Category: Life

The Fable of Sybaris

Long ago, more than 2,500 years in the past, the city of Sybaris flourished on the heel of what is now Italy. Situated on a bustling line of Greek trade, Sybaris was where seagoing merchants unloaded their precious cargo for distribution along the Western coast. The customs and tolls from the Greeks’ inexorable enterprise made...

A Chinese Man with a Latin Name and Many Dangerous Ideas

His Chinese title was Mang-tze: Mang the Master. Just as European scholars changed his philosophical predecessor K’ung-fu-tze into “Confucius,” Latin-trained historians of the West called him “Mencius.” He spent most of his adult life (378-289 B.C.) counseling princes and kings, teaching them to rule like philosophers instead of barbarians. In his final years, he composed — or...

Ancient Questions, Modern Answers

When we consider regions of the world less “developed” than ours, let’s keep in mind Europe (and its imperialist offspring around the globe, like the United States) were also once Medieval. We, too, were once benighted, ignorant, backwards. Long ago, our civilization preferred the mystical powers of alchemy to the rational comforts of science, the...

The Driveway Mural

It began as a New Year’s folly, an impulsive lark. Some children and I splashed a few square panels of our concrete driveway with old house-paint from the cellar, shrouding the dull stone with color and shapes. We thought it looked pretty good, so the next day I did another panel, and then another the...

A Modest Proposal for Optimal Use of Artificial Intelligence

If you’re still in the camp that believes a near future dominated by artificially intelligent machines is nothing but a dystopian daydream, consider this: Not long ago, an artificially intelligent computer program called AlphaZero, hooked up to industrial-strength, Google-supplied processors, was given the rules of chess. That’s it. By playing countless games against itself, billions(?),...

Announcement: Why You’ll Be Hearing Less from Me

Today I’m delighted to announce my semi-retirement from writing. It’s been more than 30 years I’ve been doing this professionally, 20 years since my first book. Now it’s time to do something else. For the people who care about my work, don’t worry. Writing will continue. These essay Thoughts will continue (probably) to be published...

On Chess, Mind Control, and Smashing Paradigms

As in any ideological system, young chess players are inculcated with seemingly inviolable commandments:  Thou Shalt Arrange Your Pieces to Control the Center, Thou Shall Not Move the Same Piece Twice Until All Other Pieces Are Developed. In what you might call the romantic era of chess, before the development of artificial intelligence, these commandments...

I Am Hitler’s Driver

Thanks to their proximity to important people everyone knows, unimportant people whose names we don’t remember, “regular” folks like me and you, often have a fleeting opportunity to change the course of World History. Henry the VIII’s chef; Napoleon’s personal physician; Hitler’s driver. With a little help and a lot of courage, each of them...

It’s All Good

Ask anyone under the age of 35: it’s all good. You accidentally bump your shopping cart into someone standing in line at the supermarket: Oops! No worries. It’s all good. You show up a few minutes late for a scheduled appointment: No problem, it’s all good. You forget someone’s name for the third time: Whatever....

On the Glide Path to Nirvana

At a somewhat advanced age for such youthful pursuits, you’re playing your first-ever organized chess tournament. You’ve entered the Los Angeles Open, along with about 400 other brilliant nerds, many of them teenagers and younger. In fact, every generation is well-represented here. There are players as young as 5 and as old as 90. Indeed,...