Books I started But Could Not Finish

I was going to title this post “Books Most People Start But Don’t Finish.” Then I realized that sweeping generalizations of this nature are best not made. So I narrowed the scope down, just a tad. I consider myself quite resilient when it comes to books. I’ve plowed through some even if I could only grasp a little or if they failed to hold my full attention. These are books I started, or have wanted to read but couldn’t. In case it comes across otherwise, I want to clarify something: Most of these are classics or spiritual guides that have inspired millions if not billions and it is my intellectual ability, or lack of it rather, that has prevented me from comprehending them. Many of these books exist in their original form in a language I do not speak, read or understand so the best English approximation will have to do. I hope to, at some future day when I am older and hopefully wiser to come back and revisit them. So without further ado….and drum-roll please….

  1. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez — (Original Spanish). Two hundred pages in I just could not. I hope to understand the Magic Realism concept some day. I didn’t know the genre was called Magic Realism until a wise woman told me it was called thus.
  2. Fountainhead by Ayn Rand. — Just about everyone in high school was carrying a copy, or so it felt. So I picked up a copy, barely made it past ten pages if I recall correctly. I do however, recall a character named Howard Roark. Poor choice of reading material for a teenager who hadn’t read a “real” book until he was seventeen. Probably a good time to revisit to try and understand the libertarians and their point(s) of view. Because  concepts like fiscal conservatism and libertarianism, on the face of it appear quite sound and appealing. But the devil is in the details.
  3. The Bhagavad Gita ( Original Sanskrit) , — This one I really hope I can come back and revisit. It has been an inspiration and life guide for some of the best and brightest minds that have ever walked the earth. Plus I could sure use some spiritual guidance.
  4. The New Testament — See #3
  5. The Quran  (Original Arabic I presume) — See #4. And last I checked Islam had close to two billion adherents, so I’d like to know what the book that is the foundation of this religion says.
  6. The Dhammapada  (Original Pali) — Gautama Buddha. ‘Nuff said.
  7. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (Original Greek) — Saw a version written for pre-teens at the local library the other day. That should be a good starting point.
  8. Ulysses by James Joyce — Have not yet mustered enough courage to try and borrow it from the library, much less start reading it.
  9. Capital in the Twenty First Century by Thomas Piketty (Original French). — Reading a review like this one by someone with the intellect to understand it will have to do for now.
  10. Das Kapital by Karl Marx (Original German) — File it under the same category as #8.
  11. Mein Kampf by Author Needs No Introduction — Much for the same reasons others that picked up this book did, to try and understand what went on in that maniac’s mind, but the incoherent rambling was too much to make it past the first few pages.
  12. All of Them — W. Shakespeare — No, literally all of them. I do have a guide to reading Shakespeare that runs to about 300 pages. That would be a good starting point.

Random thought of the week: About using the phrase “Without further ado. Breaking the first of George Orwell’s six cardinal rules of writing: : Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print. Here’s the full list in case anyone’s interested.

1. Never use a metaphor, simile or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything barbarous.

As always thank you for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
03/25/18

Ten seemingly random thoughts strewn together

Come you masters of war
You that build all the guns
You that build the death planes
You that build the big bombs
……………………………………………….
…..Let me ask you one question
Is your money that good
Will it buy you forgiveness
…………………………………………….
…When your death takes its toll
All the money you made
Will never buy back your soul

— Bob Dylan, Masters of War

1. Sridevi died. Count mine among the millions of hearts left broken in the aftermath. Some of my first thoughts though? “I hope the toxicology report comes out clean.” Like it matters, to the legacy she left behind. Or anything else for that matter.

2. It is no fun waking up every morning to some news about the opioid epidemic.

3. Drugs have ravaged minority communities in the inner cities for as long as I can remember. Society’s solution then was to lock up as many offenders as possible. The consequence was an incarcerated population, of mostly young black men, that exceeds half that of Scotland. Or Norway. Or Finland. Or two thirds that of Wales. Or take your pick of any country with a population of two and a half million.

4. Since the problem is ravaging the white ‘burbs it is now a public health issue, as it should always have been . I read this in an op-ed piece in the failing New York Times and and could not agree more.

5. The hypocrisy aside, I am glad that it is being recognized as one now, so something can be done that actually works. The War on Drugs sure as hell didn’t. Not only did it not work, it exacerbated the problem. I won’t even start on the problems we exported to Central America as a result of our War on Drugs. For those interested, A History of Violence: Living and Dying in Central America by Pulitzer winner Oscar Martinez is a quick and poignant read.

6. I was once told by a boss. “Don’t just bring me problems. Bring potential solutions too.” In that spirit, I think at the very least a debate on safe zones for addicts to shoot up should be a consideration. A Hamsterdam if you will, for the fans of the show The Wire, with access to clean needles and Naloxone, to help prevent deaths from accidental overdoses .

7. Driving around town with your ten year old is not the perfect time to find out that another shooting is being reported in some other part of the country.

8. His reaction? “Another one?” That is twenty school shootings this year.” A statistic admittedly unverified by me.

9. He further added: “Trump is standing there making a speech about trying to do something.” What do you mean “try”  ? DO something bro.

10. He’s taken to saying “bro” a lot these days. His brother, his dad, his best friend, some random stranger that cuts him off in the grocery store aisle. Everyone’s bro.

11. Bro! must be the new Dude! The word seems quite in vogue with ten year olds. Well, with the one that lives in our house anyways.

12. My answer to his question, or rather his concern?
“I don’t know kid. I’ve stopped counting. Its now up to your generation to try and fix it. Ours and the ones before sure as hell couldn’t.”
Nice way to pawn off the issue to the younger generation. I regretted the give up attitude as soon as I said the words.

13. My six year old is awesome. He has a heart the size of the Grand Canyon and is already, at six years old, much better with kids than I am at forty two. Must have got it from his mom.

14. Nothing substantial will happen in my lifetime around gun control. At least not at the federal level. There’s that give up attitude again.  I believe the best chance was in the winter of 2012 when an Elementary school with five and six year old (mostly upper middle class, white) kids got shot up, resulting in twenty dead kids. If that didn’t spur the collective conscience of this nation into action, I don’t know what else will. Because, as many minority community leaders in the inner cities will also attest to, gun violence has ravaged those communities forever. Which is probably why seventy percent of African Americans support gun control and an equal percentage of whites oppose it. White flight is always an option I suppose, but there ain’t no such thing as a black flight. And agree or disagree with him, love him or hate him, especially about sweeping generalizations as this one, the comedian Bill Maher put it well when he said “Democrats love guns too. They just don’t love them as much as Republicans.”

15. I hope I’m wrong.

16. It is sad, in a nation that was, in the words of a great man “conceived in Liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”, to see some lives deemed more valuable than others.

17. Happy Getting Shitfaced in the Name of the Irish day. I hope Zeke Elliott doesn’t get drunk, go honk some ol’ gal’s boobs and get suspended costing the Cowboys dearly.

18. Sorry, I lied. Evidently I had more than just ten thoughts

As always, if you’ve read this far, thank you.

Lakshman Hariharan
03/17/18
Prosper, TX.

Talking Big Bang With My Ten Year Old.

Let me say right at the outset: If you’re thinking the title is a bit too grandiose, consider the original title I had. It was “Before The Big Bang”. I have made a rather concerted effort to come up with something less pretentious. I do, however admit that I haven’t succeeded fully. Constant revisions of the post, as is my wont, will hopefully yield something less grandiose.
Surprisingly, or rather unsurprisingly perhaps, some of the best, most profound conversations I have always seem to be with my boys aged ten and six. A phenomenon observed by many, if not most, or all parents no doubt. This could be because children are unencumbered by the baggage, opinions and “knowledge” if you will, that life experiences burden adults with. Also quite possibly because the questions are simple yet profound and the explanations have to be simple and non convoluted. Not for them E equals mc squared or relativity or the complexity of time as a fourth dimension and wormholes. This conversation  happened with my ten year old as a by product of me asking him to, at the very least, read five pages a day of  Cosmos by Carl Sagan. He kept at it for three days and hasn’t returned since, but that is a conversation for another day and time.
On a side note, I have of late discovered the writings of Carl Sagan; Pale Blue Dot, Cosmos, and A Demon Haunted World specifically. For those curious about the vast universe and all the wonders it has to offer Pale Blue Dot is a highly recommended read. It can, at times be disheartening to find out how little we actually know and how ephemeral our short few decades on this earth can be. The author put it best when he wrote “It has been said that Astronomy is a humbling and character building exercise.” Truer words have rarely been spoken.

Returning to the topic I want to discuss, my ten year old asked me a simple question:

OK, before the Big Bang everything was a tiny dot you say. But you also say there was no time and no space before the Big Bang. So where exactly did that tiny little dot exist?

I tried explaining to him that the very words “where” and “when” assume the existence of time and space, but the explanation was as unconvincing to me as it was to him. The fact that I couldn’t explain that in a reasonable manner is rather unsurprising. What is also unsurprising is that a ten year old was seeking an answer to this question. A question that most if not all of us humans have for centuries asked. One that some of the brightest minds that have ever walked this Earth  have for centuries tried to answer. Then I came across the writings of Swami Vivekananda, who writes thus:

“Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then, if there was a time that nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic., which would make Him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound, and every compound must undergo that change which is called destruction. So God would die — which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation.”

Now, it would be an understatement of cosmic proportions (using the word cosmic to stay with the topic at hand) to say that I have neither the intellectual heft nor the brilliant logical mind that Swami Vivekananda had to claim with such certitude that creation has always existed. In which case my question then becomes: What is creation? It is not time, space, matter (organic or inorganic) or anything else we can touch or feel apparently. That too is a question for another day and time.

My views and opinions  on the existence of God as they are today are irrelevant but I can make peace with the explanation provided by Swami Vivekananda. For now. It begins to scratch the surface. It is quite likely, if this piece of writing  even survives a few years in some remote corner of the internet I will read it and be amused, if not be downright embarrassed by my own naivete and lack of profundity.

Now my challenge becomes how to put this in a succinct and simple way to try and scratch the surface of this question posed by my ten year old.
As always, if you have made it thus far, thank you for reading.

Lakshman Hariharan
03/10/2018
Prosper, TX

Evolution As Explained to a Six Year Old

Every once in a while as I am driving the kids around town for soccer or music lessons or whatnot I have conversations with them which I find to be incredibly insightful. We (my wife and I) have noticed however, that either boy will indulge in serious or semi-serious conversation only when one of them is in the car with either of us. For some reason, any of the following other permutations appear to upset the balance:
Both parents in the car with one or both kids,  one parent with both kids in the car, both kids with both parents in the car.
The latter two are self explanatory because nine times out of ten when both of them are in the car with either or both parents World War III is just about a few minutes from breaking out. However miraculously, we somehow manage to make it to our final destination every time and Armageddon  gets postponed for a few more hours.
This particular conversation I had with my six year old took quite a curious turn. Please keep in mind that these are just my opinions and they are as simplistic as can be made while explaining complex concepts like Evolution by Natural Selection, the primordial soup, and concepts like sexual selection etc.  I am aware that not everyone who reads this will agree with my views which are facts, some of them.  I also understand that not everyone will agree with my choices on how to explain such complex concepts to children. I respectfully urge those of you disagreeing with my point of view to please not miss the forest for the trees.
So the conversation went thus:
Nana (rhymes with La-La) means Dad in our native language, not to be confused with the American Nana for grandma.
Six Year Old (SYO): Nana some people in my school say that God created us. That’s not true right?

Me: Well, yes.

SYO: We are just one kind of animal correct, mammals?

Me: Yes, that is correct.

SYO: So how did we get created?

Me: Do you know what Evolution is?

SYO: No

Me: Ok, do you know what a cell is?

SYO: No

Me: Every living being, and by that I mean, plants, animals, BoBo, Mamma, you, I, we are all made of these tiny building blocks called cells. Just like you use Lego blocks to build your set.
When you put cells together in a certain way, we get a plant. I mean when Nature — not you as in you and I — puts together cells in a certain way, we get plants. When Nature puts them together in another way, we get BoBo. Still another way, we get you. Still another way we get Nana. Understood?

SYO:  Yes but how did we get made?

Me: Ok, so a long time ago and by long time ago I mean a really long time ago, like when the earth was very young. 4.5 billion years ago. A billion is…

SYO: I know, 10 with 8 zeroes.

Me: Yes. So the scientists estimate the earth to be 4.5 billion years old and the sun to be 10 billion years old. Humans as we know ourselves today have only been around for 10 thousand years.
I understand my numbers here may be off, by several tens of thousands of years.

SYO: So before George Washington?

Me: Oh yes. George Washington was only 200 years ago. We are talking thousands of years.
Ok, so remember I told you about cells? When the earth was really young there were animals or organisms as they are called, that were only made of one cell. They evolved into organisms with multiple cells, which evolved into fish, which then evolved into amphibians. Do you know what amphibians are?

SYO: No

Me: Amphibians are animals that can live on both water and land; like turtles and frogs. We are humans we cannot live in water just like fish cannot live on land. So we evolved from fish to animals that lived on land to monkeys. From monkeys to apes. You know what the difference between a monkey and an ape is?

SYO: Yes, monkeys have tails. Apes don’t.

Me: Yes, that is correct. That’s how we came about.

SYO: So how many apes made us? A million thousand?

Me: No evolution doesn’t work like that, and million thousand, though technically correct, is not a number. What you really mean is billions. Apes make or create other apes. Humans create other humans.

Following is where I try to explain Evolution by Natural Selection the best I could.

Since we evolved from monkeys, we still have  a tail bone but no tail. Because Nature figured out that we don’t need a tail. Remind me to show you where your tail bone is when we get home. Its right above your booty-butt.
This last sentence elicited not quite a laugh but somewhat of a chuckle. This kid is hard to make laugh, he’s the funny one in the family.

So millions of years from now humans probably won’t even look like humans do today.
For example, Nana has a beard correct?

SYO: Yes.

Yes: A long time ago, beards on a male human were considered attractive to female humans. Nature made sure that all male humans could have beards.

Me: But what does Nana do to his beard all the time?

SYO: Shave it?

Me: Yes, because beards today are more nuisance than attraction, most men shave it off. Which means that millions of years from now male humans may not have beards. Which means male humans may not look like what male humans look like now.
This was an admittedly poor way to explain sexual selection. If any readers that have made it thus far have other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments. This also led into a small segue on him correcting me that Nana doesn’t always shave his beard, he sometimes grows it.

Me: That in a nutshell is evolution kid. You get it?

SYO: Yes?

Right about this time we reached our destination (his best friend’s house) and he could barely let the car come to a full stop before unbuckling his seat belt, flinging the car door open and jumping out. Evolution and such thoughts were about as far from his mind as the sun is from the earth.

If you’ve read thus far thank you for reading and indulging me.

Lakshman Hariharan
03/04/18
Prosper, TX