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Archives for March 2013

Ah, the traditional Easter facehugger…

Screen Shot 2013-03-31 at 9.32.39 PM

Whatever you’re doing …


Watson Has No Sense of Humor

Teaching IBM’s Watson the meaning of ‘OMG’

The scientific test to gauge if a computer can “think” is surprisingly simple: Can it engage in small talk? The so-called Turing test says a computer capable of carrying on a natural conversation without giving itself away can be considered intelligent. So far, no machine has made the cut.

Eric Brown, a research scientist with IBM (IBM), is charged with changing that. The 45-year-old is the brains behindWatson, the supercomputer that pummeled human opponents on Jeopardy! in 2011. The biggest difficulty for Brown, as tutor to a machine, hasn’t been making Watson know more but making it understand subtlety, especially slang.

It seems like an even better version of the Turing Test would be based on whether the computer could make the humans LOL. I did a bit of light Googling to see if there had been a test conducted along those lines and found this article from 2008, in which one computer told the following joke:

Roberts said Elbot worked by catching some of the judges off-guard with provocative answers or impishly hinting that it was, in fact, a machine.

“Hi. How’s it going?” one judge began.

“I feel terrible today,” Elbot replied. “This morning I made a mistake and poured milk over my breakfast instead of oil, and it rusted before I could eat it.”

Roberts also said Elbot tried to dominate the conversation to keep it from wandering into areas it was not properly programmed to handle.

Sounds to me like Elbot has better social skills than I do. (zing!)

Then I hopped over to Cleverbot to see if it could recognize random allusions to high-minded fare, and incorporate them into jokey banter. Transcript:

User: Schenectady. (I always like to lead with a word that is inherently funny.)

Cleverbot: Ist das dein name? (Is Cleverbot being snarky or does it think I’m speaking German?)

User: Yes.

Cleverbot: Hi, Kara. Then you must me a girl. Nice to meet you. I’m a girl too.

User: What? That makes no sense.

Cleverbot: But we’re married. (Admittedly, this is not a terrible response to the comment ‘That makes no sense.’ Also: is Cleverbot making a reference to current events?)

Then I tried again.

Cleverbot: Who is going to speak first?

User: I speak for the trees.

Cleverbot: Yes but out of context. (Good comeback, Cleverbot!)

User: Have you not read the Lorax?

Cleverbot: No.

User: Then you wouldn’t recognize my allusion, which is too bad. I hope this makes for a good blog post. We need more traffic. Then again, there’s always money in the banana stand. (The ultimate test: has Cleverbot memorized transcripts from Arrested Development?)

Cleverbot: That would be you.

User: BURN! Well played, Cleverbot.

Cleverbot: Too true, too true.

Walmart for Lent


Consumer alert with a capital C.

More Lawler, more Lost

Alan Jacobs Gets Lost

Percy is to us what Virgil was to Dante, but cannot fulfill that role straightforwardly because of our hostility to anyone who claims moral authority. But maybe a sardonic, foul-mouthed, bourbon-drinking Catholic Virgil is the one we both need and deserve.

Alan Jacobs writing in Christianity Today. Excellent longish essay well worth the read.

Lawler gets Lost

Dreher in Covington

Percy and Passover

Over at, Pulitzer Prize winner Paul Greenberg cites The Moviegoer: Binx’s search as exodus.


A toast

Here’s what you need to know for this one. Flannery O’Connor shares a birthday with The Wife (March 25). Flannery O’Connor gained early fame for having a chicken that could walk forwards and backwards. A critter got into our coop two weeks ago and ate all our chickens. Yesterday, a kind soul donated five laying hens to The Wife, but they had been kept previously in quarters that were too close. As a result, they pecked each other, and all but one has a backside that is bereft of feathers.


Flannery O’Connor’s hen

Was trained in ways that I am not

She’d walk the line and back again

Whilst I just slip or hold my spot.


Now Deirdre Katherine, once called Scholl

Has chickens five, with backsides bare

And my frequent slips of mind and soul

Leave me as exposed back there


But Flannery and Deirdre, too

Found grace and truth in frightening things

O’Connor in the things freaks do

And Deirdre in our wedding rings


So they drop eggs and I raise wine

For our divine apothecary

She covers both their ass and mine

Southern California gothic – scary.

Si Deus pro nobis, quis contra nos?


Poetry and the Bishop

Speaking of Korrektiv/Gerasene amigo Bishop Daniel Flores, see what he hath wrought from the heights of Parnassus down in the depths of Texas:


Life slips by.


Somewhere between that Grape Nehi and that glass of Jack Daniels, Walker Percy managed to write five novels, several volumes of nonfiction, and a mess of other stuff. You all should be able to manage a paper proposal in the next week. Rally, Korrektiv, rally!

Driving Down Division

Driving Down Division


Division Street divides Spokane like a scar
from stem to stern
from north to south
dividing west from east
heart from liver
you might find
Al’s Motel on one side
with its hourly rates
and crusted bloody sheets
or on the other side find
St. Al’s church with its
collection plates
and Jesuit schemes
in the middle you might
find yourself in transit
driving down Division.

The Past

I wake up tied up
to a bed in Al’s Motel
the taste of sawdust in my mouth
what time is it? the April sky
is overcast overeasy
pigeon shit on the window
stains my view
and I strain at the thought of
how did that pigeon shit
fly sideways to land there?
there’s a song in my head
Annie wants a baby
she was my love long ago
many missing pieces ago
before the millionth abortion
before I left and lost my head
the room is surprisingly clean
it reeks of cigarettes and stale perfume
but the reek is a grace note
threading through the death march
playing a throbbing in my brain
the reek is a puzzle piece
that might fit somewhere
if I could only find the puzzle
if I could only untie these knots
bitch, that bitch tied me up
and took my money
by the looks of it
she even took my boots
and the sunshine I saved inside those boots
that bitch but who could blame her.

The Future

I fall asleep kneeling at the altar rail
in St. Al’s church, Christ like a
piece of a puzzle on my tongue
tasting like sawdust but washed down
with wine and blood, accident and substance
the stained glass windows black in the dark
my soul black but washed clean
ready to burn white
now and at the time of my death
O brother death, O bright wings
over the bent world
over my bent soul
over the gaping hole in my bent soul
the gaping godshaped hole
there’s a song in my head
Annie wants a baby
she was my love long ago
and now I see her dark eyes
the church is cluttered with statues
and cast-off sins swept by the wind
like puzzle pieces scattered
the leftover smell of incense and oil
a hospital for sinners
or a morgue
it makes no difference to my soul
it makes no difference to my spirit
I don’t look back
my hand is on the plow
my boots are far below
the moon setting the sun rising
blameless, eternal, alive.

The Present

You Can Call Me Al
is playing on the radio
I’m driving down Division
and I am divided
you can call me Al
or you can call me Zimmy
you can call me Simon
or you can call me Garfunkel
I am a man divided
and there’s a crack in my windshield
it runs the length of it
there’s a crack in my soul
and ice that wants to wedge there
to break me in two
something wants to split me
and destroy me
but something else
with fiery wings
wants to drive down in me
down my division
and weld me together
I can see that now
I can see a bird high overhead
it might be an eagle or a big hawk, hunting
swooping and diving
I keep driving
through the sweet smell of my own sweat
down Division down into the city
my boot sole gentle on the gas pedal
down town down
into the heart of it
a new song comes on
Annie wants a baby
missing pieces she’s got
a lot of them
so do I, so do I.

‘There once was a Catholic dandy…’

There once was a Catholic dandy;
Collar-pins and cufflinks were his candy.
As he fixed his tie-dimple,
He thought: ‘Here’s a temple
So furnished as God might command me!’

Pontifex Limerix III

Imagine Pope Benedict’s goal
In announcing his long years’ harsh toll —
The whole conclave, the smoke —
Was to set up one joke
From the window: ‘Habetis ********!’

Pontifex Limerix II

This new title’s an ungainly bother:
‘Pope Emeritus’! Wouldn’t you rather
It were short, sharp, and clean?
‘Ex-H.H. B-16’,
E.g.; too, perhaps, ‘Holy Grandfather’.

Pontifex Limerix

There once was a Pope Benedictus
Who could make me grin like I had rictus:
His keen, crystalline prothes
And symbolical clothes
Proclaimed, ‘Christ, for His friendship, has picktus!’

Our nice new Holy Father is Francis,
And I’m happy to give him his chancis.
(I’ll admit, though: I frette
At his lack of mosette.
Quæsumus, no liturgical dancis!)