Sunday, November 20, 2016

The Turing Test: a memory of mansplaining

I don't know why I recalled, this morning, an incident from 1983. I had recently been hired as a psychologist in a university counseling center. As new staff on a big campus, I decided to attend one of those well-intentioned social hours and get acquainted with some of the people outside my office. 

One guy approached me and we exchanged the usual identifications--degrees, schools, departments. He was in Computer Sciences. He asked me if I knew what the Turing Test was. Yes, I told him, I did know. He proceeded to explain it to me. Just so you know, the Turing test was proposed by Alan Turing, mathematician and problem-solver extraordinaire. In a 1950 paper entitled "The Imitation Game," Turing suggested that a test for intelligence in a computer would be to require that a human being should be unable to distinguish the machine from another human being by using the replies to questions put to both. I cannot remember whether or not I told the mansplainer that he had just flunked the Turing test.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

After the US election: Gore Vidal calls it in 1960

An oddly divided light on our bedroom ceiling

From Gore Vidal's 1960 play, The Best Man. Also a rather good movie after its successful run.

CANTWELL [conscience-less 'populist' candidate]
  I don't understand you.

RUSSELL [flawed but principled candidate]
  I know you don't. Because you have no sense of responsibility toward anybody or anything and that is a tragedy in a man and is a disaster in a President! You said you were religious. Well, I'm not. But I believe profoundly in this life and what we do to one another and how this monstrous "I," the self, must become "we" and draw the line at murder in the games we play with one another, and try to be good even when there is no one to force us to be good.

(CANTWELL rises. He speaks carefully, without rancor)
  You don't understand me. You don't understand politics and the way it is and the way this country is and the way we are. You are a fool.

  We're not the way you think we are. At least not yet.

Friday, October 14, 2016

It's a Book! Part 2: The Book of Knots and their Untying is here--and ready for you

At last. After nine years of writing and who can say how many years of living, my first book length collection has been published by Karen Kelsay of Aldrich Press. You can get it through Amazon (click the link) or I can mail you a signed and dedicated copy. You can pay through PayPal at btw, thanks to Lynn Maya for wearing the shoes that provided me with the cover photo.

If you wish, click on the link at the upper left, just for the hell of it, and read the truly kind and generous things that Richard Garcia, Charlotte Davidson, and, David Ebenbach have written about my poems.

Below, the title poem:

Knots and Their Untying 

See how easy others write of knots.
Books show pliant ropes
lying over and under. Loaded knots
cannot be undone by crushing.
Always the challenge, pulling against holding.  

For mathematicians there are no knots, only
the counting of loops and crossings.
All knots are Gordian, made to slice.
Knot knuckle netting knitting: 
not one related to another.
Sounds entwined
yet nothing ties the words together. 

I learned knots that would not hold
in the enduring mystery
of tying my shoes.
Others found it easy, quick.
My unclever fingers worked
to manage the weaving.
Hold pinched what you cannot see.
Pull tight, not too soon, not too slow.

Untying a knot, easy
as talking to people who do not listen.
Persuade the fold to release both parts,
though the center promises to hold forever
against tugging and anger, hunger and haste.
Each knot works to be one though it is two,
two moving back to back,
mirrored without looking,
craning to catch the other pretending to oneness.

Tie a knot for memory, to outwit
the gap between you and your desire
when it eludes you, reminds you
             it is not you     it is not yours   
You are not the string around your finger,
holding close what wants to flee.
Step out of your shoes, unbind your feet.
Time to walk away.

I am very very pleased also to note that this poem received a Special Merit award in the (prestigious) Muriel Craft Bailey Memorial poetry contest sponsored by Comstock Poetry Review. I made it to the top 10! out of more than 1000 entries!!

Monday, October 10, 2016

After the second debate. Warning: heavy irony ahead

Five reasons why I don't mind if Trumpkin gets elected:

1. His posture reminds me of a bear. That's good, right?

2. I grew up with people telling me lies that I was supposed to believe. Just like home!

3. I grew up with people threatening me with violence if I did the right thing. Ah, nostalgia...

4. Similarly, ad hominem arguments are reassuringly familiar.

5. I have always enjoyed Canada.

6. He reminded me viscerally of an abusive ex. It's *good* for me to deal with my PTSD on this.

Essentially, my husband and I are keeping as still as possible until Election Day. To change the taste in our minds after this debate, we watched The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari auf Deutsch. Nothing like a German Expressionist silent movie about a psychopathic director of an old-school insane asylum to lighten the mood.

Above, a friendly French poubelle on a Sunday morning after a solid night's entertaining in the quartier. Note how the bottles are helpfully stood up, rather than flung around to show how some people are too special to follow rules.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Found poems from the Los Angeles Times, Kids' Reading Room

Taken at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City in 2007, after a parent in another room called, "You get your brother in here, now!" This photo was published in Caesura.

I found both these writing samples in the Creativity Corner of the LA Times' dedicated kids' page. It takes a certain kind of ambition from someone, not necessarily the child, to submit a kid's writing here. I read them as found poems, requiring nothing from me except presentation.

       I am the smartest in my family. I believe that I am the prettiest in class. I want to be the richest person in the world.

       I feel that I am not the best at sports. I wonder if I am a good friend. I worry about my family when they get hurt. I am the smartest in my family.

       I understand I am not the smartest in my class. I try to be the funniest in my family. I hope to get better in math. I am the smartest in my family.
                                                                          --Stephanie, 8

I suspect that Stephanie's class was given a Sentence-Completion exercise, whether to inspire writing or for some other purpose. For me, her reiteration of "smartest in (her) family gains poignancy each time.

Next, on Yale:

          Yale is old, but not as old as Harvard. Yale has a church. Yale is a fun place. Yale is a university where I want to go. It is hard to get into Yale. I like it because of the challenges it poses. I like Yale because it is a smart school.
                                                                          --Dennes (no age given)

I wish I could achieve the artless juxtaposition of this kid, trying to write about something he doesn't understand. He reminds me of Donald Barthelme. I'm surprised that the teacher didn't catch the 'borrowing' of "challenges it poses." I confess that I completed the sentence stem "Yale is old, but..." with "...not as old as yo mama."

Monday, August 29, 2016

Quote of the week, August 2016

"I don't want to be realistic--it hurts!"
--Overheard at a coffee place, where else?