Saturday, June 30, 2007

Where is life located?

Carle P. Graffunder headshot by Carle P. Graffunder

Artwork by Charmaine Frost
Artwork by Charmaine Frost

Where are the emotions of joy, chicanery, veniality, pride, slyness and craftiness, elation, guilt, desire and any of a myriad of other qualities and experiences located? Indeed, where is imagination, inspiration, character, pain, exuberance, discriminatory pleasures and perversities and specializations of “rightness” and “evil” and satisfactions too numerable to mention?

Volitional aspects in human existence may present other difficulties of magnitude. Research psychologists and other pragmatists long have discarded attempts to find where “paying attention” or “focus your thoughts” or “listen carefully” can be located. Where “real” is long ago passed into obscurity as a field of scientific interest departing with the dictum that a thing is real if it is real in its consequences.

All urges, all fantasy, all insight, all intuition, all goal-setting, all of these and more slip into and out of our consciousness at times and places we can only partially - often, only with difficulty - even describe. To “locate” their “presence” seems even more evasive. It is as if a kind of emperor’s new clothes enclosed in our “selves” and these phenomena. The eye does not see directly. The paths of stimuli are traceable through a series of connections each energized briefly only enough to start up the next. So that what finally reaches the visual field is not what shone in the eye of the beholder. The person believes he is “seeing;” but it is an illusion. When he understands that, he can begin to understand impairments of vision and vision related phenomena such as migraine or dyslexia. So with hearing, we do not hear direct; waves disturb various tissues in succession, the waves are directed by physical engagements to take prescribed pathways to relevant auditory brain situses, in accordance with frequencies to which they are sensitive. What happens if pathways are blocked or misdirected? We have the illusion that we are hearing directly: and to comprehend that is an awakening experience. Such knowledge allows imagination to play a very large part in problem-solving in medical areas. But also the knowledgeable person will begin to get some insight into the fragile and tenuous nature of ideas and of any and all “knowledge.” He can discover that a world of illusion is where he lives.


Friday, June 29, 2007

Reflections From A Windshield

Charmaine Frost headshot a photo by Charmaine Frost

Reflections from a windshield photo


Thursday, June 28, 2007


by Jolanda Dubbeldam

Jolanda Dubbeldam in sunglasses

Dry thunder rumbling in the background. The sweet smell of mint rising from just-watered earth. Tiny purple flowers poking their unplanted faces into her little herb garden. Two or three sunflowers swaying in the hot breeze. How odd that her conscious mind was clear and sharp as ice while engulfed by this rage that made her jaw clench and cheeks burn.

She turned to face the waiting man slouching against her deck chair, one hip jutting out as if he were so relaxed, so nonchalant, that his very bones were giving way. Irritating man! She struggled to speak calmly - what she wanted was answers, not a shouting match. “But you’re the one who first told me the story!”

He leveled his gaze at her arrogantly, obviously quite unimpressed, or doing a first-rate job of seeming to be. Slowly he raised his shoulders into an exaggerated shrug. The message was clear: so what? Though he found it unnecessary to actually speak.

She presses her eyes shut, willing to keep her head from thumping. “I fired a man because of you. A man who you worked with side-by-side on my land for almost 10 years … he’s got kids to feed!”

The man stretches his arms over his head, aligning his joints and spine pop pop pop. “I seen what I seen, that’s all.”

Silence. No movement. She tries again, quieter now. “If you saw him take the necklace, how could it possibly have ended up here on my porch, when Jose hasn’t been around in days?”

Again that shrug, less pronounced this time. Obviously bored by the conversation, uninterested in the discussion. “Anything else? I got chores waiting on me.”

The woman stared at him wide-eyed for a moment, feeling that righteous anger leave her like air from a punctured balloon. Leaving her feeling worn out and out of hope. Isn’t that just the way things always go in this place. Try as you might to pretty it up, the ugliness is always hiding just below the surface.


Wednesday, June 27, 2007

The Man Who Died Twice

A Tribute

Ron Penner headshot by Ron Penner

E. A. Robinson

"The Man Who Died Twice" by Edwin Arlington Robinson is the most unforgettable poem I have ever read; the kind of poem which once read, remains with you for the rest of ones life. Nor, apparently, is this opinion unique to me, for it received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1925, his "Collected Works" —which in the book I have in front of me runs to 1488 pages — won the same prize in 1922.

The poem attempts what must be almost impossible, to make a character with the most improbable name of Fernando Nash come alive and be believable in a very long poem. For he was "meant" to be one of the Immortals of musical composition, to rank along with Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart, yet he never achieved this — his daimon. He destroyed his first two symphonies, and he died unknown, save for the narrator of the poem.

Robinson presaged this poem in three other poems that I am aware of. In "George Crabbe" a sonnet in honor of the 17th and 18th century English metaphysical poet he had written in the sestet:

From time to time the vigor of his name
Against us like a finger for the shame
And emptiness of what our souls reveal
In books that are as altars were we kneel
To consecrate the flicker, not the flame."

E. A. Robinson
A younger E. A. Robinson

And in "Flammonde", the man who came to play the Prince of Castaways, he wrote these lines:

"Rarely at once will nature give
The power to be Flammonde and live."
And in "The Man Against the Sky" he catalogues all of the ways a man may meet an inevitable fate.
"Rarely at once will nature give
The power to be Flammonde and live."

What did Robinson mean by these lines and how do they provide a window into this poem. "The Man Who Died Twice," first to all died to the vast creative powers that were within him, and then died physically. When I was sixteen, a man whom I shall never forget came to direct the play "McBeth" and act as the character McDuff in the play for a private school I attended on Vancouver Island. The headmaster, in my opinion, used this man to publicize the school. He had taught there previously as a rest cure from alcoholism for two or three years, although I did not attend then. He would regularly scandalize much of the staff by his unorthodox behavior. I remember that I felt like shouting to them, 'Stop criticizing this man! What right have you to do so? Do you not have a conception of how difficult it is for Ian Thorne simply to be Ian Thorne?' But I must say that I never had the temerity to utter those words. For I sensed someone in whom searing fires of creativity were burning either to destruction or remarkable creativity. And although, thereafter, he wrote, directed and acted in major productions for the CBC and the BBC, the world barely knows of him, and I cannot but believe that for all of his attainments he ultimately failed to achieve his potential. And this is echoed in this poem in these lines:

"But there he shook his head
In hopeless pity — not for the doomed, I saw,
But rather for the sanguine ordinary
That has no devil and so controls itself,
Having nothing in especial to control."
How could Robinson possibly have made this character come alive and become believable, a being so remote from all the rest of humanity? Could he have faced a greater challenge? The answer is complex and various. First there is Robinson's almost flawless use of poetic diction and symbolic imagery and rhythm, although in this poem he creates a strange poetic imagery, all his own, of which you should only ask that it all coheres and attains to an integrated whole, which it does. (Robinson was never one to believe that the simplest word is best; he utilized the full diapason of the English language to remarkable effect.) To give but one tiny example:
"And he was too far sundered from his faith
And his ambition, buried somewhere together
Behind him to go stumbling back for them,
Only to find a shadowy grave that held
So little and so much."
"sundered", "stumbling back", "a shadowy grave". I would have to quote much more to really indicate why these are just the right words in the right place. Then in the middle of the poem there are a series a terrible maledictions which Fernando Nash hurls at himself until prevented from going further by sheer exhaustion. And as he lies dying, having not eaten in three weeks and barely able to move, a whole series of hallucinations and visions come over him in a titanic effort to perceive his final fate. There is no thought there, only experience from the depths of the Unconscious. And if there are hallucinations, it matters not, for they are milestones on a spiritual journey that knows the heights of ecstasy alternating with the depths of despair, the sublime and utter degradation. And they are holistic with their own internal logic. As when Mozart composed "Don Giovanni" or his "Requiem" did he pause at various stages to ask 'Now what comes next?' No! For such works would never have been written if he had not, somehow, seen them in their entirety from the beginning. Just so, Fernando Nash experiences his final hours as though a great work of Art were unfolding before him. He experiences a series of mystic visions of terrible intensity which seem natural to him but which are denied to all but the very few. Thus Robinson somehow makes this extraordinary character come alive. And I recall a televised review of the life and oeuvre of Ezra Pound in which the literary critic remarked that it was not enough to have arresting and glittering lines and phrases sparkle through his Cantos, but that he had to sustain it from the beginning to the very end, not to deviate or wander to any length from a sure path that he had set but to continually maintain the continuity of the whole. This Robinson also achieves in this poem.

MacDougal Alley, Greenwich Village
MacDougal Alley, Greenwich Village where Robinson lived

And there is another element of his life that transcends ordinary human experience. He "knew" from boyhood that he was destined to write his Symphony Number Three, that would come down like 'choral fire from heaven to still those drums of death' and 'that thereafter all would be a toil of joy for Immortality' and the floodgates of his vast creative abilities would open and he would realize his daimon, if only he would wait. And, of course, not merely wait, but wait in a state akin to that of creative Grace. But he did not wait and the choral fire of that symphony never came until it was too late, and thus he failed himself and all Mankind for countless generations and the God who had given him this gift, for there is a religious element to this poem, but it never intrudes but only proceeds naturally from the narrative. But he does at last hear strains of that symphony in one of his last days and this is enough to reconcile himself to his fate, to know real peace, probably for the first time in his life and to die in peace after the destructive fires of his arrogance and disdain and greed for life had burnt away everything that was gross in him. For it has often been inferred that renunciation must always accompany true genius, and this he lacked or had an insufficiency of. Robinson describes that moment in only eight lines, thus:

"With blinding tears of praise and of exhaustion
Pouring out of his eyes and over his cheeks,
He groped and tottered into the dark hall,
Crying aloud to God, or man, or devil,
For paper — not for food. It may have been
The devil who heard him first and made of him.
For sport, the large and sprawling obstacle
They found there at the bottom of the stairs."

So the poem begins with Fernando Nash discovered after years of absence by the narrator:

"beating a bass drum
And shouting Hallelujah with a fervor
At which, as I remember, no man smiled."
He is, from the beginning, a ruined hulk of a man, or of a personality, seeming to be a maniac or megalomaniac, shouting "Glory to God, I had it — once!" But slowly the poem begins to surround you and to envelop you, and slowly you begin to see the vastness of the man and of the poem, and finally it overwhelms you. And a whole cathedral of images and symbols emerge — the drums of life, the drums of death, the daimon and the demon of genius, 'the grapes of heaven' which are golden grapes, 'and golden dregs which are the worst dregs of all' the choral fire, the messengers who came again and again and always found him absent, the leering symphony that seventy rats dressed in coat and tails performed for his unwilling ears, images of ruin and decay and self-immolation and finally a sublime clarity and peace.

Robinson upon Fernando Nash's demise has the narrator attempt to sum up his experience of him with these closing words:

"There was in the man,
With all his frailties and extravagances.
The caste of an inviolable distinction
That was to break and vanish only in fire
When other fires that had so long consumed him
Could find no more to burn; and there was in him
A giant's privacy of lone communion
With other giants who made a music
Whereof the world has not impossibly heard
Not the last note; and there was in him always,
Unqualified by guile and unsubdued
By failure and remorse, or by redemption,
The grim nostalgic passion of the great
For glory all but theirs. And more than these,
There was the nameless and authentic seal
Of power and of ordained accomplishment —
Which may not be infallibly forthcoming,
Yet in this instance came. So I believe,
And shall, till admonition more disastrous
Than any has yet imperiled it
Invalidates conviction. …
To be the giant of his acknowledgment.
Crippled and cursed and crucified, the giant
Was always there, and always will be there.
For reasons less concealed and more sufficient
Than words will ever make them, I believe him
Today as I believed him while he died,
And while I sank his ashes in the sea."

E. A. Robinson portrait

By now it should be clear that I have set myself an impossible task in attempting to render for you the essence of this poem. This poem may seem from what I have written, apart from being very confused, which it assuredly is not, dark and grim almost beyond endurance, yet it is a tragedy until the very end, and like all true tragedies, as Aristotle has assured us, purges with catharsis. This is a parable of the Talents told in strange and unfamiliar dress and with a terrible intensity. I fail to see how anyone who reads this poem slowly and meditatively, savoring every line, as one must, cannot fail to ask themselves, 'What was my daimon and how far have I wandered from it amidst the quotidian demands of life.



Patrick Williams headshot by Patrick Williams

This page and these words grow as each day passes.
Thoughts are a grain of wheat attached heartily to the stalk.
Each word I write moves with the blink of my cursor
Growing and changing with the work of my hands.

I am the one who plants each seed in this field.
Otherwise your mind will starve--- I don’t care if I’m the farmer,
        Just wish I got paid more for feeding you.
Don’t think I’m starving though. I get my food from that same field of wheat.
My brain is the soil and the ideas seed themselves deep each season.
They don’t grow out of my head though. Not much does as you can see.
Stop looking at my balding head! It just makes me look distinguished.
No…my thoughts are planted deep in my brain and need weeding just the same.
Otherwise they become overgrown with information that suck out the nourishment.

Let us see…the sun would be my wife shining down and providing nutrients for my crop.
The moon? My daughter who gently pulls at my heart each day.
The rain that waters my field would be the community I live in; washing away the rot.

I hate weeding, but if I want things to grow, I had better make sure my roots are strong. Like every harvest, the plants that grow may seem the same, but they mature
In different patterns from season to season. I must also keep rotating the ideas, much the same as rotating the fields. Letting some ideas replenish, and others die back during the fallow season.

No one can eat just one grain of wheat and be content.
Mash them into a flour with millions of other grains to make a bread.
The words I write have to be digested with the stanza that you read.
Each person digests these words differently to become full.
Can you see the field of wheat moving in the wind?
This paragraph is a group of words dealing with the same topic.
So I make sure the rows are nice and straight.

        Finally, I have to make my produce look appetizing for you to buy it.
Just like an apple, it needs to be polished and displayed. Don’t worry
about pesticides, my thoughts are certified organic.

Come into my store, take what you like. The price is negotiable.

foggy morning farm


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The child and the dog

Maria Claudia Faverio by Maria Claudia Faverio

He sat there, on the sun-pocked
little wall surrounding the school playground,
watching his chow run after
a child on a bicycle.

The child was discovering the world
on his turquoise bike
he was riding for the first time
at 6 o’clock in the morning,

before streets were flooded
with busy feet
and voices changing language
like loudspeakers
at an international airport.

He was learning to taste somewhat
of life, following a path
less predictable than Lebesgue’s integral.
That child was riding into freedom,

he was learning what it means
to be a walker of edges,
to run into enormous distances
behind the horizon.

And the little dog barking
after him, turning the air
to follow the child who laughed
and shouted for joy
on his new sparkling bicycle.

The little cripple on the sun-pocked
wall watched in silence,
like a songless bird,
while the day was starting
to unravel and the shadows of morning
swept over the child and the dog
who were discovering the world.

beach beagle


Sunday, June 24, 2007

The Revolution

Richard May headshot by Richard May

Our only hope for the future is whatever hope we have for the past.
In Laputa the revolution will not come soon.
The revolution is now.
The 'Kingdom' is now.
Where are you?
Did you sleep through the revolution?
Thoth, Buddha and Jeshua are here, and they are there.
Don't look out the window.
It won't be on the news.



Friday, June 22, 2007


Jolanda Dubbeldam by Jolanda Dubbeldam

I’m everything you ever dreamed
your hopes your joys your fantasies
new memories
your child will bloom in me.
When grief, pain, hate, rage
fill dark days
you’ll turn to me
I’m everything you ever dreamed.
Too bad a year from now
Or more or less
I’ll go back to being
Just me.


Thursday, June 21, 2007


Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

A few days after the destruction of the World Trade Center, Tamim Ansary, a San Francisco writer of Afghan descent, wrote an impassioned letter to a few close friends. Within two days, that letter had been forwarded by e-mail to millions of people around the world. A few days ago, it was reprinted on the Fire list. In his essay, Mr. Ansary argued that "the Taliban ...are not Afghanistan. They're not even the government of Afghanistan. The Taliban are a cult of ignorant psychotics who took over Afghanistan." I'd like to take issue with that.

In the late 80s, after a brave ten-year struggle, Afghan partisans achieved what many (but not me) thought was impossible: they defeated a mighty superpower. They then proceeded to fight among themselves. By the early 90s, the country was carved up, split between bands of corrupt, greedy warlords. The Taliban started as a small group of idealistic religious students centered in Kandahar. Within 3 years they had been swept to power on a wave of popular support, in much the same way as Khomeni had ousted the Shah ten years before in Iran. (There are similar events throughout the history of the Muslim world, one example being the Fulani jihad, which swept aside the secular rulers of many West African kingdoms in the first decade of the nineteenth century.)

Of course, once in power in Iran, Khomeni and his followers proceeded (despite some idealistic socialist reforms) to muck up the economy, increase unemployment, and alienate much of the population, especially the youth in a country half of whose population was born after the revolution. The Taliban were even more religiously fanatic than the Iranians. But I believe the reforms they instituted were generally supported in the smaller towns and villages where most of Afghanistan lives. When they first emerged in '94, I thought of them as the purest expression I had seen of the Afghan soul.

I have never seen a land as strongly religious as Afghanistan and the part of Pakistan abutting the Afghan border. I could almost feel it; it was as if the air I walked through was electrically charged. Always, the first question I was asked was "are you Moslem?" That was what really mattered. And there was a strange peace in that. These were not an angry people.

The Afghans --especially the Pathans-- are some of the fiercest fighters on earth, and their land has never been successfully conquered. Their villages are, as I said in my book * discussing the Pakistani border areas, "ruled by councils of Pathan chiefs and elders who follow a code of chivalry and honor called pukhtunwali. Its tenets are simple, and as easy to apply as the biblical eye-for-an-eye: welcome all strangers, grant refuge to all fugitives, and avenge all insults." (p. 100)

But in the end, the Taliban did betray supporting Al-Qaeda. The Afghans have traditionally been isolationist. Don't mess with us, and we won't mess with you; that was their credo. Osama changed all that. He persuaded them to sow the wind.

But I was there before all that. Here's what I wrote about my feelings when my visa expired and I had to leave: "I had come to love the Afghans and I was reluctant to leave them. They were a strong people, spirited and proud, and though they would shout at me in incomprehensible languages, and laugh long and loudly at my slightest clumsiness, and never allow me a moment's peace or respite, there was affection behind their banter, and I always felt welcome in their land." (p. 125)

lonely desert moon over clouds

* A World of Villages by Brian Schwartz (See the Reason and Rhyme "Books" section.)


Wednesday, June 20, 2007

An Age-old Story

Charmaine Frost headshot by Charmaine Frost

It was just the age-old story
Of men vying and dying for an instant's glory.

Asphalt basking in the sun
Held the heat like a secret weapon;
The mephitic caged-in air
Spat out sparks and prepared
To roar and screech when let loose.
All trembled in the molten glare
That in milliseconds would ignite
Every shriveled leaf, each gnarled bough,
Every millimeter of parched soil,
Even the most pacifist of human souls.

Wasn't it just the same old story
Of men vying for some petty glory?
It always began as mere debate:
Is man good or evil?, can cats think?,
Is character learned or innate?
But debate was more than a semantic game.
It was a war of egos never tamed
Of the tiger's lawless fury,
Of the eagle's paranoid insistence
That he was most far-sighted.
Each scoff burned with dramatic fire;
The contenders never tired
Of proving they were right
To a sighing jury
Of their fellows and the gods.

A dragon lurked in every soul
Impatiently bating its lethal breath.
Words would clash, planes would crash,
Nations would battle unto death
Until even the galaxies would know
Who most deserved earth's penny spoils.
The flames would dance as they destroyed,
Cackle triumphant as they burned
Every rose, every momento,
Every culture ever raised,
Every prize ever earned,
The science and art of every age.
Hot cyclones would bluster round and round
In a vicious circle never ending
While the anger of men contending
Would devour the planet from pole to pole.

No, not just some lunatic's fable
That many would perish in the fray
To prove who among men was most able
And set Earth ablaze -
Supernova sparking in holocaust rage
Before it shrank to a lifeless cinder
Adrift in an indifferent, endless night.

town sky cloud perspective


Monday, June 18, 2007

Erudition, Eloquence, and Elegance in Mathematics

Frank Luger headshot by Frank Luger

In any field of human intellectual endeavor, the 'sine qua non' of 'eternal' excellence are the three classical hallmarks known as erudition, eloquence, and elegance. All these three, in turn, entail various qualities, as it will be mentioned below. They are the indispensable legs of the tripod on which true quality of the timeless transcendental kind rests, which may be best expressed by the single word: excellence.

Mathematics is a rather unique intellectual endeavor. Unquestionably one of the greatest triumphs of the human intellect -- and by the same token, a truly great tribute to it -- mathematics enables one to go 'where no one has gone before' or to borrow a literary phrase, 'where even angels fear to tread'. Now, in this essay, I don't wish to get drawn into such disputes as Platonic vs. Aristotelian mathematics, or whether mathematics is discovered or created or both; and I have no intention either to discourse on merits and shortcomings, or to engage in any kind of sermon for or against mathematics. Quite simply, the purpose of this paper is to draw attention to just what constitutes excellence in mathematics, regardless of the idiosyncrasies of any particular mathematician, whether still living or already standing in the Pantheon, frozen in lofty marble among eternal geniuses. In other words, don't expect here a cookbook recipe for winning the Fields Medal1, quite regardless of how smart and (mathematically) knowledgeable you might be. You need much originality in this field, despite a huge amount of indispensable basic knowledge and rapid developments in every branch; and it is fair to say that no matter how impersonal mathematics appears, your own cognitive style and pattern-recognition gifts leave plenty of room for individuality in this special, infinite playground of the intellect.

However, none of the above justify the first sentence of the previous paragraph. Mathematics is unique because the man-made and the nature-made get intimately intertwined in it; and both components are present in every branch of mathematics, no matter where you look. But the proportions may be very different. In probability and statistics, number theory, and the like, the man-made aspect predominates so much that the nature made component can only be discerned with specific effort; whereas in most areas of mathematical physics, the nature-made aspect is not only conspicuous, but must even be given priority2, at least according to the vast majority of (theoretical) physicists.

Also, there have been shifting emphases on these components throughout history; but it is only in relatively recent times, that mathematics has gradually become independent of natural philosophy at first and from physical significance at last. This emancipation has taken about a century, roughly between the non-Euclidean geometries of Gauss, Bolyai, and Lobachevsky in the early XIXth century until the Quantum Mechanics of Planck, Bohr, Schrödinger, Heisenberg, Born, Dirac, et al. around the 1930s. Dirac, in particular, in a famous quote has gone as far as asserting that if there is a discrepancy between experiment and mathematics, one ought to jettison the experiment and retain the mathematics. Today, maybe 10% or so of advanced mathematics has physical meaningfulness; and mathematical research merrily proliferates following its own recipes, in disdainful disregard of physics or even philosophy except perhaps for the part of philosophy which belongs to logic in general and mathematical logic in particular. In other words, the man-made component has become overwhelmingly, maybe to 90%, predominant over the nature-made component; and this is precisely why mathematics is so unique, considering that no matter where we look, it works.

A word of qualification is in order. It works, and ubiquitously at that; but this is still in our world of human sense-perception. How it may or may not work independently of the 'bubble' of virtual reality within which its human creators perforce live, remains an open question. If there is such thing as ultimate reality, it may or may not be adequately handled by our mathematical sophistication. One might conjecture, that human limitations can but result in projections of those limitations into other worlds, assuming that such worlds exist, quite independently of us. Also, with regards to extraterrestrial life, no matter how probable it is that such life is intelligent, there's no reason whatsoever, to suppose that those life-forms evolved intelligence along human lines. To be sure, there are certain mathematical things that we have reason to believe, are universal; for example the prime numbers, as it was eloquently emphasized in the late Cornell astrophysicist Carl Sagan's masterpiece: "Contact". But unless and until some way is found for interstellar communication and travel, we have no means to confirm or disconfirm such conjectures. Perhaps some future discovery will rob the 'Queen of Sciences' of her crown, but until then, mathematics reigns supreme, and we ought to bow to her.

Erudition is the first and perhaps most obviously important requirement for mathematical excellence. Little comment is needed. One must be intimately familiar with advanced mathematics in order to attain mastery. In fact, no attainment of mastery is possible before every detail has become so intuitively evident, that one can run circles around it and devise alternatives. It's just that the rapid growth of every branch of mathematics makes it increasingly difficult to master but ever narrower segments of specialities. A curious situation arises whereby the more one knows about specifics, the less one is able to keep sight of the whole, all the way until the absurd predicament of knowing everything about almost nothing. Already a hundred years ago this was well stated in one of Poincaré's theorems, according to which the more one approximates a mathematical truth, the more elusive it becomes. This recent proliferative trend has produced more and more 'specialist barbarians', which, of course, is at the expense of erudition, because erudition requires much general knowledge in addition to specialized competence in whatever narrow aspect of mathematics. This applies to both pure and applied fields of mathematics, although perhaps attains greater importance in the pure fields, because it is here that the specialization tendencies are the most pronounced. It is fair to say that today's mathematicians are less erudite in a general sense than ever, no matter how competent they may be in some highly specialized area. The only solution to this predicament is synthesis, whereby many seemingly disparate aspects are brought to common denominators; and the resultant simplification gives rise to generalization, which then makes room for new growth cycles. Generalization is one of the most important aspects of the growth of mathematics, being the key to usefulness. Interestingly, the greater the generality, the greater the simplicity. This is one of the main reasons why advanced mathematics is easier than the less advanced parts. Simplicity also greatly facilitates the other two requirements of mathematical excellence: eloquence and elegance, by getting rid of unwanted or unnecessary information and drawing attention to the important facts. Simplification by generalization was most eloquently illustrated by David Hilbert, the second 'Prince of Mathematicians' (the first was Gauss) in 1890, when he proved Gordan's 1868 theorem by throwing away 90% of Gordan's premisses and putting the rest into the form which is known as Hilbert's Finite Basis Theorem. This far-reaching and profound theorem shows eloquently and elegantly that greater generality and greater simplicity are practically inseparable.

Eloquence, as the second requirement for mathematical excellence, might strike a strange note. That's because eloquence is traditionally associated with rhetorics and the fluent, polished, and effective use of language, especially in public speaking. Yet the same argument or proof may be presented clumsily or eloquently. An eloquent proof immediately appears as smooth, almost natural flow of ideas, without even a trace of unnecessary or cluttering information. Obviously, a prerequisite of eloquence is thorough mastery of the field in general and the problem in question in particular. Yet, technical mastery is not enough. One needs a certain creativity and imaginative playfulness, as well as originality and style. This brings us to the third leg of the tripod: elegance.

Elegance, as the third requirement for mathematical excellence, is the truly artistic aspect. Its hallmarks are grace and refinement, ingenuity and simplicity, extraordinary effectiveness and efficiency. To explore, to discover patterns, to explain the significance of each pattern, to invent new patterns similar to those already known, are among the normal activities of what mathematicians do. How they do what they do depends on the quality of the mathematician. An excellent mathematician has an almost inimitable style, but despite much idiosyncrasy, the style will invariably be elegant.

The history of mathematics is marked by alternating contractions and expansions, analyses and syntheses, unifications and generalizations. If all of mathematical knowledge could be expressed in two principles, the excellent mathematician would not rest until s/he could demonstrate that the two are rooted in a single one. But that would give rise to new problems, and new cycles of expansions-contractions-expansions. Such pulsation has been characteristic of the growth of mathematics throughout history in erudite, eloquent, and elegant ways. As mathematics is both science and art3, it may perhaps be fairly said, that erudition stands for science, elegance for art, and eloquence bridges the two of them.

1 Equivalent of the Nobel Prize in mathematics, except that the Fields Medal is conferred upon its recipient only once every four years, in contrast to the Nobel laurels which are and have been awarded every year.

2 There have been many disputes around this point. Some famous people, such as Bohr, Dirac, etc. argued in favor of throwing out those parts of microphysics which 'deviated' significantly from mathematics; whereas Einstein et al. insisted on the priority of physics and the experimental validation of mathematical theories. Pure mathematicians in the vein of Gauss, Hilbert, Poincaré, Hardy, and many others, simply could not care less either way; for them the intrinsic esthetics and consistency of pure mathematics was far more important and normative than whether physicists happened to find any pragmatic use for beautiful mathematical theorems.

3 cf. Luger, F. Necessitas Mathematicae, in Commensal, No. 100, March 2000, pp. 20-24; also in Telicom, Vol. XV, No.1, Oct./Nov. 2000, pp. 66-71; Gift of Fire, Issue 122, Jan. /Feb. 2001, pp. 36-41; PhiSIGma, No. 23, Sept./Oct. 2001, pp. 20-25.


Friday, June 15, 2007


Fred Vaughan headshot by Fred Vaughan


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Americans In Their 40s Are Living Longer Today

Richard May headshot by Richard May

I suppose that more Americans are getting "early onset Alzheimer's disease" in their 40s, and 50s, because people are living more years in their 40 and 50s today. I notice that neither the Congress nor the media have a high degree of interest in this phenomenon, so it must be quite normal. When teenagers begin to get Alzheimer's, it will be interesting to watch the media and politicians spin it. Headline: "Teenage Alzheimer's is no cause for immediate concern." Teenagers are just living longer today and modern diagnostic techniques are more accurate.” We just didn’t notice the teenagers with Alzheimer’s in the past. A dramatically increasing rate of autism in America's children is quite normal and natural also.

Curiously, I've heard no mention of cross cultural data comparing the incidence of “early onset Alzheimer’s” in America with that of Europe and Asia. Now you don't suppose that unknown or deliberately ignored environmental factors could be underlying this do you?

Coincidentally Japan and Ireland inspect 100% of their beef cattle for BSE. But in the US only 1% is inspected and the head of the United States Department of Agriculture was appointed from cattle industry. Ubiquitous environmental EMF and variant forms of CJD and/or changes to the foods that Americans consume by agribusiness, including various herbicides, pesticides, GM crops, untested for long-term safety, and the interactions among these, may potentially not be unrelated to the appearance of “early onset Alzheimer’s”.

But it's the economy stupid! Too many functioning brains are a nuisance in any case, especially if in the heads of older economic units, I mean, American citizens. Of course, "Christians" are preoccupied with moral questions regarding the decadence of Tinky Winky, and cannot be troubled by socialist concerns, such as holes in human brains.

There will be no "proof" of this or anything else, because of the nature of inductive reasoning. Russian roulette has not been proven to be detrimental to one's health either. There is just the recurring discovery of deceased people with bullet-sized holes in their head and recently discharged pistols in their hand, who had been playing the game of Russian roulette. But correlation does not imply causation. The causal link cannot be observed, as David Hume noted. Tomorrow the sun or corporate profits may rise in the West. More research is and will be needed.

So chill and enjoy the monosodium glutamate-enhanced ‘natural flavors’ of your irradiated genetically-modified food, high fructose corn syrup, with melamine and delicious diethylene glycol from China, and watch the news about Anna Nicole Smith and Paris Hilton. A long shelf life for your brain is not necessary for the profits of agribusiness and the medical-industrial complex.



Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Niki de Saint Phalle

by Jacquelinne White

Niki de Saint Phalle, the French artist and iconoclast, died in San Diego on May 21, 2002. She was 71 years old. I did not know she was a stunning beauty until I saw her photograph in the San Francisco Chronicle's obituary although I have known, and loved, her work for probably 45 years.

Niki de Saint Phalle

Niki de Saint Phalle was an artist and a woman after my own heart so when the American art magazines stopped having articles about her I missed them. In the past year I realized I had not seen anything about her for a long time -- years. She disappeared.

When I read the notice of her death I assumed I could just run down to any book store and get up-to-date material on her. No such thing. I had a hard time believing what I ran into. I telephoned every well-known bookstore in the San Francisco Bay area. I called many smaller stores. I even called the store at the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco. Not a single store had anything on Niki de Saint Phalle but more distressing was that not a single person answering the phones including the store at the San Francscio MOMA knew who she was. I finally called the French Consulate in San Francisco which gave me the name and address of a bookstore in Paris. I did write to that store more or less a month ago but I have heard nothing from them. A friend, Martin Hunt, was able to find some welcome material for me by computer search. Later another friend was able to dig out some more pertinent information on a computer search. My search is not at an end. I want some great big picture books of her works, biographical books, and books with articles about her art work. I feel sure there must be something to my taste in Europe, probably in France or Germany if not other countries. I shall find them. In the meantime this is my salute to Niki de Saint Phalle, my farewell to someone who has been very important to me.

Niki de Saint Phalle was born in the wealthy Paris suburb of Neuilly-sur-Seine on November 29, 1930. Her family moved to New York in 1937. She married at the age of 18 and shortly had two children. She and her husband, Harry Mathews, moved to France with their children some time in the 1950's. As a child she was near to being uncontrollable and managed to get herself expelled from at least two excellent schools. One was New York's Sacred Heart Convent. She painted the genital area of the holy statues, areas covered with fig leaves. She used red paint. She was expelled. Her parents must have been driven to the wall finding one school after the other for their exuberant and naughty child. It can come as no surprise to learn she had a nervous breakdown in her early twenties. After she recovered she put all her energies into being an artist. She had no training but she had the needed spirit and she had an instinct on which to lean in order to move forward. She must have been an enormously quick study because she had her first solo exhibition in 1956. She maintained she was highly influenced and inspired by the Spanish architect Antonio Gaudi. You will remember Gaudi's wonderful great church in Barcelona and likely other of his works. It is the Barcelona church, that wonderful structure that seems to have grown rather than having been built that most fascinates me and more than likely it was that work or similar things that entranced Niki de Saint Phalle. I have always seen that church as being organic, something that grew like a magical plant-animal but only very recently I learned that in actual fact that is what happened. I am told Gaudi never made an architectural drawing or plan for it but invented it, with the help of the builders, as it went along. There was someone even more important in her life than Gaudi. She met the Swiss kinetic sculptor, Jean Tinquely, shortly after recovering from her mental illness. She lost little time in abandoning her husband and even her small children and moved in with Tinguely. They were living together at the time of the opening of her first show in Saint Gall, Switzerland and they married about 15 years later. The marriage was not an ordinary marriage. They did not live together all the time but they did maintain a close relationship until Tinquely died in 1991. They collaborated on the famous Stravinsky Fountain with its moving sculptures outside the Pompidou Centre in Paris. The San Francisco Chronicle referred to it as being "whimsical" and it is, but it is much more than that. It is full fledged, a not to ever be forgotten work of art, a merry piece, a funny piece, a loving and lovable, adorable piece. I guarantee no child has ever, nor ever will, see that rollicking fountain without laughing, without jumping for joy. I have not been a child for a very long time but I know for certain I too would greet it with laughter and dance and I would probably embarrass any stade person who might be with me as I would most certainly reflect its colourful and outlandish presence. Even the pictures I have of it, recently found, move me greatly.

The first works done by Niki de Saint Phalle that I became aware of were her "nanas." I am told the word, nana, translates as something like the American word, "broad." It is not a compliment. They were large female sculptures made of papier mache, perhaps some plaster and almost anything else that came handy. They were painted in primary colours. They are boisterous. It is reported that her first inspiration for the nanas was Larry Rivers' pregnant wife, Claria Rivers. After that first inspiration she did many. The one that made the most lasting impression on me was her "She: A Cathedral" which was installed in Stockholm. It was a huge woman of course but bigger than the previous nanas. It was 80 feet long and 30 feet wide. It had rooms in it. There was a music room, a room for showing films, and a milk bar in one of the breasts. Visitors entered through the vagina. I remember how the USA art magazines reported on it. Blasé. It was as if one came across similar things quite often; interesting in a mild way as many new kinds of things happening in the arts were interesting. I think my memory is more than likely correct since at least people in my part of the world, the supposedly sophisticated San Francisco Bay Area, have forgotten she existed. There is something very goofy about that insofar as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is at present (2002) promoting a big retrospective of the work of Yoko Ono, John Lennon's widow, a woman who has hardly set the world on fire much as she would like to put up the pretense that she did just that.

The art critics, those we used to call "the establishment", categorized Niki de Saint Phalle as a Nouveau Realistes, a group that deliberately chose to undo the conventional notions of art, but in my opinion Niki de Saint Phalle belonged to no-one but herself. The woman was so big she kept on bursting out all over the place. Added to all this she was a knockout beauty. Even in her old age she was extraordinarily beautiful. She was an outrageous woman. She was a woman who raged. That gigantic installation in 1998 at Garavicchio in Tuscany must have been just about her last presentation, if it were not her very last. Her fantastic organic forms, her fairyland kind of humans, her nutty animals that sometimes were partly plants or plants that were partly animals had evolved into grotesque sculptures even more exaggerated than her former work. That wild and strange collection was based on the Tarot cards.

I need to include here something else I recently learned about Niki de Saint Phalle but I can merely mention the information I have because I have not been able to learn more. She had a strong relationship with Hanover in Germany and gave that city many of her works. I believe they made her an honorary citizen but I am not at all clear on what went on between Niki de Saint Phalle and Hanover except that the people there loved her, just loved her.

We lost a great one on May 21, 2002. We, especially women, lost a role model. She must have met the resistance from men all women who show giftedness experience but it did not slow her down. She danced high and happy over any obstacles, laughed riotously at least in a figurative sense, sang her own song and sang it good and loud. It hit a cord that rings bells in many of us who mourn.

Goodbye Niki. We love you. Your work will sustain us.


Friday, June 08, 2007

Easy or Difficult?

Albert Frank Headshot by Albert Frank

Recently someone gave me the following problem:

On the Xth day of the Yth month of the year 1900+Z in the 20th century, a ship is near New York. The ship has T crew members, U propellers and V chimneys. If we add the cube root of the age of the captain (who is a grandfather) to the product XYZTUV, the result is 698823. What are the values of X, Y, Z, T, U, V, and what is the age of the captain? We also know that only one solution is realistic.

Is this problem difficult or easy? Let’s have a look at it (the solution):

The age of the captain (who is a grandfather) is a perfect cube: It can only be 64 years old.

698823 – 4 = 698819.

Let’s make a decomposition of 698819 into prime factors: 698819 = 11 x 17 x 37 x 101. We have four factors. Six are needed, so the two others are 1 and 1.

11 would be a too big a number for propellers or chimneys, so the ship has 1 propeller and 1 chimney.

The month has to be <13, so it can only be 11.

The day has to be < 32, so can only be 17.

The year (Z) has to be < 100, so can only be 37.

The remaining number 101 is the number of crew members.

We have it: 17th November 1937, 1 propeller, 1 chimney, 101 crew members, and the captain is 64 years old.

Some will find this problem very easy, others will find it very difficult.


Wednesday, June 06, 2007


Brian Schwartz headshot by Brian Schwartz

Sometime in the late 1980s, Tom Wolfe, chronicler of the movement of love and leftwing politics that had painted a rainbow across the drab post-Eisenhower era, tried to set down in writing how the dream had died. He wrote that all religious movements -- and he considered that decade-long summer of love one -- inevitably passed through several phases. First comes one energized by revelation, mystic knowledge and emotion. Then all this gets codified, and passed on not by emotional experience but by verbal command, and then the bureaucrats take over. At some point another era of emotion emerges, and challenges the ossified bureaucracy.

Now whether or not this process explains the 1960s, it certainly sheds some light on the great waves of religious fervor which, emerging every few centuries, sweep across anything in their path with all the force and suddenness of a tsunami. Luther, Calvin, Knox and the emergence of Protestantism is one such wave, and the Puritanical movements of the 1820s in England and America another. (The Amercan part of the tale is told in Revivals, Awakenings, and Reforms (1978),by William G. McLoughlin.) Lately, a new religious fervor based on the mystic acceptance of Christ has emerged on the plains and praries of the American hearland.

And if one studies the long long history of Hindu India, one finds outbreaks of religious revival every few hundred years. The earliest, and most influential, gave us Buddhism, and Jainism too. But there are many others, strange and often sadistic cults that arose in the 9th century AD, only to disappear a few years later and then, around 1100, far more influential, the influence of Madhvacharya and Ramanuja, the Bhakti and Vedanta movements all energized and deepened Hinduism.

Islam has known such times, and in fact its beginning may be considered such a time, as its armies swept across Africa and Asia, carving a crescent from Morocco on the Atlantic to, ultimately, the Bay of Bengal and beyond. And there have been many since, the emergence of Sufism (a gentle Jihad indeed) during the secular, politicized days of the Abbasid Caliphate, the work of the Hanbali scholar Ibn Taymiya, who in the early 14th century condemned all governments not ruled by Islamic law, the Fulani Jihad that raced across West Africa in 1810, the emergence of Salafism in Cairo and Wahhabism in the harsh lands of Arabia.

Many if not most of these movements have challenged the legitimacy of the secular governments of the time, which they viewed as effete, corrupt and ungodly -- which most of them were. And so it was to be expected that the most recent of such reform movements, which began about 80 years ago with the Muslim Brotherhood and continues to this day, would do the same. For a time, it did. In the early 70s, it fought King Hussein in Jordan, and a few years later challenged Assad in Syria; forced underground in Iraq, it loomed as a constant threat to secular Saddam. All of these dictators squelched it ruthlessly, killing tens of thousands, in the Hama massacre in Syria and Black September in Jordan.

When I first read about these movements of religious reform, I thought it would be wonderful to see one. And now I have but sad to say it's become diverted (and strange how so many Populist groundswells become diverted, channeled into xenophobia and racism, perhaps by the ruling classes they threaten), not purifying Islam, not attacking the corrupt and tottering dictatorships of the Middle East, but wasting its time attacking America. What a shame. Though perhaps its leaders are right to recognize Coca-cola consumerism as the biggest threat to religious fervor.


Monday, June 04, 2007

Good Salesmanship at a Glance

Frank Luger headshot by Frank Luger

Transforming initially vague or perhaps nonexistent client interests into definite (signed) commitments, a.k.a. contracts, is the task of each and every salesman. In other words, the salesman mediates between client and business, fitting client needs to business profiles, and conversely, making sure that those needs are adequately filled by the business. How well this is done by the salesman is the matter of good salesmanship.

Good salesmanship? What’s that? The moment we hear the word “salesmanship”, most of us will bristle, shudder, and start chasing away uncomfortable mental images like fast-talking used-car salesmen, dishonest life-insurance agents, fly-by-night operations, pyramidal sales, door-to-door solicitors, and various ‘merchants’ cheating us left, right, and center, one way or another. Anyone who has ever been sold a ‘lemon’ and / or has been treated with deceptive sales practices will be rather wary in any situation involving ‘salesmanship’, fearing bad salesmanship, such as the above.

The hallmarks of good salesmanship are marketing flair and personal integrity, selling true quality goods and services with reliability and validity. Both are two-way streets, i.e. they help the business as well as the customer. They help the business by maintaining the cash-flow and increasing the reputation while they help the customer by adequate need fulfillment and appropriate anxiety reduction.

Salesmanship, whether bad or good, takes place within the framework of sales mentality. Generally speaking, there are but two kinds of sales mentality; those of the shopkeeper and the entrepreneur. The shopkeeper puts something attractive in the window and then waits for the walk-in. If there is no walk-in, the shopkeeper does not eat tonight. Small wonder, then, that what has evolved with the shopkeeper mentality is client-grabbing and price-haggling. While they may yield immediate business and bring in some cash, they do not contribute to good marketing and long-term development. By contrast, the entrepreneur mentality involves steady client-handling and price-fixing. The entrepreneur creates markets and builds trust where none existed. He does so by activity as opposed to the passivity of the vendor in the shop. Primarily, he handles transactions as investment opportunities of the business as well as himself. Also, he takes every occasion to promote his company, but does so with reliability and validity. All the time he thus displays marketing flair and personal integrity- in short, good salesmanship.

Client-grabbing and price-haggling are typical of the oriental world, in fact, they are still a way of life all over Asia and the Middle-East, though by no means limited to these regions. However, in the West, that is, primarily in Europe and North-America, steady client-handling and price-fixing have gradually become the prevailing practices. The first kind is the older, rural or merchant one, reflecting on various historical eras, whereas the second is much more associated with the modern industrial world and urban lifestyles. Of course, one cannot go into an oriental bazaar and expect fixed prices any more than start haggling over the price tags of big-city department stores. However, the second trend is slowly gaining ascendancy as modernization proliferates worldwide.

Let’s take just one example: room sales in a small hotel of a big city. The setting is highly competitive, so the little-known small hotel cannot well afford to lose sales, especially in low season. Under such circumstances, surely, there is a strong temptation for client-grabbing and price-haggling. However, the market share of a little-known small hotel ought to be based on excellent reputation, maintained with true quality products and services as well as modest and steady pricing. If the quality of the products and / or the services is poor or questionable, then the customer will not return. If the price is too high, he will go elsewhere. If the price is too low, he will lose respect and refer to the hotel as ‘cheap dump’ both in public and private. If the price is inconsistent, he will lose confidence. If he bargains successfully, he will sneer and snicker in the back and spread bad reputation. If he arrives in the early morning hours and gets a substantial discount, pretty soon the customer influx will shift to dawn. If he needs the room for only a short time and gets away with half the price, the market will be surely damaged. If he aggressively complains and intimidates the clerk enough to obtain a big rebate, others will follow suit. In short, nothing but modest and steady prices backed by quality products and services, sold by firm and consistent yet polite and cheerful salesmanship will build enough client trust and yield enough client satisfaction to result in repeat business and good referrals and steady hotel promotion toward stable market share. Thus, even in the case of a little-known small hotel good salesmanship consists of marketing flair and personal integrity, regardless of specific situations and general competition.

In sum, good salesmanship is neither the art of selling fridges to Eskimos nor the greed of squeezing of every penny out of a customer. Rather, it is the proper selling of true quality goods and services with reliability and validity, both personal and business-wise; i.e., marketing flair and personal integrity. Surely, this is the only way to acquire the kind of reputation and dignity which is the gateway to steady market share and future prosperity, now or ever.


Friday, June 01, 2007

My Motto: Everybody Does It Is Not A Reason For Doing It

Albert Frank Headshot by Albert Frank

For many years, this has been my motto. I’ll try to explain why.

Already at the age of 10, I often noticed that when people where doing something I considered to be bad and I asked them why, the answer was “Everybody does it”.

From what I have seen (passively, as a witness only or more actively by asking more and more questions), it has nearly always been the same during more than 50 years with very few exceptions, and that is the most incredible part for me.

Of course, my first question was “Who are the exceptions to this?" That has become a horror for me – I’ll be more explicit later. The answer (from what I have seen): some (but certainly not all) chess players in their daily lives and in the way they play chess. There are also some (but certainly not all) “high I.Q.” people.

Before trying to explain my reactions, here are some examples, mainly very common, some historical (after a long search). Some are insignificant, some are horrible:

  • Near a school, with a speed limit of 30 km/h, driving at 50. “Look Albert, I just follow the previous car, everybody does it.”
  • Cheating when playing soccer. “The others do it also, and it is not cheating, it’s only to win.” – This was said to children on a soccer field. It makes me vomit…
  • Cheating at exams at school (or for an i.q. test): “Now, with Internet and technology, everybody does it.”
  • Driving when you are drunk, only a "little bit" of alcohol – 3 glasses of wine and a beer: "Look, everybody does is, so it can’t be dangerous.”
  • We must recognise the authority of all the “big chiefs,” like the Pope or a State President: "Everyone recognizes their authority.” This was of course valid for Hitler too.

At a very young age, I began to be horrified, really horrified, by such things. As an example, I remember when I went to Rome with my father: We saw "Pie 12th" in the “Pope's chair”. My father said, “I’m not catholic, nevertheless there are things which have to be respected and applauded. "Everybody does it," - even if it was not explicitly said… All the “intellectual confidence” I had in my father disappeared then… I entertained ideas of suicide.

My life became worse and worse until it finally stabilised by my recognising the dichotomy: The sheep on the one hand doing and saying only what they could copy, often just what was said in newspapers and on TV. That was the vast majority. I would say more than 95 %, even though they would all probably strongly deny it. Slowly, I recognised that there are two distinct personalities:

  • With this majority of sheep, I made no contact except indispensable practical things. With them I did not speak. I was “alone in my corner”….
  • With the others, "the outsiders”: I loved to speak, to communicate - about nearly everything – I had long conversations… There were several real friendships as a great consequence of this!

Now, I have the opportunity to have quite a few (more than 10) really good "friends" (that’s a big word), and, none of them ever gives the excuse, “Everybody does it."

I have something to add: I have always tried to not be too "severe” with people of low standing (secretaries, for example); at the same time, I have been extremely severe with what I call “pseudo intellectuals” – like "Engineers" or "Ph.D's".