Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Gore Vidal - a Tribute

I came to know about Gore Vidal's writing from his non fiction book titled United States: Essays 1952 - 1992. It was a borrowed book from my local library. His writing was clear, erudite and written with sharp observations and without fear. During the time of increasingly more global turmoils and misplaced paranoia, especially after 2001, this writer who had literary honesty and universal vision in his core, was not to be sidelined by yellow journalism masqueraded as benevolent subjugation. By the time he was well in his late 70s and approaching 80s, Gore Vidal came out with some of the most pointed articles of the time to describe what the wars and violence are really about and its devastating effects on forgotten victims, the casualty of wars.

Gore Vidal died today, July 31, 2012. The world has lost one of its greatest freethinkers, literary critiques, and novelists. He understood the cosmic significance and albeit insignificance of human existence, and said even in his last years: "Because there is no cosmic point to the life that each of us perceives on this distant bit of dust at galaxy's edge, all the more reason for us to maintain in proper balance what we have here.  Because there is nothing else. No thing. This is it. And quite enough, all in all."

In his memoir "Point to Point Navigation", Gore Vidal reminisced last few words of his long time companion Howard Austen from deathbed: "Didn't it go awfully fast?" and the writer replied, "Of course it had. We had been too happy and the gods cannot bear the happiness of mortals."

Gore Vidal, a great writer of our time, will be missed.

His obituaries can be found from the following links:

  1. Gore Vida, celebrated author, playwright, dies
  2. Gore Vidal, 1925-2012 - Prolific, Elegant, Acerbic Writer 
  3. Gore Vidal dies; imperious gadfly and prolific, graceful writer was 86

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Immortality - 2045 Strategic Social Initiative

Two news caught my eyes early Sunday morning. One is in BBC and another one is in Discovery News. The BBC's one talks about the universal yearning to live forever. And the Discovery News points to a Russian media mogul who has started taking initial steps to achieve cybernetic immortality for humans by 2045.

Is this possible? Is there really a modern elixir that can be devised through digital technologies? It may seem too far fetched at this point, but possibly is a good step. Good diet and exercise can, theoretically, prolong life, but the certain upper longevity limit perhaps cannot be crossed for mortal human flesh. This 31 year old Russian media mogul, Dmitry Itskov, has even created a non profit organization named 2045 initiative. Here is his plan in summary:
"The main objectives of the initiative are: the creation of a new vision of human development that meets global challenges humanity faces today, realization of the possibility of a radical extension of human life by means of cybernetic technology, as well as the formation of a new culture associated with these technologies.
The "2045" team is working towards creating an international research center where leading scientists will be engaged in research and development in the fields of anthropomorphic robotics, living systems modeling and brain and consciousness modeling with the goal of transferring one's individual consciousness to an artificial carrier and achieving cybernetic immortality."
 Technologies described in 2045.com look to be achievable in abstractions, however, in reality it will take enormous coordinated efforts by many specialists of various sciences and technologies. The social resistance that will be attracted when this initiative gets more momentum from various quarters, including political, religious and economic entities, could become challenging to surmount, unless more nuanced approach is taken, including inviting representatives from all these resisting groups.

Comparing this science fiction like initiative with the article in BBC news, one question comes to mind: why would anyone want to live forever? Would there be any meaning, value in a life that has no ending? Also, more troubling questions come to mind: what kind of humanity would emerge after being transformed into a cybernetic entity in an artificial and holographic body like an avatar?

Every major religions and scriptures promise an afterlife, where the good folks go to heaven and the naughty ones go to hell. These are simplistic but powerful motivators for human beings that guide and inspire ones to push the limit to achieve and share goodness with many. Human beings, in overall perspective, are not matured yet to dwell in a life without the promise of rewards after death, at least for many. The very thought of death can be off putting. This science fiction like initiative that 2045.com is proposing may give a different light to this predictable mortal life.

Just imagine, at the end of your natural life, your consciousness will be transmitted into a holographic brain with a full functional artificial body of your choosing. How wonderful that can be! You will live forever. Almost that is. One catch is that human beings are prone to violence and greed. Would being transferred into a holographic avatar have any effect abating these self destructive tendencies? And if there are some algorithmic logic put into place to check and thwart human being's jealous and impulsive violent trends, what type of existence that would be? No more free will? Would all the cybernetic consciousness be connected in a global consciousness stream? Somehow StartTrek's the villainous Borgs come into mind. However, that was only fictional dramatic scenario. Maybe, a connected global consciousness can be positive, that can collectively decide the overall progress of our shared existence.

From the times of antiquity, human beings are trying to find the very purpose of our existence. Why are we here in this big blob of a planet, in a solar system along with other seemingly dead planets? In cosmic reality, the significance of our existence in terms of time and effect can be as glorious as the life of a mere wasp, marching ants or bacteria residing in every surface of my earthly possessions. And, it can be something opposite too. Perhaps our existence does have deeper meaning than the naked evolutionary truth describes. Whatever it is, collectively, we have quite a bit way to go to find any definitive answer.

2045 initiative is a positive step. If it is managed in altruistic vision that it depicts in its nicely designed site, then there is greatness can be reaped. And yes, of course immortality too! Immortality embedded in per click advertisements of ultimate social network utility! Okay, that's a depressing thought, but maybe immortality in avatar will be made available like an Open Source and free for all application, for rich and poor, all nations, all races will have the equal access. I can foresee a future constitutional amendment: All avatars are created equal.

Now, James Cameron must direct another version of his fabulous Avatar movie.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Step Away from the Device, Enjoy the Ride!

There was a time beyond iPhone, tablets, laptops and ubiquitous personal computers. Ah yes, no video games either. Those years were not before the first or the second world wars, not even before Beatles, ABBA, Ali, Jackson, Elvis, Madonna or Diego Maradona phenomena. Some of these were many years before I was born, and some of these were in my lifetime. Having fun did not mean striking the XBOX, Play Station or Wii's console pounding with frenetic speed, or the near absolute attachments with fabulous social networking tools of today. Relative to present days' and moments' of never ending virtual interactivity, those days and nights of computer-less light and darkness were awash by sunlight or the moon beams, not the afterglow of a massive or tiny LCD screens. It was playing soccer or cricket in mud and rain soaked field until the twilight hour, climbing trees to pluck the ripened guavas or mangoes, and running toward the fly away kites in the sky brought the pure thrills and joys.

Those days are gone. One's childhood never returns. An over used citation regarding time is that it is like a flowing river stream, once gone, it is gone, never to return to the same spot. Life is such. We born and we die. In the middle is the most fun part. Our relations with the loved ones, family, friends, beloveds, colleagues, numerous acquaintances, and even strangers. 

Technological advancements in my lifetime I find to be simply astonishing. No one talks about those cumbersome personal PC made from 348, 448, Pentium 1, 2, 3 and 4 anymore. Anyone remembers Windows 3.1 or 95? What was the real "floppy" disk? Most of my Internet surfing these days are done using the tiny but powerful smart phone. Translation from one language to another has become easy, and I can download any book I would like to read in Kindle in a moment's gratification. What's Up? I am not asking a question to anyone, "What's Up" is an application shown to me by my sister last week, and already I feel I am falling away from technology's lightning speed track. 

The benefits that technology's marvels brought to me and my fellow human beings are magical to the least. And yes, it was correctly stated by the author Arthur C. Clarke that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. We are living in a magical world. With sufficient means, one can fly in gravity defying gigantic aeroplane to any picturesque and heavenly place of our world. If you like, you can see the live burning volcano in Hawaii, rain forests in Brazil, snorkel or dive with the large turtles around a coral reef or even with a disinterested predatory shark under the giant ocean waves. You can traverse the vast expanse of Sahara desert on the back of an authentic camel, and dine in fine restaurants of Istanbul or Rome. And yes, after quenching all self gratifying impulses, if one wishes, one can donate to any of good charities of one's choosing by clicking a few buttons on smart phone or tablet or using now the seemingly ancient looking laptop or clunky personal computers. 

We born and we die. The beginning we have no control about, and the very end has the promise of being very unpleasant if not downright horrific. The middle part is the fun. The present moment that is. We can reminisce all we want, and plan for all the good days to come in future, but it is the present that matters the most. And these very precious moments, should these be wasted immersing inside the virtual reality? Of course, one may argue that virtual reality can bring more fun and satisfaction than the painful, violent and convoluted reality for many. To me, this virtual loving argument seems to be superfluous and tenuous at best. Even many of the stalwarts of Silicon Valley are urging us the virtually entrapped beings to step away from our digital devices more often, stating that "Consumers need to have an internal compass where they're able to balance the capabilities that technology offers them for work, for search, with the qualities of the lives they live offline....It's about creating space, because otherwise we can be swept away by our technologies."

Don't be swept away by technologies. Step away from the device. Take deep breath and meditate or pray, whichever makes you feel calm and peace inside. This is it. We born and we die. The middle part is all the fun. Enjoy the ride! 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Humayun Ahmed - a Tribute

Like many grieving readers, Humayun Ahmed's writings had impact shaping my thoughts and life. His protagonists from everyday life, mysterious and mystical, sometimes magical, and sometimes realistic to the core, Himu, Misir Ali, Baker Bhai, and many other now forgotten main and side characters of his skillfully crafted novels, their fights against the odd, wins and defeats, selfless sacrifice, and passions, these all made up the sum total of this great Bangladeshi writer's tremendous contributions to Bangla literature. 

His sentence structure was simple, but in combination had powerful meaning. I have not read his writings from the last decade, but can reminisce still those unforgettable moments that came alive from the crisp plot, economic usages of words, and ending that had left me craving for more of his story. 

I remember the universal messages in his stories. Love, humanity, this mortal life, and the possibility beyond belief and imagination. At that time when I was reading Humayun Ahmed's novels, a few other Bengali contemporary writers' name came to mind whose books I used to read voraciously and collect in my quite infamous and strict  book library. Qazi Anwar Hussain was one of them. His series of Masud Rana and Kuasha, along with other books published through his publication Sheba Prokashoni were unforgettable. A few other legendary writers whose stories I still reminisce and miss along with Humayun Ahmed's are Sunil Gangopadhyay (Purbo Poshchim, Prothom Alo, Shei Shomoy), Shirshendu Mukhopadhyay (Durbin, Parthibo, Manab Jaminm, Paraapar), Akhtaruzzaman Elias (Chilekothar Sepai, Khoabnama), Syed Mujtaba Ali (Musafir, Chaturanga), Samaresh Majumdar, Sanaresh Basu, Imdadul Haq Milon, Prafulla Roy, Satyajit Roy (Feluda, Professor Shanku), Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay (Pother Panchali), Shonkor, and many others great Bengali writers whose writing jewels still remain tragically unknown to the greater world.

After Rabindranath Tagore, Kazi Nazrul Islam, and other leading writers of 20th century, Humayun Ahmed's contribution as a prolific writer and also as a notable film and TV drama director and author will be remembered and missed. 

Only 63 year old when this great writer died. So sudden and unexpected! Humayun Ahmed did explore mortality and the possibility of another existence beyond this finite life, though not in absolute term, like a scientist as he was with the addition of mystical spirituality.

I believe, his memorable writings will keep his memory alive to this and many generations to come. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Twenty years from now......

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Mark Twain

Thursday, July 05, 2012

The Competitive and Adorable World of Over 80s Ping Pong

Video link: http://bcove.me/dxen7j36
These 80, 90, 100+ years old are keep plying the game. The game of ping pong, the game of life. Their defiance and fierceness shown in every vigorous smash or spinning of ping pong balls in front of the inevitable aging can put to shame many like me who takes life as granted, and don't live to the fullest.

A good quotation from an article in The Atlantic“When I saw Dorothy being pushed up to the table in her wheel chair, I thought this was going to be an easy game. But then she pushed away the chair, stood up and beat me three games straight.” 

Easy game? No way! The fighting spirits in this table tennis World Championship in ping pong can never be called quitters, as these are the winners, soaking the essence of life in every breath and every move around that smooth table tennis table.

Bangladesh - On the Frontlines of Climate Change

This video documentary from a photojournalist Ami Vitali gives a description of grim and slow motion catastrophe in action. Beautifully rendered, telling the stories of lives not talked about in urgency as it demands. 

Video Link: http://bcove.me/551u7xxo

The following is an extract from an article in The Atlantic where the above video was posted.
"The village of South Tetulbaria in the Bay of Bengal, Bangladesh, relies on fishing but climate change threatens this way of life. In November 2010 Mamtaz Begum, a young widow from Barguna, stood up and demanded justice for vulnerable communities near to the Bay of Bengal at a ‘Climate Tribunal’ in the capital, Dhaka. 
The climate tribunals are developing the idea that those responsible for climate change, can and should be held accountable through the law. Specifically they explore the possibilities for using national laws to hold governments and other private actors accountable for the impacts of the changing climate on vulnerable communities."
Ami Vitali's following reply to a question on why she got into photography and video provides a forgotten axiom:
"I feel a duty to tell the quieter stories that reach beyond the headlines and often reveal that no matter how different a place may look on the surface, the truth is that nearly all people on this planet share the same values. There is no difference of feelings and emotions amongst people everywhere and we are all tied together in an intricate web, whether we believe it or not."
Many kudos to a brave journalist!