Friday, July 04, 2008
Friday, June 27, 2008
The Thoughtful Side of Cassanova
In addition to the vast History of My Life, he wrote a total of 42 books and plays, including a translation of the Iliad, a five-volume science-fiction novel, mathematical treatises and opera libretti. He was also a committed follower of the Kabbalah, the mystical Jewish cult holding a deep fascination for him to the extent that he attributed his life's successes to its power.
Thursday, April 24, 2008
Origin of Murphy's Law
Thursday, February 07, 2008
Although the possibility of doing this in a finite number of steps was disproved in the early 1880s when pi was shown to be a transcendental number (not the root of a polynomial with function with rational coordinates), Dr. Edwin Goodwin had apparently not heard. He wrote a bill encapsulating his idea and persuaded his local representative to introduce it.
The quasi-mathematical ramblings must have worn on the unfortunate elected officials, who, largely not understanding a word read out loud, were ready to pass it, with the byproduct of effectively setting the value of pi to 3.2 and also of legislating a royalty, to be paid the ingenious fellow, on the use of the new value. Luckily the universe did not need to adjust its functioning because an actual mathematician, the chair of Purdue's math department, happened to be in the chamber at the time, and he took the time to explain the problem.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
A Chicken in Every Pot and a Gaseous Emmission From Every Nun?
The other humorous lesson in French came from a recipe for cream puff fritters. You fry pits of cream puff pastry and then top them with jam, honey, or sugar. The French name is pets de nonne, and I'll leave it to Anne Willan to explain the significance:
Toddlers learn the name and no polite translation exists. It means quite simply "nun's farts" because the fritters are so light.I'm still trying to figure out whether it says more about the pastries or the nuns.
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
The Romans ruled the Celts for hundreds of years, and traditions of the cultures intermingled. Romans has festivals for the dead in October as well, and also a day to honor the goddess of fruit and trees - hence bobbing for apples today. I haven't yet found where the handing out of candy (technically, buying off kids who would otherwise play a trick) started, though this sounds suspiciously like wassailing. And in Ireland, there is still a tradition of the barmbrack, a cake with a plain ring baked in, which sounds like a Gateau Roi (King's Cake), but in this case, the person who gets the ring is supposed to find his or her true love the coming year. Talk about pressure for a pre-teen.
Friday, August 24, 2007
Now we see another form of redefining words - this time in redefining our collective memory of history. It's not the first time, but, again, another disturbing trend. In this case, President Bush tried to argue that the situation in Iraq is like that of Vietnam in the early 1970s, and even referring to al Qaeda and Iraqi insurgents in terms of the "war machine of imperial Japan," according to the Wall Street Journal. (Nothing like dredging up World War II imagery when Japan has greatly changed and is now a close ally.) He warns that a quick withdrawal could lead to chaos and another Khmer Rouge. "Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end," he said.
But this is rewriting history, as the 1984 character Winston Smith saw it done. Instead of seeing the past as immutable, it become an assemblage of clay. When you want to support something you do today, you rearrange the parts, eliminating the ones you don't like, and trot out the "proof." But, again according to the Journal, some historians are upset by this comparison.
"The president emphasized the violence in the wake of American withdrawal from Vietnam. But this happened because the United States left too late, not too early," says Steven Simon, a Mideast expert at the Council on Foreign Relations. "It was the expansion of the war that opened the door to Pol Pot and the genocide of the Khmer Rouge." Ret. Army Brig. Gen. John Johns tells the Journal that what he "learned in Vietnam is that U.S. forces could not conduct a counterinsurgency operation. The longer we stay there, the worse it's going to get."You won't hear too many politicians complain about this, because, at least in my opinion, the majority want access to the same tools to further their ends.
But nothing good can come out of pretending that the past is something other than it was beyond trying to interpret what happened. To remake history is to lie - no other word fits this. But it's not a lie just told to someone else, but to yourself. When you lie to yourself, you destroy your reason. How can you effectively be rational at all if you won't see what is there and insist on making your decisions based on personal fancy? That means we now have a generation of politicians that do their work in a dream world, where the building blocks of experience are set tumbling and the very material of thought - language - is warped and twisted for expediency. Is there any wonder why our country has become so messed up?
Thursday, June 14, 2007
National Archives Find Lincoln Note
a handwritten note by Abraham Lincoln exhorting his generals to pursue Robert E. Lee's army after the battle of Gettysburg, underscoring one of the great missed opportunities for an early end to the Civil War.The text had been public knowledge because it was addressed to a general who then telegraphed the contents to the front lines at Gettysburg. Archivist Trevor Plante had literally been looking for something else when he came across this paper stuck in a desk drawer.