Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Re: The Singularity

A reader writes to comment on our post on Ray Kurzweil and his prediction of the coming Singularity - the view that in just a few decades human beings will be able to download the entirety of their mental contents into a computer and thereby achieve immortality. Kurzweil thinks computers will supplant the human brain, being able to perform all the functions that the brain now performs. This reader raises an interesting point:
When I was a music major in the early 80s, music and computers were a hot topic of discussion among musicians. One day in music theory class our professor said, "Listen to this piece of music and tell me what you think of it when it's over." He played a short piece written in the style of a J.S. Bach invention, yet it was not appealing to me or any of the other students in the room. The prof asked "What's wrong with it?" He went on to tell us that it adhered to all of Bach's rules for four part harmony perfectly and was performed well in its Time meter.

One of my classmates said something like "It has no soul." We all agreed it sounded as if a technically proficient musician who lacked feeling had performed it. The prof then told us a computer had been programmed with Bach's writing rules and had then composed the piece of music and performed the music. That was in 1981 or 1982, computers were no good at writing or performing music to the discriminating ear then.

Before I began this reply I went to You-Tube and tried to find a piece of music composed by a computer. I could find no such posting. I find for art to be art it has to have the human element which a computer can't imitate successfully.
Maybe someone can help with this. Can computers compose and perform music today that is indistinguishable from a human composition or performance?


A contest of wills is playing out at the entrance to the Suez canal where two Iranian warships were preparing to transit into the Mediterranean Sea. This was seen by most observers as an Iranian provocation calculated to exploit the chaos in North Africa and also test American resolve to preserve peace in the region.

The Iranian ships, however, have been blocked by the American fleet and are unable to enter the canal. Debkafile has some interesting details. Their report closes with this:
By positioning the Enterprise opposite Iran's 12th Flotilla at the Red Sea entrance to the Suez Canal on Feb. 17 Washington has confronted Tehran with a hard dilemma, which was practically spelled out by US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley a day earlier: "If the ships move through the canal, we will evaluate what they actually do," he said. "It's not really about the ships. It's about what the ships are carrying, what's their destination, what's the cargo on board, where's it going, to whom and for what benefit."

This was the US spokesman's answer to the debkafile disclosure of Feb. 16 that the Kharg was carrying long-range surface missiles for Hizballah. It raised the possibility that the moment they venture to sail into the Suez Canal, the two Iranian warships will be boxed in between the Enterprise and the Kearsarge and called upon to allow their cargoes to be inspected as permitted by the last round of UN sanctions against Iran in the case of suspicious war freights.

According to debkafile's intelligence sources, the flurry of conflicting statements from Cairo and Tehran [about whether the Iranian ships had actually transited the canal or not] were issued to muddy the situation surrounding the Iranian flotilla and cloud Tehran's uncertainty about how to proceed. The next date announced for their passage, Tuesday night, Feb. 22, will be a testing moment.
It looks like the Iranian vessels will either have to turn back or submit to an American inspection. Either course of action will be humiliating for the Iranians. Too bad.

More Stories about Our Welfare System

The topic of "Poverty in America" [scroll down for more posts on the topic]continues to elicit personal stories and strong feelings. Here are two examples:
I work in the mental health field doing accounts payable work. We have over 250 consumers who are either on SSI or Social Security Disability. We receive their income and set them up with a budget and pay all the bills for them. When all is said and done, whatever is left is usually theirs to do with how they please. Usually there is not too much left. These people are on PCAP for their electric bills, CAP for their gas bills, LIFELINE for their phone bills, and using the Lehman Center as a daycare.

I see the system being abused all the time and it aggravates me because this is my job. I know a majority of these people are very able to work and try to get on disability. But it’s so easy to just collect a check every month rather than having to work....I don’t want to discuss my clients though in my response. I want to discuss two of my co-workers.

I worked with a girl who had 3 daughters. She was receiving well over $500 per month in foodstamps. She was receiving cash assistance and she was on section 8. I am sure the benefits didn’t stop there. She really worked the system. She had the father of her youngest daughter living with her. He was working under the table cutting hair. She never reported he was living with her and therefore, [the authorities] were not aware of his income either. She withdrew cash from her Access card to get her nails done. She always had the newest Nike shoes and he always had the hottest Timberlands. What did their children have? Who knows! She would come in to work and discuss how she offers her foodstamps for 50% off. So basically, someone would give her $50 cash and she would allow them to use $100 of her food stamps.

The other co-worker is now off work, pregnant with her 4th child to the 4th different father. She does not have custody of her youngest. My co-worker's father does. This co-worker was living with one guy, got pregnant to another guy with her 3rd child. She had pregnancy complications and her doctor put her on bed rest for a while. She came back to work with a new boyfriend, a third guy in the picture. She was out on disability with migraines from May-August 2010. She came back to work and had magically gotten pregnant (not to the new boyfriend she met while pregnant with child number 3) with her 4th child while she was to be on bed rest.

She was certainly in her bed alright. She had the government sending a check to our employer every month, so she could cover her children through our insurance. She is back off work and has been since October 2010 and is due in March 2011. She is collecting short-term disability payments from our employer. She also was on foodstamps and although living with multiple men during my employment, she never once reported their income or that they were living with her when she filled out the medical assistance and food stamp applications.

I honestly feel like she keeps popping out children because the government pretty much pays for all their needs. She doesn’t need to work with all the help they are giving her.

It is people like these who make it look bad for [those who actually deserve help]. Too many people abuse the system. Cash assistance is there to pay for clothing and other non-food items that aren’t covered with foodstamps, not to get your nails done every two weeks. If you are on “disability” and supposed to be on full bed rest, you should not be meeting a new boyfriend at the Lincoln Race Track. And when you are out with migraines you shouldn’t have met another new boyfriend while you are supposed to be on bed rest. I don’t know how she still has a job, which is my current dilemma.

I know with the first co-worker drugs were involved. I work in a non-profit so drug testing is unheard of. But typically, to obtain a decent job with a decent level of pay you have to pass a drug test. I think if you want to slide by on the system, you should also have to pass a drug test. Not just at the beginning but also randomly throughout.

I think it is a shame the worker’s comp people were “snooping” around this person’s family. As long as this story is legit, my heart goes out to this family [This is a reference to the story posted here]. These are the people who truly need to use governmental assistance and usually are the ones who have the hardest time getting anything. Why can’t the Department of Public Welfare do some similar snooping.

It’s no wonder we are/were in such an economic hardship. The government gives out money to anyone nowadays. Heck, people even get free cell phones through a program called SafeLink. How about the Cash for Clunkers program? Really! And the $8000 first time homebuyers credit? I feel like Obama was directly aiming these programs at the people who live in poverty to try to “help” them. Instead, I think it got them in much deeper than they were to begin with. The government needs to be the ones snooping.


After reading all three accounts of each person's own view of the government welfare system, I'm in agreement partially with all three. I come from an inner city where there are numerous people on the welfare system and just like the first account, there are so many people who abuse the system. They have become complacent in life and because the government supports them, they feel no desire to make anything better of themselves. But is it right to "eliminate" the system? Should a few bad apples spoil the ENTIRE bunch?

Take for instance a hard-working college student who has a child. Is it right for him/her to be forced to drop out of school and pick up a full-time job? I'm not so sure. I feel as though in situations like these, they should be given some government assistance and still be able to receive their education.

Are there people who abuse the system? Without a doubt. I personally have family members who feel as though that is the answer to everything in life: "the welfare system".

There are positives and negatives to the welfare system. Despite the fact that I believe some people become too reliant and dependent upon welfare to the point of complacency in life, I believe there is a true need for this government safety net. However, there should be a revision as to how much assistance is given, and the requirements in order to receive assistance. I feel that the welfare system should be better designed. It seems as though people get on welfare with no thought of ever getting off.
No one begrudges assistance to those who are trying hard to get by without it, but whose circumstances, through no fault of their own, place them in a position of need. On the other hand, there are few people who don't resent those who are exploiting the system and making no effort to improve their condition, content instead to be parasites on the productive members of society.

Taxpayers will only tolerate this so long before their patience, or their money, runs out.