Monday, March 30, 2015

World Without End

We shine with but a brief and borrowed light,
from orb to orb reflected  down the years,
a pale fire  filched, rekindled, and passed on.

So too that which our loins bequeath
already bear the seeds of their own spawn:
We sow, as we were sown.

Lord, but a boon:  again  threescore-and-ten
that I may seek anew what long I sought.
In time, I might grow wise.

Sunday, March 29, 2015


As is well known, Shakespeare not infrequently collaborated with other playwrights -- much as today, a screenplay is seldom the work of but one hand.  Such scribes as Middleton, Kid, and Fletcher shared that honor.
Less well known except by experts (and that, a litotes) is the fact that, in the eventide of Edmund Spenser’s career, his masterpiece behind him, and in the dawn of a brash young man named Will Shakespeare, whose mighty works were yet to come, the two poets joined forces in a series of fabliaux, curtain-raisers, and entr’actes.  This light fare was thought, until recently, to have perished quite.  Tis only now that the Incunabula Office of the World of Dr Justice ™, which has aforetimes brought forward, to critical acclaim, a series of pieces unpublished hitherto (by such as Omar Khayyam, Dickens, and Saint Augustine), has once again, in a triumph of antiquarian spelunking, scored a surprising find.  Alas, ‘tis but a fragment;  but we print it here, for the delectation of connoisseurs.

   Ye fretfull Porpentine
   went pricking o’er the plain

Scholars are even now attempting to disentangle, which lines to attribute to Spenser, and which to father on the Bard.

Shakespeare and Spenser at the Boar’s Head Tavern in Cheapside,
wenching together

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~~ Philology U Can Trust ™ ~~

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A porpentine (as it might be) fretfully pricking along.

Further Elizabethan delicacies (some previously unpublished) available here.

A Marriage made in WalMart

Authorities have announced the banns of Sir Heinz, of ketchup fame (“Shake, shake, shake the bottle;  none comes out, and then a lot’ll”) and Dame Kraft, creatrix of the substance known as Cheez-Whip ™.
Verily, the sire deserves the dam.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bird in a Window

Suddenlythere,     perky,
framed  by a pane,
a tiny sparrow --

Friday, March 27, 2015

With Time Remaining: Testament

Speak less;  but let it tell.
From this  last  quiver
see that  each  fledged  flight
streak  to its mark.

What thou hast seen,  share;
what fancied, ill-grasped,
die with it yet in thy breast.

At the end, it may be little
that thou canst bequeath.
Enough to fill a headstone, merely.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Emmy Noether zum Geburtstag

Alles Gute zum Geburtstag, Emmy !
Today's Google-doodle commemorates Emmy Noether.   Noether really is a significant creative figure in the history of mathematics.

Unlike the much-celebrated Ada Lovelace, she wasn't anyone's famulus, but forged her own way independently.


As an undergraduate math major at Harvard, I had barely heard of Noether;  and this, for three good reasons, none of which had to do with Noether herself.
(1)  Undergrads generally need to learn the subject (i.e., what’s on the test) and not worry about its history.
(2) The exact sciences generally hew to “Whig history”:  whatever the present state of the field, is all you really need to know.  The pioneers were blunderers.
(3) For math specifically, the Plantonic outlook  singularly minimizes the role of the individual researcher.   All mathematical truths are already stored-up in Platonic heaven;  whoso proves this theorem or that, has simply managed to claw loose a pre-existing nugget from the hoard.

The closest I came to having heard of her, was that I’d heard of (but not studied) “Noetherian rings” (an adjective I still do not know how to pronounce).  These figured prominently in the introductory algebra text by Van der Waerden, one of her pupils.

Now:   Noetherian rings (along with the eponymous modules) are all very well in their way;  but they must take their place in a menagerie of such constructions. 

Thus:  If you stick with it  long enough,  you will learn such gems as this:

In a short exact sequence of R-modules, A and C noetherian imply B noetherian, and conversely.
--  Saunders MacLane & Garrett Birkhoff, Algebra (1967; 3rd edn. 1999), p. 380

Hmm!  Mmyess!  Good to know!  Must make a note of that!
But that is not why she’s famous.

The discovery (or invention) of Noetherian rings, was internal to algebra.  What inscribed her name on the scrolls of History in letters of gold, was the linking of algebra to something seemingly outside itself:  specifically, the linking of each algebraic symmetry with a conservation law -- which puts her work at the center of modern physics.   In this it bears comparison with the previous Erlangen Program led by Felix Klein, which characterized the plethora of newly recognized geometries (prior to Gauss & Lobachevsky, there was but one) by their symmetry-groups.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen

[Trigger Warning:  The following sentence contains a word in German.  Those of you for whom German means (and can only mean) ‘Nazi’,  and thus might be disempowering to your sensibilities, are advised to skip this material.]

It is characteristic of the Zeitgeist, that the self-coddlers and shrinking violets  have (paradoxically) become extraordinarily aggressive in asserting their veto-power over public speech:  which now, given smartphones and YouTube, in practice means all speech whatever.   And that the sort of spineless wonders who typically become administrators, and catering to their strident whims.

"Don't ... use ... that ... word !"

From this morning’s New York Times, and account by Judith Shulevitz:

For our own essay on the subject (warning: contains verbs):


Just a moment ago, a curious sentence from the same newspaper  caught my eye.  Indulge me in a bit of free-association.
As you probably heard, the social-media mavens in ISIL have just put out a kill list  of 100 service members, complete with name, photos, and addresses.   All in a day’s work for the Islamic State.  But here’s the oddity:

Several women are included on the list, but their faces in the photos were blurred.

Not: “blurry”;  but deliberately blurred.   Want to know why?

If you pore through ISIS publications, you will notice that women seldom appear in them:  and if they do, any hijabless face is blurred-out.  (Oddly enough, politically-correct European publications sometimes do the same thing;  an example here.)  The reason is, the Caliphate deems barefaced display an affront against female modesty.  (For an amusing account of the contortions this leads to, read the account by Morten Storm of his efforts to find a wife for Yemeni terror-chieftain Anwar al-`Awlaqi.)  And, even though the whole point of the hit-list is to get those people killed, and blurring the photo on a Wanted poster is comically counter-productive, still, that is still a line they will not cross:  They’ll be happy to kill you, ladies, but they won’t show your face.
(Incidentally, this is yet another example of ISIL behavior that is inexplicable under the P.C. ground-rules that deny that the Islamic State is Islamic.)

Like the erinyes of America (“vengeance demons” in Buffyspeak), ISIL is offended by a great many things.  Classical antiquities offend them:  delenda sunt.   Yazidis, Houthis -- well most anyone apart from Wahhabis  offend them:  delendi.    When the profession victims on campus are offended, they march in protest or take you to court.  When ISIL is offended, they cut off your head.  Autres temps, autres moeurs;  but with some aptness, one might call the campus versions “American Wahhabis”.