Thursday, October 27, 2016


He was sitting alone at the bar, just finishing his tuna tartar, when the three women entered the restaurant.  Girls night out.  They also sat at the bar, to his right.  They engaged in non-stop conversation, paying him no heed as he continued to alternate his attention between “Top Gun,” showing on the TV screen on the left side of the bar, and “Chef,” on the right.

He could not help noticing, though, that there was clearly something special about the woman to his immediate right.  She was gorgeous, but it was more than that.  Her exotic beauty, combined with her natural elegance and grace of movement, made her profoundly alluring. She made everything (and everyone) around her fade away.  He was mesmerized.  Yet he didn’t want to appear rude, or interrupt the women’s conversation, so he didn’t approach her.  Yet.

Suddenly, there was an instant when the two women furthest from him were talking to each other, and she was momentarily disengaged.  Carpe diem.  He asked her what she was drinking, and remarked on her uncanny resemblance to the actress Angelina Jolie, bringing his friend Nunzio, the bartender, into the conversation.  They began to talk.

They talked about anything, and everything, with the ease of old friends.  They discovered all sorts of commonalities in their interests, values, and in their shared diversity of background.  She was intelligent, knowledgeable, and articulate (in two languages).  She listened as well as she spoke.  The default condition of her face was a smile, and she had an easy, delightful laugh.  Conversation hadn’t been so enjoyable and, well, fulfilling, in years. Many.  He had been mesmerized by her exterior.  Now, he was also enthralled by her interior.

They continued to talk.

Meanwhile the other two women, who had continued their one-on-one conversation, were ready to go on to the next bar on their schedule, just down the road.  She resisted, though, wanting to stay a bit longer.  He was feeling a bit guilty about disengaging her from her friends, but at the same time wanted nothing more than to continue to spend time with her, only her.  There was something he was beginning to fantasize about… but he didn’t allow himself to believe it was possible.

And then, it happened.

She told her friends to go ahead to the next bar, that she would stay with him, and that they might, possibly, meet up with them later.  

He will spend the rest of his life savoring that moment.  Hopefully, with her by his side.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Every Decade

Roughly every decade, Google CEO Sundar Pichai noted during a recent presentation, the paradigm changes.  From the desktop computer in the mid-80’s, to the web in the mid-90’s, to mobile in the mid-00’s.  

And now, to artificial intelligence (AI) in the mid-10’s.

Having used Google Now (hereafter known as Google Assistant) for a year or so, Mr. Pichai’s assessment rings true. Interacting with our “intelligent assistants,” in whatever context is appropriate to the situation, is the next logical step in personal technology.  And Google is uniquely qualified to lead the way.

Apple's Siri is limited by the company’s perhaps noble yet unavoidably constricting focus on user privacy, which keeps the information necessary for effective AI locked in each of their devices.  Microsoft's Cortana is neutered by Microsoft's failure in mobile.  And Amazon's Alexa (the AI in its Echo appliance), certainly a pioneer, is limited by its sole presence on the Echo, given the demise of its mobile phones.

Which leaves Google, which is in a unique position for two powerful reasons.  One, because it can make its AI available to users in any context: our computers, mobile phones (Android or iOS), and homes (via Google Home, Google’s upcoming take on the Amazon Echo).  And two, and most importantly, because all the information it needs to be effective resides in its inimitable cloud, so all devices are looking at the same, rich data.  

Google knows more about the world than anything (or anyone) else, and so the Google Assistant is already vastly better at providing universal information than any of its competitors.  Just tonight, I asked my phone, “OK Google, who is the chief of staff.” My phone responded, immediately, out loud, “Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. Denis McDonough is currently serving as President Barack Obama's Chief of Staff, a position he assumed in February 2013.” Just for the hell of it, I asked Alexa the same question.  “I don't know,” she said, “but check out the links I added to your Echo app.”  That's not going to do it, Alexa.

But just as Google knows more about the world than anyone, it also knows more about me than anyone.  Google can just as easily identify what my next calendar item is as it can identify Denis McDonough.  During the past year, Google Now has delighted me by doing things like using my calendar entries, my location and traffic conditions to automatically remind me that it’s time to leave to make it to my appointment on time.  

Pichai, during the same presentation:

Just like we built a Google for everyone, we want to build each user his or her own individual Google.

So, Google knows everything about the world.  It knows everything about me.  And its knowledge is available to my mobile phone, my computer, my home, and whatever future devices come along, as long as they have an internet connection.  Google is, therefore, uniquely positioned to interact with me in an intelligent way.  And it does. But this is only the beginning.

Google’s assistant will not only retain, process, analyze and return information, it will also help users get things done efficiently by becoming a ubiquitous intermediary, just like a good human assistant.  Google’s linking of its assistant with external companies’ systems enables actions such as, “OK Google, get me an Uber,”  “OK Google, dim the living room lights,”  “OK Google, play my dinner party list on Spotify.”  And so on.

Bottom line: if Mr. Pichai is right (and I really think he is), and AI is the next paradigm, Google is uniquely qualified to succeed.  

And the future could not be in better hands.

(Photo: “The famous red eye of HAL 9000” by Cryteria, used under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.)

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

One Six

José Fernández, right handed starting pitcher for the Miami Marlins, already a star and considered to have one of the most promising futures in all of major league baseball, was killed, along with two of his friends, in a boating accident off Miami Beach early Sunday morning.   He was 24 years old.  

José was the living definition of joie de vivre.  His exuberance was uncontainable; his love for his family, teammates, and for the game of baseball were in constant evidence.  His life story is the pure embodiment of the American Dream.

And so...

Every single Marlins player, along with Manager Don Mattingly, President David Samson and President of Baseball Operations Mike Hill, crowded into the room where they held the heart wrenching press conference just a few hours after the the overturned boat, along with the three bodies, was discovered at 3:30am Sunday.

After the press conference was over, the entire team piled into buses (one of them graciously provided by the Atlanta Braves, who were still in town for the last game of their series with the Marlins, which was to be played on Sunday, but was, of course, cancelled) and spent the entire afternoon at the home of José’s mother, comforting her, José’s grandmother, and his pregnant girlfriend.

Once it was time to play baseball again, on Monday night against the New York Mets, every single Marlins player, coach and manager wept openly, before, during and after the game, unashamedly displaying their love for their fallen brother.

Every Marlins player, coach and manager wore the Marlins’ normal black jersey, except all of them had José’s number (16) and last name on their back.  I don’t know of this ever taking place before, except for the annual Jackie Robinson celebration, where everyone in Major League Baseball wears Robinson’s number 42.

Prior to the game, after the moment of silence to honor José’s memory during which the Marlins players circled the mound, the Mets players came out of their dugout and tearfully embraced the Marlins players, something that had not happened since these same Mets were similarly consoled by the Atlanta Braves on the first game played in New York after 9/11.

Dee Gordon, the Marlins’ left handed leadoff hitter, took the first pitch of the game from the right side of the plate, imitating José’s immediately recognizable batting stance.  He then switched to his natural left side.  Two pitches later, he hit his first home run of the season, tearfully circled the bases and broke down in the dugout.

The Mets taped a Mets jersey with number 16 and the name Fernández on the back, on their dugout wall.  It said, you are one of us.  You are our brother, as well.

At the end of the game (the Marlins won, 7-3), the Marlins players again circled the mound, and, in another impromptu tribute, left their hats on the mound in honor of José.

I posted this:

Screenshot 2016-09-27 at 3.54.50 PM.png

My son posted this:

Screenshot 2016-09-27 at 3.58.18 PM.png

And so it goes.  We all knew José was going to become a legend someday.

Just not so soon.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Welcome to America

Regarding the arrest of Ahmad Khan Rahami, the suspect in the bombings across New York and New Jersey over the weekend, Donald Trump:

It’s a good thing authorities caught this evil thug.  The bad part now is we will give him amazing hospitalization.  He will be taken care of by some of the best doctors in the world, he will be given a fully modern and updated hospital room, and he'll probably even have room service, knowing the way our country is.  On top of all that, he will be represented by an outstanding lawyer.

In response, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

Welcome to America. We have a system of jurisprudence. You're innocent until proven guilty, you have a right to counsel, you have a right to hospitalization if you're ill, that is our system, and that is what makes this country special and what makes this country great.  The government can make mistakes, and that's why we have trials. I don't know what the alternative would be, unless you thought government on its own belief is the judge, jury, and executioner all in one.

This is the choice we face.  Enough said.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Indelible Marks

The National September 11 Memorial consists of a forest of trees, with two pools in the center.  The two pools correspond to the footprints of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, which once stood on those exact locations.  The memorial is poignant, powerful, and was so thoroughly thought out that even the arrangement of the victims’ names, attached to the parapets of the memorial pool walls, was not left to chance.  Wikipedia (edits mine):

The names of 2,983 victims are inscribed on 76 bronze plates attached to the parapets of the walls of the memorial pools…  The names are arranged according to an algorithm, creating "meaningful adjacencies" based on relationships—proximity at the time of the attacks, company or organization affiliations (for those working at the World Trade Center or the Pentagon) and in response to about 1,200 requests from family members….

… According to Edith Lutnick (executive director of the Cantor Fitzgerald Relief Fund), "Your loved ones' names are surrounded by the names of those they sat with, those they worked with, those they lived with and, very possibly, those they died with."

I recently visited the memorial, and, as much as I respect those who designed and built it, I was repulsed by its fundamental concept.  And, although I was not directly impacted by the events of September 11, 2001, and am therefore probably unworthy of even commenting on the memorial built to commemorate them, I will do so anyway, justified by the fact that the horrific, cowardly attacks of that fateful day were an affront to all Americans, and, indeed, to all civilized people of the world.

My issue is with the design of the memorial itself.  Two pools, basically two holes in the ground, where the Twin Towers stood.  Where there were two majestic buildings, there are now two horrific scars.  Terrorists the world over can relish in the fact that their odious brethren left indelible marks on New York.  Their handiwork has been made permanent, their mutilation delineated forevermore.  New York has rebuilt and moved on, but the Memorial says, no, the holes are permanent.  The terrorists’ achievement lives on.

In my mind, the memories of each of 9/11’s victims should live on forever.  We should never forget those atrocious events.  But we should totally forget the damage caused by them.  The buildings are gone, but we built better ones.  Terrorists, you did some damage, but we came back, and are better than ever.  The September 11 Memorial should honor those lost on that fateful day, yet in no way solidify the dastardly deeds of those responsible.  It should say to the terrorists, you hurt us that day, but you cannot touch us.  The destruction you wrought was temporary, and we easily recovered.  You left no permanent damage.  You failed.

Yet those holes in the ground do the opposite.  They say to the terrorists, we are scarred now.  You have left indelible damage.  You defeated us, and here’s the proof.  We are not memorializing the victims of your deeds, we are instead memorializing the deeds themselves.

The names of those lost that day should not meekly surround monuments designed to outline the damage done to our nation, and our world.  They should not serve to silhouette what the terrorists took from us.  They should have proudly soared to the sky, engraved on the side of One World Trade Center.  They should not be saying, “this is what we lost.”  They should be saying, “this is who we are.”

The greatest city in the world deserves nothing less.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Let the Mystery Be

The Leftovers is an enthralling HBO TV series, centering on the premise that, on October 14, 2011, 2% of the world’s population suddenly, inexplicably and simultaneously disappeared.  The series, based on Tom Perrotta's novel and created by Perrotta and Damon Lindelof, focuses on the effects the so-called “Sudden Departure” had on people, families, and society at large.  Seasons 1 and 2 are available for purchase on Google Play, Amazon, and iTunes, so if you’re looking for something to binge on this weekend, there you go.

During Season 1, each episode set the scene magnificently with a chilling, eerie instrumental number played over the opening credits.  Season 2 managed to top that by going in a different direction.  The opening theme is Iris DeMent’s haunting Let the Mystery Be, sung by DeMent herself (written by DeMent in 1992, the song has been covered by many artists).  

Not only is Let the Mystery Be, in DeMent’s unique voice, an almost absurdly appropriate way to begin each episode of The Leftovers, it also perfectly summarizes my own thoughts on religion and superstition (really one and the same, but that’s a whole other subject).  Here are DeMent’s gorgeous full lyrics (I humbly suggest you have the lovely DeMent sing them to you while you read them):

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say once you're gone you're gone forever
And some say you're gonna come back
Some say you rest in the arms of the Saviour
If in sinful ways you lack

Some say that they're comin' back in a garden
Bunch of carrots and little sweet peas
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Everybody's wonderin' what and where they they all came from
Everybody's worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Some say they're goin' to a place called Glory
And I ain't saying it ain't a fact
But I've heard that I'm on the road to purgatory
And I don't like the sound of that
I believe in love and I live my life accordingly
But I choose to let the mystery be

Everybody is wondering what and where they they all came from
Everybody is worryin' 'bout where they're gonna go
When the whole thing's done
But no one knows for certain
And so it's all the same to me

I think I'll just let the mystery be
I think I'll just let the mystery be

Let the Mystery Be was used in the opening scenes of Bernardo Bertolucci's 1992 film, Little Buddha.  It was used over the opening credits in Season 2 of The Leftovers.  And now, my precious irreligiousness has its own theme song.

I think I’ll just let the mystery be.