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    Esther Blumenfeld  

    The purpose of this web site is to entertain.  My humor columns died along with the magazines where they were printed, although I cannot claim responsibility for their demise.  I still have something to say, and if I can bring a laugh or two to your day, my mission will be fulfilled.

    Everyone I know thinks he has a sense of humor.  Here is my unsolicited advice. If you try to be funny and no one laughs, don’t worry about it.  However, if you try to be funny and no one EVER laughs, you might have a little problem.



    AI, MI--OH,MY!

    These days the pressure to automate has led to unbridled competition.

    When some genius can install human intuition into a self driving car, then I will be impressed. At the time a  car makes an intuitive decision whether to to save the life of the person in the car,  or save the pedestrian, who just jumped off the curb, then, machine intelligence ( MI) will be equal to natural intelligence. We aren’t there yet.  And, I have yet to meet an ethical computer.

    Sony has now invested in “Agility Robotics” where “Cassie,” a headless, biped robot balances like a person, and can deliver packages, driven to your front door by a self delivery van. “Cassie” (named after the New Guinean Cassowary Bird) can navigate on uneven ground, and when she runs to your front door, she can even pick herself up if she stumbles. However, the article I read about “Cassie” did not say whether she can pick up the dropped package, or, if she can be sued if Aunt Mabel’s precious, heirloom vase arrives in shattered pieces.

    The long term goal is that a machine can be made to simulate human intelligence. The idea is that if a person can not distinguish between the responses from a machine and a human, the machine can be considered “intelligent.”  So we advance to data mining, medical diagnoses, etc.

    I use my computer to access information.  When I have a question, often the computer will come up with the right answer—or not. I use my GPS to get me to where I want to go and the lady in the little box does just that—sometimes. And, I love it when my telephone screens my calls.

    The bottom line is that none of these machines came up with their own answers. It involves algorithms; “A set of unambiguous instructions that a mechanical computer can execute.” So, what happens with incomplete or uncertain information? I guess that’s where probability comes into play. However, it’s good to remember that some things are not probable, but anything is possible.

    Scientists have now given machines the ability to read and understand human language. And, with cameras and other sensors, computers can execute speech recognition, facial recognition and object recognition. Yes, it is amazing! However, computers only mimic human emotions and experiences. They have been programed to be cute and banter with people. Note: earlier in the story I referred to the robot, “Cassie,”as,  “She.”

    It’s sad but true that some computers have better social skills than the teenager next door, but to reach human level intelligence, a machine will have to be able to reason what is being talked about, and have the knowledge to replicate social intelligence, and do it all at the same time.

    As far as I know, unless it’s been developed today, so far, no machine can use logic or solve a number of completely unrelated problems at the same time. Granted, AI has taken us to new heights and accomplishments, but there are still some philosophical questions to be considered:

    Are there limits to what problems a machine can solve without the support of human intelligence?

    Can a machine be ethical, and can we be assured information will be used ethically?

    Can a machine think?  And, if so, does a machine have the same rights as a human being and can machines harm us on purpose?

    Alan Turing suggests, “We need not decide if a machine can think; we need only to decide if a machine can act as intelligently as a human being.”

    If that is the case, Boy! Are we in trouble!

    Esther Blumenfeld



    Nowadays, there are two ways to get someone to listen when you talk:
    Talk to yourself—or—Get a dog.

    There is a difference between hearing and listening, and often people only hear what they want to hear. Also, you should realize that a polite way of saying, “Shut up!” is, “I hear you.” I have learned that the old saying, “Give and you shall receive” can be hazardous— if it’s my opinion. However, sometimes self-control is impossible in the climate of this polarized society. I know that some things are better left unsaid, but sometimes I don’t remember that until I’ve said it. So there you go! Of course, sometimes people excuse me because I’m an old lady, and I know how to play that card very well.

    Frank Zappa once said, “A mind is like a parachute. It doesn’t work if it’s not open.” Listening—truly listening—is really hard, because you have to put yourself out there, and sometimes you have to be willing to hear what you don’t want to hear. If you listen and reflect on what you have learned, you are not just hearing verbal noise.

    I have learned that with some people, if you aren’t talking about them, they stop listening. There’s the old story about the author who said, “Enough about me. What did you think about my book?” However, I have learned that it is important to listen when people talk about themselves, and that you should remember what they say. File away that information! And I’m not even in the FBI.

    For instance, I recently met a young woman, I had never met before. She told me that she was Catholic, and that her husband was Jewish. She goes to church every Sunday, and she said that he never goes to synagogue, and she is worried about his soul. A few months later, I saw her again, and she said, “I’ll bet you don’t remember me,” and I said, “Oh, Yes, I do.You are Catholic. Your husband is Jewish. You go to church on Sunday and he doesn’t go to synagogue. And, you are worried about his soul.” She was speechless. It was worth it!

    I must admit that sometimes when a conversation is really boring my mind will wander, and sometimes it just seems to run away. At that time, smiling a lot and nodding sympathetically  seems to work. Excusing oneself and hiding in the closet may be strange, but you can always say that you thought it was the bathroom.

    It’s true that most people would rather talk than listen, except for the strong silent type.  He might just pass for a good listener, or, he might just be plain stupid. Unfortunately, too many people hear what they want to hear. If you are listening to someone talk, it’s always a good idea to question the source of the information. Otherwise, you may just be hearing babble or listening to downright lies.  

    It is a given that when you hear birds singing in the trees, you don’t have to verify that they are birds. On the other hand,  ringing in your ears is a common ailment when politicians are speaking. Listening to music is an activity that can help all of us escape constant verbiage. However, it is also a selective hearing activity. As Woody Allen so aptly said, “I can’t listen to that much Wagner. I start getting the urge to conquer Poland.”

    Esther Blumenfeld



    Sometimes, I have the bad habit of skimming through a newspaper article rather than reading it in depth. Admittedly, this practice can give me the essence of a story, but it can also get me into trouble. The heading, “Monsoon Start Is On The Horizon,” got my attention, especially since Tucson has had no significant rainfall since the end of February.

    I scanned the article until I came to the paragraph about storms that bring dry lightening and  shaggy clouds that contain Viagra. “Wow!” I thought, “So that’s where the name of the male enhancement medication came from—a rain that evaporates before it hits the ground.” Then I read, “This  part of the season is super dicey.”

    Okay, “super dicey” got to me, and then I decided to go back and read the entire article carefully. It was then that I discovered that shaggy clouds contain “Virga”—-not Viagra. I was glad that I had read more carefully before embarrassing myself with a dumber than usual question aimed at my son, the former meteorologist.

    One has to be so careful with information, because it doesn’t take too much to get it wrong. For instance, a gynecologist once told me that a young bride wanted information about ovation. The doctor said, “I think you mean ovulation. The ovation comes later.”

    However, misunderstandings aren’t always the fault of the recipient  but rather the fault of the person who is supplying the information. For instance, when shopping for an item, a little price sticker will announce “50% off.”  That looks really good until the shopper sees that the smaller print underneath informs the customer that it is 50% off the second item—- if you buy two of them.

    The worst offenders are still the pharmaceutical companies recommending their products on television. The drugs they push inform the public that everyone needs the medication they are touting, because they will cure ailments most of us have never even heard of. Then the small print disclaimers zoom by at the bottom of the screen advising that, “This product has not been approved by the FDA.” Or,  “Individual Results May Vary.”  If you can read the speeding, tiny message it might say, “ Call your doctor if you get a rash, your tongue swells and hangs down to your knees, or you feel that  Kenny G’s saxophone is stuck into one of your ears.

    Granted, there are miracle cures in the works for almost everything. Maybe, if atmospheric scientists try seeding the clouds with Viagra, it just might work! After all, the magazine PHARMACY TIMES says that the name, Viagra comes from “vitality, virility and vigor and it rhymes with Niagra (force and endurance).”

    Niagra Falls has lots of water. So, I figure a little seeding here, and a little seeding there, couldn’t hurt. If it rains, I will definitely give the sky a heartfelt ovation.

    Esther Blumenfeld



    My friend Perry (“Don’t use my last name, because I am in the Witness Protection Program) lived in New Jersey when he was ten-years-old. He and “three” or “five” of his buddies would get on a bus and ride to the subway station, whereupon they got on a subway, and rode to Shea Stadium in Flushing Meadows, New York to watch a baseball game. What fun!

    In today’s world of over-protective parenting, they probably would have been confronted by child protective services when they returned home, and their parents would have been in handcuffs. No normal parent wants to expose a child to serious danger, but on the other hand, children need the freedom to do things alone such as riding a bike to school or exploring a playground.

    Utah is now the first State to pass a law legalizing free-range parenting, and New York and Texas are contemplating the same. Over scheduled and over protected children need more freedom to develop independence, and the opportunity to become more resilient and less micro-managed. They need to breathe.

    When I was eleven-years-old, my family lived in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. As a big sister, my two-year-old brother was often my responsibility, and I enjoyed sticking him in his stroller, and taking him three blocks from our home, to McKennon Park, where he could swing on the swings, slide down a metal slide and climb on the Monkey Bars. The kid was fearless.

    One day, when we were at the park, the birds stopped singing, and the earth and the sky turned brown, and the wind began a ferocious howl. I threw my toddler brother into the stroller and began to run home. Cell phones had not yet been invented—-good thing—-because I never would have noticed the sky.

    As I was running, it became more and more difficult for me to push the stroller, but I managed to get home. I struggled with the front door, and it took both me and my Mother to open it. My brother and I blew into the house just as the tornado reached its full force. The next day, I was amazed to see a tree sticking out of the side of our neighbor’s house. I had taken enormous responsibility, because even though I was a child, I was used to being left to my own devices and trusted to use good judgment.

    I never felt cooped up since my parents couldn’t afford organized activities. However, I did go to a terrible camp one week where the creek had leeches Did you know you can burn those things off with cigarettes?  And the outhouse stank!  I survived and  it was a learning experience like…”Don’t ever do that to me again!”

    Even getting lost can test ones mettle. I used to ride my trike up and down our sidewalk, and one day, decided to go around the block to see what was there. When I lost the familiar, I turned around and peddled back to where I had started. It was scary, but I had tested myself.

    Fun consisted of playing outside sometimes with the kids in the neighborhood and we entertained ourselves with make-believe games and exploring my neighbor’s garden when she was out-of-town.  My buddies and I even went to the community swimming pool on our own. The only semi-adult supervision was the pimple-faced life guard. He did save me one day when a mean boy sat on my head when I was under the water. I did not drown, and I did punch the kid.

    I had no screens to stare at—only the clouds in the sky, and I didn’t have a telephone tied to my wrist. I played outside from morning to dusk. In the summer my friends and I created forts and play houses out of old wooden crates. We played and laughed and fought and then made-up and played some more. In the winter, we made angels in the snow, built snowmen, and snow forts and had snowball fights. All of this inter-action, creativity, and independence was a great learning experience

    In every season, my favorite words were, “Can Esther come out and play.” Those are still my favorite words.

    Esther Blumenfeld



    5/8/18: I’m not sure who named the tranquil seaside city, Cienfuegos, but I was told it was named after the guy who discovered the place. Who would name a kid, “100 Fires,” but maybe that was why he had to leave home.

    Cienfuegos is very different from Havana. On the southern coast, the French spirit of the city is very visible. It was originally founded by French settlers from Louisiana, and the neoclassical architecture is well preserved. Enough of that!  Time to get to the serious business of the tour, the Cienfuegos Tobacco Factory.

    I don’t know if there is something akin to a Tobacco Saint, but Cuban cigars are very revered. So, watching the production of the coveted cigar, at the Anastacio Cardenas Tobacco Factory, was a truly unique (as well as hot and humid) experience. I think the secret of tobacco is in the Cuban soil. We were introduced to the process including the  step by step intricate rolling of the wrapper, filler and binder as the leaves were wrapped.  By the way, a cigar leaf feels like silk. Now I don’t have to learn something new for at least another week.

    Of course, we were allowed time to browse the shops and rum and cigar stores before ending the tour. More colorful old cars up and down the streets.

    5/9/18:  Santiago De Cuba, Cuba

    No, I did it right. The first is the name of the City, and the last is still—Cuba—-the island only 90 miles away from Miami. Santiago De Cuba has a 6000 mile-high mountain range.  Did you know there are mountains in Cuba?  I did not! It is a city that has a fascinating history, including the famed San Juan Hill, a 17th-century fortress, where a decisive battle was won during the Spanish-American War in 1898. The Americans, including Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders, and African-American Buffalo Soldiers helped the Cubans end Spanish rule of Cuba at this spot where the Spanish surrendered.

    The city has a rich heritage of music, art and literature, and many famous people have come from this place including Desi Arnez  (Lucille Ball’s Cuban husband). His name wasn’t mentioned in the brochure, because I guess the other musicians were more mentionable, but I didn’t recognize any of them, so I wrote my own history.  Emilio Bacardi Moreau is also buried there—the famous rum guy.

    More rum. More shopping, and a history tour in the plaza.  It was very hot and humid in the sun, so I slipped away from the group and entered an art museum. They asked me where I was from and I said, “America,” and, then, beaming they gave me the run of the place. Cubans really like Americans.  I think Teddy Roosevelt did that for us. I’m sure it was not Vice President, Nixon, who dismissed Castro when he came for a visit. Ike had gone golfing and left Castro to Nixon. He just didn’t like the guy, who had come to discuss relations with the U.S., and Nixon was sure he wouldn’t last more than a few months.  So Castro went to Russia….and the rest is history.

    But back to the museum.  I walked up 40 steps to the gallery. I think every place in Cuba has 40 steps, and after perusing the paintings, I realized that they all were done by Cuban artists.
    A lovely young attendant followed me, and, trying to be helpful, read to me from a lengthy plaque on the wall. Unfortunately, it was in Spanish, so I didn’t understand one word, but I thanked her and walked another 40 steps back to my sweaty tour.

    5/10/18: A day at sea.  Time to pack up. Sailing back to Miami.
    5/11/18:  Off to the Miami airport. Goodbye to Josh and Barbara. Another adventure with American Airlines. A four hour delay. Changing planes for the last flight out of Dallas. Changing gates five times, but I  made it!

    Home at last. Glad I went. One of the best adventures ever!—Until the next one.

    Esther Blumenfeld