Let’s clear the desktop screenshotsPosted: February 28, 2021 Filed under: America Since 1945 Leave a comment
good guess Facebook.
re: the Trump golden statue. From Politico Playbook. If politics is pro wrestling, Playbook is the closest thing I can find to a “dirt sheet.”
incredible. Wall Street J. Great newspaper, opinion page is absolutely deranged.
some Shiite theology of the 13th century. from a paper by Shafique N. Virani, Hierohistory in “Qādî-I-Numan’s Foundation of Symbolic Interpretation (Asas al-Ta’wil): the birth of Jesus. ” I was trying to learn more about al-Tusi saving 200,000 books from the House of Wisdom and brought them to Maragheh and as usual got more than I bargained for.
somewhat grim headline in Bloomberg. If I had all the time in the world I might compose a history and exploration of the meanings and suggestions of the phrase “want fries with that?” My conclusion would be “French” fries are distinctly American, that “fry culture” is both good and bad, reflecting both our mobility and freedom and some our shortcomings, and that the economics of fries represent both the best of the capitalist system (cheap tasty calories distributed with efficiency) and the worst (exploitative labor system, nasty and unpriced effects on health and environment).
from a Martin Anderson oral history over at the Miller Center. Anderson was an aide to Reagan and wrote a very illuminating book on the man and the movement, one of the most revealing books on Reagan, in my opinion: Revolution. He’s a believer.
Scott CarpenterPosted: February 28, 2021 Filed under: America Since 1945 Leave a comment
“I volunteered for a number of reasons,” he wrote in “We Seven,” a book of reflections by the original astronauts published in 1962. “One of these, quite frankly, was that I thought this was a chance for immortality. Pioneering in space was something I would willingly give my life for.”
(photo from NY Times / Associated Press)
The grass is always greenerPosted: February 28, 2021 Filed under: America Since 1945, presidents 2 Comments
Reagan not only had the sense of humor, the great jokes. I remember one time in the Oval Office he was looking out and there was a bunch of people chopping things and the forest rangers standing out on the South Lawn, and Clark says, Mr. President, Ken’s here to take you to the Situation Room or something. We were getting ready for the next round or summit or whatever it was. Reagan keeps looking out and this sound gets louder and he says, I hear you, Bill. Just wish I was doing what those fellows are doing instead of going to all these stupid meetings hours at a time.
I thought to myself, in the history of the United States, 200 years, we’ve had forest rangers who imagined themselves as President, but I can’t imagine a President imagining himself as a forest ranger before. Here he was, dying to be a forest ranger. Reagan was like that.
from an oral history with Reagan Arms Control and Disarmament Agency head Ken Adelman at the Miller Center.
This reminded me of when I’d be sitting in my office on the 11th floor above the Ed Sullivan Theater grinding out some comedy for The Late Show with David Letterman, a cushy if psychologically taxing job, and find myself staring out the window and fantasizing about being a guy on one of the tugboats going up the Hudson.
Adelman seems to suggest this idea was unique to Reagan, but I bet almost every president has felt this way at one time or another. Although maybe not, maybe Nixon or LBJ would’ve been sick at the idea of falling to the state of a powerless treecutter.
from the tailingsPosted: February 23, 2021 Filed under: adventures, America Since 1945, mining Leave a comment
One thing led to another and I read a long oral history with mining entrepreneur Stanley Dempsey. Here are some li’l nuggets of mild interest. On pursuing claims in Nicaragua:
on the mining boom towns of Colorado:
Sometimes, not being an expert is an advantage:
The 1872 Mining Law, which creates self-initiated rights, kind of unique to the United States, seems very important to this country’s development.
How the Chevalier de Méré met Blaise PascalPosted: February 21, 2021 Filed under: business, history Leave a comment
First, there’s mathematics. Obviously, you’ve got to be able to handle numbers and quantities—basic arithmetic. And the great useful model, after compound interest, is the elementary math of permutations and combinations. And that was taught in my day in the sophomore year in high school. I suppose by now in great private schools, it’s probably down to the eighth grade or so.
It’s very simple algebra. It was all worked out in the course of about one year between Pascal and Fermat. They worked it out casually in a series of letters.
so says Charlie Munger in his 1994 speech, “A Lesson on Elementary Worldly Wisdom as it Relates To Investment Management & Business.”
These letters between Pascal and Fermat sounded worth a read, so I went to check them out. The year in question was 1654. Up until that time, no one* had really worked out and set down the math of probability. You can’t blame them, if you think about it. Even in 1654 it was probably pretty hard to even get your hands on enough paper for working out math problems.
Struggling to really wrap my head around the contents of the letters (on top of everything, the first letter is now lost), I picked up The Unfinished Game: Pascal, Fermat, and the Seventeenth-Century Letter that Made the World Modern: A Tale of How Mathematics is Really Done by Keith Devlin. An interesting book and a great introduction to the mental blocks that had kept people from working out probability before these two weirdos started corresponding.
An even clearer articulation of the problem of points that set Pascal and Fermat to work can be found in Peter Bernstein’s Against The Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk:
In 1654, a time when the Renaissance was in full flower, the Chevalier de Méré, a French nobleman with a taste for both gambling and mathematics, challenged the famed French mathematician Blaise Pascal to solve a puzzle. The question was how to divide the stakes of an unfinished game of chance between two players when one of them is ahead. The puzzle had confounded mathematicians since it was posed some two hundred years earlier by the monk Luca Paccioli. This was the man who brought double-entry bookkeeping to the attention of the business managers of the day, and tutored Leonardo da Vinci in the multiplication tables. Pascal turned for help to Pierre de Fermat, a lawyer who was also a brilliant mathematician. The outcome of their collaboration was intellectual dynamite. What might appear to have been a seventeenth century game of Trivial Pursuit led to the discovery of the theory of probability, the mathematical heart of the concept of risk.
Their solution to Paccioli’s puzzle meant that people could for the first time make decisions and forecast the future with the help of numbers.
Bernstein helpfully restates the problem of points in the form of a World Series situation. What is the probability your team will win the best of seven series after it has lost the first game? (assume the teams are, as in a game of chance, evenly matched)
Well, Pascal pointed out that we just need to list all the possible outcomes of the remaining six games, and calculate from there. There are 22 combinations in which your team would come out on top after losing the first game, and 42 combinations in which the opposing team would win. As the result, the probability is 22/64 = .34375
As Bernstein points out, there’s something here that trips a lot of people up, even Fermat. There aren’t really 64 possible outcomes, because why would we include possibilities like your team goes win-win-win-win-win-win for the remaining six games? The World Series would’ve been over after that fourth win. W-W-W-W-W-W is not a possible outcome of the remaining six games.
As Pascal remarked in the correspondence with Fermat, the mathematical laws must dominate the wishes of the players themselves, who are only abstractions of a general principle. He declares that “it is absolutely equal and immaterial to them both whether they let the [game] take its natural course.
So there you go. Win-win-win-win-win-win-win is one of the forked paths off win-win-win-win. It must be accounted for, or we won’t count the potential possibilities correctly.
Naturally enough I got bored with the math part and wanted to know more about the Chevalier de Méré. Who was this fun loving gambling nobleman who put two all-time math geniuses to work helping him win at dice?
Turns out he was a guy, named Antoine Gombaud, who dubbed himself Chevalier de Méré in his writing. Much of his writing was obsessed with the idea of honnête, and how to be l’homme honnête, which included honesty but also modesty, elegance, appropriateness, excellence, sociability. You can read all about it here in what appears to be an excerpt of Manning The Margins: Masculinity and Writing in Seventeenth-Century France by Lewis Seifert, a professor at Brown.
But still, how did this cool guy hook up with Pascal? Devlin says that the Chevalier and Pascal met at a gambling table. Pascal would go back and forth between somewhat extreme religious periods. During an early one of these, when he was getting pretty hard core, a doctor warned him off:
His doctor advised him that for the sake of his health, he should abandon the Jansenist ways and lead a life more normal for a young man. Although he would remain strongly religious for the remainder of his all-too-short life, Pascal resumed normal activities. Indeed, he did so with vigor, adding regular visits to the gaming rooms to his earlier academic pursuits. It was at the gambling table that Pascal met the Chevalier de Méré
Looking into this question of how, exactly, the Chevalier and Pascal met, I found a different, more detailed, and funnier, version. Here is the Chevalier de Méré himself describing how he met Pascal:
“I once made a trip with the Duke of Roannez, who used to express himself with good and just sense and whom I found good company. Monsieur Mitton, whom you know and who is liked by all at court was also with us, and because that trip was supposed to be a promenade rather than a voyage, we only thought of entertaining ourselves and we discussed everything. The duke was interested in mathematics, and in order to relieve tedium on the way he had provided a middle-aged man, who was then very little known, but who later certainly has made people talk about him. He was a great mathematician who knew little but that. These sciences gave little sociable pleasure, and this man, who had neither taste nor sentiment, could not refrain from mingling into all we said, but he almost always surprised us and made us laugh.” De Méré goes on to tell that Pascal carried strips of paper which he brought forth from time to time to write down some observations. After a few days Pascal came to enjoy the company and talked no more of mathematics.
so reports Oystein Ore, writing in the May 1960 issue of The American Mathematical Monthly (vol 67, No. 5, “Pascal and the Invention of Probability Theory”). Oystein Ore says:
Pascal and Fermat never met in person, which is kind of sad. In 1660 Fermat proposed that they meet, but at the time they were both too sick and miserable to travel very far. Within a few years they were both dead.
Pascal invented a kind of calculator, the Pascaline, but it was too expensive to produce them:
Late in life, in another religious phase, Pascal reflected on gamblers:
And that’s the story of Pascal and Fermat!
* it wouldn’t blow my mind if one of the great mathematicians of the Arab world had worked some of this out, written it down, and put a copy in the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, but most of those books were destroyed when Hulagu, Genghis Khan’s grandson, destroyed that city in 1258. Bummer!
Grapes of GoofyPosted: February 17, 2021 Filed under: writing Leave a comment
Jim Harrison’s Paris Review interview.
Visions of Captain CookPosted: February 11, 2021 Filed under: adventures, Australia, heroes Leave a comment
for leisure he would climb a nearby hill, Roseberry Topping.
Cooks’ Cottage, his parents’ last home, which he is likely to have visited, is now in Melbourne, Australia, having been moved from England and reassembled, brick by brick, in 1934.
In 1745, when he was 16, Cook moved 20 miles to the fishing village of Staithes, to be apprenticed as a shop boy to grocer and haberdasher William Sanderson. Historians have speculated that this is where Cook first felt the lure of the sea while gazing out of the shop window.
Fantasizing about a trip to Hawaii, I was reading up on Captain Cook. This led me to the poem Five Visions of Captain Cook, by Kenneth Slessor. An excerpt:
Cook was a captain of the powder-days
When captains, you might have said, if you had been
Fixed by their glittering stare, half-down the side,
Or gaping at them up companionways,
Were more like warlocks than a humble man—
And men were humble then who gazed at them,
Poor horn-eyed sailors, bullied by devils’ fists
Of wind or water, or the want of both,
Childlike and trusting, filled with eager trust—
Cook was a captain of the sailing days
When sea-captains were kings like this,
Not cold executives of company-rules
Cracking their boilers for a dividend
Or bidding their engineers go wink
At bells and telegraphs, so plates would hold
Another pound. Those captains drove their ships
By their own blood, no laws of schoolbook steam,
Till yards were sprung, and masts went overboard—
Daemons in periwigs, doling magic out,
Who read fair alphabets in stars
Where humbler men found but a mess of sparks,
Who steered their crews by mysteries
And strange, half-dreadful sortilege with books,
Used medicines that only gods could know
The sense of, but sailors drank
In simple faith. That was the captain
Cook was when he came to the Coral Sea
And chose a passage into the dark.
Kenneth Slessor seems interesting; how many poets wrote about rugby for Smith’s Weekly? Maybe when I head to Hawaii I’ll bring a copy of Slessor’s 100 Poems.
I come back to pictures of Roseberry Topping. You picture Cook in the Pacific, encountering these wild exotic landscapes, but on the other hand this hill in north Yorkshire, doesn’t it look like it could be some outcropping in the South Seas?
Have you heard of this man?Posted: February 11, 2021 Filed under: America Since 1945 Leave a comment
That is Walter Hines Page. In the 1920s, two different Pulitzer Prizes in biography were awarded for books about him. He was a writer, editor, and publisher, his main historical distinction seems to have been helping bring the USA into World War I:
Page was appointed U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom by President Woodrow Wilson, whom Page had befriended in 1882 when Wilson was a young lawyer starting out in Atlanta. Page was one of the key figures involved in bringing the United States into World War I on the Allied side. A proud Southerner, he admired his British roots and believed that the United Kingdom was fighting a war for democracy. As ambassador to Britain, he defended British policies to Wilson and helped to shape a pro-Allied slant in the President and in the United States as a whole. One month after Page sent a message to Wilson, the U.S. Congress declared war on Germany.
So far in the 2020s the only subject for a Pulitzer Prize-winning biography has been Susan Sontag.
Coaches, Super Bowl LVPosted: February 5, 2021 Filed under: sports Leave a comment
George in Pennsylvania writes:
Steve, will you be doing another look at the coaches for this year’s Super Bowl, as you have in years past?
Yes! It’s not really my beat, but I find NFL coaches kind of interesting. Coaching at that level requires such a wild combination of skills: football strategy, time management, personnel management, and the best characters in the field have produced their own mini-pile of literature that’s worth review.
As noted last year, it’s great to have an LA guy, Andy Reid, in the Super Bowl.
Born in Los Angeles, California, Reid attended John Marshall High School and worked as a vendor at Dodger Stadium as a teenager. He also played youth sports in East Hollywood at Lemon Grove Recreation Center
John Marshall High School has a remarkable collection of alums, from Leo DiCaprio to Judge Lance Ito to Doctor David Ho. This ESPN profile / oral history begins with a nine year old Reid messing around on Holly Knoll Drive in the Franklin Hills of LA, familiar to anyone who frequents the nearby Trader Joe’s.
While attending BYU Reid did something most Americans have at least pondered at some point: converted to Mormonism. His career and life, not untouched by pain, is worth study.
This year, my attention turned to Tampa Bay’s Bruce Arians.
I took a look at Arians’ book, The Quarterback Whisperer.
Two themes really pop in the book: Arians’ “no risk it no biscuit” philosophy, and his belief in empowering his quarterbacks. A former quarterback and quarterbacks coach, he’s thinking from that position.
Arians mentions that he has about 300 plays in his book that he’s developed over about thirty years. (How much of a variation is necessary for a play to be truly distinct from another? Good question for the football Jesuits out there).
The need for the quarterback to maintain his psychological steadiness, even a steady appearance:
You don’t need to look far to find visuals of Tom Brady expressing frustration, but I believe they’re fairly rare.
If I read between the lines of Arians’ book, I suspect Brady will have a great deal of leeway to call the plays and control the game as he sees fit.
Denis Leary’s quote on the cover notwithstanding, I have to say Arians’ book is closer to Nick Saban’s book (a fairly straightforward set of inspirational mottos and somewhat generic success reflections, of not much use beyond football) than to Pete Carroll’s book (an entertaining and idiosyncratic attempt at forging a philosophy of life).
Arians has two women on his staff, assistant defensive line coach Lori Locust and assistant strength and conditioning coach Maral Javadifar, here’s a short NFL Films segment where they talk to Billie Jean King.
Both coaches are noted for their aggressive style, which will we hope make for an exciting and volatile game.
The Chiefs are favored by 3.5, if I were wagering I guess I’d have to bet on Brady, but sports wagering is not currently legal in California.
Lol it’s so typical of me to try and engage with sports by reading the books of the coaches!
Interesting take on the Reddit / GameStop businessPosted: February 4, 2021 Filed under: business Leave a comment
Some of the behavior going on at WSB sounds more jihadist than speculative. The idea that there are some investors who are ‘good’ and others who are ‘bad’, or that there is an ‘establishment’ is BS. Everyone has the same goal: I have a pile of money, I’m trying to make it bigger, fuck your pile–I don’t care about it. Anything other goal is contrived, foolish and won’t help you win. You can’t ‘fight the rich’ by trying to become one of them. Don’t you see the irony? A related thought experiment: what if this trade continued to work really well? And another, and another? Then some WSBers are billionaires. Aren’t they the new ‘enemy/establishment?’
Who do you think hedge fund managers are? They’re typically the anti-establishment. Things have changed a bit, but the most successful HFMs are actually the WSBers of the past. These are guys who didn’t fit in well at i-banks, often got kicked out for having big mouths or not wearing the right ties, or just wanting to wear jeans at work and not fill out TPS reports. When they started their firms, people like Soros, Icahn, Steinhardt, Robertson, Cohen, Griffin, Loeb (who has posted anonymously on boards), Samberg, even Cramer were fish out of water and had very tiny amounts of capital, often begging for investors.
That’s from Martin Skreli’s blog, in prison.
Why has this story so gripped Hollywood? As far as I can tell no two characters in it were ever in the same room, or even ever spoke to each other out loud. What about it is cinematic? Then again, maybe you could say that about the origin of Facebook.
Carlyle and Alcott have breakfastPosted: February 2, 2021 Filed under: food, New England 2 Comments
This is Amos Alcott, Louisa May’s father, fictionalized as Bob Odenkirk in the latest Little Women film:
from The Flowering of New England by Van Wyck Brooks, a vivid read. Imagine this man chowing down on strawberry potatoes: