Suppose I say summer,
write the word "hummingbird,"
From Hummingbird by Raymond Carver
"You are who you think you ain't."
When I imagine creating mathematics, I try to disavow the notion it is different from creating art. I have never created any mathematics; I do not have the talent or the drive. I have written bad fiction and painted bad pictures, yet that is not creating art. Most likely, I poorly reproduced something I had read or seen even if I did it unconsciously.
During the past ten years, I have been enamored of the idea that we think metaphorically—including our philosophical thinking. You can imagine my delight when I came across this Wittgenstein passage in Culture and Value.
It is sometimes said that a man’s philosophy is a matter temperament, and there is something in this. A preference for certain similes could be called a matter of temperament and it underlies far more disagreements than you might think.
Apparently, Hassan Kazemi Qumi, Iran’s Ambassador to Baghdad has outlined a plan for Iran to give Iraq economic and security assistance (NYT). This ought to get interesting.
I am still reading Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value, a book filled with small impeccable gems. What a thing to leave after one is gone: journals filled with impeccable gems written over a lifetime. One does not know where to begin when quoting it.
Kleinst wrote somewhere that what the poet would most of all like to be able to do would be to convey thoughts by themselves without words. (What a strange admission.)
I really do think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what I am writing.
Next week the Bush Administration will try to state their case for Iran’s intervention in Iraq (NYT). Given the lack of credibility the Administration has lost since the beginning of the Iraq occupation, this ought to be interesting.
Yahoo’s old TV guide was never completely stable. It often lost personal customized settings and did not load as fast as it ought. Yahoo’s new version works even worse although it is glitzier looking. The load times are exorbitant on a high-speed line. The scripts for the banner ads fail all the time, which makes it unusable. You would think Yahoo would have reviewed the product on the Internet after they thrust it into the real world.
The sun is up. Already bored with writing and doing laundry, I pick up Wittgenstein’s Culture and Value. I run into this.
Each morning you have to break through the dead rubble afresh so as to reach the living warm seed.
When the air turns cold in January, salt sprinkles the streets and sidewalks white, the city's grit and grime mat the snow dirty—ugly even—and you weigh how much longer winter has still to oppressively run its course, you should find some warm place indoors, and talk to people you really like.
I dreamed that in a city dark as Paris
I stood alone in a deserted square.
Louis Simpson, I Dreamed that in a City Dark as Paris, from Scanning the Century
I have felt that a poet participates in the management of the estate of poetry, of that in his own language and also that of world poetry. Thinking about that estate, such as it is at the present moment, I decided I could contribute to its possessions provided, however, that instead of theory, I brought to it something of practice
From the introduction to A Book of Luminous Things edited by Czeslaw Milosz
Civilization has come a long way. We have learned that we are specks of dust in a huge and violent universe. We have learned that we are the products of the mutation of molecules. We have learned that the consciousness mind merely arranges the furniture in the front parlor while our unconscious mind toils in the kitchen making the tea and doing the real work of going about the day.
It was a heck of a sports weekend for Chicago. The Bears won a slot in the Super Bowl. Everybody is excited about that. Even the losers in the city feel as if they have gotten lucky. I predict a lot of damage in the city whether the Bears win or lose in the Super Bowl. How else are the losers going to validate themselves or vent their frustration?
I am going through a strange time. When I have pen and paper in hand, it is to prove a geometry theorem.
John Quiggin at Crooked Timber points to this excellent article by David Leonhardt in the NYT regarding the costs of the Iraq War. See What $1.2 Trillion Can Buy.
The major benefits of a war are reckoned to be disarming Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction and removing a leadership that is unrelentingly hostile to the United States.
But what of the costs? Even asking such a question may be thought a sign of insufficient resolve at best and appeasement at worst. However, while cost estimates are often ignored when war is debated, most people recognize that the costs in dollars, and especially in blood, are acceptable only as long as they are low. If the casualty estimates mount to the thousands, if oil prices skyrocket, if a war pushes the economy into recession or requires a large tax increase, and if the United States becomes a pariah in the world because of callous attacks on civilian populations, then decisionmakers in the White House and the Congress might not post so expeditiously to battle.
Now that the Bush Administration does not completely control the U. S. Congress, we have this strange reversal on domestic spying as reported in the NYT:
The Bush administration, in a surprise reversal, said on Wednesday that it had agreed to give a secret court jurisdiction over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program and would end its practice of eavesdropping without warrants on Americans suspected of ties to terrorists.The article goes on to report that things are not quite that simple.
I spent the day working on geometry problems. I do not have answers for several problems, which means, most likely, I will spend the evening thinking about them until I fall asleep.
We often think of collateral damage in terms of the sacrifice of civilians to kill enemy combatants. The war on terror has created another form of collateral damage.
I have been reading Siobhan Roberts’s splendid King of Infinite Space, a biography of the geometer Donald Coxeter. Here is a quotation by John Horton Conway from the front leaf of the book.
Many mathematicians the world-over were enchanted with the beauty and elegance of Donald Coxeter’s work. Although I never studied with Coxeter, in many ways I consider myself an honorary student of this great geometer. Why is it that Coxeter is affectionately remembered by so many mathematicians? Siobhan Roberts makes the answer quite clear in King of Infinite Space, an elegant biography of an elegant man.
Writing: I do the thing in the morning shortly after I arise. I cannot begin until a mug of coffee sits next to me and a cigarette burns in the ashtray. When I finish writing for the day, I tend to forget it as if it were the residual recollection of last night’s dream.
Do not read, as children do, to amuse yourself, or like the ambitious, for the purpose of instruction. No, read in order to live.
Read much, but not many books.
At the age of eleven, I began Euclid, with my brother as my tutor. This was one of the great events of my life, as dazzling as first love. I had not imagined that there was anything so delicious in the world.
Bertrand Russell, Autobiography
I have been reading mathematics once again. When not forced to do mathematics, mathematics becomes fun. Mathematics is a low-grade hedonistic pursuit for me. I can easily block out the world for many hours, not that I have any reason to block out the world.
After reading the transcript this morning of President Bush’s speech last night, I feel neither safe from terrorists nor optimistic about prospects for Iraq.
If we believe the news reports, the cornerstone to the new Iraq strategy President Bush will announce will be adding 20,000 more troops to the current force already in Iraq. Instead of whining, bitching, pissing, and moaning, let’s look at what these new troops are supposed to accomplish.
From the NYT:
A survey by researchers at Villanova University has found that 85 percent of Roman Catholic dioceses that responded had discovered embezzlement of church money in the last five years, with 11 percent reporting that more than $500,000 had been stolen.
I know what you are thinking. I have been reading mathematics and have completely lost track of politics. No fucking way.
Science is not a religion. If it were, we’d have a much easier time raising money.
Leon Lederman as cited by Simon Singh in Big Bang
In Foreign Policy, Kahneman and Renshon (Why Hawks Win) discuss the psychological biases that favor Hawks over Doves when debating international policy issues such as war.
Why are hawks so influential? The answer may lie deep in the human mind. People have dozens of decision-making biases, and almost all favor conflict rather than concession. A look at why the tough guys win more than they should.
[. . .]
In fact, when we constructed a list of the biases uncovered in 40 years of psychological research, we were startled by what we found: All the biases in our list favor hawks. These psychological impulses—only a few of which we discuss here—incline national leaders to exaggerate the evil intentions of adversaries, to misjudge how adversaries perceive them, to be overly sanguine when hostilities start, and overly reluctant to make necessary concessions in negotiations. In short, these biases have the effect of making wars more likely to begin and more difficult to end.
None of this means that hawks are always wrong. One need only recall the debates between British hawks and doves before World War II to remember that doves can easily find themselves on the wrong side of history. More generally, there are some strong arguments for deliberately instituting a hawkish bias. It is perfectly reasonable, for example, to demand far more than a 50-50 chance of being right before we accept the promises of a dangerous adversary. The biases that we have examined, however, operate over and beyond such rules of prudence and are not the product of thoughtful consideration. Our conclusion is not that hawkish advisors are necessarily wrong, only that they are likely to be more persuasive than they deserve to be.
Reading mathematics is not conducive to generating ideas to write about on this blog. During the past week, I have been reading Needham’s Visual Complex Analysis. The book presents one variable complex analysis emphasizing geometric intuition over formal proof. It fits well with my current interest in geometry and my need for a basic refresher in complex analysis. In fact, the book is stunningly beautiful, but I will no go into that.
I spent a lot of time watching football and soccer this weekend. Of course, I bet on many games.
Apparently, the Saddam Hussein execution was not as neat or as pretty as originally reported. Saddam’s executioners jeered and taunted him as the noose hung around his neck (NYT).