Wednesday, January 31, 2007


Suppose I say summer,
write the word "hummingbird,"

From Hummingbird by Raymond Carver

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The dilettante connoisseur

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.

Raphael’s School of Athens is no more a picture of Plato and Aristotle talking than Fermat’s Last Theorem is about a tricky number problem. I know a bit about both. Even if I spent a prodigious amount of time studying them, I would probably never understand the painting’s meaning or the theorem’s proof.

When it comes to the sciences and the arts, I am a dilettante connoisseur. I do not apologize for that. The arts and sciences may need dilettante connoisseurs. Support for the sciences and arts must come from somewhere.

I try to educate myself and satisfy my curiosity. I have devoted much of my life to doing exactly that. I associate part of my identity with being a dilettante connoisseur. It adds meaning to my life.

Books of mathematics, philosophy, and art sit beside my table. I hope their creators do not mind them sitting next to an admiring and sometimes fawning dilettante.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Wittgenstein on philosophy and simile

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.

There is hardly anything more gratifying to me than having my suspicions confirmed by a genius.

Iran gets into the Iraq investmet game

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.

Of course, given the botched and bungled US reconstruction efforts, at least the Shiite factions in Iraq might welcome some extra cash flowing into the country.

Iran has current economic woes of its own, which has helped reduce the popularity of President Ahmadinejad. I wonder how pouring money into Iraq will sit with the struggling Iranian working and middle class.

I also wonder what the cash flow analyses are for investments in Iraq. What year would they turn positive?

One of Iran’s proposals is to build a bank in central Baghdad. That is not a bad idea in a stable oil rich country. Underline the word stable. Unfortunately, somebody might blow it up before it is finished. The only folks making money in Iraq are in the oil business or arms business. These folks will use the bank. As for other Iraqis, why do they need a bank? They have no money to put in it.

The middle class has been decimated in Iraq. Many middle class people have fled the country even if they can find no jobs in foreign lands. No matter how much reconstruction aid and investment someone pours into Iraq, try to fathom how the Iraqi working and middle class will benefit from it. High priority investments will target siphoning off as much of the oil revenue as possible whether the investments come from Iran or the United States.

The majority in the US want an exit from Iraq. US companies will not build banks, power stations, or water treatment centers in the country unless the US government underwrites the effort at no risk to the companies. What that means is that the US government must call on a majority against the war to pay for the underwriting of Iraq investment, which ultimately will flow into the coffers of global companies. Add to that all the folks who are for the war and who do not intend to pay for it, and there is no ready supply of public funds coming from the US.

Global capitalism dominates the world. Even when the body count is atrocious, do not forget to follow the money to see where peoples’ hearts and minds lie.

I have two ideas. One, The US and Iranian banking interests should get together in joint ventures. Nothing brings people together like the anticipation of oil profits.

My second idea is watch your wallet.

Sunday, January 28, 2007


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.)

Page 15e

I really do think with my pen, because my head often knows nothing about what I am writing.

Page 17e

Now it is time to leave the quiet place and go back home.

Going it alone

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.

My first emotional reaction is to turn a deaf ear toward the evidence they present. The bogus presentation then Secretary of State Colin Powell gave to the UN as a prelude to the Iraq confrontation remains top of mind.

However, it is world politics and I am partially compelled to understand it in terms of naked and unashamed power relations. Practice often trumps theory and models. I will listen.

US/Iran relationships stand on a par with the Iraq civil/sectarian struggle. The evil demon is out of the bottle, and the Bush Administration will not easily put him back in it. In fact, those with the power to do so, have no desire for it.

Meanwhile, Pakistan says that Osama bin Laden is not inside Pakistan. They welcome any evidence to the contrary. Nobody has come forth with evidence. (Isn’t there still a $10 million bounty on Osama’s head? Those spoiling for a fight can still pick up some extra whip-out cash while indulging their proclivities.)

The US foreign policy of going it alone is working. Substantive assistance from world powers is difficult to find. The US is definitely going it alone on all fronts.

Yahoo's new TV listings guide

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.

Oh well, it is just a small piece of technology run amok. You can always go many other places to get customized TV listings. That is what I have done.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Breaking through

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.

My first thought is darn he is probably correct about that. My next thought is that Word grammar check does not like the grammar in the citation. It thinks he should have substituted ‘to’ for ‘so as to’. I like the Word recommendation better after I think about it.

However, Wittgenstein wrote the sentence so even its style must have some incredible metaphysical import I am missing. I ponder what other matters of incredible import I am unaware. I cannot think of any although I feel there must be some.

Thursday, January 25, 2007


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.

Then you should trundle off to your trundle bed and sleep the sleep of the damned and doomed, snuggled deep within the covers—oblivious to the cold.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

As dark as Paris

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

All I want to do before I die is write one good sentence like that one.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007


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

He goes on to do exactly that in his anthology.

There are certain days when only a book of luminous things will do whether poetry or geometry. One day, after I have completely lost my mind, I will no longer remember this. I will not be sad though. I doubt if it is possible to be sad when one completely loses one’s mind. We are mostly sad about the things we remember.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Dealing with it

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.

Some people can deal with all that while others cannot.

Three cheers for dealing with it!

Commotion and Validation

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?

Lost in all that American kind of commotion was Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Man. U. yesterday. Thierry Henry scored at 90 minutes to win the game.

Henry the magnificent is back from his injury; he still remembers how to put the ball in the net.

I like the beautiful game with the beautiful players like Thierry, my favorite sports guy.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Oh, for a period

Dear Everybody,

We have a problem with the mighty State Street computer. The period key on our computer keyboard does not work. We know what you are thinking. Holy shit, State Street, what are you going to do now? As you may have already guessed, we have a work around.

Even though we have not dumped a single beer or dropped a single drop of whiskey into the keyboard these past several years, we think that we have dropped too many pizza crumbs into it, and that is the problem.

We were thinking about taking the keyboard out of the computer tomorrow and blowing the shit from under the keys. However, as you well know, it is the Bears vs. Saints game tomorrow. You can also well imagine we have some money on the game and the Pats/Colts game too, so our concentration might not be all we would hope.

Sunday is never a good day to get your shit together anyway. We at State Street should really wait until Monday to fix our keyboard when we will be less shit faced than we will be tomorrow after watching football.


State Street

P.S. We also have Man U. vs. Arsenal tomorrow morning CST. We rest our case.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Duller than normal

I am going through a strange time. When I have pen and paper in hand, it is to prove a geometry theorem.

I am enjoying it too much, which is a little unsettling since it makes me duller than my already dull self.

Oh well, this too shall pass all too quickly.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Meanwhile, the meter is still running

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 NYT article links to two estimates by Wallsten and Kosec and Bilmes and Stiglitz. It also links to this 2002 paper, War With Iraq, by William Nordhaus. I love this prescient opening of the Nordhaus paper written before hostilities began.

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.

Nordhaus then goes on to predict that a protracted war could cost as much as $1.9 trillion, a number consistent with the above cited estimates.

This may sound callous, but the Nordhaus paper absolutely convinced me the Iraq War was a gut shot gamble and that the folks in Washington did not have a clue as to what they were doing.

Meanwhile, sending 21,500 additional troops will cast around $200 billion dollars.

Let’s make the tax cuts permanent anyway. After all, the bill will not come due tomorrow. Let somebody else worry about their wallet rather than go through the painful exercise of emptying ours.

It ain't over, or at least it shouldn't be

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.

What is simple is that the new Congress will most likely demand information from the White House as to what they have been doing. That information could show that the Bush Administration has been engaging in illegal activities.

Beyond that, the information could show that they have been conducting illegal surveillance on those opposed to the Iraq conflagration.

The new move seems to get surveillance back under the umbrella of FISA. Check that umbrella to see if it has any holes in it.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

The inevitability of problems

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.

I wonder how much of the day the average person spends thinking about problems whether geometric or not. I suspect most of the day is taken up with the activity. Even when problems do not thrust themselves upon us, we invent problems faster than we solve them.

It seems rather obvious, but I never thought about it before.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Collateral Damage

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.

The NY Times reported Sunday that the Pentagon and CIA have increased the use of national security letters to obtain the financial records of U. S. citizens. The article went on to report that the Pentagon has already abused the process by collecting financial information on war protesters.

This is collateral damage pure and simple. Anyone who innocently falls victim to a process whose legality and accountability is suspect is just out of luck. Cheney, the Pentagon, and the CIA are not accountable for the damages as long as they claim to be trying to catch the bad guys.

The FBI, CIA, and military now have the authority to intrude into every corner of the citizen’s life and they have no accountability for their actions. While supposedly fighting for freedom overseas, the loss of our own freedoms and protections have become merely more collateral damage.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The King of Infinite Space

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.

Roberts also provides an interesting background to Twentieth Century mathematics. Coxeter kept alive the visual in mathematics as opposed to trends toward excessive formalism.

Coxeter wrote some of the best math textbooks of all time. I first ran into his Introduction to Geometry while browsing in a library in Iowa shortly after I left college. The book contains a bumper crop of ideas and results. I grew tired of checking out the book from libraries and bought a copy for myself. The book is one of the best purchases I ever made. The book starts with concepts from high school geometry and ends with differential geometry and four-dimensional space.

Roberts’s biography is first rate. You do not need to be a math whiz to appreciate the life and work of Donald Coxeter.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Suppressing the feeling

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.

Now, that it is winter I start in the dark with nothing but the glow of the laptop screen lighting the room. When the sun comes up, I get the feeling that something is not right. I must identify the feeling to continue writing.

Life seems a problem unsolved, or a problem deferred. I think of methods and systems to get from point A to point B. I never reach point B no matter what my direction or velocity. My life does not fit the neat world of vector algebra. One day it will, for I will arrive at point D, better known as death.

I imagine point B as some sort of Truth, yet feel it as Certainty. Certainty is too much to ask of anyone. We would lose our humanity if we asked for certainty from everyone, or even ourselves. I live in a world of linear approximations. Truth is a limit point at which I never arrive. Point B sits on the horizon every morning as if I have traversed no distance the previous day. I can see it, yet will never touch it.

There, I have identified the feeling again or at least gotten to a point where I can suppress it for the rest of the day.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

How we read

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.

Gustave Flaubert

How we read says as much about us as what we read. A good reader has a handful of books they have closely read several times. One my favorites is Euclid’s Elements. I truly do read it to live. Each time I read it, I discover more in it and imagine more because of it.
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

Friday, January 12, 2007


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.

I wish I had been good at mathematics when I was in college. The fault is mine, not my teachers. I became better at math once I left school and studied it on my own.

My interest in mathematics waxes in the winter and wanes once spring arrives. It is like my interest in country music. I see in my mind’s eye my math books tucked away once the trees are in full leaf. Until then, I have a new super-secret plan to avoid the inevitable. After all, I keep getting better at math.

That is enough about math, or rather me.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Gone Fishin'

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.

What passed for a more humble President Bush went fishing last night. I doubt the fish are going to bite on the bait he cast into the pond. He still does not understand that Iraq was never the fish we needed to catch in his so-called war on terror.

What he is doing by increasing troop levels is tailor made for disaster. What is just as scary is his reasoning for increasing troop levels.

Here are his opening words.

Good evening. Tonight in Iraq, the Armed Forces of the United States are engaged in a struggle that will determine the direction of the global war on terror and our safety here at home. The new strategy I outline tonight will change America’s course in Iraq, and help us succeed in the fight against terror.

After almost five years, he cannot possibly believe that. Why does he expect me to believe it?

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Long Shot Gamble

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.

1) The troops will secure Baghdad. Once they have cleared a violent neighborhood of its violent militia elements, some troops will remain in the neighborhood to keep it secure and free of militia elements. That discounts how US troops just happen to be lightening rods for attack. You have to wonder how an Iraqi will feel with a US trooper standing outside her door. There is a high probability that is where the bomb will explode.

2) The additional US troops will train the militias as security forces. They will gather Sunni and Shia militia troops together in the spirit of peace, love, understanding, and national unity. An additional advantage is that the militias will be supplied with even more guns, ammo, and training to keep the peace. It is like training someone in the best way to kill you.

3) The US will give the Iraqi government a billion dollars to help with economic recovery. Can the US avoid the corruption and incompetence of the first Iraq aid mission? One wonders if a new group of unqualified and totally incompetent Evangelical Christians who pledge fealty to President Bush will administer this new program. One also wonders whether this will be another chance for consulting companies to get rich quick. Let’s not forget the corruption and political motivations in the current Shia led Iraq government

4) Of course, we will hold the current Iraq government accountable for meeting milestones of decreased sectarian and civil violence just as we have in the past and to no avail. This time when we do, it will mysteriously be different.

The additional troops sound like a long shot gamble. You had better get some pretty long odds if you are betting that adding troops will be a success.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Passing the collection plate

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.

Which goes to show you should always keep in mind the second law of economics: watch your wallet at all times.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Thought I was not looking

I know what you are thinking. I have been reading mathematics and have completely lost track of politics. No fucking way.

President Bush is about to announce his new budget. His budget features extending tax cuts for Bill Gates. As for all you folks who are at the shit end of economic scale and voted Republican, just fucking enjoy your permanent tax cut even if it cannot buy you a cup of coffee at McDonald’s.

We are about to hear President Bush’s new strategy in Iraq. Send in 30,000 more troops and hope for the best. I am sure you are just like me: pissing your pants to see how that works.

As for all the other stuff regarding US politics, I’ve covered the budget and Iraq. You do the rest. It’s 11:39 PM and I am about to trundle off to my trundle bed.


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

I once saw a George Carlin show in Las Vegas. He said something like this: one of the strange things about god is that he never seems to have enough money.

Hawks and Doves

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.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Reading Mathematics

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.

You can classify people into two broad groups: those who do not care about mathematics and those who do. Those who do not care most likely stopped reading this post in the first paragraph. Those who care are probably laughing over a geezer studying something as elementary as one variable complex analysis. I know what they are thinking: come on, Lynn, everybody knows that stuff.

Be that as it may. When winter comes, my thoughts turn towards mathematics. Mathematics aesthetically appeals to me. I do not have any other explanation for the fascination. Then there are the notebooks I have created over the years summarizing what I have learned and written in Lynn-speak.

Lynn-speak: a nasty language that over generalizes and runs rough shod over details. I am overly fond of it for no good reason. I really ought to refine it one of these days.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Just Sports and Betting

I spent a lot of time watching football and soccer this weekend. Of course, I bet on many games.

The best of all the games was tonight’s Boise St. vs. Oklahoma. Boise State won it in overtime, and if you missed it, you missed a honey of a ballgame. That put me in the running to get a little over even for this weekend’s holiday betting.

Tomorrow’s EPL parlay will tell the story for the weekend. I hope I win.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bad Manners and a Bad Moon

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).

Whatever happened to good manners, especially when the world is watching?

I predict that the bad moon over Iraq has not reached its zenith. Uncivil manners will abide and abound during 2007.

The odds on that bet are so lopsided it is not even on the board.