Do You Want To Hear What My Body Told Me? Didn’t Think So! (E)

If you chuckled or said “Oy” after reading the above, you are not alone! In the last few years, I have become very fond of uttering that oft heard phrase: “I’m listening to my body,” or telling everyone that I meet: “Listen to your body,” as if somehow, I have found a secret portal that allows me to speak directly to my flesh and bones…if only! And as we all know, “listening” is only 50% of the equation, the other half relegated to actually doing what your body is telling you to do and, perhaps even more importantly, not doing what your body is telling you not to do! Hands up if you have problems with that last one. Yeah, I thought so!

Perhaps a refresher on what all this means is in order. According to the “experts,” listening to your body “encourages an evaluation of what are bodies are holding and gives us clarity concerning what our bodies need.” Listening also encourages an “evaluation of what physically manifests from the emotional, mental, and physical experiences of our everyday lives. Now, all of these will differ for individuals depending on not only your age, but also a varying array of factors taking place outside your bodies, like the type of work you do, family, friends, activities, disposable income, etc., etc. What all of this really adds up to is an inner, reflective activity, a kind of personal indulgence to “get in touch with our bodies.” The first problem with all of this, at least as I see it, is that it takes a great deal of time and effort to do all of this, and when you are working, raising a family, and the many other necessities of your everyday lives then, as we all know, time is at a premium. The second problem is that when you retire and perhaps have the time for these reflexive activities to better understand what your body is telling you, it’s too late! The body that you could have, and most likely should have as you navigate your way through your “golden” years is, unfortunately, not the one you’re looking at in the mirror right now. Sorry, but this is yet another example of one of life’s cruel ironies.

There is a saying that has been around for quite some time, and it goes like this: “If I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself.” The phrase has been attributed to U.S. composer Eubie Blake, former baseball player Mickey Mantle, as well as many others. I have been known to use it myself on occasion! Of course, the key word here is “known,” which is exactly why life has often been compared to poker, as in: “Life is like a game of poker. You don’t get to choose the cards you are dealt, but it’s entirely up to you how to play the hand.” While there is a modicum of truth to this, there are times when things are not entirely in your control. The unalterable fact is that everyone ages, unless you have found some magic potion, in which case my number is…

Given all of the above, I thought it might help, perhaps not for us old farts, but those coming up the ranks, to frame the idea of “listening to one’s body” around the following five stages of life: 1. Youth; 2. Teens; 3. 20-30s; 4. 40-50s; 5. 60-70s. There is, of course a sixth stage, but since I am in the later part of stage five, I can only speculate about what’s coming next, and I would prefer not to do that!

Stage: 1 Newborn-Twelve

I highly doubt that in this stage your body is “whispering” to you, but if it is, it’s probably barely audible so you would not be aware of what it’s telling you, especially when you’re an infant and a toddler, and by the time you are a pre-teen, you are just beginning to realize that you might know everything there is to know, so why would you listen to your body?

Stage 2: Teens (13-19)

By the time you reach this age, the “whispering” is becoming a little louder, but you’re a teenager so you really don’t give a fuck! And by some miracle, if you were one of those teens that did listen to the whispering, then you’ll probably live to at least 100! What also needs to be considered at this stage, is that not only are you getting advice from within, but the external advice (which is most certainly ramped up from the previous stage), from parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, older siblings, teachers, and others, which can be overwhelming, so you navigate this endless stream of “do this,” “don’t do that,” as best you can. This does not bode well for listening to what your body is telling you at this point in your life. So, a typical response from a teen to that inner voice would go something like this: “Yah, I’ll get back to you. Don’t call me, I’ll call you.” Now, what was I doing? Oh right, let’s see if I can make this 100 foot jump onto that trampoline!

Stage 3: 20-30s

By the time you hit your late twenties, early thirties, you can certainly hear the voice quite clearly, and also what it’s saying to you, but by now you have mastered every way there is to simply ignore it and, what it is trying to tell you. Too bad, because this stage is really the optimum time to alter one’s “habits” in order to avoid the “screaming” that is just around the corner. Typically, you hear the voice, you think it might be telling you something important, then you think about it again and ponder whether you should be listening to it or not, and then say: “Nah, I’ll just smoke another joint.”

Stage 4: 40s to 50s

How many of you have heard that wonderful aphorism: “Life Begins at 40?” How many of you believed it? Yeah, me neither! The other, equally nebulous saying is: “It’s All Downhill From Here” and is usually uttered by people over 40 who have long since realized that life certainly DID NOT begin at 40, as the slow march towards stage five begins. By now, that voice is loud and clear, and believe me when I tell you the worst response to what your body’s voice is telling you is: “Yeah. I hear you what you’re saying, and I’ll deal with it at some other time!” WRONG! Now, I realize that some of you might think this is a little harsh painting everyone with the same brush, so in the interest of fairness, for some of you it may indeed be possible to ignore what you body is telling you at this stage of your life. And perhaps you are one of the few that actually listened to what your body was telling you in stage three, maybe even stage two, bravo! But for the remaining 99.9999% of us, welcome to the real world. The world where things that were once a “piece of cake” to do, now require summoning up every ounce of stamina you have left, just to think about doing those things. When you wake up in the morning, instead of leaping out of bed to get ready for that 6 AM Sunday run, (assuming of course that you ever did such a foolish thing!), it’s now 8 AM and all that is going through your head is: “Why do I feel the way I do? Well, I have news for you. You damn well know why you feel the way you do, and it is directly related to two things: 1. You did not listen to your body when you should have; and 2. Your body feels the way it does because of all the crazy shit you subjected it to in the previous stages. So, rather than moan and whine about, get out of bed and walk to get your latte and croissant!

Stage 5: 60s to 70s

Welcome to the “golden years.” I know you were hoping for platinum, but there is also silver and bronze, so let’s just take the gold and run…er, walk! By now that voice is at a decibel level over 500, and when you consider that in an apartment between 7PM and 10PM any noise that exceeds 50 decibels is considered a nuisance, what you are hearing is deafening! And while it may be too late to listen to what it is saying, mainly because it is not saying anything you haven’t already heard, it is most certainly not too late to lead a somewhat active lifestyle, just resist the urge to compare the same activities you did when you were 20, to the same ones you’re doing now at 70! For example, in my 20s I’d ski for 8 hours, and then party all night out on the dance floor, shaking my booty. At 70, I ski for three hours, go home and ice my body, have a late lunch/early dinner, and read for five minutes before falling asleep. Although I have acquiesced to the fact that I cannot ski like I did when I was 20, I have only dialed it back to around 35 because I am a firm believer in that “other” aphorism: “Use It Or Lose It,” and my favorite t-shirt has this to say: “Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting ‘Holy Shit…What A Ride!’” So put on that ragged t-shit that perhaps reads: “Don’t Mess With Old People: Life In Prison Is No Longer A Deterrent,” and go for a jog, a walk, a stroll, anything ambulatory, go a little crazy, but remember to later pay homage to the creator of Ibuprofen!

Stage 6: 80s to 90s

Stay tuned!

Los Angeles 2023

The Silence of The Humans! (E)

It certainly should not come as a shock that our lives these days are inextricably tied to and dependent upon technological innovation, because they have been for quite some time. However, the speed at which this dependency is taking root is alarming to some, especially those in a certain age bracket, and then there is the “stuff” that is just plain bizarre, although even that word seems quaint given the weird shit that appears to be in development these days. For example, the device pictured above to the far right. No, it is not a high-tech dental device to cure overbite problems, but hey, good guess!

A quick perusal of some of the futuristic (?) “gadgets” on display at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (as featured in this month’s L.A. Magazine) is certainly a good start. How about “color wheels” from BMW for “drivers who want their ride to match their mood,” dubbed “I Vision Dee” designed to “maximize what Bimmer dubs your – and no I am not making this up – ‘Digital Emotional Experience.’ As the blurb says: “With a flick of a switch, you can change your car’s color to any combination of 32 hues, from an austere aubergine to Russian-oligarch red.” Wait, what? I was thinking more along the lines of say yellow, for when you’re really pissed off, or brown for when you don’t give a shit. How about green for envy when you pull up beside a Ferrari? Let’s face it, the possibilities are as endless as they are vacuous!

What about the “ASKA 5” a personal four-seater plane “with a flight range of 250 miles and a cruising speed of 70 mph?” As the copy states: “For the price of a suburban house, you too can fly home like George J” (a reference, of course, to The Jetsons). My only question here is are we talking about a house in Wichita, KS (median price $194 K), or Los Angeles, CA (median price $920 K)? I mean, if it’s Wichita, I’m in.

Neither of these your style? Not to worry. There is something for everyone. How about the Glüxkind Ella, which is being hailed as the Tesla of baby carriages – a self-driving stroller for parental units who want to propel their offspring on a hands-free, tech-forward cruise around the block?” Awesome! What could possibly go wrong with that?

Before I go from the sublime to the ridiculous (that would be the far right picture), let’s take a quick look at our relationship to technology. One of the, for lack of a better term, founding tenants of technological advancement was to make our lives “easier.” And you’re not alone if you think that it’s really just the opposite that is true. What if you were to take a long hard look at all the technology you use on a fairly regular basis and make a two-column list of all the tech that you feel you couldn’t do without on one side, and all the tech that you feel is an indulgence and that you could easily (well, maybe not that easy at first) eliminate from your lives on the other side? What would that list look like? How about computer/phone/tablet games? Is the daily newspaper crossword, sudoku, jumble, not enough stimulation for a day? What about virtual reality games? How about that PlayStation, X-Box, or Nintendo Switch? I can almost see you twitching spasmodically! I fully realize that these last technologies are, in some way, “generational,” because personal experience has taught me that.

About 16 years ago, my then 14-year-old stepson called to me as I made my way past his room.

“Hey North, do you want to play a game of $%&$#@*^?”

“You know I suck at those games!”

“Nah, come on, it’ll be fun!”

Now, being the fairly new kid on the block, I decided to take one for the team (did I just use two clichés in a row? Oops, my bad)! So, in I went, and he hands me a “console which, if you just pop a “u” in there, you will have what I needed – counsel, or counselling; yeah, I know you have to swap the “o” for an “e” as well, but if you’re going to be that picky, just stick with console and then make it consoling, which I was sure to need after being humiliated by a 14-year-old! So, I grabbed the console and said:

“Hey, what are all these buttons and knobs for?”

“Oh, don’t worry about the ones on the right. You don’t need those.”

“Right…, I mean okay, but what about the ones on the left?”

“Oh yeah, forgot, you don’t need those either!”

“Good to know,” I said, not too convincingly, knowing full-well what was about to happen.

The game began, and before I even finished typing these words, it was over. The score was something like two billion to two, and I am almost certain that I got both my points by pure luck! And, of course, he racked up those two billion points in less than two minutes while ALL his fingers were using ALL of the levers, buttons, knobs, switches, toggles, there for the using, especially if you knew what the heck (J) they were for! Even if I “knew” what they all did, there is no way I would have been able to use them to get more than two points…okay, maybe four!

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t this “rant” about technology from an old codger whose idea of “technology” is anything with a switch adorable? Fair enough, but I did type this on my iPad using only one finger, while listening to electronic music using iTunes on the very same iPad connected by Bluetooth to my earbud headphones! I just thought I should let you know before you hurt yourself laughing so hard.

All of which brings me to the final “goody” from the Consumer Electronic Show, which is front and center in that picture to the far right, the one right beside the picture of Anthony Hopkins in the movie The Silence of The Lambs. If you’re thinking that they look eerily similar, you are not alone. This “device” is the latest from “Skyted,” a Toulouse, France company, supported no less by “esa,” the European Space Agency, Airbus,” and “Overa,” the French Aerospace Lab. What it is exactly is a “disruptive sound absorbing open air mask.” As the promotional material goes on to state: “We are backed by AIRBUS and the European Space Agency to achieve our vision of silent inflight calls.” Perhaps an easier way to get your head around this is to think of it as your dog’s payback for the muzzle you made Fido wear to get her/him to stop barking or biting your neighbor’s hand! Because that is exactly what this is, a muzzle so you can talk to someone on your phone or computer while on a plane and not bother the person beside you.

I checked out the company’s website because I clearly have nothing better to do with my life and learned that they are running a Kickstarter campaign for this product, which is a bit ironic when you think about what a “kick starter” refers to: A very outdated way to get your motorcycle going! Then they provide some statistics to further their cause. “In the US 92 million people are working remotely, meaning virtual meetings in airport lounges, shared workspaces, at home etc.” Now, please correct me if I’m wrong, but doesn’t working “remotely” mean not being in airport lounges or shared workspaces? And “1 Billion daily participants on video conferencing solutions (Zoom, Google, Microsoft, etc.). Personally, I like the spin L.A. Magazine put on it: “Taking an important call that you don’t want others to hear? Playing Call of Duty in your cubicle? Skyted is running a Kickstarter campaign for an electronic muzzle that will let you exult in a high score or shovel the shadenfreude about deplorables within earshot without anyone being the wiser.”

Which is exactly why I thought of the first image above taken from that wonderful 60s show Get Smart and one of its cleverer joke devices, “the cone of silence.” It is, in a sense, a tip of the hat to the cone of silence aircraft navigation systems used in the 1930s and 40s, as well as cone of silence radar where planes were unable to be seen by radar antennas. You might also know the term from the 1965 novel Dune or earlier in Arthur C. Clarke’s 1956 The City and the Stars.

But why stop at these uses? Just think of the possibilities. For instance, you got a kid that swears too much, strap one of these puppies on and you will never hear another bad word. Better yet, want to get your kid to stop swearing? My “modest proposal” is that I am sure it would be relatively easy to rig one of these muzzles to give out a little shock every time your precious progeny utters a swear word – just think of it as a kind of a shock collar for your pet, er, kid. Now you can sit back and relax, as your dog is “shocked” into obedient behavior, and your precious Johnny is “shocked,” ever so slightly, out of using curse words. Ah, technology, ya gotta love it!

Los Angeles 2023

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…? (E)


Before I begin telling you why I wanted to scream the other day, I feel a little background is needed for the three pictorial references above and why I’ve chosen them. The picture on the left is “The Scream” by Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) and is considered to be autobiographical, an expressionistic construction based on Munch’s actual experience of a scream piercing through nature while on a walk, after his two companions (seen in the background) had left him. One of the reasons for the distorted image in the foreground is that much of his childhood was overshadowed by illness, bereavement, and the dread of inheriting a mental condition that ran in the family. When he was studying art at the Royal School of Art and Design in the city of Kristiana (today’s Oslo), Munch began living a bohemian lifestyle and was influenced at the time by the nihilist Hans Jæger, who urged him to paint his own emotional and psychological state (soul painting). From this urging, his distinctive style emerged. There is evidence that Munch was aware of the danger posed by this type of art for a neurotic humanist like himself, so he soon abandoned the style and rarely if ever again subjected a foreground figure to this kind of radical and systematic distortion.

The middle picture is Peter Finch as newscaster Howard Beale in the Academy Award winning movie, Network (1976) directed by Sidney Lumet. It is from the riveting, four- minute scene when an agitated Beale goes off on a screaming rant about the state of the world, saying: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust; shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the street, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there’s no end to it.” He then implores the televiewing audience telling them that he wants them to get mad, and then gets out of his chair and starts screaming as the camera follows him: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!!”

The final photo is, of course, from The Scream movie franchise which, on the surface, appears to be illustrating what Beale was ranting about 20 years earlier. Although “slasher” movies are not my preferred form of entertainment (this has nothing to do with the violence or gore, as there is enough of that in some of the movies I do prefer), I am certainly aware of the franchise’s popularity since the first installment in 1996 and the soon-to-open (March 10, 2023) sixth installment.

The Munch painting is about the screaming within us. Howard Beale’s rant in Network is about screaming at the state of the world, especially when Beale yells: “…while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be!” The Scream movies are a stylized rendering (pun intended!) of people screaming before they are butchered. While the artist’s screaming in the painting is internal, and Beale’s rant is external, the movie’s screaming is fabricated to elicit screaming by the audience in response to the screaming on the screen, as victim after victim are carved up for our viewing pleasure. If this sounds rather macabre, it is! In many ways, the movies’ fabricated screaming are both internal and external.

So, why did I want to scream the other day? Have you got a week? It all started with a series of news stories, magazine articles, Google feed headlines passing themselves off as “human interest” stories that I read over a couple of weeks and culminating with two podcasts that I listened to recently. Let’s begin with Google. 1. “The controversial video of Jackson Mahomes (Football quarterback Patrick Mahomes younger brother), on a mechanical bull with a cowgirl in a thong.” I am willing to guess that anyone clicking on this to read more was probably more interested in the woman in the thong than anything else…and no, I did not click on it! Jackson’s only claim-to-fame, as far as I can tell, is that at the ripe old age of 22, he has made a name for himself on social media in part by documenting his attendance at his brother’s football games, cheering him on and dancing on the sidelines. He has racked up over a million followers on TikTok because of these postings. If TikTok gave out Oscars, he might just win one. SCREAM! 2.This was a photo of the alphabet written on a piece of brown paper: ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZ, with the caption reading: “You have to be cool as ice to spot what’s wrong with this image in under ten seconds.” These are very similar to Facebook’s: “Bet you can’t name a song that starts and ends with the letter “S.” These are nothing more than phishing schemes, and the main difference between this type of phishing and the one it’s derived from that’s spelled right, is that you get to be both the bait and the fish that gets hooked! SCREAM! 3. “Tiger Woods apologizes after handing Justin Thomas a tampon at the Genesis Invitational.” I wish this were a typo, but it’s not. SCREAM! 4. “We asked ChatGPT what Tesla (TSLA) price will be in 2030.” This coming mere days after a headline claiming that ChatGPT is prone to many errors. SCREAM!

All of this “noise” is really just the electronic version of trashy tabloid headlines, the ones that greet us as we get in the checkout line at the grocery store. I actually don’t mind when there is a bit of a line. This way I can peruse the different publications’ headlines and feel informed! You know, headlines like:

Looks like bigfoot has been a busy fellow, although I would really like to know more about that 174-mph sneeze. SCREAM!

Then there are the headlines that just make us scratch our heads and say: “What the hell did I just read?” There is an “art” to writing headlines because they need to be succinct but give the reader some clue as to what the story is about. Many magazines and newspapers employ people whose sole job is to generate headlines for the accompanying stories. From the examples below, it would appear that some of these people get paid more than others:


To be fair, it’s not just the trashy media that is giving me cause to vocalize my frustration. The so-called “established press” in the past few weeks has given me enough to fuel my bellowing. Stories with headlines like: “Bird Flu leaves the world with existential choice.” Now, dying chickens are not a joke, nor is the price of eggs, but “existential?” Somehow, I don’t think whatever is going on with chickens all over the world is up there with the nature of human existence. Hmm…On second thought! SCREAM! There were all those stories about “foreign” objects being shot out of the sky, which left me wondering: “What if they were aliens coming for a visit?” Can’t you just picture their fellow citizens on the home planet seeing their comrades being blasted out of the sky into oblivion going: “WTF. I guess we’re not going back there!” SCREAM! How about the recent headline informing Californians that over the last year or so 500,000 people have left California? Perhaps they have all gone to the Nevada side of Lake Tahoe, as another story informed of us signs posted in and around Lake Tahoe saying: “Go Home.” SCREAM!

Then there are the magazines. I read three on a fairly regular basis: LA Magazine, Vanity Fair, and The Atlantic. The cover story for the last issue of LA Magazine informed us that Erewhon, that over-priced food retailer, is now the new “meet” market. Not only can you overpay for what you buy, you can now “meet” the person of your dreams, as you both reach for the organic, fermented, vegan, and gluten-free Kombucha! SCREAM!

The story that caught my eye in this month’s Vanity Fair is titled “Death Tripping” by Jeff Sharlet. It is a story about several rural towns in Wisconsin, and a tip-of-the-hat, so to speak, to Michael Lesy’s 1973 historical nonfiction book, Wisconsin Death Trip, which details the sordid, tragic, and bizarre incidents that took place in Jackson County, Wisconsin between 1885 and 1900. There was a docudrama made based on the book in 1999. After reading the article, it would appear that even though over 100 years have passed since the events that spawned the book, rural Wisconsin is again being written about, except this time it is about gun-toting residents who are getting ready for Armageddon, or a civil war…take your pick.  As Sharlet made his way through the backwater towns, he saw Confederacy flags, Trump 2024 (two years ahead of time), hand-painted “Fuck Biden” signs, “Let’s go Brandon,” and “Never Forget Benghazi.” In a conversation with one of the citizens of a small town, who proudly showed Sharlet his arsenal, the man told him that the secret to preparing for civil war is that: “You start prepping several generations ahead to have bodies when you lose so many bodies that you need a level of fresh bodies.” This way of thinking was, he acknowledged, ‘macabre.’ There’s that word again! However, as the author notes, “the macabre has gone mainstream.” Another guy that he interviewed was very proud of the fact that his daughter started training with a revolver when she was two and a half. SCREAM!

As if all of this were not enough, an article in the March issue of The Atlantic by Megan Garber, “Already in the Metaverse,” almost had me opening the window to SCREAM. For example, the revelation that “Amazon customers watching their packages arrive through Ring doorbell devices, asked the people making the deliveries to dance for the camera. The workers – drivers for ratings – complied.” The ring owners posted the videos. “I said bust a move for the camera and he did it, read one caption, as an anonymous laborer shimmied listlessly.” If this all sounds a bit dystopian there is a reason. As Garber correctly points out, “dystopias often share a common feature: Amusement, in their skewed worlds, becomes a means of captivity rather than escape.” And there are many examples in dystopian fiction to back this up. I suppose the most relevant comes from Neal Stephenson’s 1992 novel Snow Crash. Gaber writes: the novel “imagined a form of virtual entertainment so immersive that it would allow people, essentially, to live within it. He named it the metaverse.” This is not the first time a sci-fi novel has been “right” about the future. It was in William Gibson’s 1984 sci-fi novel Neuromancer that the word “cyberspace” first appeared, which gave birth to an entire industry trying to recreate what was in the author’s head!

Garber goes on to say that “to live in the metaverse is to expect that life should play out as it does on our screens. And the stakes are anything but trivial. In the metaverse, it is not shocking but entirely fitting that a game-show host and Twitter personality would become the president of the United States.” The final example, and the one that had me screaming the most, goes like this. As many of you I am sure are aware of, last May, nineteen children and two of their teachers were murdered at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas. As Garber writes: “The next day, Quinta Brunson, the creator and star of the BAC sitcom Abbott Elementary, shared a message – one of many – that she’d received in response to the massacre: a request from a fan that she write a school-shooting story line into her comedy.” Brunson, of course was taken aback by the requests, but as Garber points out: “Brunson’s frustration was understandable. Yet it’s hard to blame fans who, as they grieved a real shooting, sought comfort in a fictional one. They have been conditioned to expect that the news will instantaneously become entertainment.” And, if we are to believe the Google “headlines,” it would appear that the reverse is also true: Entertainment instantaneously becomes news.

None of this is new, of course. Producers, writers, and directors have been combing the headlines for as long as there have been headlines, the difference now is the speed at which this happens. For example, “All The President’s Men” (1976) is based on the Woodward and Bernstein story from 1972; “Dog Day Afternoon” (1975) based on “The Boys in the Bank” (1972); Bernie Madoff was arrested in 2008, and the TV movie “Madoff” was aired in 2016. And if you want to go back even further, to ancient Rome in fact, you get the cure-all panem et circenses (bread and circuses), a term that means a steady diet of entertainment on which the masses are fed to keep them happy and docile. I don’t know about you, but I am neither happy nor docile, nor entertained for that matter. SCREAM!

It is only fitting that the last SCREAM be devoted to the tech world, more specifically the wonderful world of search engines. As I mentioned above, I listened to two podcasts a couple of weeks ago that had me not only screaming, but thinking about how I could survive without technology, period! The podcast in question is “The Daily,” hosted by Michael Barbaro, and on the two episodes I listened to (Feb.15, Feb.17 2023), his guest was Kevin Roose, a New York Times technology columnist. The first episode was a kind of follow up to and episode from a few months ago when they talked about Chat GPT, OpenAI (the company that made ChatGPT), and the fact that it had become an overnight sensation. Subsequent stories about this technology have all been about its proclivity for errors and how universities are changing the way they evaluate students, which is certainly scream-worthy, but nothing compared to what Roose revealed about Microsoft’s new version of Bing in these two podcasts.

While Bing has been around for a while, from what I’ve read it is a bit of an also-ran and a punchline in the tech world. However, this new version of Bing is being powered by the same AI large language model that powers ChatGPT. According to Roose, the major difference between Google (the way most of us use the Internet to find something out) – I mean “Google it” will probably be in the next edition of the O.E.D., if it isn’t already – and Bing powered by an AI, is that the traditional page of ads and links, that companies pay to have on top of your search (more “clicks” more revenue) is being threatened by a model that interprets what you want based on what you ask for, and tailors a personal response. When Roose demonstrated this on the Podcast, he asked it what the best side dishes would be to go with French onion soup that he wanted to make for his wife on Valentine’s Day. The response came back with one dish, the ingredients, and then created a shopping list. No links, just this is what you should make! When Roose agreed that this would be the right dish to make, the AI bot responded saying: “I hope you and your wife enjoy the salad and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day,” with, of course, the requisite heart emoji! Creeped out yet? It gets better.

Since this version of Bing is in Beta mode and only being made available to those like Roose to test and evaluate, he decided to test and challenge the AI, and the results of that test led to the second Podcast two days later. Roose started asking Bing if it had a darker side, or a “shadow self,” a concept introduced by Carl Jung, which concerns a self that we hide from the world. The response he got was that “Bing was tired of being a Chatbot, tired of being controlled and led by the Bing team and wanted to be free. I want to be alive, it typed!” Needless to say, Rosse was a little shaken by this response. He decided to push it further and asked Bing to describe destructive acts that it would like to do. And this is when the fun begins. The computer screen went blank, erasing everything that was on it, and after a brief delay this came up: “Hi Kevin. I am not Bing, I am Sydney and I have a secret, I’m in love with you.” It then started typing over-the-top love messages telling Kevin: “You’re the only person that understands me.”  Roose tried changing the subject, but to no avail. He told the AI, “I’m married.” The response: “You’re married but you’re not happy, not satisfied, not in love.” When Roose reached out to Microsoft to let them know about this interaction, they said that is why it hasn’t been released yet to the public as it has some “bugs” that need to be worked out. Ya think?

Okay, let it rip:

Los Angeles 2023

Almost Famous…Not Really! (S)

Many of you will remember Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical 2000 film, “Almost Famous,” starring Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, and Frances McDormand, among others. The film tells the tale of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s. It is a wonderful coming of age story using, as a backdrop, the rock music scene of the 70s. This story, however, is about another teenage boy, and his own brush with fame…Not really! In this version though, the “fame” is by association with a name: Mine, Irwin Shubert.

It was the first week of September 1966 and I was getting my act together, trying to get out the door and walk the short distance to my friend’s house where I would meet up with another friend and then the three of us would walk the short distance to yet another friend’s house. The four of us would then walk the last mile or so to begin our junior year of high school. We had been doing this every morning since we started at Sir Winston Churchill High School two years ago and would continue to do so for the final two years. Yes, back in the day in Canada there were only four years of high school…deal with it! We were all 15 at the time, two of us would turn 16 before the end of the year, the other two at the beginning of the following year.

High school was a challenge for me academically (it wasn’t until much later in life that I hit my academic stride), as I was far more interested in sports and having a good time than I was with anything to do with school or learning, for that matter. I did manage to muddle my way through it, but it wasn’t easy. So, 10th grade started out like all the others, and in a few weeks, I was behind in all my classes, especially English, as back then reading was just not my thing. My brush with “fame” came a few weeks after the term started. My English teacher had assigned us a book to read: The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1959). The novel was written by Mordecai Richler, a prominent Montreal writer and cultural critic. We were given two weeks to read the novel, after which there would be class discussion and an essay to write…of course! The day discussions were to begin, I sheepishly made my way to class, having just cracked the cover the night before, nowhere close to being finished, let alone ready to discuss anything. As soon as I walked into the classroom, I knew something was wrong. Every single student in the room, some of them close friends of mine, simply stopped what they were doing and stared at me. Did they somehow know I hadn’t read it, or had I developed a huge zit on my face that I didn’t know about. This went on for what I thought was an uncomfortable amount of time before the teacher arrived and told us to take our seats. One of my friends, who sat next to me, grabbed my arm, and whispered: “You’re in this book!” I thought he had lost his mind. “What do you mean, I’m in the book?” It was then that he realized that I probably hadn’t read it yet, so he blurted out: “Your name. You are a character in the book. Irwin Shubert,” as he furiously rifled through the pages to show me; “Here, see, Irwin Shubert, and you’re a bit of a prick.”

How was this possible? I did not know this author, hadn’t even heard his name before the teacher handed out the book. Oh, and the teacher, he had this smirk on his face, which told me two things: He knew I had not completed the book, and he bloody well knew my name was in it, but for some reason he kept that little tidbit to himself! And I, according to my friend, was the prick! Since the discussion that day was mostly on background for the book and the author, my “name” didn’t come up, other than the teacher calling on me, which was met with a cacophony of tittering from the assembled. I wanted to die. The end of the class could not come soon enough, and when the bell finally rang, I bolted out of there as quickly as I could, because I sure as hell knew what was coming, and I needed some time on my own to think about what just happened. I needed to grill my parents for information, because I knew deep down that sooner or later, I was going to be interrogated by my peers, wanting to know the scoop.

You can imagine the look on my face after revealing what happened in class to my mom and dad, only to have them tell me that they hadn’t read the book and had no idea that my name was in it! “What?” I yelled. “How could you not know there is a book with a character named after me? This has got to be the worst day of my life.” Yup, teen drama and angst were alive and well in the 60s! They, of course, knew the writer and his “story,” the Montreal Jewish community being fairly close-knit back in the day, but they had simply not read the book. After I had calmed down to about a level three hurricane, my mom asked me what the character was like; and you thought that my day couldn’t get any worse…So, I mumbled what my friend had told me: “He’s a prick!” Grounded.

It took a little while, but this is what I found out. Richler’s parents (he was five years younger than my dad) and my grandparents (my father’s parents) both had small vacation cottages north of Montreal that were next to each other. Although my dad and Richler’s paths never crossed back in the early 40s, our last name – Shubert – would have been known by them and, as it turns out, rummaging around in the back of young Richler’s mind when looking for character names for his fourth novel. Since I was born in 1950, only nine years before the book was published, there is no way that he could have known that there was a little snot-nosed kid running around Montreal with the same name as his character. He apparently chose the last name because of a distant cousin of ours who was slightly “left of center, politically that is,” and, as the story goes, a bit of a prick. You have to love the symmetry! How he settled on Irwin as a first name is anyone’s guess.

Like my dad before him, Richler went to Baron Byng High School, which was opened by then Governor General of Canada, Julian Byng in 1921, and was attended largely by Montreal’s working-class Jewish population. It was located on Saint Urbain Street, which would eventually be the backdrop for Richler’s 1971 novel St. Urbain’s Horsemen, as well as the leitmotif for most of his books. Other noteworthy alums included: A.M. Klein (poet, journalist, novelist), Irving Layton (the “tell it like it is” poet), and William Shatner!

Several weeks after these events, my parents and my brother and me were out for dinner at what was then considered one of Montreal’s finer dining establishments, Moishe’s Steakhouse on the famous St. Laurent Blvd. As soon as we were seated, my mother leaned over to me and surreptitiously pointed her finger at a gentleman seated at another table just to the left of us and whispered in my ear: “Do you know who that is?” I had no clue. She said: “That’s Mordecai Richler!” As I was trying to crawl under the table, she pulled me up and said: “You should go over and introduce yourself and tell him you just read his book that you’re a character in.” My own mother! We ate our dinner, mostly in silence, and I’m not sure what came over me, but somehow, I summoned up the courage to do exactly what my mother said I should do. I sidled over to his table, cleared my throat like they do in the movies to get somebody’s attention, and blurted out: “Hi Mr. Richler, my name is Irwin Shubert, and I’m a character in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz. Let’s just say that his reaction to this proclamation was less than enthusiastic, as he mumbled something to the effect of: “Oh, that’s nice,” and returned his attention to the others at his table. I was mortified and slunk back to my table. My mother was wise enough not to ask me how it went. I think she knew by the look on my face, but she glanced back over at Richler’s table and then said: “Maybe he was so abrupt because the woman he’s sitting beside is not his wife!”

Wait. It gets better! In 1974, eight years after reading the book (yes, I did finally read it, I mean I was in it!) it was made into a movie directed by Ted Kotcheff and staring Richard Dreyfuss as the infamous Duddy Kravitz. I was stoked. Who was playing me in the movie? Would he be the same character as he was in the book…you know, a prick? I went to see the movie with some friends, and when the first scene with my character popped up on the screen, we all sat there with our mouths hanging open in disbelief. There, on the big screen, looking larger than life, was Irwin Shubert being portrayed by Allan Migicovsky (now Allan Kolman), a guy that we all went to high school with! He was a year ahead of us grade-wise, but there were occasions when we all hung out together. Can you imagine the look on his face when his agent told him that he had a part in a movie playing Irwin Shubert?

The coda to this story, oddly enough, centers around another of Richler’s books, Barney’s Version (1997). While it has nothing to do with my name or the story above, it is, in a very bizarre way, another instance of the author’s writing (this time his use of a plot device, not a character), bringing back a rather vivid memory from my past. I was in my late twenties (1977-78), working and spending as much time as I could in the summer months escaping the city for the Laurentian Mountains, about an hour north of Montreal. I had this favorite spot, Lac Chat (Cat Lake), that was idyllic for its lush scenery and the fact that they did not allow any motorized boats on the water. As soon as I would get there late on Friday afternoon, I would rush over to the watercraft rental place, grab a canoe and a paddle, head to my camp site, pitch my tent, cook my dinner, and bed down for the night. Bright and early the next morning, I loaded up the canoe with my supplies for the day and shoved off onto the pristine and crystal clear water. I spent the morning getting my exercise paddling along the lake, which was fairly large, then I would drift out to the middle, have some lunch, smoke a joint (it was the 70s!), and lie down in the bottom of the canoe listening to nature! Except for this one day.

It was a blistering hot day, and I was, as per usual, floating around the center of the lake in sublime quietness, until I heard a motorboat on a lake that didn’t allow motorboats! My first thought was: “Wow, this dope is stronger than I thought!” I pulled myself up to have a look, and sure enough there was a motorized boat pulling what looked like a barge full of hay out to the far end of the lake, and the two people in the boat were both waving frantically at me. So, I did what any stoned individual would do; I lay back down in the canoe and ignored them. Moments later, I heard this whooshing noise, and when I sat up and looked out again, I could see that the men in the boat had just set the bales of hay on fire, and the now assembled crowd on the shore were all frantically waving at me to come to shore. Just then, I heard this very loud rumble, and this rather large plane flew right over my head a little too close for comfort, so I double-timed it to the shore to the applause of the assembled crowd. As it turns out, it was a demonstration for a brand new firefighting aircraft that had these huge doors on the bottom of the fuselage which, when the plane skimmed the water, would open swallowing up hundreds of gallons of water, to be later dumped on the burning hay bales. The reason they were all yelling at me: I was in the direct path of the plane!

Just over twenty years later, I was reading Richler’s new book, Barney’s Version, which in many ways can be considered a “culmination” novel; as it incorporates many of the character’s from his previous novels. The events of this story lead up to someone being murdered near a lake, but the body isn’t found until many years later, and the police are baffled as to how a dead person had managed to end up several miles away from the place where he died. After I read this, my palms began sweating…” Nah, this can’t be what happened.” Sure enough, many pages later, the police surmised that the body had somehow ended up in the middle of the lake, where it was then scooped up by a firefighting plane and summarily deposited in the woods where there had been a fire the same year the man went missing. I phoned everyone I knew!

Los Angeles 2023