Sunday, July 5, 2020

America on the Brink: The Aftermath of a Tragic 4th of July in the USA


"If there's a child on the south side of Chicago who can't read, that matters to me, even if it's not my child.  If there's a senior citizen somewhere who can't pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it's not my grandmother.  If there's an Arab-American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties.  It's that fundamental belief, I am my brother's keeper, I am my sister's keeper - that makes this country work.  It's what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family.  'E plubum unum."  Out of many, one.

Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spy masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.  Well, I say to them tonight - there's not a liberal or conservative America - there's the United States of America.  There's not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there's the United States of America.  The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats.  But I've' got new for them to.  We worship an  awesome God in the Blue States, and we don't like federal agents poking around out libraries in the Red States . . .



- Barack Obama
From his Keynote Address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention



What has happened to the values that Barack Obama brilliantly set out in his memorable speech at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston?  What has become of America since Obama left office in 2017?  Where is the hope?  Where is the unity?  Where is the national sense of purpose?  Why has America's standing in the world fallen so sharply?  What has happened to America's ideals?  What has happened to its democratic principles?

Donald J. Trump and his enablers, such as Mitch McConnell and William Barr, have happened.  The Trump administration has taken America to a dark and dangerous place, a place where it has never been before.  America is on the precipice.  It faces enormous challenges, and a long road to recovery in 2021, provided Donald Trump is no longer president.


Yesterday, on Independence Day, the nation marked its 244th birthday amid a virus that is growing out of control and severe racial unrest.  America is on the brink and something has got to give.  The situation is comparable to the Civil War of 1861 - 1865 or the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.


I've been carefully following the 2020 American presidential election campaign.  I've been a keen observer, even though, as a  Canadian, I don't have a vote.  As a citizen of the world, however, I certainly have a crucial stake in the outcome.  The world has suffered enough with this horrid pandemic.  Four more years of Donald Trump will be an added nightmare and a real setback for global harmony and for the environment.

One of the most important duties of a national leader is to unite the country.  Trump has done nothing but sew the seeds of division.  If Abraham Lincoln was the Great Emancipator, then Donald Trump is the Great Divider.  He has divided the United States along racial lines, economic lines and partisan lines.  He has divided rural and urban Americans, college-educated and non-college educated Americans, native-born Americans and immigrants.  He has even divided America from other countries with his "America First" policy.  He has shunned traditional European allies such as Germany and France.  He doesn't understand that the United States cannot separate itself from the rest of the world.  We all share this planet.

Trump's crassness and his lack of compassion have been sadly evident since he assumed the office of the presidency of the United States.  These qualities have  been especially evident in his approach to the COVID-19 pandemic.  To date, An estimated 230,000 Americans have lost their lives to the deadly virus, and their purported leader refuses to take take the crisis seriously.  He has declared that one day it will magically go away.  It will suddenly disappear and everything will be wonderful, never mind the people who have suffered and died.  His re-election is more important to him than any individual human life.

Trump's followers think that wearing a mask and social distancing means giving up their freedom.  That is a fallacy and they have a warped notion of liberty.  Freedom has limits.  It is not absolute.  Thy do not have the freedom to shout "Fire!" in a crowded theatre.  They do not have the freedom to spread the COVID-19 virus and endanger the lives of innocent people.  Despite what their  Dear Leader says and does, they do not have the right to put their fellow human beings at risk of sickness or death.

The virus is out of control in the United States.  This should never have happened, and it wouldn't have happened if Trump had taken the situation seriously from the beginning.   Now he's putting lives at risk by holding rallies without social distancing or masks.  He's trying to drown out the voices of respected physicians such as Dr. Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and an expert on infectious diseases.  How can Donald Trump even presume to think he is as knowledgeable as Dr. Fauci in dealing with the virus.  Tell me, where and when did Trump receive his medical degree?

Donald Trump refuses to treat the pandemic as a health crisis.  As always, he views the world with dollar signs in his eyes.  He looks at it with his own self-interest in mind.  He only sees it as an economic crisis that he can readily fix as long as the stock market is bullish.  He will not face the fact that this pandemic is far from over.  The virus is spreading rapidly across the United States.  Yew, the crisis will end someday, but it's not over yet, not by a long shot.  Donald Trump is deluding himself and misleading his followers when he says otherwise.  The rest of the world knows how poorly the United States has handled COVID-19.  That's why European countries will not open their borders to Americans.  That's why we Canadians are also fearful of opening our border to our southern neighbours.

That is also why the November 3rd is so important.  I do not exaggerate when I say it is the most significant presidential election in American history.  It must be fair and free.  Mail-in voting must be accepted and allowed.  For the sake of the world and for the sake of American democracy, Donald Trump must go down to electoral defeat or he must resign.  I shudder to think what will happen if he holds on to power.

Joe Biden is leading by a comfortable margin in the polls, but November is still months away.  Something could change drastically or Trump could play some dirty tricks, with the help of his good friend, President Vlladimir Putin of Russia, to whom he is greatly beholden.  He will not criticize Putin even though the New York Times received intelligence (largely corroborated)  that Russia paid  bounties to Islamic militants in Afghanitan in return for killing American soldiers.  This is a disgrace and it is nothing short of treason.

Americans cannot afford to be complacent.  Americans must remain vigilant.and keep a watchful eye on Trump and dictator Putin.  In the coming months, I will will watch history unfold with great anticipation  I am writing this because I am extremely concerned about the state of the world.   I don't have a vote in the U.S, election, so this is my outlet.  It is the best way I can express myself and my strong concerns.  Frankly, I am terrified for the future of humanity if Donald Trump wins reelection or if he refuses to let go of the reins of power.


- Joanne

Thursday, June 25, 2020

"Media" is a plural noun



Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) was a Canadian academic and philosopher.  A professor of English at the University of Toronto, McLuhan  became internationally renowned for his studies on the effects of the mass media on human thought and behaviour.  He didn't live long enough to investigate the effects of the internet, but it would be illuminating to have his research on that subject.  Wouldn't it be fascinating to know McLuhan's views on the internet's impact on society?

McLuhan

McLuhan coined two memorable phrases during his lifetime; they are "global village" and "the medium is the message."  He didn't say "the media is the message."  That's because "medium" is singular and "media" is plural.  However, people seem to prefer using "media" as a singular noun.  I think that the term "the media is" comes easier to the tongue than "the media are," probably because "media" doesn't end in an "s".  It doesn't sound plural. 

I frequently hear "the media is" and I  often read "the media is."  Here's the problem.  If "media" is used as a singular noun, than what about "medium."  Can there be two singular forms for the same word?  That is the issue with words derived from Latin. 

Singular Latin words end in "um," and are pluralized with an "a." These include words such as "datum" and" stadium."  The singular of "data" is "datum."  However, people rarely say "datum."  The plural of  "stadium" is actually "stadia," but people prefer to say "stadiums."  It's obvious that we want our plural nouns to end in "s."  Although we can tack an "s" on to "stadium," the same can't be done to "medium."  "The mediums are" just doesn't sound right.  Yet, use of the phrase "the media are." is becoming increasing less popular with English speakers.


- Joanne

Monday, June 22, 2020

The rally and its consequences


Have you noticed that Donald Trump has become so unhinged these days that he has begun to sound like Richard Nixon?  He has started using Nixonian expressions such as "law and order president" and "silent majority."  We all know what happened to Tricky Dick.  Mr. Law and Order covered up some Watergate-related crimes and he was forced to resign.  However, as bad as Nixon was, I still consider him a far better president than Trump.

Donald Trump must be in a foul mood right now.  He held a party and it was not well-attended; but why should it have been?  How many people are so stark-raving mad, so addle-brained, that they would risk their lives to cheer on a president who doesn't really care about their well-being?  Case in point: As a condition of registering for Saturday's campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Trump  supporters had to agree not to take legal action if they were to come down with the COVID virus.  The red flags were there, but some people just didn't want to see them.

Why would anyone support a man who has displayed little respect for human life, a man who has placed himself and his desires above everything else?  Who would die for he sake of Donald Trump's re-election other then some extreme right-wing zealots.  There will be deaths, however.  Even though attendance at Trump's hate-filled rally was much lower than organizers had expected, many people will die or fall ill.  There is no other way to say it: Donald J. Trump and his Republican cohorts have blood on their hands.

I'm not being overly dramatic or hyperbolic. That is the indisputable truth.  That is the reality for those who were foolish enough to attend a rally in a 19,000 seat arena in the midst of a pandemic. Fortunately, Tulsa's fire marshal told NBC News that only 6,200 people filled the general admissions sections of the BOK Center.  Still, 6,200 people can really spread a virus.  That's why the rally should never have been allowed to take place.  Health and safety are more important than pleasing the president.

Are die-hard Trump supporters as brainwashed as the followers of Jim Jones, who committed mass suicide in Jonestown, Guyana in 1978?  Are they willing to jeopardize their lives for Donald Trump because they equate him with "America."  It's insanity.  It's also extremely tragic.  The people who attended that event will selfishly spread the virus to other human beings, many of whom have no connection to Trump or the rally. By the way, six Trump rally staffers have already tested positive for the COVID-19 virus.

In Tulsa, Donald Trump declared that he had instructed his administration to slow down testing because too many cases had been uncovered.  A White House advisor later said that Trump was kidding around.  I think that he was being series, but even if he were just joking, a president should not make light of  COVID-19.  His words were completely irresponsible, especially because some people take them to heart.  They listen to him.

If I lived in Tulsa or surrounding area,, I'd high-tail it out of Dodge as quickly as possible.  Tulsa can really be compared to Dodge City because, ever since a  "constitutional carry" gun law took effect in 2019, some Oklahomans have been allowed to carry a firearm in public without a licence.  In fact, most Oklahomans 21 and older can now carry concealed or unconcealed firearms without having undergone background checks or training requirements, except for undocumented immigrants or those convicted of a crime.  To me, that is craziness of the highest degree.  It's comparable to being permitted to drive a car without driver education or a driver's licence.  It can only lead to unnecessary deaths an bloodshed.

I believe that that most Americans are decent enough to be disgusted and repulsed by the behaviour of their president.  The majority want their country to return to sanity and are appalled by what three years and five months of Donald Trump has done to America and its standing in the world.  There is only one chance left to rectify this situation before it's too late.  There is only one opportunity to save the United States from four more years of Trump and further descent into darkness.  That last chance will be on November 3, 2020, provided this president allows a free and fair election, and provided he accepts the results.  That's why it's incumbent upon Americans to make sure they vote.


- Joanne

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

The Evolution of Autonomous Cars On-Screen: The future of self-driving automobiles

This following infographic on the evolution of autonomous cars on-screen has been provided by Vanarama.  It contains photos, statistics and graphics related to autonomous cars, past and present.  I hope you find it entertaining, informative and useful.

- Joanne

The Evolution of Autonomous Cars On-Screen


Self-driving cars are becoming a more realistic prospect with each passing year as companies from the traditional (Toyota, Audiand BMW) to the more disruptive (Tesla, Google and Uber) race to be the first to produce an intelligent vehicle that can get you from A to B without you needing to lift a finger.

There’s a financial incentive for this urgency to be number one. The global market for autonomous vehicles is projected to be valuedat $615bn by 2026.

So, it’s no surprise this tech has captured the imagination of Hollywood since the swinging sixties. On-screen automation has been portrayed through predictions of future technology, supernatural forces, or partnerships with peopleworking on the real deal. This has meant there’s been no shortage of iconic self-driving cars on-screen.

To show how attitudes and predictions about driverless cars evolved, we’ve created a timeline of how they have been portrayed in film over the past several decades and looked at how close fictional tech was to reality at the time.


Iconic Autonomous Movie Cars Included
Did your favourite autonomous movie car make the cut?

Model
Movie
Year
VW Beetle
The Love Bug
1968
Lincoln Continental Mk III
The Car
1977
KITT
Knight Rider
1982
1958 Plymouth Fury
Christine
1983
The Batmobile
Batman
1989
Johnny Cab
Total Recall
1990
Police Car
Demolition Man
1993
Ford Explorer
Jurassic Park
1993
Tactical Response Vehicle
Timecop
1994
Flying Taxi
The Fifth Element
1997
The Gadgetmobile
Inspector Gadget
1999
The 6th Day
Chevrolet Silverado
2000
Lexus 2054
Minority Report
2002
Audi RSQ
iRobot
2004
Bumblebee
Transformers
2007
Chevrolet Tahoe
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
2014
Audi R8 Coupe
Avengers: Age of Ultron
2015
The Spinner
Blade Runner 2049
2017
Dash
Upgrade
2018
Ride Share Vehicle
Westworld
2020



Outside of the boardroom, people are fascinated and wary of self-driving vehicles in equal measure - with a 2020 Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE) study showing:

  • 3 out of 4 people don't trust self-driving cars
  • 20% of respondents think autonomous vehicles will never be safe
  • 48% would never get in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle that was self-driving
  • However, this scepticism hasn't stopped us racing to see the technology on the big scree

A Timeline of Self-Driving Cars: What Did the Movies Get Right?

Although the concept of self-driving cars has been around since the 1920s, with rudimentary demonstrations conducted to wow crowds at events like the World's Fair – it would be a few decades before anything remotely sophisticated emerged.

Alongside these advances, the most recognisable autonomous cars on-screen began to appear in the 1960s as the technology started to develop beyond basic radio transmitter commands and publicity stunts.

Let's delve into how close filmmakers were to the reality of self-driving vehicles and what their creations said about attitudes towards the future of travel.


1960s & 70s – Supernatural Cars & Initial Driverless Progress

The 60s and 70s saw some first steps being taken towards what we now recognise as truly autonomous vehicles. Most tests conducted during this time used buried cables to help guide driverless cars around tracks in test conditions.

However, it wasn't all life-sized Scalextric. In the mid-70s work began on developing the automated logic needed for vehicles to become truly self-driving laying the groundwork for the rapid progress over the following decades.


Key Developments
  • The UK's Transport and Road Research Lab tested a driverless Citroen DS19 that interacted with magnetic cables embedded in a track - achieving and maintaining 80mph through the circuit more efficiently than a human.
  • The University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory began research into the intelligent automated logic needed for truly automated cars.



A Timeline of Self-Driving Cars: What Did the Movies Get Right?

Although the concept of self-driving cars has been around since the 1920s, with rudimentary demonstrations conducted to wow crowds at events like the World's Fair – it would be a few decades before anything remotely sophisticated emerged.
Alongside these advances, the most recognisable autonomous cars on-screen began to appear in the 1960s as the technology started to develop beyond basic radio transmitter commands and publicity stunts.
Let's delve into how close filmmakers were to the reality of self-driving vehicles and what their creations said about attitudes towards the future of travel.

1960s & 70s – Supernatural Cars & Initial Driverless Progress

The 60s and 70s saw some first steps being taken towards what we now recognise as truly autonomous vehicles. Most tests conducted during this time used buried cables to help guide driverless cars around tracks in test conditions.
However, it wasn't all life-sized Scalextric. In the mid-70s work began on developing the automated logic needed for vehicles to become truly self-driving laying the groundwork for the rapid progress over the following decades.

Key Developments
  • The UK's Transport and Road Research Lab tested a driverless Citroen DS19 that interacted with magnetic cables embedded in a track - achieving and maintaining 80mph through the circuit more efficiently than a human.
  • The University of Illinois' Coordinated Science Laboratory began research into the intelligent automated logic needed for truly automated cars.

60s and 70s autonomous cars

On-screen, self-driving cars were taking a completely different road. With actual technology in such a nascent phase, moviegoers were shown visions of autonomous vehicles as something supernatural. Whether that was in the form of the delightful VW Beetle Herbie in 'The Love Bug', or the murderous Lincoln Continental from 70s horror classic 'The Car'.

1980s & 90s – The Golden Age of Movie Sci-Fi Cars

The progress towards driverless cars really kicked into gear throughout the 80s and 90s with numerous tests from manufacturers, technology institutes and universities proving that long-distance travel – up to thousands of miles – was possible in (mostly) automated vehicles.
1999 even saw the unveiling of what was billed as the 'first truly driverless vehicle ', the ParkShuttle. Transporting people between Kralingse Zoom metro station in Rotterdam to the Rivium business park in Capelle aan den Ijssel, they're electrically operated and have no inputs for a human driver. The service is still in action today and, as of 2019, has been updated to allow the shuttles to drive through mixed traffic.

Key Developments
  • During the 80s, DARPA's ALV project provided the first demonstration of a driverless road-following vehicle using lidar, computer vision and autonomous robotic control.
  • The 90s saw numerous long-distance tests of self-driving vehicles. The most successful, Carnegie Mellon University's 1995 Navlab project , completed a 3,100-mile cross-country journey, with 98.2% of total functions autonomously controlled.
  • The 'first driverless vehicle' hits the road in 1999 – run by the Conexxion bus company, the ParkShuttle is still operational and being updated to this day.




If you were asked to think of a 'sci-fi vehicle', odds are you'll imagine one that looks like the on-screen versions from the 80s and 90s. Sleek lines, full of gadgets and sometimes even the ability to fly, this era of cinema chose to have fun with self-driving vehicles rather than aim for accuracy.

This design-style remains in the popular consciousness, with Tesla's Cybertruck clearly taking inspiration from the era. Elon Musk may claim it's based on the Lotus Esprit from 'The Spy Who Loved Me' – but put it alongside the angular police vehicles from 'Timecop' and there's more than a passing resemblance.

That's not to say there weren't some more grounded examples on-screen. The computer-guided Ford Explorers from 'Jurassic Park' aligned closer to what was possible at the time and, if anything, were a bit more primitive as they were attached to a track.

2000s & 10s – Fictional Tech Edges Closer to Reality

As the technology to power self-driving cars moved from government labs to the R&D departments of mainstream manufacturers, the 2000s and 2010s saw rapid progress towards roads populated with automated vehicles.
From consumer uses (i.e. replacing your manual-drive car/public transport) to commercial applications like trucking and logistics – these huge possibilities drew an equally huge investment.
However, with increased testing came higher risk as the fatal consequences of an accident involving a driverless Uber in 2018 made clear. This has led to stricter testing criteria and the need for the companies investing in the technology to reassure the public of the safety of autonomous vehicles.
Even as the sci-fi concept of self-driving cars moved closer to reality, there was clearly still a bit of mileage to cover.

Key Developments

  • Throughout the early 2000s, countries including the UK, US, and Australia began programmes to test the viability of driverless trucks and automated commercial vehicles for use cases like mining and haulage.
  • Google began secret development of its self-driving car in 2009 – a project which became its own subsidiary of their parent company Alphabet in 2016 under the new name, Waymo.
  • Manufacturers including Nissan, Mercdes-Benz, Tesla, Audi, and Volvo all announce plans for autonomous models during the 2010s against a backdrop of heightening regulations on safety and stricter criteria for testing.



Heading into the 2000s, movies tended to lean more towards a more grounded sci-fi approach of keeping driving tech believable and less flashy. For instance, the Spinner from 'Blade Runner 2049' makes even flying cars feel lived in and almost mundane. Bumblebee from Transformers is the obvious exception that proves the rule here – we haven't made contact with the Autobots just yes.
This was taken a step further through the use of actual concept cars from manufacturers like Audi and Lexus, which began a trend in movies which continues today, combining product placement with thrilling autonomous car sequences.

What's Next For Autonomous Cars? 2020 And Beyond

The most recent advances in autonomous tech include…

A recent study by trend analysts ResearchAndMarkets has predicted that the global autonomous market is likely to reach a value of $615bn by 2026. Their forecast looks at existing valuations from 2017 when the market for self-driving vehicles accounted for $27bn. Put simply, this means that self-driving cars are big business.

However, there's still a hurdle for autonomous vehicles before they'll be widely adopted and that's public opinion.

2020 survey results shared by Partners for Automated Vehicle Education (PAVE), a partnership of industry bodies and non-profits aiming to improve people's understanding of self-driving vehicles found that 3 out of 4 Americans don't trust that the technology is ready for wider use. They also found that 20% of respondents think autonomous vehicles will never be safe and 48% would never get in a taxi or ride-sharing vehicle that was self-driving.

However, this hasn't stopped companies like Uber pushing for driverless fleets and modern sci-fi has been taking notice of the potential for a completely autonomous vehicle to pick you up and ferry you from A to B at the tap of a screen.




Season 3 of 'Westworld' proved the writers have been keeping up with developments in the autonomous vehicle field. Their self-driving ride-share vehicles and the intelligent motorbike used by its protagonists are not all that far-fetched and you can expect to see advancements in these areas springing up in the next few years. Let's hope whoever wins the race to automate our roads has more noble intentions than the show's sinister Delos Corporation!

Sources