This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2, 491) on Friday, September 23, 2022.
For many decades now, we have heard the term “artificial intelligence.” As I understand it, artificial intelligence means that somewhere someone (or is it a group of people?) is hard at work creating a device that will think like the human brain. This idea of “artificial intelligence” has given rise to scary stories that one day, maybe sooner than we think, these devices will replace human beings, and we will become “obsolete.”
Don’t count on it. I confess to have a lifelong skepticism about the powers and the efficacy of what is called artificial intelligence. It is inconceivable to me that any machine, no matter how large and sophisticated, can replace the functioning of a human brain—even that of a half-wit like myself.
One of the reasons for my skepticism is that when anyone talks about artificial intelligence, the idea of “perception” gets ignored. A machine may be able to “think,” but can it “perceive”?
My doubts about all of this were recently supported by the article in Psychology Today in which the author, Marianna Pogosyan, writes about the concept of “interoception” and begins her article with these words:
“It is believed that in 30 seconds, the human brain goes through roughly the same amount of information as the Hubble Space Telescope processes in 30 years. Part of that data comes from the world around us; another part comes from our inner world—the body. Indeed, among the grandest feats of the brain’s spectacular repertoire is its ongoing conversation with the body.”
Read the article. It will calm whatever fears you have about “artificial intelligence.”
Have a great and literate weekend.
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Ramsey Lewis put us in the ‘in crowd’
Much ink has been spilled and many electrons have been sent flying our way about celebrities and personalities who have recently passed away. But to my mind, not enough has been said about the guy who put us in the “in crowd,” gave us permission to wade in the water, and, all the while, told Sloopy to hang on.
Lewis had a style of piano playing that was all his own, totally original. He was easy to listen to, and the music was easy to connect with.
But in addition to that, there was something deeper about what he was telling us. Life could throw us some nasty curveballs, but it was all going to be okay. That’s the feeling we got when Ramsey Lewis sat down at a keyboard and favored us with a tune.
If you have never heard Ramsey Lewis play, hearing it for the first time is like nothing you’ve ever experienced. He got into your head and ultimately into your heart.
Lewis was born in 1935 and grew up in Chicago’s infamous Cabrini-Green housing project. He started taking piano lessons when he was four years old, and he played in church, where his father was the choir director. In addition to religious music, his father was a jazz fan; his favorites included Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. He took his son to jazz concerts and encouraged the boy to embrace that music.
Embrace it he did, and when he was in high school Lewis joined a set of fellow church musicians who decided they wanted to play jazz. The name of the seven-member group was the Clefs. When the Korean War started, the military draft took several members of the group. Left behind were Lewis, Eldee Young, the bass player, and Isaac ‘Redd’ Holt, the drummer. These three formed the original group that became famous as the Ramsey Lewis Trio.
In 1956 the group released its first album, Ramsey Lewis and His Gentle-men of Swing, and three years later the group was invited to perform at the famous Birdland club in New York. That led to performances at the Newport Jazz Festival and the Village Vanguard and to recordings with rising stars of jazz such as Max Roach, Clark Terry, and Sonny Stitt.
The group broke through to fame and big record sales in 1965 with the crossover hit The ‘In’ Crowd, a Grammy-winning song. That was followed by two additional big hits, Hang on Sloopy, and Wade in the Water.
In the 1970s the group embraced rhythm and blues and Latin music while remaining within the mainstream of jazz. In the 1990s Lewis recorded with jazz stars such as Grover Washington, Jr., Earl Klugh, and Dave Koz. In the next decade, he returned to his roots with an album of gospel music.
Along the way, he interpreted rock ‘n’ roll with his unique style in albums like The Beatles Songbook.
Lewis won numerous awards including five honorary doctorate degrees and the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Jazz Artist. His personal memorabilia now resides in the Smithsonian Institution.
Ramsey Lewis should be remembered, listened to, and celebrated. He did more for us than most of the folks we are hearing about today.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries. https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
From the archives: Saul Bellow—a jerk and a determinedly great writer
Saul Bellow is one of the giants of 20th century American literature—a writer of the first order who could mesmerize the reader with his prose. Yet personally, he could be—and often was—a jerk, demanding, demeaning, and thoroughly foul-tempered.
What’s a biographer to do?
The answer comes from Zachary Leader, who has just published the second of a two-volume biography, this one covering the last 40 years of Bellow’s life. Leader, according to New York Times reviewer and English professor Mark Greif, not just covers Bellow’s life but manages to make him, somewhat, sympathetic.
The vein that successfully keeps one focused on Bellow, and enchanted, is the novelist’s excerpted prose. It knocks you back on your heels. Not just in the novels and stories, but in letters to every sort of addressee, from intimates, to fans, to politicians, Bellow’s prose is electric. Was Saul Bellow a Man or a Jerk? Both, a Monumental Biography Concludes – The New York Times
Greif describes one of the elements that made Bellow a great writer:
I have always found Bellow’s artfulness to cloy over the length of his longest novels. He made himself a fiction writer by force of mind, hard work and sheer will, plus study of the greats. He remained a lifelong student of the highest caliber: co-teaching with philosophers, metabolizing esoteric doctrines, even directing the Committee on Social Thought at the University of Chicago.
Read the review, read the biography if you’re interested, but by all means read Bellow if you have never done so. Read his words and sentences and find out what Greif is talking about.
Group giveaways for September
And my young adult novel, Point Spread, is part of this young adult book giveaway:
Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.
It helps me a great deal if you use these links to take a look at the offerings even if you don’t select any of these books. Many thanks.
Vic C.: Your piece on type-setting brought back a strong memory of taking a course called “Graphic Arts” in the ’50s. The teacher was Mr. Kasprczyk (talk about having an unforgettable name!) and one of the things I learned was how to set type. Talk about a tedious and time-consuming task, this had to be at the top of the list. And, because each piece of type was never fully cleaned, handling them meant that you had printer’s ink all over your fingertips and then onto the rest of your hand. When you rubbed your nose (the smell of the ink was slightly irritating), well, there was a black streak on your face. I never was very quick at it though I’m sure, with practice, I’d have gotten better. In its own way, though, it was fun and most certainly educational, giving you a real appreciation for the people who, in years earlier, had tried to make a living doing it.
John W.: Thank you so much for your fantastic newsletter. It beats those of all other writers, hands down. I look forward to each issue. I always learn something new and interesting.
I also enjoy the caricatures/art work in the newsletters. Who does them? Please keep up the great work!
Bonita B.: Thanks for the newsletter! I read Ordinary Grace by (William Kent) Krueger earlier this year. It was a very good book. Thank you for reminding me. I added all his other books to my “To Read” list.
Sheila P.: Thanks for including the part about WKK (William Kent Krueger)! I love love love his writing, and Fox Creek was great!
Vince V.: Two wildly unrelated thoughts.
- I’m eternally grateful that I started my journalism career in the era of “hot-type.” There’s nothing like the clack of a Linotype machine and the smell of hot lead cooking in a giant pot. All hail, Ottmar Mergenthaler.
- Thank you for recognizing the record for home runs in a year as 61 by Roger Maris. There’s almost a 40-year gap between Maris and the likes of Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds. I don’t believe in better hitting through chemistry.
Marcia D.: As much as I like football, I also like baseball.
I’m a Dodgers fan and we have won our Division title. Will be going to Los Angeles for some playoff games.
Finally . . .
This week’s watercolor (with help from the pen): Reading adventure
Best quote of the week:
Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows. Sydney J. Harris, journalist and author (1917-1986)
If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try pray-as-you-go.org. The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.
If you are interested in reading scripture, either the Old Testament, the New Testament, or both, you might be interested in the videos, commentary, and podcast of the BibleProject.com. The people who work on this site have done some deep and thoughtful reading of the Bible, and the videos they have produced (generally shorter than 10 minutes) are both entertaining and enlightening. They view the Bible as a single entity with a single purpose, and their approach is both delightful and refreshing.
Helping those in need
Fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.
It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).
When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR.org) is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.
Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: Mergenthaler and the history of printing, William Kent Krueger, and end-of-season baseball thrills: newsletter, September 16, 2022
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