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Thursday, August 22, 2002

From here do we part

When relationships are started and bonds are formed, be they temporary or longlasting, we must be prepared to engage disappointment, loss and even defeat. It is in parting that we may achieve existential insights that blissful consolidation cannot offer.


A parting ritual

‘The simplest one I've done involved sitting down in a beautiful place with a blank piece of paper and two pens with differently colored inks. Starting at opposite corners of the paper, each person drew a line and then we made a pattern in the center of the paper, the lines crossing and mixing like our lives. After doing this for a short while, we each disengaged the lines from the mix and went to our respective, remaining corners of the paper. Next came the scissors and we cut the paper into three pieces, those parts with single-colored lines (our individual lives, before and after), then the center, mingled section. We each took our respective parts and split the shared portion evenly between us, rising quietly to walk away’.


Separate ways

A parting remark recalled by the recipient of the Ataturk Award, reenacts a meeting with a vigilant and competitive genius.

From a speech by Behram N. Kursunoglu by occasion of receiving the ATATÜRK Award May 25 2001
Embassy of Turkey, Washington DC.

‘I have had the good fortune of associating with Einstein and working on his theories, and I cherish his parting remark in 1954:
‘Your version of the unified field theory is more general than mine but only time will show which one of us is right”


The sum of parts

A former member of the Mensa Society; an organisation consisting of bright people, with the only qualification for membership being a high IQ; reports of a gathering he attended:

For ten years I attended meetings of the Mensa Society in a large US city. The only requirement for joining Mensa is scoring in the 98th percentile in one of the standard intelligence tests.

One such person was biochemist and science fiction author Isaac Asimov, who offered the parting remark that "An intelligence test is merely a test of those skills associated with intelligence by the person making up the test." Much to his surprise this observation was well received by the society. Many members were underachievers who held onto their high test scores and Mensa membership as a much needed ego boost.


A parting prophecy

Sometimes parting is accompanied by words of wisdom that instill a lingering promise. After a visit to the Mezritcher Maggid the protoganist of the story, a prominent Jewish merchant returns to his home and finds tragedy reversed by miracle.

‘The Maggid suddenly said: "Remember Yaakov, what our Sages of blessed memory said, that G-d sends His cure to a patient through a particular doctor and a particular medicine. Sometimes the One Above sends His cure not through the medication which the doctor prescribes, but through the doctor himself. As you know, a doctor receives his healing powers by authority of the Divine Torah, as it is written, 'And he shall surely cure him.' Therefore, the doctor has a healing angel at his side, and a very great doctor is accompanied by the chief healing angel, Rafael, himself.’

As he traveled back to Vilna, Reb Yaakov thought about this strange parting remark, which seemed to come out of the blue.

From L’Chaim: an Internet Weekly of the Lubavitch Youth Organisation Brooklyn NY


Can do

Parting can be viewed at in clinical terms as well. New Yorkers are a resilient and constructive spirit. Why not take matters into their own hands? Consenting adults can part ways as sensible people after all.


‘You, the parting couple, are the experts. You have been making decisions on these matters throughout your marriage. Why stop now and have someone else make them for you? You and your family are the ones whose future will be shaped by the decisions made during the parting process--no matter who makes them. Whether you are represented by a lawyer or represent yourself you owe it to yourself to be fully informed and involved throughout the process’.

Chapter: ‘You can do your own separation and divorce’


The End

In the final scene at the airport; Humphrey Bogart and Bergman set the parameter for a legendary cinematographic goodbye with a deceitful twist in ‘Casablanca’.


-Rick:I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Victor. You're part of his work, the thing that keeps him going. If that plane leaves the ground and you're not with him, you'll regret it
Ilsa: No.
Rick: Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life.
Ilsa: But what about us?
Rick: We'll always have Paris. We didn't have it, we'd lost it, until you came to Casablanca. We got it back last night.
Ilsa: And I said I would never leave you!
Rick: And you never will. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of. Ilsa, I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that. Not now. Here's looking at you, kid-

‘Casablanca’ 1942 - Michael Curtiz


Byronic ways

Byron’s love life was legendary. In a 1814 note by Lady Caroline Lamb, his lover in one of his most prominent affairs with someone of his own class, she writes after their relationship has finally ended:

....the last time we parted for ever, as he pressed his lips on mine (it was in the Albany) he said 'poor Caro, if every one hates me, you, I see, will never change - No, not with ill usage!' & I said, 'yes, I am changed, & shall come near you no more.' - For then he showed me letters, & told me things I cannot repeat, & all my attachment went.'

In his poem: ‘On Parting’ – Byron writes in the second stanza:

Thy parting glance, which fondly beams,
An equal love may see:
The tear that from thine eyelid streams
Can weep no change in me.


posted by Walter at 8/22/2002

Tuesday, August 20, 2002

Night owl

The White House family quarters during the Clinton years could, on some nights, resemble the sidewalk outside Hollywood Academy Awards, or at least a top-tier book publishing party in Manhattan.
The Clintons opened their doors to an eclectic parade of celebrities from academia, business, politics and film.


The schedule of a typical Clinton Millennium Evening at the White House would feature:

The American Voice in Poetry
Featuring present and past Poets Laureate of the United States: Robert Pinsky, Robert Haas and Rita Dove. The Poets Laureate recited excerpts of famous poems and spoke about the evolution of poetry through the century. The President, Mrs. Clinton and members of the audience read their favorite poems and participated in the discussion The Third Millennium Evening at The White House April, 22, 1998.

Exploration Under the Sea, Beyond the Stars
Featuring Dr. Marcia McNutt, President and CEO of the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Astrophysicist Neil de Grasse Tyson, the Frederick P. Rose Director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City. Together with President and Mrs. Clinton Dr. McNutt and Dr. Tyson examine what we are learning from deep sea and deep space research and what these fields have in common. New discoveries in these fields continue to inform each other, push human inquiry to new questions, and alter humanity's perception of our place in the universe. The Eighth Millennium Evening at The White House June, 12, 2000.

Millennium Evenings at the White House were a series of lectures and cultural showcases hosted by the President and First Lady that highlighted the creativity and inventiveness of the American people through our ideas, art and scientific discoveries. The lectures presented prominent scholars, creators and visionaries and were acessible to the public via cybercast over the internet and broadcast via satellite. Internet participants were encouraged to email questions before or during the lecture. The broadcasts were usually carried live by cable television and radio outlets though those decisions were often made close to the time of the event.


Bush, and his wife Laura, have played host to the golfer Ben Crenshaw, the country music performer Larry Gatlin and Kinky Friedman, a Texas musician and author. Bush has partied into the night – well almost 10 – with college buddies from Yale and friends and golfing partners from Texas.

‘The only celebrity you see here now is when you turn on the television in your bedroom’ one of Bush’s friends said Sunday, overlooking the obvious exception of the host.

A review of both lists suggest that Clinton was more energetic and systematic in wielding the White House as a fund-raising tool.
Clinton’s guests recall ambling evenings filled with an assortment of dignitaries, intellectuals and celebrities, often going late into the night.

Governor John Rowland, Republican of Connecticut said of his visit to the White House:

‘We did the dinner, and we were all in bed by 10 o’clock’ He said with a laugh. ‘Oh yeah, I think that’s the rule.’

Source: NYT

posted by Walter at 8/20/2002

Monday, August 19, 2002

Make my day

This one really cracked me up. I found it in a MIT news group:


‘If a person who indulges in gluttony is a glutton,
and a person who commits a felony is a felon,
then God is an iron’



I speak only for myself. When anyone asks me how I can best describe my experience in nearly forty years at sea, I merely say, uneventful. Of course there have been winter gales, and storms and fog and the like. But in all my experience, I have never been in any accident... or any sort worth speaking about. I have seen but one vessel in distress in all my years at sea. I never saw a wreck and never have been wrecked nor was I ever in any predicament that threatened to end in disaster of any sort.

E. J. Smith, 1907 Captain, RMS Titanic

posted by Walter at 8/19/2002

Sunday, August 18, 2002

Brilliant Orange


In 1950 the British mathematician and computer pioneer Alan Turing declared that one day there would be a machine that could duplicate human intelligence in every way and prove it by passing a specialized test. In this test, a computer and a human hidden from view would be asked random identical questions. If the computer were successful, the questioner would be unable to distinguish the machine from the person by the answers.


‘My area of interest focuses on the streamlining of the mathematical argument so as to increase our powers of reasoning, in particular, by the use of formal techniques’.

Thus concludes Edsger Wybe Dijkstra, celebrated Dutch theoretician in Computer Science, his research resume.
Dijkstra died the 6th of August 2002 in Nuenen, the Netherlands, after a distinguished career spent largely in the US. Edsger Dijkstra was the first Dutchman ever to win the prestigious 1972 Turing award; which he received for his shortest path algorithm. The Turing award is often viewed as the Nobel prize for Computing.

To get a good view of Dijkstra, the renegade thinker: I chose this excerpt from his Convocation Speech at the University of Austin December 6 1996. In an address of the graduates of the College of Natural Sciences at the University of Austin.


‘I beg you to remember the essential role of academic openness when considering academic/industrial cooperation, I urge you to remember it whenever a government invents so-called reasons of national security or prosperity for the prevention of free publication of the results of academic research. Universities are not part of the nation's security organisation, they are not the nation's research laboratories either: they are the nation's Universities.
In passing I would like to mention that for a completely different reason such openness is a precondition for academic survival. Just for being different and doing things the uneducated cannot understand, the academics are hated and feared, vide Socrates, executed in 399 BC, Archimedes, killed in 212 BC, and, more recently, Hypatia, AD 415 barbariously murdered by a Christian mob in Alexandria. The original Oxford Colleges were buildings fortified in order to protect the students against the rabble, and if you think that all that is old hat, I refer you to the recent histories of the DDR or the People's Republic of China. These days, it is a miracle whenever the academic world is tolerated at all, and personally I am convinced that what tolerance there is would completely disappear were the academic world to become secretive’.


Edsger Dijkstra was an oddball ‘pen- and paper’ programmer. A staunch defender of scientific rigour, and a harsh opponent of fashionable compromise. Simplicity, beauty and eloguence constituted his hallmarks.
Dijkstra never owned a computer, not until the University of Texas forced him to use one in 1989 to receive and read e-mail messages.

In an interview with Dutch daily ‘Trouw’ he remarks of that occasion:

‘I hardly used the computer they gave me. I was perfectly happy without it. Probably because I never employ somebody else’s software. When I design computer software I have complete control. However, if you buy a computer today, it comes bundled with a stack of dirty software, that’s poorly documented and inadequate. System crashes are infinite. With permission, I think it’s trash’.

In the Convocation Speech at Austin in 1996, that I mentioned earlier he says:


It is quite amazing --and a bit sadenning-- how gullible and desperate are willing to expect salvation from the next gadget.

I remember how TV was promoted by the theory that a daily dose of Shakespeare in every living room would elevate the culturally deprived to unfathomed heights, thus curing all ills of society, etc. And what did we get? Soap operas and quizzes.

I remember how the overhead projector was welcomed as the greatest educational innovation since Socrates, as it allowed a much more detailed preparation, and how the new "audio-visual aids", as they were called in those days, would revolutionize the class room and would bring modern teaching to each little Eskimo in his igloo. Well, of what the overhead projector did to teaching, you are, I'm afraid, a better judge than I.

I remember how, with the advent of terminals, interactive debugging was supposed to solve all our programming problems, and how, with the advent of colour screens, "algorithm animation" was supposed to do the same. And what did we get? Commercial software with a disclaimer that explicitly states that you are a fool if you rely on what you just bought.


The idiosyncracies of Dijkstra, the recalcitrant: are expressed in his countless letters (EDW’s) that the University of Austin has archived. Some of the remarks he made:

-It is practically impossible to teach good programming to students that have had a prior exposure to B A S I C: as potential programmers they are mentally mutilated beyond hope of regeneration
-The use of C O B O L cripples the mind; its teaching should, therefore, be regarded as a criminal offence
-Besides a mathematical inclination, an exceptionally good mastery of one's native tongue is the most vital asset of a competent programmer
-The tools we use have a profound (and devious!) influence on our thinking habits, and, therefore, on our thinking abilities
-Simplicity is prerequisite for reliability

In David Winner’s book ‘Brilliant Orange’ a book that portrays Dutch football as mathematics and it’s footballers as architects; Winner cites the Dutch draftsman and sculptor Jeroen Henneman explaining the simplicity and elegance of a match-winning Bergkamp pass: "One moment the pitch is crowded and narrow. Suddenly it is huge and wide."

This country is tight and cramped, space comes at a premium. Edsger Dijkstra, the Dutchman who devised a single source Shortest Path Algorithm was a latter day Houdini; singular in his passage.

posted by Walter at 8/18/2002