakfast comes with a side of Arrid ...

Someone needs to read the riot act to those unruly ducks ...

Well, yes, I'd consider that to be grounds for divorce ...

Humor in clothing care tags has been picking up of late. I liked this one ...

Some people are better at ice cream than they are at math ...

It's good to lay out the qualifications up front ...

It's not dead. Underemployed, perhaps ...

Same-day delivery. Okaaaaaayyyyy ...

That would be a very good start ...

Great moments in editing and signage. Providing underemployment for editors and proofreaders since ... well ... whenever.

Have a good day. Come back tomorrow for Cartoon Saturday - more thoughts then.


Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Literal Meaning of State Names

Most of us, in the course of growing up and getting a basic education, learned the meaning of our state names. For instance, growing up in Pittsburgh, I learned that Pennsylvania literally means Penn's Woods - William Penn being one of the founders of the Commonwealth*. Now I live in another commonwealth - Virginia - the name of which means, Country of the Virgin**.

If you never had the opportunity to learn the literal meaning of your state's (or Canadian province's) name, you may be interested in this article from Simplemost - This Map Shows the Literal Meaning of Every State Name.

Of course, there's a difference between the literal translation of the state's name and the realistic translation, which may differ in actual linguistic accuracy.

For instance ...

The literal meaning of Texas is Friend; however, a more up-to-date translation might be Heavily Armed;

New Jersey was named after the English Channel island of Jersey, but might actually mean, What the $%@¢ You Lookin' At?;

Colorado means Sandstone Soil, but lately might actually translate as Primo Weed; and,

Canada's Yukon literally means Great River, although a better translation might be Freeze Your Cojones.

Those are a few of my suggestions ... do you have any others? Leave a comment.

Have a good day, no matter how you translate it. More thoughts tomorrow.


* For more on the difference between a "state" and a "commonwealth," go here. In any case, I don't seem to be sharing in much of that common wealth.

* Not applicable in all cases.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Guest Post

What? Oh, it's you again. Hello.

I'm Lucy, and I live with Bilbo and Agnes's grandchildren. I like them. For humans, they're all right. Bilbo? He's okay, because he leaves me alone. You should, too.

I wrote a post for Bilbo's blog in November of last year because I got tired of reading what Clara the dog was posting, and so I suppose it's time once again to offer my take on current events from a more sophisticated feline viewpoint. You humans appear to be wanting for adult leadership and commentary, so I guess I'll have to step up and fill the gap.

When I last wrote in this space, that distasteful Trump person had - as I predicted - just been elected president, but he hadn't actually assumed the office yet. Now, he has, and you've had seven months to see what you bought. I hope you're satisfied.

We cats are calm, cool, and level-headed. We don't go around insulting and annoying everybody with no good reason. If we don't like you, we let you know ... but this Trump person seems to enjoy antagonizing everybody, even the humans he needs to get things done. I don't think that's very smart. Look at dogs ... they make too much noise, but even they know when to stop barking and act calm. Some of them are a lot smarter than a lot of the people you humans pick to run things on your behalf, and that's saying something.

We cats are quiet planners. We watch and listen and think before we do anything. You humans spend 99.9% of your time talking and less than 1% listening and thinking ... which is how you get yourselves into these messes.

We don't waste motion, and we don't waste time making pointless threats. If you piss us off, we'll get you - but it'll be at the time and place of our choosing and you'll never see it coming.

We're loners, but we recognize the value in cooperating with each other ... there's a reason why a group of big cats is called a pride. You humans might want to think about that, instead of going out of your way to avoid working together. If that scrum of noisy people you call Congress had to hunt together, they'd starve in a week.

And when we hear a tweet, we know it means there's something there worth stalking and attacking. Anyone who spends all his time tweeting is just making noise and drawing attention to himself that he may not really want.

So, if I were you (and I'm glad I'm not), I'd just take a few lessons from the cat world: plan carefully, don't waste motion, listen more, cooperate with each other, and - above all else - stop talking unless you have something useful to say.

But I know you won't do it, so just keep on the way you're going. And good luck with that Trump person. You'll need it.

Have whatever kind of day you want. I'm a cat, and I don't care. Bilbo will be back tomorrow. Until then, meow.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Bilbo's Bucket List, Updated

The last time I updated my bucket list (the things I want to do/accomplish before I "kick the bucket") was in January of last year. Because times change, I thought I'd once again take a look at my list and see if it still reflects my goals. Let's see ...

1. Dance at the weddings of all my grandchildren. If Ava (the youngest) gets married at 21, I'll be 81, so that's probably still doable, as long as I keep myself in reasonable shape. I'm working on it.

2. Hold my first (at least) great-grandchild and tell him/her stories. No change. I will absolutely see and enjoy as many of my great grandchildren as I can.

3. Visit Vienna (Austria), Warsaw (Poland), Prague (Czech Republic), and Budapest (Hungary). St Petersburg used to be on the list, but since we visited there for two days during our Baltic cruise last year (you can read about it and see some of the pictures here), I've taken it off the list, and replaced it with Warsaw, Prague, and Budapest. I'm pretty sure I'll get at least to Vienna one of these days, because it's not all that far from Germany, where we intend to spend as much time as we can.

4. Take a really long cruise with Agnes, to Australia or across the Atlantic to the Mediterranean or something. Yep ... still on the list. But I'm adding a nice river cruise, either along the Rhein or the Danube (which would help with #3, going by Vienna, Budapest, and Prague). We still love cruising.

5. Dance a waltz with Edyta Sliwinska or Sharna Burgess. I'd still love to dance that waltz with the glamorous professionals, but I already know a lot of wonderful ladies closer to home that I can waltz with more often: beautiful and talented friends like Joy, Lioudmila, Judy, and Leslie (she of the "swoopy" waltz) among so many others.

6. Get another Masters Degree. This used to be "Get my PhD," but since I was unable to narrow down the field of study I want and the topic I'd want to do my dissertation on, I've decided that getting a second Masters degree, probably in either in Political Science or Linguistics, is more doable. Perhaps with a dissertation that connects linguistics and politics ... I have a lot of ideas about that, given the linguistic oddities of the current president. Hmmm ...

7. Publish at least one book. Still on the list. My mother told me once that she thought I had at least one good book inside me, and who am I to disappoint her? I have a lot of notes and ideas for both fiction and nonfiction books, but I need to get serious about the writing.

8. Publish at least one article in a magazine. Still on the list. As I noted last year, this is probably easier than writing a full book, and so maybe I can use it to get myself into the writing habit for the longer book.

So, that's the latest revision of my bucket list. We'll see how it goes. And as for you, Dear Readers, how often do you update your own bucket lists? What have you added or deleted? Leave a comment.

Have a good day. Don't kick the bucket any time soon - I need you all. More thoughts tomorrow.


Monday, August 14, 2017

The New Symbols of Hate

The events that happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, last weekend, when a group of white nationalists and other far-right groups staged a "Unite the Right" rally that degenerated into violence and murder, should shock and dismay everyone who believes in the traditional idea of America as a welcoming and inclusive nation*. And the sad fact that Donald Trump delivered such a weaselly commentary on the situation underscores the utter lack of moral leadership we have at the top of our government.

As you know, I'm interested in language and symbology, and I found this CNN article to be particularly interesting: These Are the New Symbols of Hate. I won't reproduce any of those symbols here, because they don't deserve any more attention; I'll just point out that they are intended to replace the most historically objectionable symbols, such as the Nazi swastika and the "blood drop cross" of the KKK, and help far-right characters identify each other in the murky darkness of their ideas.

As it happens, I have a few suggestions for symbols they could use.

This one seems appropriate ...

As is this one, for those who also consider information with which they don't agree to be "fake news" ...

As for me, I think the right symbol for America is the one we all should honor - 

Have a good day. Don't let the haters win.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* Yes, I know we've not always lived up to that ideal, but we've managed to build a pretty good place in spite of underlying racist ideas and spasms of things like "No Irish need apply."

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Poetry Sunday

It's all in how you look at things ...

by Tony Hoagland 

Crossing the porch in the hazy dusk
to worship the moon rising
like a yellow filling-station sign
on the black horizon,
you feel the faint grit
of ants beneath your shoes,
but keep on walking
because in this world
you have to decide what
you’re willing to kill.
Saving your marriage might mean
dinner for two
by candlelight on steak
raised on pasture
chopped out of rain forest
whose absence might mean
an atmospheric thinness
fifty years from now
above the vulnerable head
of your bald grandson on vacation
as the cells of his scalp
sautéed by solar radiation
break down like suspects
under questioning.
Still you slice
the sirloin into pieces
and feed each other
on silver forks
under the approving gaze
of a waiter
whose purchased attention
and French name
are a kind of candlelight themselves,
while in the background
the fingertips of the pianist
float over the tusks
of the slaughtered elephant
without a care,
as if the elephant
had granted its permission.

Don't overthink things ... enjoy the candlelight. And don't replace soft candlelight with the ugly glow of misused tiki torches.

Have a good day and enjoy the rest of your weekend. More thoughts tomorrow.