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More focused than ever at 60!

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062622 tom purcel

By Tom Purcell

“Inside every old person is a young person wondering what happened.”

Those are the clever words of British humorist Terry Pratchett, who couldn’t have explained the aging process more succinctly.
I know his words are true because I turned 60 this week.

It’s a heck of a thing to have burned through six decades already. If I’d known 60 years would go by so fast, I would have taken worse care of myself.

Time is a humbling thing.

I know now my greatest accomplishment — aside from an uncanny ability to catch grapes in my mouth no matter how far or high my friends throw them — was becoming a bouncer at the legendary Rathskeller pub at Penn State.

When I was half this age, I was certain I knew everything. I was cocky and brash and incredibly wrong.
Now, I realize I know very little, but the things I do know, I know well.

I know that fame is a waste of time — and excess wealth, too — as they bring with them more problems than either are worth.

You don’t who your friends really are until your money is gone. And if you ever do anything stupid as a famous person, social media will broadcast it all over the world.
Several studies have been done on the subject of happiness. Having just enough money to save a little for a rainy day and go out with the love of your life a few times a month is all the money you really need.

It’s friends and loved ones that bring us real wealth.

It’s the laughter we can only enjoy with our closest friends — people we know we can count on no matter how difficult our lot becomes.

It’s the love we enjoy from our closest family members, friends, and lifelong spouses and partners — the people we attend weddings, holiday events and special occasions with — all of our most memorable experiences.

And it’s not just people.

Why I waited until the age of 59 to get another dog — last having one as a child so many years ago — is possibly the most bone-headed decision I ever made.

Somebody said God removed the wings from pets like my best buddy Thurber, so that nobody would know they are angels.

This guy makes me laugh out loud every single day — something I didn’t realize I was failing to do until he entered my life.

When we are young, we dream of big houses, and we hope to impress total strangers.

As we grow older and wiser, we realize none of that matters. We realize that time is going by way too fast and that every single moment is precious.

I was sick as a dog with a nasty flu weeks ago and, brought to my knees, I went through a paradigm shift.

I decided I never want to waste another healthy moment.

I started eating healthier than ever. I exercise daily. I go for walks with Thurber.

I turn in at a decent hour, so I wake refreshed at 5:40 every morning ready to dive into the new day.

All I want to do now is write well, read great literature and learn how to love better, give back more, laugh harder and spend every moment with people I love as though it were the last moment I had to live.

Maybe it’s time to alter Pratchett’s clever quote:

“Inside every old person is a wiser person trying to make great things happen with whatever God-given time he has left!”

Copyright 2022 Tom Purcell, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Tom Purcell is an author and humor columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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Is it real or is it LaMDA AI, and does it really matter?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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In the 1984 movie Terminator, Skynet (artificial neural network-based conscious group mind and artificial general superintelligence system) becomes self-aware on August 29, 1997, at 2:30 a.m. EDT. It launches nuclear missiles at Russia, to try and provoke a counterattack when humans try to disconnect it.

In June of 2022, A Google Research Fellow, Blaise Aguera y Arcas, said in an article in The Economist, that Google LaMDA chatbot (Language Model for Dialog Applications), had shown a degree of understanding of social relationships. Days later, he expanded on that in a Washington Times interview by stating that LaMDA had achieved sentience, prompting Google to place him on leave and to denounce the idea with great enthusiasm. Scary stuff like sentient AI (Artificial Intelligence)  is probably not something a company wants to be publicly attached to. Looking at this debate takes us into the fraught concepts of defining sentience and the meaning of being human.

Two disclaimers before I go on. I’m limited in going into great depth because I need to keep this column relatively short. If you have read about this stuff in depth, I know I’m skimming just the surface. Secondly, even though I’m immersed in tech everyday – IT and Web properties is my job for Polk County Publishing Company – I believe technology has destroyed our society and culture. My contention is that any technological advancement since 1972 (the year Litton introduced microwave ovens aimed at consumers – got to have microwave ovens) has harmed society and humans more than it has benefited us.

What makes us uniquely human? We are animals, but there are other animals. We are vertebrates, but there are other vertebrates. We have a brain, but other animals have brains. Most people would say that what makes us uniquely human is that we are conscious, that we can experience what happens to us. And that we are sentient, having the capacity to have experiences, to experience pain and joy, to be harmed or benefited.

And that which makes us human, consciousness, in the thinking of lots of folks, is what prevents AI from becoming sentient. How could a collection of electronic components, regardless of complexity, ever develop sentience? Consciousness, after all, is beyond the brain (whether made of tissue or electronic circuits). Many, in fact, equate it with the soul. Religious arguments are beyond the scope of this column, though. But is sentience just a uniquely human trait? The consensus for many years is that it is not.

All vertebrates are to one degree or another, sentient. A cow clearly experiences pleasure and pain. If you hurt it, it vocalizes its pain. It tries to get away from its attacker. It learns to fear those who have mistreated it. A cow experiences pleasure, cares for its offspring. Entire herds will respond to someone playing a musical instrument in their pasture by clustering around the musician and listening as long as the person is performing.

No, the cow’s level of sentience is probably not the same as a human adult, but neither is a human baby’s. A state of mind is any kind of experience, like feeling pleasure or pain. It is not defined by its complexity. 

So, what are the implications? Well, where animals are concerned, it means that there are ethical implications to killing sentient beings for food, especially when we don’t need animal protein to live. (Bias alert. I’ve been Vegan for decades and am still alive and healthy for my 71 years.) Where AI and its potential to become conscious are concerned, we need to take a closer look.

How does consciousness arise in humans? We don’t know, exactly. But we are getting closer to figuring it out. Have you been put under general anesthetic for surgery? Then you know it is different than just going to sleep. When you wake up from sleep, there is still a sense that time has passed. Maybe you remember dreams, or being cold, etc. With an anesthetic, though, there is nothing. You could have been under for a year, and it would still seem like time hadn’t passed at all. You are human, and then an object. And when the anesthetic is withdrawn, you are human again.

Anesthetic works by reducing communication between parts of the brain to a very low level. Apparently, and this is a simple version of the explanation, when communication between parts of the brain decline to a certain level, consciousness collapses. The conclusion could be that consciousness is a result of the complexity of the brain and can’t exit without the brain.

If this theory is correct, and consciousness is a result of complexity, then could a “computer” running an AI reach a level of complexity that the AI becomes self-aware?  I think that makes sense. So, why is that prospect scary? Because I’m pretty sure that a self-aware entity made of flesh and bone does not have the same interests as those made of wires and silicone. I, for example, can understand how a self-aware cow reacts to pain and pleasure because I’m made of the same stuff and know how my body and mind react to experience. But what does an entity made of wire and silicone know of my strengths or weaknesses?

AI would not have to be malicious to destroy all of humanity. It would just have to not understand (or care) what could kill us.

The metaphorical demon, though, has escaped Pandora’s Box and we will, without caring about the eventual ethical dilemmas or danger to our race, continue the sprint to develop general AI. Thus, in the end it doesn’t matter whether it’s real or AI. Whether or not LaMDA is self-aware isn’t the question. The question is whether we survive whatever AI finally becomes conscious.

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Does the word chill mean anything anymore?

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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The last fight I ever was in was in the sixth grade.

It was over a tetherball. I was placed in charge of the item by the teacher, and having such things like responsibility drummed into me (being a military brat and all), it was something I took very seriously.

When recess was over, I went to collect it, and was met with resistance from a classmate. Then the shoving match ensued, escalating to fists. Over a tetherball.

I did win, but I’ve spent the last umpty-ump years mulling that over and wondering why it had to come to that, and what other responses/remedies I could have applied (just for conflict resolution. There still was the whole reputation equation to consider).

Anyone wanting to say that escalated out of control is welcome to, and I will agree. I will point out, also, that the reactions playing out on the national and local stages are equally overblown and equally unnecessarily so.

For instance, what possible outcome could be expected when, as was played out last week, a man stalked and intended to kill a sitting Supreme Court justice? He was one of nine people in the room, for starters, and just because his stance regarding abortion and gun ownership doesn’t jibe with yours, it’s justifiable to kill him and his family?

There was a woman who, while in attendance of a church service at the megachurch of Joel Osteen, stripped down to her skivvies to protest abortion bans.

Another pro-abortion protester in Los Angeles found out how the Secret Service feels when she decided to take her protest a little too close to the presidential motorcade.

Those are just the latest examples. We can put the Jan. 6 Capitol building shenanigans, the summer of riots and the creation of Antifa and other organizations there as well.

Just like in the schoolyard fight, frustration and anger took the place of common sense and discussion, which then leads to even more division, since both sides reckon the other to be unreasonable (as well as ignorant) and that given the obvious, that we are the morally superior and smarter side, we’re right, you’re wrong, and ultimately nothing gets done.

(Just like in the schoolyard/halls of Congress, there’s “friends” or “media” on both sides stoking the fires, which really doesn’t help at all.)

Politics, like schoolyards, have perpetually been places of contention, and not always for the right reasons and using all of the wrong tactics. Is there really any reason for violence? Is there any reason for derision, cancel culture, threats and even rigidity in position?

The honest, and the hardest, answer is no. So how do we let the pendulum swing to the other side? Is it even possible to unring this bell?

Oddly enough, a liberal person on Twitter posited a very good, even amazing take. He said, “We don’t vote with a bullet. We vote with a ballot.” I’m thinking this is the best option ever.

There is a process, built into every government ever, of creating change. Don’t like a law? Work with elected officials to have new laws created. Don’t see a law? Work with elected officials to have one enacted.

Through measured debate, facts, moderate tones and actual discussion, problems can be solved. 

Passion is OK, really. Extreme passion that culminates in violence and division is not.

Tony Farkas is editor of the Trinity County News-Standard and the San Jacinto News-Times. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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When there is no middle ground

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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“Through measured debate, facts, moderate tones and actual discussion, problems can be solved.” Tony Farkas

I disagree with this statement, and I doubt that measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion can resolve that disagreement. The word “facts” is where this breaks down.

A friend and I are driving together to a car show and see one of the exhibitors is driving several car lengths in front of us in a Mustang Mach 1.

“Very nice 1969 Mach 1,” I tell my friend. “428 Cobra Jet with the Shaker hood scoop, just like the one I owned in 1969.”

“No, man, that’s a 1970 Mach 1,” my friend retorts,” It has the 1970 Mach 1 script.”

“No, it has the 1969 Mach 1 script, and besides, it has the 1969 frameless taillight cluster.”

This is the kind of disagreement that can be settled easily. When we get to the car show, we can find the car, look at the ID plate, and agree on the fact that it is, as I argued, a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet. (Super fun car, by the way. It would go 140 mph, Woodville to Livingston in 15 minutes. Don’t ask me how I know.)

Unfortunately, things get much more complicated when we start dealing with social issues. 

While you would think it foolish to continue to debate the year model of a car  when both parties are standing in front of the car looking at the ID plate riveted to the vehicle, the societal analog would be if one of the parties insisted that despite the fact of the ID plate, the rear light design and the fact that the 1969 in question had four headlights and the 1970 only two, that the car, was, “in fact” a 1970, but offered no evidence to support other than a belief that it wasn’t what it appeared to be.

The social and political disagreements we are now contending with are unresolvable because not only can folks not agree on the individual facts, but they also can’t agree on what constitutes a fact. What the meaning of “fact” is. They can’t agree on process. About how to gather and assess evidence to reach agreement.

A current example. Donald Trump insists that he won the 2020 election, that it was totally fraudulent and stolen from him. He has millions of followers that accept that conclusion, even though many recounts and investigations have turned up no evidence of fraud that would have changed the outcome of the election. Yet, millions of Americans still insist, without producing evidence, that there was massive fraud by the Democrats. (See Mike Lindell, who says he has spent $30 million gathering evidence of election fraud, but has repeatedly failed to produce any evidence).

On the other side, a majority of Americans believe the 2020 election was legitimate and Joe Biden won. They accept the many assertions by state and federal officials, both Democrat and Republican, that there was no widespread fraud in the elections. They say the actual counts, that have been counted multiple times in many states, and have been certified by both Republicans and Democrats at all levels of government as legitimate, establish the fact of Biden’s win.

Like many of the social and political problems we face today, there is no middle ground. Either Trump won or he didn’t. But there is no process to reach the facts that both sides will agree upon. They have reached a conclusion and have now insulated themselves from any data that might prove them wrong. Measured debate, facts, moderate tones, and actual discussion are meaningless when there are no accepted facts nor even an agreed upon process for determining the facts.

Consensus is no longer possible in this country. It is too big and too diverse. As a result, I believe it has become ungovernable. And I think the refusal of many to accept reality continues to lead toward us to ultimately bad outcomes.

“We live in a house of mirrors and think we are looking out the windows.”  Frederick Perls

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America, love it or leave it?

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Jim Opionin by Jim Powers
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As the Vietnam war escalated during the 1960s, and the money and weapons we first sent into the war there turned into an ever-growing mountain of bodies of American young men, the number of very large and loud protests by the American public fed up with the pointless, and expensive sacrifice also grew. And there was escalating conflict between those who supported the war and those who opposed it.

“America, love it or leave it,” and “My country right or wrong” became the verbal cudgel war supporters aimed at the protesters. It was hard for me to understand why anyone defended a growing military-industrial complex that was growing rich off the sacrifice of young American men in a proxy war with the Soviet Union that we were not going to win.  But I was a teenager and didn’t yet understand that a spurious nationalism drove many to believe that their beliefs about our country justified accepting atrocity as a means to an end.

Many people believe that the United States was ordained by God at its creation for a special purpose. They say that the U.S. is to be a shining city on a hill, a beacon of hope and salvation for all the world. It’s an outgrowth of the idea of Manifest Destiny, a 19th century idea that the U.S. is destined by God to expand its dominion, spreading democracy and capitalism across this continent, and ultimately the world. That the U.S. was to be God’s instrument to save the world. This is a form of Religious Nationalism, justifying a lot of abuse in the name of God.

Nationalists believe that their nation is better than all others. And that belief is based on a shared experience, whether cultural, social, religious, ethnicity, language. And they also believe that their country is threatened by ideas outside these norms.

Now we have the rise of Christian Nationalism in the U.S. Many people extend that belief that God set the U.S. apart as special, to insist that the U.S. is a Christian country, which should be made up entirely of Christians, who share the same beliefs, the same social norms, and that the government should be the vehicle of enforcing conformity to those norms. That America is a nation that should be by and for Christians alone. Christian Nationalism is anti-democratic.

We see its rise being made manifest this week by the Supreme Court’s ruling on funding religious schools with tax-payer money, thus undermining the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, and by states efforts to abuse religious liberty as an excuse for discriminating against LGBTQ+, religious minorities and women. These efforts are occurring at all levels of government, and we have every reason to believe they are going to accelerate rapidly. Religions don’t have a very good track record of governing countries, though.

What will Christian Nationalism taken to its desired ends look like? What will the U.S. be when they achieve their goals? To use the force of government to impose their beliefs on everyone.

The Taliban is a modern religious nationalist movement. Do a google search. Is that what you want for this country?

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