Monday, April 10, 2023

Fake Memes



The fake meme above was created using Midjourney, the same program that fooled the world with a picture of the Pope wearing a puffer jacket, and again when supposed images of Trump being arrested enraged MAGA Republicans and delighted much of the rest of the world. It was able to do those things fairly realistically because it created the images exactly as it was told to without having to think or reason beyond its programming. 

People worry about the impact that Artificial Intelligence will have on the work force and, in fact, the very existence of humanity. I'm more optimistic. Take, for example, the person who demonstrated how he was able to launch and market a product in 30 minutes, complete with a website, promotional video, and even email and social media ad campaigns. This shows how AI tools can enable people with little capital and/or advanced education to start a business they may never have been able to otherwise, and I think that's awesome. But if you're really worried, take heart in this quote from an earlier article I linked: 

Luckily, by Hinton's outlook, humanity still has a little bit of breathing room before things get completely out of hand, since current publicly available models are mercifully stupid.

I work with them every day and can attest to their frustrating deficiencies. A good example of their limitations is trying to get AI image generators to make funny memes. Midjourney, considered by many to be the gold-standard, has a grasp on common meme formats, but when left to its own devices to come up with great images using only the prompt, "funny memes with text," it proves that its intelligence is indeed truly artificial.  So while we bide our time waiting to see if modern technology is an existential threat that will destroy all humanity, I thought it might be fun to offer you a gallery of AI-generated memes to show how far off-base so much of the artificial intelligence you may have been hearing a lot about it is (for now, at least).

Sunday, February 05, 2023

The Bitter Taste of Chocolate

The chocolate industry is worth over $100 billion annually as we gobble up millions of tons of chocolate every year. But there's a secret, bitter ingredient hidden deep inside of the smooth, indulgent sweetness that most of us crave so often. What's the secret? That so much of it is STILL produced using child slave labor.

In countries like the Ivory Coast, hundreds of thousands of children work in harsh, dangerous conditions to harvest cocoa beans. These children are trafficked or forced into labor, sometimes working 12-14 hours a day wielding machetes to cut cocoa pods from trees, facing threats and physical abuse to keep them moving. This rampant child exploitation is what powers the global chocolate industry, fueled by high demand for cheap cocoa to produce more, and more, and more.

Despite decades of promises by industry giants like Nestlé, Mars, and Hershey to end child labor in their supply chains, little has changed. As recently as the 2020s, myriad reports found that child labor was still common in West African cocoa farming. Why have these companies failed to deliver on their pledges? Largely because ending child labor would cut into their already obscene profits. Stronger action—like paying cocoa farmers fair prices and ensuring fair wages and safe conditions—costs money that might prevent a chocolate baron from buying a sixth superyacht. It is far cheaper to maintain the status quo, turning a blind eye to the abuse and simply issuing new promises to address the problem each time it's exposed.

This is a global injustice. Western consumers and corporations have leveraged disproportionate power over producers in developing nations, prioritizing low costs and high profits over basic human rights. Until we DEMAND change by insisting upon ethically-sourced chocolate from these billionaire chocolate barons, until companies are forced through regulations and consumer pressure to clean up their acts, the bitter truth will remain: the chocolate we love so much is too often produced by those whose suffering we continue to ignore. It's on us to stand up for what's right and use our democracy and our pocketbooks to reform this broken system.


If you've read this far, I'm wondering at which point you started suspecting that the above was AI-generated, or if you suspected at all. Don't get me wrong, I didn't just tell ChatGPT to "write me a blog post about child slavery in Côte d'Ivoire." I spent a couple of hours discussing and learning about the history and political structure of the Ivory Coast, finding out that country's GDP is peanuts compared to the annual revenues of the chocolate barons, and learning how quickly efforts in Congress to pass slave-free certification laws for chocolate are shot down. I made a web page about this more than 20 years ago and am dismayed to realize it's still as bad as it was then. It's been on my mind, what with heart-shaped boxes everywhere I look and Half-Price Chocolate Day, aka February 15, being right around the corner.

Still, it did give me something to blog about. I've been meaning to write on here for more than a year. Indeed, I have several drafts that I started but never finished -- with titles like, "My Pro-Life Abortion" (about the time a surgeon saved my life after a fallopian tube ruptured and I was bleeding to death internally, but I was begging him to save the baby or let me die with it as I was being wheeled into the operating room) and, "The Bonus Round (When You're Tired of Playing)" about some of my other narrow escapes from the hereafter, and how each era that followed has been another bonus round in this game of life. I'm on my fourth, by the way. 

I needed something to break the writer's block, and the previous paragraph should give you an idea about my mindframe, and why I felt that letting a very eloquent and skilled (albeit non-human) writer help me out of the corner I've painted myself into was a good way to try and come out of exile. 

Please visit to learn more and find ways to help put at least one thing right in this world of human suffering.

Tuesday, August 17, 2021

Before Electric Park: Early Amusement in Kansas City

A lot of people in Kansas City are excited that the J. Rieger & Co. Distillery plans to open the "Electric Park Garden Bar" in the East Bottoms neighborhood where the turn-of-the-20th century Electric Park amusement park was located, and I'm one of them. I've been studying Kansas City's amusement parks for decades, and helped publish a book called Kansas City's Fairmount Park, which is really a history of all of KC's amusement parks of that era.

Most Kansas City history buffs can tell you about Electric Park, and most of them know that there were two Electric Parks in KC. There were actually THREE, but we'll get to that later. I've often seen or heard the words, "The first amusement park in Kansas City was Electric Park." That statement is quite incorrect, so I'd like to go a bit farther back in time and talk about early amusement parks and venues in Kansas City that were already here before and when "Kansas City's Coney Island" opened its gates for the very first time in 1900. Travel back in time with me, if you will!

In the late 1860s, Kansas City was a town that enjoyed it's amusements. It was a Gateway for countless pioneers as they moved to settle in the West, and commerce was booming. The citizens, visitors, and the settlers who decided to stay here were never at a loss for ways to have fun. For men such as Wild Bill Hickok, Bat Masterson, and Wyatt Earp, Kansas City was their playground. 

Early Amusements in Kansas City
Click to Enlarge

By the mid-1860s Kansas City flourished with 24-hour restaurants and saloons, billiard halls, ten-pin alleys (another name for bowling), shooting galleries, and, though it was not legal, a lot of gambling. Different circuses came to town regularly. There were fairs of various sorts, dances, and ice skating in the winter. Even though the town was still rough and still recovering from the Civil War, there was always something fun to do in Kansas City.

Much of livelihood of our town could be credited to members of the community that the Daily Journal of Commerce newspaper referred to as, "our fun-loving Germans."  Before amusement parks existed here, there were numerous beer gardens, thanks to German immigrants like Peter John Schwitzgebel, who opened the first known brewery in Kansas City in the late 1850s.

In 1865 another German immigrant, C.J. Frank, constructed a three-story building on the northwest corner of Fifth Street and Main, across the street from the courthouse. The first and second floors were a grocery store, and the third floor would soon become Kansas City's most popular amusement hall.  People would climb three flights of stairs to be entertained by everything from church socials and lectures to theatrical and burlesque performances. Frank's Hall would also bring popular circus sideshow acts like Chang and Eng, the "Siamese Twins," and General and Mrs. Tom Thumb to Kansas City.

Cheng and Ang, the "Siamese Twins," and General and Mrs. Tom Thumb.

There was always something going on at Frank's Hall, until snow collapsed the roof of the building at 3 o'clock in the morning on December 18, 1878, killing two. By this time Kansas City had plenty of other amusements to offer.  1870 saw the completion of the Coates Opera House, and the same year the Kansas City Driving Park brought horse racing to town. 1870 was also the year Kansas City got it's first real amusement park.

In Kansas City, and probably a lot of American cities, 19th century amusement parks were often built to serve one of two purposes, or possibly both, in addition to providing a place for recreation of the town's citizens and visitors. One purpose was to sell beer. The other purpose was to provide a reason for people to ride streetcars which had lines that led far outside of city limits and the business districts. The thinking was that if a streetcar line was built that went "way out into the sticks," putting a park at the end of the line would not only encourage people to ride the streetcar, it would also inspire real estate development along that line. These were called "Trolley Parks."

Kansas City's first amusement park was called Tivoli Garden. Tivoli Garden belonged in the first category -- it was also known as Tivoli Beer Garden, and the Belleview Beer Garden, and sometimes the Tivoli Wine Garden. The name Tivoli Garden came from what is now the second-oldest amusement park still in operation -- the original Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen, Denmark. Kansas City's Tivoli Garden was located on the Westport Road, on the grounds near the Keck home at 24th and Main street, which was just outside of what was then the city limit of Kansas City.

Tivoli Garden in Kansas City

Tivoli Garden was created by a German immigrant named Martin Keck. Keck came to Kansas City on the Santa Fe Trail working as a freighter in 1862. In 1868 Mr. Keck bought the old Helmreich & Co.'s brewery, and shortly thereafter married Helmreich's daughter Mary. At the time Tivoli Garden opened Martin's brother, John Keck, was the City Marshall of Kansas City.  Martin Keck was already well established in Kansas City and owned the Gem Billiard Hall on Grand Avenue.

Tivoli Garden -- Early Kansas City Amusement Park

The bandstand at Tivoli Garden was a platform built around a large tree in the center of the park, and there was always music and dancing. There was a "ten-pin alley," and an ice cream parlor of sorts. There was a pavilion where "entertainments," called "varieties" (later to be called Vaudeville) were held.  Tivoli Garden lasted for around ten years, until an ordinance was passed forbidding the sale of liquor on Sunday, and people were looking elsewhere for entertainment.

To be continued...

Monday, April 05, 2021

Open Letter to Peter Frampton and Sir Barry Gibb

Dear Sirs,

Please stop regretting being part of the Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band movie. There are very few people alive today who can say, "I did a really big favor for The Beatles!" but the two of you can. 

In the recent Bee Gee's HBO documentary, How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, no mention was made by Sir Barry Gibb nor anyone else of this monumental project. Peter Frampton's recent autobiography, Do You Feel Like I Do? laments his involvement heavily. The late Sir George Martin sighed remorsefully in an interview about re-producing the music that had seemingly changed the world a decade earlier. He took that regret to the grave. The two of you need not share that fate.

Sure, the movie was goofy and Beatles purists hated it. Truth to tell, such listeners probably didn't like your music anyway. The movie critics hated it, and why wouldn't they? 1978 was the year that brought us "Animal House" and "Up in Smoke" and "The Deer Hunter" and "Midnight Express" and "Grease" and the first Superman movie. 1978 could rival 1939 as a year filled with more timeless classics than can be remembered off-hand.

A quick glance at the script might have given you a clue about what you were getting yourselves into. But take heart! The movie made a $20 million profit at the box office, the soundtrack went platinum, and for good reason -- the music was great and the kids loved the movie!

And that's where you can pat yourselves on the back and take pride in the fact that your silly movie created a whole new generation of Beatles fans, who passed that love on to the next generation, and so on.  I thought of the two of you the first time I saw my kids playing, "The Beatles: Rock Band," enjoying how much they were loving it.

I am a perfect example of your impact. As an 11-year-old Bee Gees fan in 1978 I loved the Beatles well enough, the same way I loved Monty Python's Flying Circus. I loved British pop culture. I thought I knew all about the British Invasion because I'd seen the documentaries. But as a top-40s listener, it was the Wings hits I knew all of by heart. Until the Sgt. Pepper movie I never realized how many Beatles songs I'd never heard. In 1975 I had to be told that Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds wasn't an Elton John original. My mom's Beatles albums were relegated to the dusty oldies section of the family's LP collection. My parents were top-40s/rock listeners, too, and big Frampton fans. We listened to whatever was popular at the time. I knew fewer that a half-dozen Beatles songs by heart.

In 1978 I was a HUGE Bee Gees fan, and loved Peter Frampton (I still am and still do).

But in 1979 I became an even bigger Beatles fan. The few Beatles classics I grew up loving took a back seat the first time I heard the song "Penny Lane." The skies opened up hearing Abbey Road from beginning to end for the first time, and my new-found affinity for the Fab Four went on for decades. Revolver -- Rubber Soul -- each "new find" was a revelation for me. I spent the entire 1980s doing "Beatles research," and probably could have won trivia contests. 

I wasn't the Lone Ranger with this. By early 1980 my brother had fallen under the spell. That summer we heard about the "Butcher Cover" on the "Yesterday and Today" album, and spent a whole night steaming and scraping the album cover to reveal the forbidden original design. In our haste and excitement we pretty much butchered the Butcher Cover, making our "third state" find worth very little to the person who had graciously loaned us this album and, like us, had no idea of the history.

The assassination of John Lennon at the end of 1980 hit the world hard, and naturally a resurgence of Beatlemania followed. But the stage had already been set for this for the kids who loved the Sgt. Pepper movie. The grief in my household was palpable, sheer bereavement that would not have been so painful were my brother and I not already Beatle Freaks. It was not a coincidence that we had only recently really "discovered" the Beatles.

Thank you, Mr. Frampton and Sir Barry. You made us this way. And the Beatles, their heirs, and people who license and profit from Beatles merch have made many thousands of dollars from my family alone. They owe you BILLION$ of thanks as well. To this day my brother will spend his last dime on any "new" Beatles anything he finds for sale, and I still love the both of you and hope you're getting your fair share of streaming and other royalties as I continue to indulge in your non-Sgt. Pepper endeavors. But please stop regretting making that movie, will you?

Sincerely yours, 

~*L. A.*~

Monday, November 09, 2020

Not My Relgion, Not my God, Not my Messiah

 As a Judeo-Christian/Messianic Jew, these people are deeply offensive to me. Non-believers and agnostics watch these kinds of antics and it makes them want no part of the Bible. How can "minsters" and "evangelicals" increase the flock by engaging in this sort of mocking, ridiculous behavior that, to me, borders on the demonic?

Watch Kenneth Copeland, revered by millions, as he rebukes President-Elect Biden's win with laughter:

Let's not forget the success he had destroying COVID-19 forever by blowing the Wind of God back in April of this year:

As a prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland has a net worth of around $300 million, and for somebody who talks about Jesus Christ as much as he does, I can't help but wonder how much thought he gives to Matthew 19:16-24.

Then we have Trump's personal spiritual adviser (who is on the White House payroll), another prosperity preacher named Paula White, praying for victory the day after the election. Please DO NOT miss the part when she starts "speaking in tongues" around the 50-second point. Strangely, during this prayer she calls for angels from Africa and South America to come HERE -- from the same places her boss (Trump, not the Lord) called "shit-hole countries" and warned us of migrants from these places coming in caravans to rape and murder Americans. Classic irony.

I wish I had a way to remind her what Paul says about speaking in tongues without an interpreter as related in 1 Corinthians 14:27-28. And let's never forget how she warns people what will happen if they don't send that check for $3,500 - $35,000 - or $100,000 --- "...your dream will die..." You'll find that at the 2:05 mark in the video below if it doesn't take you there automatically. 

The whole video about this taxpayer-sponsored member of Trump's White House staff is extremely enlightening. Prosperity preaching has worked well for her -- she owns a $3.5 million condo at Mar-a-Lago.

Judge not lest ye be judged, right? I'm willing to take that chance here. I'll take whatever's coming my way for the chance to call out charlatans like Kenneth Copeland and Paula White. These people make it very difficult for legitimate ministers to reach the hearts and minds and win the souls of those who don't know what it's like to understand the Blessing of God. Atheists and agnostics who watch the antics of Kenneth Copeland "destroying COVID-19 forever" may likely never be swayed, no matter how many good Christians they see out in the world feeding the poor and healing the sick and ministering the way people are taught to in the Holy Bible. In fact, true Christians might be taken in the other direction, either by assuming that frauds like Copeland actually do represent Jesus and turning away, or else by falling in line with such preaching and losing the real message.

These people don't represent anything to do with my religion. I worship the God of Abraham. I don't need to own a jet or a mansion to prove to anyone that God is Good. I can only keep trying to live up to the teachings of Jesus and Moses and the Prophets and the Apostles. No matter how much I fail at this, no matter how bad things get, I still know and will always know that God is Good. I wish my life could better reflect that, but I'd rather be the peasant that I am for the rest of my time on this planet than to have millions of dollars and act foolish in videos that cause potential Believers to doubt everything that is Holy.