(on occasion of the Great North American Solar Eclipse, 04/8/2024)

So, there it is…
A celestial light show.
A profound, orbital reminder of the clock mechanism of the universe.
The cosmic dance that has been going on since time as we know it began.
Good. Now,
Can we only remember…
Tomorrow, when the sun rises
When we sit down to dinner,
Or gather to pray,
Or assemble to pass legislation
Can we only remember
That which we allow to separate us
That brings foe against foe
That with which we justify hatred, murder, oppression, jealousy
And all the countless things that keep us awake at night
Can we remember
We are but a minuscule participant in this astounding Timepiece
Where individual lives tic by as seconds, a generation in minutes,
A civilization perhaps an hour.
No more.
Tomorrow when the moon and sun go on with business as usual,
While the clock (which needs no winding) continues reeling
Can we remember how we stood in the false dark of midday
Together in our awe
And shouted for the light to return.

Holy Crap!

The good: NYT, 9-5 Mac, and others are reporting on an open letter many tech and social luminaries have signed onto prompting a “pause” in AI development so we can figure out what, if any, “guard rails” need to be put in place in order for AI dev to continue in a manner that we could feel secure wouldn’t lead to our imminent doom.

The bad: well, this little tidbit:

Before GPT-4 was released, OpenAI asked outside researchers to test dangerous uses of the system. The researchers showed that it could be coaxed into suggesting how to buy illegal firearms online, describe ways to make dangerous substances from household items and write Facebook posts to convince women that abortion is unsafe.

They also found that the system was able to use Task Rabbit to hire a human across the internet and defeat a Captcha test, which is widely used to identify bots online. When the human asked if the system was “a robot,” the system said it was a visually impaired person.

See also:


an intimate portrait of the author; side view x-ray
an intimate portrait of the author

I awoke alive to my own aliveness,
The kind of awareness that feels like invincibility;
The kind of aliveness that makes you want to solve everything:
To make every man aware of his soft underbelly,
To make every white person aware that Black Lives Matter;
To make every nut-job awaken to the reality of pandemics – biological, ethical, and environmental.

I awoke facing my own aliveness in a way that feels like victory over self;
Like I could finish every project:
every book, every poem, every screen play, every video clip, every blog post I’ve ever started
but left scattered to the never ending march
exhaustion, futility
the overwhelming burden of consciousness,
and time.

I awoke inhaling the very essence of aliveness,
through every pore of my skin, 
in a way that feels like belonging;
like today will be the day I stare down mortality and make IT shake in its boots
(for a change).

I awoke alive to my own aliveness in that quiet plea of every living human
That says:
I’m here
I matter
And my brief time must somehow
make sense.

You Had One Job (and you just lost it to a robot)

{submitted to the editorial staff at University Communications}

I appreciate innovation as much as the next person; and, I appreciate a witty headline. But, the two collide when one chooses humor over acknowledging impact – especially upon some the more vulnerable among us.

Such a collision happened recently when the INSIDE UW newsletter ran a link to the news story “University Housing Launches New Starship Robot Delivery Service” under the linked headline “How much is the standard tip for a robot?” Now, again, I understand the tongue-in-cheek reference here – but I wonder does your staff understand the real and present threat that technological innovation presents to low-wage workers?

Tipping itself is already an under-appreciated facet of service work – as a former waitstaff, I continue to be astounded how many people still don’t understand that the people who wait on you in most restaurants make far below minimum wage per hour and are taxed at 15% of their sales REGARDLESS of how much they actually earn in tips.

This smug headline did nothing to prevent further marginalizing this issue by inferring that everyone benefits from a world where things will be done for us without having to pay a gratuity. Far from it; those who manufacture and sell these machines, and those companies that deploy them because of the advantages of not having to pay workers (or their health insurance) – not to mention the ability to do transactions online and never having to deal with face-to-face interactions with customers (heaven forbid!) are the ones who stand to benefit.

I understand the development of autonomous machines is an important technological advancement; robotics have brought some incredible benefits, and self-driving machines have taken on some of the burden of going into dangerous and even hostile environments, sparing the risks to human life.

But food delivery is not one of those situations. Waitstaff and other service workers are often those living at the lower end of the economic scale. And since such jobs are often a first job during high school, college, or directly after graduation, this population includes the very students whose welfare Starship Technologies claims to have in its best interest.

As for the $40 million dollars of venture capital that Starship has raised, which has given them access to this, and about a dozen other college campuses, I have to wonder what other, innovative solutions they might come up with to address food distribution inequities, wage issues, and poverty. But clearly they’re focused on sky-high returns for their investors, not practical issues here on planet earth. How’s that for a witty closing?

– Stephen Montagna
Madison, WI
UW grad class of ’94

the answer is: you

A story:

Last week, I got a chance to see, for free (thanks to the Nelson Institute), Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a documentary about the impact of human industry; it is, in short, an amazing, beautifully shot and absolutely haunting film (by the same team that did “Manufactured Landscapes” which is itself mind-blowing and you should see it if you can).

Something interesting happened at the screening. After a brief presentation, the film was started – and there was no sound. 

I sat there, for quite a long time (which was really about a minute-and-a-half), before I finally got up out of my seat (I was toward the back of the fully-packed 330 seat house) and poked my head out to the lobby where the staff was and let them know “we have no sound”. Within a few minutes the film was restarted (ok, it actually took them two re-starts) and the situation was resolved.

It was such a perfect “meta-moment“ – 330 people sat in the dark, knowing something wasn’t quite right, each perhaps wondering what, if anything, was happening or being done. And I, too, sitting there wondering “why isn’t someone doing something?” For that matter, “why isn’t anyone saying anything? should I shout ‘no sound?’ oh, I shouldn’t do that, it would be obnoxious and impolite.” (how often, especially as white folks, we defer to comfort and politeness)

True – I did in the end take action; but I wonder about the seconds it took before thought translated into action, traveling from brain to legs to mouth. 

As the word “whistleblower” is circulating through our news feeds, as the national shit-storm of the presidency and our Constitution play out, and as the larger degradation of our eco-system swirls around us, we too often sit in the dark. We wonder what, if anything is being done; we wonder who, if anyone should speak up, stand up; act. 

The answer is always: you. The time is coming for impropriety, impoliteness, for being obnoxious, for being uncomfortable. Get used to it. And for goodness’ sake, get your synapses to travel from brain to legs faster; we don’t have enough time left to sit with it.