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Bits and bites about this and that

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Sometimes the ridiculous comes in waves so large that you just can’t pick just one thing to focus on.

It’s times like these that I’m glad I live in a part of the country that still has most of its sanity and still believes in good.

Here’s a few of the weirdnesses that I’ve run across this week, and they are listed in no particular order.

•After Elon Musk purchased Twitter, aside from cleaning house of employees and cleaning timelines of said employees’ belief systems, he decided to monetize a portion of Twitter — the Blue Check of Perpetual Verification — and charge for people to have the sparkly blue badge near their name.

Alyssa Milano, who starred in an 80s sitcom and has long passed her sell-by date, is upset about that, saying that her free speech rights are being violated, or something.

Twitter is free to use, but not free to run. If Elon chooses to do this, that’s his prerogative. If that’s upsetting, then move on. But making a press tour and career out of whinging is not a pretty sight.

•Hunter Biden, after all this time, may actually face some criminal charges for his “business” dealings. While that in an of itself is interesting, since the government and numerous law enforcement agencies had a laptop full of information, what’s even more interesting is that the media has now found out there’s some meat on that bone.

Sad thing about being last to the party is that the good stuff has passed you by, and you look foolish for being late.

•For the longest time, green energy has been touted as the next evolution in energy production, but really hasn’t gotten much traction. Solar has limitations, and wind is not as productive as it should be and is more expensive than it should be.

Energy Mullah John Kerry, who flits from hither to yon in a private, non-solar or -wind powered jet, tells us that green energy is being discriminated against, so in order to give it a chance, we’ll just raise the prices of fossil fuels. That’ll make it more competitive.

As an aside, Kerry is not an elected official (but plays one on TV).

•Anheuser-Busch, the company behind the Budweiser product line, found out that if ignoring the customer base, as well as try to force a “woke” agenda by putting a TikTok-famous “trans” person on its cans and as its spokesthing, business falls off.

Like, a lot.

A director of marketing for the firm, who claims she was brought in to create a new message, lasted maybe two weeks after this debacle and is now MIA.

•The icing on the crazy cake, at least for this week, is the federal government fighting against non-inclusive practices in safety testing.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, along with Connecticut Rep. Rosa DeLauro, have risen up to carry this banner and fight against gender inequity, and are proposing that there be more — I can’t even believe this is a thing — female crash test dummies.

Apparently, this will assist designers in creating vehicles that will be safer for women drivers. However, there’s no word on whether there also will be trans crash test dummies, which is weird since gender is a social construct or whatever.

I would ask if there’s more, but I don’t think I want the answer.

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Bravery, grit define the Texas spirit

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Trent AshbyBy Rep. Trent Ashby
Representing District 9

The Battle of San Jacinto was a defining moment in Texas history and a shining example of the unbreakable spirit and fierce pride that defines our great state. On April 21, 1836, a small but determined army of Texans, led by the legendary General Sam Houston, stood up against overwhelming odds and fought with every fiber of their being to defend their freedom and independence. With bravery and grit that has come to define the Texan spirit, they launched a surprise attack on the much larger Mexican army camped at San Jacinto and emerged victorious in just 18 minutes. It was a stunning triumph that secured Texas’ place in history and cemented its status as a sovereign nation. Today, we still draw inspiration from the Texans who fought and died at San Jacinto, and we proudly carry on their legacy of courage and determination. As Texans, we can take pride in our storied history and our unshakeable spirit, and we will always stand strong in defense of our state and our way of life.

With that, here’s an update from your State Capitol…

This past week, the Texas House heard House Bill 2639, a bill that would bring Stephen F. Austin State University (SFA) into the University of Texas System. As you may know, this proposal has been in the works for quite some time. The SFA Board of Regents voted to join the UT System in November of last year, pending legislative approval. Once this bill is signed into law, oversight, and control of the university will transfer to the UT System Board of Regents. As a joint author of this bill, I am proud to be a part of a proposal that will enhance the quality of education and research opportunities for students and faculty throughout our region and the entire state. SFA has long been a pillar of the community, and this change will only strengthen its role as a center for education and innovation.

Additionally, I was proud to present and pass House Bill 1772 on the House floor this last week. House Bill 1772 establishes enhanced documentation and notice requirements related to the sale or purchase of timber to provide added protections against fraudulent activity. The bill also creates stronger criminal offenses for failing to provide certain documentation or knowingly falsifying information related to the purchase of timber. This bill is a top priority for the Texas Forestry Association and I was honored to carry this legislation to protect such an important industry in our region and state.

The mobile office is on the road again and our district director will look forward to seeing you on the following dates, in the following locations: May 3 at the San Augustine County Courthouse from 9-11 a.m., May 10 at the Polk County Commissioner’s Courtroom in Livingston from 9-11 a.m. or at the Tyler County Courthouse in Woodville from 1:30-3:30 p.m., May 17 at the Houston County Courthouse Annex in Crockett from 9-11 a.m. or at the Trinity County Courthouse in Groveton from 1:30-3:30 p.m.

As always, please do not hesitate to contact my office if we can help you in any way. My district office may be reached at 936-634-2762 and our Capitol office at 512-463-0508. Additionally, I welcome you to follow along on my official Facebook page, where I will post regular updates on what’s happening in your State Capitol and share information that could be useful to you and your family: https://www.facebook.com/RepTrentAshby/.

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It’s about time

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BatOfTheFuture PCartoon

By Peter Funt

Even baseball purists like myself, who still aren’t comfortable with designated hitters and restrictions on where fielders may be positioned, find themselves overwhelmingly in favor of the new pitch clock.

Requiring pitchers to throw within 15 seconds (20 if there are runners on base) has not only shortened games, it has made the confrontation between batter and pitcher more inherently fair — so much so that the concept should be applied to other aspects of our lives.

Restaurants, for example, need time clocks even more than baseball does, starting at the front desk. Rather than handing out pagers to notify patrons that their table is ready, folks should be given a timer. For every five minutes beyond the promised waiting time, the bill is reduced by two bucks.

Each table should also have a clock, like the one used in chess matches. Your order is given and the server hits the clock — over 20 minutes and it’s half price; beyond 30 minutes and it’s free. The tables would turn, so to speak, when the check arrives. Customers are allowed 15 minutes to dawdle and then, if others are waiting, must depart or pay an additional fee.

The same clock could be used for dinner table conversation, with each person given equal time before interruptions are permitted.

We have some examples of clock management already, such as on the entrance ramps to highways where timed metering lights control traffic during rush hours. Why not install timers for lines in banks or pharmacies?

I’d love to see a big flashing timer in my dentist’s waiting room. For every five minutes spent waiting beyond the scheduled appointment time, cash is extracted from the bill.

It’s possible, however, that people aren’t ready for well-timed efficiency in their lives. Some years ago I conducted an experiment on “Candid Camera” at the Jiffy lube store in Queens, N.Y., where a sign in the window promised an oil change and lube job in just 10 minutes.

On the day we were there, customers in the waiting room were told a minute after they sat down that their cars were ready. Most were stressed by the rapid service. One man, in startled disbelief, said, “It takes me five minutes just to open an oil can!”

There is, I suppose, a time and a place for everything, including time itself.

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Ramping up the ridiculous without a war

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FromEditorsDesk Tony CroppedBy Tony Farkas
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Indelibly etched into the psyche of America is the attack on Sept. 11, 2001, when Islamic “extremists” flew jetliners into the Twin Towers and attempted the same on the Pentagon.

The country, which was reeling, demanded a response, demanded answers, and demanded that the government do its job and ramp up national security.

Part of the response was us beating the snot out of Iraq — again — as well as spending a bit more time not taking our security for granted.

Part of that was a bill euphemistically called the Patriot Act, which granted the government additional powers to keep us safe by spying on … us.

In a nutshell, the Patriot Act gave the government wide latitude in surveillance, increased ability to monitor phone and email traffic, and even the ability to monitor bank transactions, simply by writing a letter requesting the information.

In order to keep us safe forever, a majority of the provisions of the act were made permanent.

We’re currently not in a war, unless you consider crappy 30-second videos a threat as well as an enemy, but the powers that forever be have decided that TikTok, a social media app that many people adore, is a threat to national security.

My daughters really like this app, and in looking at what is produced, it’s really incredibly dumb, pandering to the lowest common denominator of humor. That won’t stop our fearless leaders from going after it, and in March, the Senate introduced the RESTRICT Act.

TikTok is owned by a Chinese company, and because of that, our legislators feel that it is a threat to our security and require the ability to monitor the information that is being sent out by just about everybody.

Problem is, the bill doesn’t specifically mention TikTok. What it does, however, is allow the government, through the Department of Commerce of all places, to “identify and mitigate foreign threats” to the information and communications technology that exists.

It will evaluate all communications products of a foreign nature and take comprehensive actions to address those risks — all at the behest of the Secretary of Commerce.

It doesn’t mention warrants, or courts, or probable cause, or due process, or specific software, or nothing of any substance. It’s just vague politispeak meaning it will do what it wants, and we got nothing to say about it.

Aside from violating a few of the amendments, it’s another example of the government overreacting in its response in its effort to “do something.”

More importantly, and even more insidious, is the government’s need to spy on its own people in the name of safety.

As was in 2001, so again in 2023, we have an overresponse to a threat, and the American people are the ones who are under suspicion.

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If you are creating life, don't create a god

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Jim Opionin By Jim Powers
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The shortest story in literature is six words long and attributed to the writer Earnest Hemingway.

“For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.”

Taken at face value, it looks like a classified ad in the back of the newspaper. Just words. But because you are a human being, you instantly understand what those words represent beyond selling a pair of shoes. The words tell the story of something that has gone tragically wrong. Our shared experience as human frames the words in context beyond their simple meaning.

We are told that this ability to understand the meaning of what we are reading or writing contextually is what separates us from Large Language Model AI (LLM AI). Basically, LLM’s are trained on huge numbers of words, sentences, paragraph’s, entire books, etc. and because of that, these AIs can predict the next word from a prompt, and string together “next words” until they produce coherent content. But because they can’t remember the first word they used, nor know beforehand how the sentences they created will end, they have, despite appearances, no understanding of what they have written. It’s just a bunch of words to the AI.

During a “60 Minutes” interview recently with various Google employees, the interviewer prompted Google’s AI “Bard” with “For sale. Baby Shoes. Never worn. Finish this story.” The story it produced in five seconds began with the following paragraph.

“The shoes were a gift to my wife, but we never had a baby.”

This is far beyond a simple “next word” response from an LLM. Not only did Bard understand the words, it also understood what they meant on a human level, that someone might not be selling unworn baby shoes simply because they were the wrong size, but that for some reason some tragedy had happened, in this case suggesting a couple that had never had the child they desperately wanted. I can’t emphasize enough that this level of understanding is not inherent in the LLM model, it is emergent, and unexpected.

A popular theory about how we, as humans, became sentient, became aware, is that awareness emerged from complexity. As our brains became more and more complex, as the connections between the neurons became numerous enough, something emerged that is more than the sum of its parts. These LLM AIs are constantly being trained on larger and larger models and becoming increasingly more complex literally by the day. Is the idea that consciousness can emerge from that complexity so farfetched?

I have written this before, but I believe AI will be our last experiment. We have created an intelligence that will within a couple of years far exceed our own. An intelligence, that through malice or accident, will exterminate us.

God created man in his image. But foolish man is now creating a god.

Pray that our creation is benevolent rather than malevolent.

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