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Kazuo Ishiguro has won this year's Noble Prize for literature. "The Remains of the Day" is on my list of books to read.
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“The Idiot
By Fyodor Dostoyevsky, 1869

I am currently reading Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “The Idiot.” This a rich and complex novel giving us insights into Russian life before the revolution of 1917. The character of “the idiot” is not stupid or unrefined. Rather he is the last prince of his dynasty who as a youth had “fits” and “spell.” The reality is that the title figure is a gifted storyteller and a master calligrapher. This is a 1000 pages of engrossing literature. More later.
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The Singularity is Near (When Humans Transcend Biology)
By Ray Kurzweil (2005)

Ray Kurzweil is a noted inventor. He holds 21 honorary degrees and has been awarded national citations from three American Presidents. As a futurist and trans-humanist, Kurzweil’s mighty tome “The Singularity is Near” explains how technological change is accelerating to the point where he foresees a melding of our brains and bodies with the very machines that we have created. Advances in genetic coding; the burgeoning progress in nanotechnology and high speeds in computation will propel humanity into the next phase of our evolution. Kurzweil prophesizes as these new phases in scientific achievement come online beginning in the next decade we will eradicate disease; regenerate worn out body parts; enhance our mental capabilities; and extend our lives to the point where we main even eliminate death. Truly this all sounds incredible; however, the author shares how our new tools are enhancing our knowledge and how we can manipulate our world into a wonderous new frontier of human transformation.
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8/24/17
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The Glass Castle
By Jeanette Walls
2005

“A book of lists”
I missed this popular novel when it came out, but now I see that it is about to be released as a new movie starring Woody Harrelson. In essence we follow the adventures of a disheveled, homeless family that wander the nation. We find that the parents are free spirits who are forever scurrying from the “demons” that chase them. In truth, I would have skipped this read had I not discovered that Harrelson was to be cast as the outlandish father in this narrative. That alone pushed me to pick up this simple biography in that I consider Woody to be underrated and that such a role might propel him to be viewed as a worthy, versatile actor. However, once I started the journey of this ne’er-do-well family I quickly discovered that it was clearly episodic laced with a heavy dose of tallies. Each location or transgression became an opportunity for the author to provide us with long notations of who was present; or contents of rooms; or items of frustration.

It is hard to envision that “poor” people would choose destitution; however, by the end we discover that none of this pathetic tragedy needed to have happened. Paranoia, alcohol, and bad judgment were to blame for this woeful story to manifest. Having said that it is exactly this kind of tale that draws us to read it for milksop and sugar don’t sell books. On the contrary, it is more often that misery and madness are the things that cause us to wonder why anyone would choose such a life.
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8/21/17
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The AI Revolution: The Road to Super-intelligence
Article by Tim Urban, 2015

Futurist Tim Urban creates a dynamic argument why understanding the coming AI era is so important and why it is necessary that we begin an open discourse now. His explanation of Moore’s Law and the Law of Accelerating Returns outlines that technological advances “are getting bigger and happening more quickly.” We would seem to be on the cusp of a major revolution that is certainly to cause a paradigm shift in humanity. Once singularity (the point where our machines become smarter than us) manifests we may be at the whim of programs and algorithms within a mainframe that acts of its own accord “to protect mankind from itself.”
The author cites outstanding thinkers in the field (e.g., Venor Vinge, Ray Kurzweil, Nick Bostrum, Ben Goertzel, Bill Joy and many others) who all agree that this next step of high-level technologies is not about if but rather when they appear. Urban argues that the two edged sword in the future is one where we face extinction or immortality (the ultimate artificiality of humans). Estimates are anywhere from 10-50 years when a “machine-system” will suddenly realize its own consciousness and begin to explore and consume. Benign or malignant AI remains on our horizon and will bite us in the backside if we don’t bring it to the forefront of our vision and discussion.
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7/12/17
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Astrophysics for People in a Hurry
By Neil Degrasse Tyson

Finally, somebody famous decided to write a layman’s guide to the universe. I am currently in the midst of how Tyson deciphers some of the past and current conundrums of astrophysics. In concise terms he describes the basic concepts regarding the forces that govern the universe along with the mathematicians and physicists who postulated the workings of the cosmos.

There is no doubt that discussions related to special relativity and quantum mechanics can put the average person to sleep. However, Tyson writes in a digestible fashion with the goal of opening the door to such topics as to how the universe began, the evolution of the elements that produced the stars, dark energy, dark matter, and the electromagnetic spectrum. Tyson has meant to pique the curiosities of those of us who have an interest but have found robust mathematical formulae beyond our grasp. Good on Tyson. This tight little tome answers many of the questions in a readable manner related to the space-time continuum that have mystified the great minds of the last 200 years.

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6/26/17
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The Bakkhai or Bacchae
The Athenian playwright Euripides in 405 BCE wrote this ancient Greek tragedy. It deals with the duality of human nature where rational thought is opposed by the instinctual. Thus, the ideas around being civilized butt up against the passions of depravity and sensuality. The demi-god Dionysus (the god of wine and party) challenges the sensibilities of Pentheus, the king of Thebes. The royals discover a capricious Dionysus who seems on a path toward vengeful behavior that leads to the demise of the king and his city.
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Am I the only one who re-reads a good read?

Ask the Dust
John Fante, 1939
I must be feeling sentimental as once again I am reading “Ask the Dust” by John Fante,. As the novel opens he writes of walking in the downtown core of Los Angeles near Pershing Square and the Grand Central Market looking for Aztecan and Mayan princesses. It’s the early 50s and Fante’s character is a writer constantly broke and constantly trying to break into the business with only marginal success.

When Fante describes his haunts I know exactly where he is during these walkabouts looking for Latinas that he might chat up and take home. When you’re young and alone all you think about is your next meal and loose women.

There is a preface in this novel penned by Charles Bukowski who wrote a glowing tribute to Fante whom Bukowski admired greatly. He lists a number of titles of Fante’s all of which I have read. I can’t help but feel a sense of warmth and inner tranquility as Fante paints Los Angeles in faded pastel in that era when streetcars ruled the roads and coffee was a nickel. His language is tight and crisp with no pretensions. There is just the character as he lives the life of all of us who aspire to greatness in an existentialist culture where no one really cares and the choices you make are up to you. However, when love walks in the door all bets are off and suddenly "you" becomes "we." After all isn’t that what we all want? Don’t we all want to be held and cherished by a tender mate?
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5/30/17
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Eugene Onegin by Alexander Puskin

I recently had the privilege of attending a contemporary musical performance of “Eugene Onegin.” Originally this was a novel written in 1832 by Alexander Pushkin is reputed to have engendered a style of the Russian language that transformed its usage. The story is formed as poetic verse built upon stanzas in iambic tetrameter with a specific representation of feminine and masculine rhymes.

This is an epic account of love unreturned in the era of the aristocratic age of 19th century Russia. The title character became the model protagonist in other Russian literature where brash young men philandered their way from one affair to another. Onegin triffles with the affections of Tatyana and then spurns her only to realize much later that he has changed his mind. There are passions and duels that fill the moment, but in the end Onegin is left to grieve for his own misfortune.

Intriguingly, Puskin was shot and killed in a duel dealing with jealous rages. In 1879 Pyotr Tchaikovsky scored an opera based on the book. It has also been the subject of several movies, media productions, and ballets.
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Alexander Puskin in 1832
(Puskin1799-1837 died during his 29th duel)

1. He created the modern Russian language
2. He mastered a wide range of genres
3. He set the tone for future greats
4. He created an “encyclopedia of Russian life”
5. Precision and the illusion of simplicity were his hallmarks
6. He was a daring bon vivant
7. He suffered for the truth
8. He wrote timeless love poems
9. He was discussed and admired by great writers
10. He became a Soviet cult figure

Here is a small excerpt from the first chapter of Onegin:

"My uncle's goodness is extreme,
If seriously he hath disease;
He hath acquired the world's esteem
And nothing more important sees;”
“A paragon of virtue he!
But what a nuisance it will be,
Chained to his bedside night and day
Without a chance to slip away.
Ye need dissimulation base
A dying man with art to soothe,
Beneath his head the pillow smooth,
And physic bring with mournful face,
To sigh and meditate alone:
When will the devil take his own!”
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