Saturday, December 13, 2014

Acrônym øf thè Däy: « äRTeäS »

In the staid banking capital of Zürich,  masked black bloc activists (anarchist APOisten)  ran wild last night.   As such, that is no concern of this blog;  but we shall notice some curious linguistic detail.

Die Randalierer trugen ein Banner mit der Aufschrift «Reclaim the Streets». In den vergangenen Jahren war es unter diesem Titel mehrmals zu erheblichen Sachbeschädigungen gekommen. Am Freitag nun riefen die Veranstalter im Laufe des Tages per SMS dazu auf, sich um 22 Uhr im Sihlhölzlipark in Zürich-Wiedikon zu treffen. In Aussicht gestellt wurde der «one & only dancefloor» unter dem Motto «äRTeäS», hinter dem sich das Akronym RTS für «Reclaim the Streets» versteckt.

If you read about this in the anglophone press, you might assume that this slogan, «Reclaim the Streets»,  was a translation from the German, for the convenience of English-speakers.   Not so;  the following photo from Zurich last night, provides ocular proof:

Not only that, but the expression “black block” (or “black bloc”) has gone international.  A while ago (an Egyptian friend informed me) Angela Merkel apologized to Egypt for the “black block” anarchists there, who had imported a German ideology;  when I asked him, How did that come out in Arabic, he said:  “black block”.

Strangest of all, though, is this motto äRTeäS, within which the acronym RTS (for “Reclaim The Streets”) lies perdu in plain sight.   It looks like some new offbeat flavor offering from Häagen-Dazs, or perhaps a song by Mötley Crüe.   As for orthoëpic guidance, such as we commonly offer to our glottophilic flock, we are at a loss.  Conjecturally,  the word begins with a sort of vocalic sheep-bleat, and then the majuscularity of the following two consonants is signaled by pronouncing them at top volume while waving your arms (Monty Python has an instructive video along these lines), then back to a sheep-bleat, then back to the flapping.   Either that, or the vowels are silent.

A polyglot German reader of the above article comments:

Ein gewalttätiger Anarcho-Fascho-Mob holt sich die gratis Party unter allesamt englischen Organisationskürzeln für eine "friday night" nach deren Gusto.

At all events, äRTeäS is but the latest acronymic/cryptographic contribution from the German-speaking world, to the contemporary lexicon of political street-protest.   Some others we have elucidated here:  


The signage of one of the vandalized shops (international anarchy strikes back  against the tyranny of the corner bakery!)  is an interesting anglo-alemannic mix:

Znüni ?  It’s Schwizerdütsch for what in general German would be Imbiß (etymologically: ‘in-bite’):  ‘snack’, or rather specifically a morning snack, since etymologically it means “a nine-o’clock-er” (from the Alemannic equivalents of zu + neun).

Was für Krimi liest wohl Dr. Sigmund Freud?
Schauen Sie mal!

[Update 14 December 2014]  Another aspect of German political movement names, foreign to the American way of naming, is its hospitality to Mundarten.  Thus, consider the following headlines from earlier this morning:

"Arsch huh" gegen rechte Gewalt - Künstler demonstrieren in Köln

„Arsch huh“-Demo: Mit Karnevalisten und dem 1. FC Köln gegen Rechts,15187556,29314086.html?piano_d=1

Um… say what?  They never taught us that in German class..

It’s the name of an anti-rightist movement in Cologne:  in full “Arsch huh, Zäng ussenander”; which, de.wikipedia  helpfully explains, is “Kölsch für Arsch hoch, Zähne auseinander”.   Umm … ‘Butt up, teeth apart’??  -- I still don’t get it.

The “rp” in rp-online stands for “Ripuarisch”, a northern dialect of German.  And indeed, Ripuarian has its own Wikipedia --  (“ksh” for “Kölsch”, after the principle regional city).   They explain:

Unger dämm Motto „Arsch huh, Zäng ussenander!“ hann sich em Johr 1992 kölsche Musikjruppe un Schauspiller, un e paa andere Künßler zesamme jeschlosse, öm jäje Fremdefeindlichkeit un Antisemitismus ze demonstriere.

The American language shows nothing comparable to such Mundarten.  Sure, Bostonians say “pahk the cah in Hahvahd yahd” -- but they don’t have their own Wikipedia.

Factoid:   Continuing with our amusement at the proliferation of umlauts (which in the case of the icecream-company and the rock-band  are completely meaningless), let us note that one of the main backers of “Arsch huh”  is a Kölner rock-band called
Bläck Fööss “ -- which means, however, ‘bare feet’.

And, another gnarly political acronym:   Gröfaz


Weiteres in re Confoederatio Helvetica :

Monday, December 8, 2014

¡Bienvenidos en Uruguay!

Enjoy your stay!  (however brief …)

Terminaba así una saga que comenzó cuando en enero de 2014 llegó totalmente en secreto a Montevideo, Clifford Sloan, un abogado egresado de la Universidad de Harvard, a quien el presidente Barack Obama nombró en 2013 para que se hiciera cargo de la difícil tarea de negociar con países que estuvieran dispuestos a recibir a los cautivos. Y aún antes de la llegada de Sloan, la buena relación entre el presidente José Mujica y el vicepresidente estadounidense Joseph Biden había generado un buen ambiente para que Uruguay hiciera el favor que Estados Unidos estaba pidiendo. 


ShadowMan kind of spooks me, actually

Los recién llegados recibirán un documento de identidad transitorio. Tienen algunas ofertas para trabajar en la construcción y en tareas rurales.
Mujica ha asegurado que llegarán en condición de refugiados y por lo tanto podrían irse de Uruguay al día siguiente de llegar si así lo quisieran. El gobierno no aceptó el pedido de Estados Unidos de limitar la libertad de movimiento de los liberados, dijo el mandatario.

One wonders whether, upon crossing the Rio Grande, they will be asked to state their business, or simply waved on in the interests of Diversity …


This evening’s NPR report on the matter  typifies the level to which journalism has sunk.  It was all about feelings and beliefs, not facts.   The station acknowledged that certain (unnamed) persons harbor unspecified “concerns” (using the word one might employ, as regards the shaky health of a pet hamster).  But, by way of countering what much of the audience -- not so dumb as they deem us -- was likely already thinking, the reporter hastened into the breach with an extraordinary gambit:  that she “believes” (her term;  not “has learned” or “knows”, but using a term that can equally well be applied to the Great Pumpkin) that “recidivism” among people jailed for terrorism  has been “actually less than for the general crime population”:  which is like comparing apples to a random medley of oranges, pinapples, and breadfruit.   For certain infractions, the rate of re-offense is no doubt far greater than for, say, assassination:   in the case of jaywalking, probably close to a hundred percent.  (Once having tasted the illicit sweetness of flouting that old Kantian maxim, “Cross at the green -- Not in between”, the perpetrator will jaywalk again and again.)

This is not a matter for beliefs, feelings, or hunches.   It is a matter of public record that a significant number of detainees released from Gitmo, or released/escaped from detention in Afghanistan or Irak, have gone on to leadership positions in Al-Qaeda.   Indeed, one of the best-known of them appended the epithet al-Kûbi (“the Cuban”) to his nom de guerre, in winking reference to his proud status as an alumnus of that flagship campus of Jâmi`at Yûsuf (“Joseph’s University” -- i.e., ‘prison’; an allustion to the Torah story, retold in the Koran).

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Miscellanea mathematica (ter renovata)

An epigrammatic index to various essays.  For the context, click on the link:

A classic joke runs: 

The Axiom of Choice is obviously true;  the Well-Ordering Principle, obviously false;  and Zorn’s Lemma -- who can understand it?

It would be worth your while to obtain a Ph.D. in mathematics, simply to be able to get that joke (which contains deep truths).   Nothing else in the universe is nearly so funny.

"Some it-from-bit proponents  stretch this logic still further.  They look on the universe as a giant computer simulation."

“I do not know whether it can deal with jelly-like or cloud-like entities, with mushy viscous messes  that do not break up into manifest units.  I suspect that nothing is beyond the technical ingenuity of men…”

I personally attended Professor Langlands IAS lecture series (autumn 1999);  in the first of these he stated that he'd wanted to be a physicist, but physics was "too difficult", so he had to settle for being a humble mathematics professor at the Institute for Advanced Studies.   Nor was this a pose;  his whole manner is that of straightforward humility, very … Canadian.

To vary Nestroy’s celebrated epigram -- “Bis die Topologie gehts noch, aber von da bis sheaf theory  zieht sich der Weg.”

We may define pure mathematics as the subject in which Bertrand Russell does not know what he is talking about, though what he says is none the less true.

A more adequate symbol would be simply a rectangle with opposite edges identified -- or better yet, the toroidal covering-space which carpets RR with infinite replications of this patch-sample.  (Already how distantly we have left behind the donut!)

Mathematicians, like philosophers, and unlike anyone else (including even lexicographers), are given to a certain semantic Akribie --  an extraordinary self-critical attention to their own use of language.

iz here sumware
“Koestler concluded that his hours spent by the prison window  scratching equations  had brought mystical insights into another realm of being.”

It is one of the few major novels whose protagonist is presented as being a mathematician.    Now, mathematicians are (if you please) god-like beings;  yet with very few exceptions (Galois,  Erdös ..) they do not lead colorful lives.  The man who settled Fermat’s Last Theorem, for instance, Andrew Wiles, is … um …. ahh… actually, I cannot think of a predicate -- he just is.

The quirky, philosophically-minded Intuitionist mathematician Brouwer, harbored similar “mysterian” views on ultimate indefinabilty.

In the stylistic spirit of minimalism (and of that pointilliste Wittgenstein), we shall begin with a Delphic  epigram:
Logicism:  a kind of reductionist minimalism.

Differentiable Penguins
Note that dismissive back-of-the-hand to mere “fun”,  which nonetheless figures first in the list of motivators, in the quotation from Ian Stewart  with which we began this essay.   For full-time professionals, mathematics is just too darn hard to be nothing but fun.  You don’t devote your entire life to crossword-puzzles or sudoku.

One frequently meets statements along these lines  (in the present instance, reporting the work of Freedman and Donaldson on h-cobordism):
     It’s true topologically, but not smoothly, for dimension four.
Are the post-modernists here positing some abstruse new varieties of truth -- topological and smooth?

"The fundamental theorem of enumeration, independently discovered by several anonymous cave dwellers, states that the number of elements in a set  is the sum over all elements of that set  of the constant function 1."

In focusing on definition, I am inadvertently revealing the déformation professionelle of one who used to earn his bread (or rather his hardtack; the profession is ill-paid) as a lexicographer.   For, rather than trying to say what a thing “is” (and here the Korzybskian strictures against the copula  have their full force), we may say, pragmatically rather than ontologically, what a thing is for.

Seen in that perspective, the ugling-duckling of a phrasing, “Why is mathematics?”, spreads the wings of a swan.

One day, for a wager, Cantor,
after much ribbing and banter …

Mathematicians are given  
to chiseled concision.

Mathcat hath thpoken!

The very truth-predicate itself has been questioned within mathematics (albeit, by a rabble of Nominalists).   Thus, for a comparatively straightforward proposition “Catalan’s constant is transcendental”, a constructivist will not accept that this is either true or false.

... algebra, not in the sense of Galois or of André Weil, but of those unpleasant little sentences with x’s in them, relating to draining bathtubs which (against all reason) are simultaneously being replenished from the tap.

Our purpose is twofold;  indeed, the twin goals “can be thought of” as dual to each other.  The ostensible aim is (lightly) mathematical:  to provide pithy thumbnail sketches of complex fields of research.   The more substantial project takes place rather in the lexicographic ‘conjugate space’ which maps the items so defined.

Hard at work  in the math library

Compare a formulation we likewise favor, “Infinity is big.”   That epigram is double-edged.  First, it mimics the naïve astonishment that the novice feels, not only upon being introduced to the idea of infinity, but even large-but-finite things like a googolplex.  (As a child, I marveled over that one, much as I marveled over the brontosaurus, and for the same reasons.)

“Attempts to extend the geometry of second-order surfaces  and the algebra of quadratic forms  to objects of higher degrees  quickly leads to  the detritus of algebraic geometry, with its discouraging hierarchy of complicated degeneracies, and answers that can be computed only theoretically.”

Here, the answer to “What is Topology?”  is not simply knitted into a sampler and tacked to the drawing-room wall, but used as an actual heuristic for finding your way in a different field.

“Not a ‘triplex of mutually orthogonal rabbit-slices’, dammit!  I mean three  separate  rabbits !!”

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading"
(Ich bin Georg Cantor, and I approved this message.)

Such ontological excrescences are even more thewless than “perfect” numbers, since at least the latter are independent of their inscriptional base.   (You can think of the writing of one of God’s own integers in any base  as representing a tragic demotion from the Platonic sphere, sort of like a soul’s being incarnated in the body of a frog.)

the topic of definite integrals -- painful but necessary, rather like a rectal exam

Which brings us back to the vexing question of the Riemann Hypothesis.   Its acceptance or non-acceptance cannot be left simply to each individual whim of the moment.    Rather, we must settle it the way all things are settled:  by majority vote (subject to Republican filibuster).

Such beauty and such elegance are perceptible only to the mind prepared -- otherwise it is like playing Bach to a baby.

The movie begins, as all Gauss sagas must, with the tale of how the young schoolboy, given a pensum  along with his fellows  of reckoning up the sum of the integers from one to a hundred, by finding a clever shortcut, rather than, as John von Neumann would have done, simply adding the series instantly in his head.  (That’s a joke.)

In practice, we know as little of this  as a starfish knows of the stars. 

Anthem of the Oligophreniacs:  “If I Only Had a Brain”

Intuitionism -- initially a sort of mathematical vegetarianism -- is by no means dead.

No new theorem of any importance came out of the immese effort at systematization of Nicolas Bourbaki

As so often when some movement of math has been seen streaking off westwards  out into the void, presumably never to been seen again by mortal man, it reappears shining in the east, reborn in some applicable form -- thus suggesting, you will notice, that the global topology of the noösphere is toroidal. 

“Too large a generalisation  leads to mere barrenness.  It is the large generalisation, limited by a happy particularity, which is the fruitful conception.”

The so-called “abstract” groups (MacLane himself uses the sneer-quotes here) mean to lift aloft from Groups of Transformations, in that they retain the laws (associativity, inverses, and all that) while becoming agnostic as to the nature of the elements …

Our bow to Gleason’s semantic precisionism  is not by way of fetishizing fine distinctions.

Trans-cosmic Pi Day

“Lobschevsky’s colleagues  failed to understand his work.  Since they did not want to write negative reviews, they simply ‘lost’ the text.”

In Vergleichende Anatomie der Engel (1825),  Fechner argued that the angels, as the most perfect beings, must be spherical, since the sphere is the most perfect form.

The final anguish  of the Asian bride  suggests the depth  of the Riemann Hypothesis.

Further choice morsels  here: