Imagine not being able to read this sentence …
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: You are now doing something millions of American can't. You're reading this. We'll admit that we never realized how many people are functionally illiterate, until we met someone who was doing something about it.
We first met Jackie Aguilera over a decade ago at a Houston Money Week meeting … her energy, enthusiasm, and passion for financial literacy not only took us by surprise, but it was contagious. (Admit it, financial literacy sounds boring.) But she was integrating it into a literacy and workforce readiness program for adults, and as we became friends and started working together, we realized she was a leader in her knowledge of adult literacy and a pioneer in how she approached it in dynamic and innovative ways. (DISCLAIMER: The next comment is not meant to plug our book, but as an example of her outside-the-box approach to making learning relevant.) And using unusual resources, such as our book, What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!, to engage students as well as teach a myriad of subjects, even using our bookmark (yes, a simple bookmark!) to introduce important life skills.
Having dedicated more than two decades to the field of adult literacy, she's now the Project Manager of the Mayor's Office for Adult Literacy (MOAL) Houston, working with Federico Salas-Isnardi, Director of MOAL, to carry out Mayor Turner's vision for a Houston where every individual can obtain the skills necessary to prosper and reach their full potential. (Houston is the only major city in the country where the Mayor's Office includes an Office for Adult Literacy!)
Along the way, Jackie has opened our eyes to the number of people who can't read (including one in three Houstonians), and made us stop and think about how that impacts every aspect of their lives … their families … their communities. Last week in our monthly Zoom session, she let us know that there would be a very exciting announcement. And she wasn't kidding! On Tuesday, the Mayor announced the "Houston Blueprint for Adult Literacy," a joint initiative of MOAL and the Barbara Bush Houston Literacy Foundation. We were watching the press conference and couldn't be prouder and more excited knowing that Jackie will be a part of this amazing endeavor. As former First Lady Barbara Bush said many years ago,
If you help a person to read, then their opportunities in life will be endless.
This is one of Red’s favorite Banter Bites in large part because of Black’s “corny” puns, but also because fresh corn is a summer staple – whether cooked on the grill or in the microwave, whether eaten on its own or as a primary ingredient in refreshing summer salads …
This may be one of the corniest things you’ll ever read.
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: It’s just a vegetable, so how can it possibly elicit such a strong reaction from Red, while, for Black, it’s more a source of amusement and even, it turns out, admiration?
Corn. That’s what immediately came to mind when Red started receiving emails from Dewberry Farm about its annual fall festival. It was a family tradition when the girls were growing up, and between the fun but often frustrating corn maze (she and the girls were lost for a few hours one year), the corn cannons, and all the other activities, it was a marathon day that always seemed to be the unofficial start to fall (even if the day meant 90+ degree temperatures since, after all, it’s Texas). Of course, enjoying all the incredibly delicious food, like freshly popped kettle corn, from outdoor stands made it even more special.
And Black’s reaction to all these corn-related memories? Red was expecting sarcasm, but not this,
I knew I would get an ear-ful from you but am glad you did not send any corny jokes. Given how much you love fall, and everything associated with it, I expected many kernels of truth in your sentimental memories. However, I have one question, I am sure it was ear-ie when you got lost in the maze, but did you feel like you were being stalked?
The funny (not punny) thing is that Black’s comments, although somewhat out of character, reminded Red of our dad and his endearing sense of humor. So, when Black added that as long as Red had brought up the subject of corn, she might be interested in the Corn Kid, Red thought she was referring to a goat that ate corn. Until she discovered the best corn story – about how a little boy who simply loved corn became a viral sensation. (Red also loved his appearance in a Chipotle video because she, too, loves their corn.)
And Red could relate to the Corn Kid’s love of corn,
I never realized how much I love corn, not only for its taste but for all the memories associated with it. Whether turning a can of cream corn into soup (just add a little milk) when I was recently sick and realizing that I hadn’t had it since our mom made it for me as a kid. I know food triggers many memories; for me, it’s corn (including candy corn), although my love of popcorn is about more than memories!
Think you can avoid artificial intelligence? Think again …
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Red already fights technology at every turn, preferring to keep her ostrich head in the sand, plus, she finds Artificial Intelligence (AI) scary; whereas Black knows ignoring reality merely postpones the inevitable, so she’s started playing with AI to understand it better …
Red knows that she has the ability to learn how to use technology, so tries not to default into freakout mode. However, when it comes to AI, it’s an entirely different story, and she lets her theater degree and love of movies take over,
AI reminds me of the 1968 movie “2001 A Space Odyssey,” the computer named HAL, and the potential of machines to harm vs. help us. And while some, ok many, people might accuse me of being overly dramatic … am I?
Usually, Black would tell Red that her theater degree’s showing and to calm down. But when it comes to generative AI (it “studies” existing data and generates “new” content), many of the leading experts, including the “Godfather of AI” and one of the creators of ChatGPT (a leading AI system where users can pose questions) are the most vocal critics. They’re warning us of the potential dangers of the technology and the need to slow things down and have guardrails in place.
Unfortunately, Black knew that taking emotion out of the equation and focusing on the pragmatic would not ease Red’s mind, but that didn’t stop Black from explaining,
AI can be used to help solve some of the world’s most challenging problems but wherever there is opportunity for good, there can also be bad actors. I have played with it and seen firsthand how quick and easy it is for AI to generate intentional misinformation (including visual images) that seem plausible and real.
So, do we need to be worried? Well, as AI becomes more integrated into our lives, it will be critical for all of us to understand what it can and cannot do … meaning critical thinking will be more important than ever.
P.S. This content was NOT generated by AI. It was created by human authors (although Red claims Black’s a Vulcan) without the use of artificial intelligence or machine learning algorithms.
A man better known for his death than his life, although Red, the straight-A student and history lover, immediately thinks of the costly and controversial movie of his life. (Well, technically, it was the life of Cleopatra.) Black, of course, focuses on business – leadership lessons, including the power of words, although she surprises Red with some food trivia. But the fact July’s named after him is the perfect excuse to rerun one of Red’s favorite Banter Bites …
Quick! If someone says "Julius Caesar," what comes to mind?
BANTER BITE BACKSTORY: Almost everyone has heard of Julius Caesar, but how many of us really know much about him, or at least that's what Red starts to wonder when she receives the usual flippant, but still accurate, reply from her sister, after feeling very proud that she knew that July was named after the famous Roman.
Which is what got Red to realize, much to her surprise (shock, if truth be told), that even as a straight-A student with a love of history, that when it came to Julius Caesar, a famous historical figure and possibly one of the greatest generals and statesmen of all time, she couldn't tell you dates or battles or anything "historical" associated with him.
Even as a theater major in college, she never read Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar," although she knew just enough about the play to know that it was where the fortune teller warned Caesar to "Beware the Ides of March." Instead, her knowledge of Caesar came from her love of movies.
My first, and probably my most enduring, memory is of a brilliant general who not only commanded armies as he conquered lands far from home but was a great statesman who was also involved with one of the world's most beautiful women. And while he was Julius Caesar and the woman was Cleopatra, to me, they'll always be Rex Harrison and Elizabeth Taylor in Cleopatra, a movie almost as controversial as the general himself.
There is much we can learn about leadership from Julius Caesar, whether on the battlefield, in politics, or in business (start small, take risks, communicate well), including what ultimately led to his death (always consider worst-case scenarios, never get complacent or arrogant). Many of his quotes speak (pun intended) to his powerful way with words, and the ability to not only deliver a message but to inspire (and story tell), with my favorite being, "I came, I saw, I conquered."