Arts for Action's Sake

Gunplay - A Physician's Point-of-View About Gun Control

April 18, 2018

Tags: Gun control, NRA

"Grandma Swift's" guest post about the need for gun control elicited many comments and much conversation. So today, Peter Acker, a practicing pediatrician and author of the medical thriller Blood Brain Barrier weighs in on the issue from a physician's perspective.

A few years ago I wrote an essay with the provocative headline “It’s the Environment Stupid”. It was inspired by a talk from Dr. Y. Cathy Kim, associate director of the Pediatric Environmental Health Center at the Maria Fareri Children’s Hospital. I wrote about the environmental factors that influence the health of children and argued that it was well within our purview as pediatricians to get involved in community issues such as the type of food readily available in our schools. Of course, every doctor should want to know about environmental influences, but I think it is of particular moment in pediatric care because we pediatricians are charged with advocacy for a group that does not have the clout of adults.

I thought of this piece while digesting all the articles I have been reading about the current gun control debate. Unfortunately, it is loaded (excuse the use of this verb!) with hyperbole, myopia and absurdity. For example, (more…)

A Modest Proposal from Grandma Swift

March 28, 2018

Tags: Gun control, NRA

High School Students Demonstrate for Gun Control in Washington, DC, March 24, 2018
This is a guest post from Marian Armstrong Rogers, author of Astonishments: Stories as True as Memory

Now, you have no idea what I’m going to say about guns until you hear me out, so please do…

I was once the proud owner of a gun. Loved that little water pistol. Never owned a real gun, or even thought about it. When I talk about my schooldays, my grandchildren don’t believe me. Of course, those same years my black brothers and sisters down south were wondering which way to run to escape Jim Crow’s hefty guns and other deadly dealings.

But now there are mass shootings at concerts, nightclubs, hospitals, even schools where children not far from infancy are mowed down by others not far from childhood! Road-rage? Going postal? Sweet Jesus, I never heard such weirdly descriptive terms ‘til every hair on my head was gray and standing straight up at the thought of what they mean.

Truth be told, I don’t like feeling afraid when I’m walking down an empty sidewalk. So instead of burying myself in a book I’ve been mulling this problem over, listening to the debates, considering the latest proposal to keep our children safe: training school teachers to shoot guns and keep one nearby (where? in a desk? a pocket? tucked into a belt?), in case a deranged shooter suddenly appears, and I’ve come up with a solution of my own.

It’s even more outrageous than arming the kiddies’ teachers. You’ll think I’ve finally slipped off the cracker. In fact, I myself wonder if I’m going mad, along with the rest of the country. Could be. But trust me, if nothing else, this solution will tickle you NRA members to death…

I say arm everyone! The young, the old, the in-between; the well and infirm; the calm and agitated; the contented and frustrated. (more…)

The Robots Are Coming? The Robots Are Coming?

March 21, 2018

Tags: Robots, jobs, fast food

Flippy waiting for humans to catch up
Well, I do still think they are, and sooner than we think, although in the spirit of fair play there have been a flurry of reports that suggest otherwise. Or insist that if and when they do come, they will have minimal impact on American jobs.

The most recent apparent setback was the death of a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, on Monday, struck by an “autonomous” Uber car, despite the presence of a human safety-driver. In response, Uber has suspended all tests of self-driving vehicles until an investigation is complete. There were several mitigating circumstances: it was dark, (more…)

The Robots Are Here!

March 7, 2018

Tags: Robots, jobs

"Look, Ma, no hands!"
Here are a couple bulletins from the AI front. It’s worth noting that all appeared in the New York Times yesterday and today.

Uber has announced it’s been operating driverless trucks for several months, serving customers in Arizona. They still have a human in the cab, ready to take over if anything goes awry, but they plan to phase out the carbon-based life form over time. Uber’s strategy is to have so-called “autonomous” trucks for highway long hauls between “transfer hubs,” where humans can take over, driving the final few miles to the customer’s loading dock. Uber claims that driverless trucks will increase driving jobs, in part because of greater demand, spurred by decreasing costs. The company also has a bridge to sell you.

Google has unveiled new research that helps explain how machines reach their decisions, using neural networks, complex computer programs that learn by analyzing vast amounts of data. (more…)

His 2020 Campaign Message: The Robots Are Coming

February 19, 2018

Tags: Robots, politics

Mr. President? Credit Guerin Blask/The New York Times
What follows, without editorial comment, are excerpts from an article by Kevin Roose that first appeared in the business section of the New York Times, February 10, 2018.
Among the many, many Democrats who will seek the party’s presidential nomination in 2020, most probably agree on a handful of core issues: protecting DACA, rejoining the Paris climate agreement, unraveling President Trump’s tax breaks for the wealthy.

Only one of them will be focused on the robot apocalypse.


That candidate is Andrew Yang, a well-connected New York businessman who is mounting a longer-than-long-shot bid for the White House. Mr. Yang, a former tech executive (more…)

The Last Ballad—A Classic "Social" Novel

February 8, 2018

Tags: social protest novel, Upton Sinclair, The Jungle

I wrote a week or so ago about the general disdain for “social” or “social protest” novels (also called “social problem” novels) among the lit biz powers that be. Their prevailing attitude seems to be that readers aren’t interested in fiction that comes freighted with a message. As one acclaimed novelist put it, “The landscape of literary history is littered with the wreckage of writers who thought they were on a mission.”

Just as there’s no unanimity about the proper name for this type of fiction, there’s disagreement about whether the plot must revolve around the struggles of workers, or if protesting other social problems are acceptable literary fodder, such as the economic demoralization and destruction of the middle class. Ayn Rand certainly thought so, when she published what is arguably the most influential social protest novel of all time, Atlas Shrugged. And although my political leanings (more…)

Is the Populist Revolt Over? Not if Robots Have Their Way

January 31, 2018

Tags: Robots, Trump, Populism

President Trump before he addressed the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week. Credit Tom Brenner/The New York Times
What follows, without additional comment, is an excerpt from an article by Eduardo Porter that first appeared in the business section of the New York Times, January 31, 2018.

Does President Trump represent the new normal in American politics?

As the world’s oligarchy gathered last week in Davos, Switzerland, to worry about the troubles of the middle class, the real question on every plutocrat’s mind was whether the populist upheaval that delivered the presidency to the intemperate mogul might mercifully be over.

If it was globalization — or, more precisely, the shock of imports from China — that moved voters to put Mr. Trump in the White House, could politicians get back to supporting the market-oriented order once the China shock played out?

As Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology noted this month in an analysis on the potential impact of artificial intelligence on American politics, “Given globalization’s effect on the 2016 presidential election, it is worth noting that near-term A.I. and globalization replace many of the same jobs.” (more…)

An Enthusiastic and Heartfelt Bravo for “The Post”

January 24, 2018

Tags: Fake news, First amendment

“The Founding Fathers created a free press to serve the governed, not the governors.” That’s the money line in director Steven Spielberg’s fiercely gripping and extraordinarily timely new film, “The Post,” starring Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks as the publisher and editor of the Washington Post, Katherine Graham and Ben Bradlee.

The words are those of Justice Hugo Black in the June, 1971 Supreme Court opinion that freed the way for the New York Times and the Post to continue to publish the Pentagon Papers, the 7000-page “Top Secret—Sensitive” government document that revealed how every administration since Truman had systematically lied to the American public about a hubristically misguided military action that only succeeded in prolonging an unwinnable Vietnam War. Black went on to state “only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.”

What message could be more necessary and telling at a time when the current occupant of the White House refers to a free press as “the enemy of the people?” What could be more effective in countering Trump’s heedless and self-serving mendacity (more…)

#MeToo

January 19, 2018

Tags: #MeToo

The following is a guest post from Audrey Insoft, author of Divine Fate, the true story of a Vietnam War veteran who confronts his demons by saving abandoned and forgotten children in the country that haunts his past. She is also the leader of a group of Westchester County, NY, writers who meet periodically to discuss and review their work.
Posting “Me Too” on my Facebook page is not a badge of honor nor is it something I would have ever chosen to do. But yes I posted it, because it’s the truth and women (and men) should have the right to speak out about harassment, sexual assault and the constant barrage of inappropriate behavior and conduct that has permeated our society. (more…)

Posterity Can Wait

January 10, 2018

Tags: social protest novel, publishing business, The Jungle, Uncle Tom's Cabin

"Most Read Novel" in 2017
Novelists quickly learn that any book review is “subjective.” I recently discovered that a reviewer’s subjectivity extends beyond the novel itself to its genre. In an otherwise enthusiastic review of The Piketty Problem, the Kirkus reviewer opined that “the only problem with this absorbing story” was my describing it as a “social” or “social protest” novel along the lines of The Jungle or Uncle Tom’s Cabin, because “instead of depicting the struggles of the working class, the tale skillfully shows readers how middle- and upper-class people talk about the rights of workers.”

This narrow-minded opinion about what constitutes a social protest novel seems laughable at best, dangerously out of touch at worst. (I did complain to Kirkus, to no avail, that Uncle Tom’s Cabin wasn’t about the struggles of the working class either, unless the reviewer’s definition included slaves.) But it does seem to reflect the prevailing attitude in the lit biz, (more…)