Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Vegetarian reading Hemingway

Being vegetarian, to read and, even more, to enjoy reading "Green hills of
Africa", a classical Hemingway hunting narrative-which in this case is a true
biographical text, not a novel, might seem awkward. Indeed, it brought
some mixed thoughts to me at certain moments. But then, I am a descendent of
shepherds, who were not exactly softies, when it comes to killing, skinning
and eating sheep. Vegetarianism is, in my native part of the world, still
unusual choice.

So, my focus was rather on writing, than on blood.

Hemingway writing is at his best here. The way he writes is above
skin, meat and horns. It is life itself.

I liked that he had doubts, at some moments, about his right to kill...but he
justified it easily with "it is natural, going on all the time here in the wild,
and my single killing to million killings happening in the same time does
not add nothing".

What is so good in Hemingway's description of killing? Nothing, he keeps it
clean, he defines a good kill as a chirurgical work. What is good is his
conveying of emotions, his way of can be lazy, ignorant,
thick-headed with him, or moved, motivated, furious...drunk.

Describing the natives and nature, he is impartial, very realistic. I like the way how
he sees them, I think I would try to do the same. Not abstract their
humanity, but also not assuming too much. It is a real clash of
civilisations, and he could equally well visit some other inhabited planet
anywhere in the Galaxy.

Yes, he is a hell of a writer-is, as reading a good writer is like a
discourse, even when (s)he is centuries dead.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

"We Have No Idea" by J. Cham & D. Whiteson

PhD (Piled Higher and Deeper) Comics is a Jorge Cham's art work since the
beginning of the Millenium, and is alive and kicking. This Caltech graduate
made life funnier for many a student gnawing through her/his study
experiments and university (lack of) life.

In addition to comics, Jorge worked on movies and books. I read the book
"We Have No Idea", which he published together with physicist Daniel
Whiteson, trying to show-off not so much what we do know about physics, but
what we do NOT know. And when they write "do not know" it means really,
completely and deeply not having any idea what to hell is happening there.

Like it is with Dark Matter and Energy, why is Gravity so different from
other forces, number of dimensions, why the speed of light is the largest
one around, are we alone in the Universe,... and many, many other questions,
which you for sure asked yourself or your physicist friend.

The book is funny, full of witty and cheeky puns, and very accurate. It is
not your usual gibberish from the newspapers or even "scientific"
periodicals. It is a rather well-informed text, from which even a
professional physicist can learn. Or at least have some fun with well and
fun posed questions, and some answers.

Jorge Cham advertises it as a book for 10 yrs old to PhD's, and he is right,
it is fun for everyone who likes to pose questions at the edge of our
knowledge. Or in the middle of it.

It is challenging, and true, to think that we are, with all our
sophistication and Academia, only at bare bones od Science. Some later
generations will look at us like we now think about Ancient Greeks or Middle
Ages priests doing science, offering explanations for the miracles of the
world. It is hard to exaggerate the responsibility of every one of us, who
had or have the luck, chance and privilege, to work in some of the branches
of Science, for the spreading of the good (and, sometimes, bad) news of

If scientists are not doing their job in explaining Science to the public,
false prophets are taking over, and the dark knights of ignorance are always
ready to overcome the bright side of the powers of nature. Jorge Cham found
his way, for the good and delight of many a reader.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Drakulic on Mileva Einstein: Theory of Sadness

A well chosen title, as a physicist I was immediately drawn to the book.
Unfortunately, what followed did not justify (my) expectation.

I write this 2 days after Einstein's Theory of Relativity finally
was awarded the Nobel Prize-in fact, its last experimental check.

Einstein himself was awarded the Nobel Prize for other contributions, though
the most important test of his theory of gravitation had already been made
at that time. However, Relativity did not seem attractive enough, Academia
establishment did not quite believe it.

Today they trust Einstein unconditionally, for everything that this little man has
predicted in equations, persisted. In fact, this last confirmation of gravity waves,
even himself would have troubles to swallow, because he thought the gravity waves
did not carry any energy, so they would not have any effect on the matter through
which they pass. A. Trautman, a Polish physicist, proved him wrong in a paper
stating that gravitational waves do carry energy and were, consequently,
measurable. But, stubborn as Einstein was, he never accepted it and in effect
hindered early development of that part of physics.

Similar stuborness costed his family and hinself a lot. But one is expecting
some trouble from a genius, no?

Einstein's biographies have passed a full circle of biographies of great
men: from the saintly idealization to the ugly muds of private life. I hoped
that S. Drakulic would do it the way I liked in eg. her writing about Dora
Maar. The task to present Albert's shadow/wife is a proper one
for this writer.

She started well, showing the beginning of a common life, somewhat similar
to Marie Curie biography. But shortly afterward, the three-dimensional character
loses its depth. In the end, only the two-dimensional picture with
the broken cover remains,

Maybe it was the problem with the available material, the letters? That would be
strange, the legacy behind Einstein should be big and enough to gather more
data than this mentioned in the book. Or some of it was destroyed? If so,
the author should find a way to describe the reasons for the lack of it in the
book. This would maybe explain a kind of plain feeling about characters.

Even so, it clarified to me how Einstein came to his theories, in discussions
with Mileva and other friends of their student circle. I could hardly
imagine him to do it any other way than in heated discussions. Also, I was
suspecting that Mileva helped greatly in writing, ordering the material in

In his family life with Mileva, Einstein did what even in theory would not hold
water, even less so in practice. It had tragic consequences. He was not
enough mature to think about person he has from the other side, a
potentially depressive and insecure person. He should support Mileva much
earlier to be on her own, not push her down. Then he would also have gained
more freedom of action, which obviously he needed.

Mileva's father commented well when the marriage finally came to an end,
that he respects Albert as a scientist and father of his grandchildren,
but that he noticed early that he was not good as a husband. And he was not,
as he did not show enough concern for either Mileva or the children.

Mileva had unrestrained support from her father in paying for her study, which
for that time, early 20th century, was not a small step for the Balkans.
Albert did not ignore her needs either, in the early days. She actually
was of a troubled psyche, with a strong tendency to depression. And
insufficient self-confidence.

And lack of luck, chronic lack of happiness.

Really a pity, with a bit more happiness, she could have been like
Marie Curie, she had the ability to be. It's sad to see someone's potential
crumbled under the pressure of everyday life.

A bit more information from documentation would not hurt in this book. Or a
description of why the author could not get to it. This way, there remains
a broken picture from the book cover:

Except if... maybe that's the only way possible? Mileva Maric was just that,
a broken existence?


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Svetlana Hramova: "My wrong You"

My Russian, learned at times when there was no money for
mathematics and physics textbooks from the West in Yugoslavia, with time is
expanding to literature reading. During the recent visit to St. Petersburg,
I bought a book of the currently popular author in Russia, Svetlana Hramova.

It is a new time for Russia, so we have to finally move to its new literature,
away from the Cvetaeva, Ahmatova, Dostoevsky, and alike Saviours of the Soul
of the World.

The book "My wrong you" would be good for a crime scenario. "Life
coach", a young woman with a bit of personal history on the subject of
love and life, finds happiness with a man with which she should not spend
a minute, regarding her own rules. Love is happening in a minute, sex too.
The book is +18, but still, the emphasis is on emotional, not physical.

This work would not be much more than a romantic novel, if the author would not
mix into the text many comments and quotes from Simone de Beauvoir.

Simone was an icon of the feminism. In her life she gave her unconditional
love to only one man: American writer Nelson Algren, who gave her first
orgasm in life, sometime in her late 30's, and remained a lifelong love.

But she could not live with him, because she was needed to J.P. Sartre.

Hramova consider the life story of Simone an ultimate failure, a lack of
courage to take action, love and be loved. Woman in a novel does not make
such a mistake: she surrenders completely, immediately.

I know almost nothing about Simone de Beauvoir, but this seems to me a good
way to learn, through the fragments of her letters. Already with it this
booklet fulfilled its role.

In addition, she also gave me insight into post-feminism in Russia. This is
interesting in itself, because in social realism women had a very ... real
role, even in the Soviet Orthodox environment, they were not left to be only
a decoration in men's world.

This cultural jump was too big for only the 20th century, so it has a
continuation today.

Also, it was worth for a little update of my Russian. Now I'm ready for
some other book in that language. Whenever I can, I read the original,
even if I would need 5 times more time. It's a very good brain massage.

Ha ... last month I brought from home a bilingual edition of Lu Xun's "Ah Qu",
let's see you now, maestro, when will you manage to read THAT in the
original version?!

Monday, July 24, 2017

Capote's "Breakfast at Tiffany's"

This book for quite some time escaped my attention, but finally I got hold
of English original.

I feel Raymond Carver coming here, in the Capote's style. Telling a story seems so
easy in his execution. I also feel Boris Vian here, probably because of the
lightness of being of a main character.

It is a woman, a young girl in most of the story, escaping definition. Being
orphaned early and married at 14 (not in India, but outback USA, we are
speaking period just before the WWII), and later sweeping the world with
unbearable, youth irresponsibility, it is a perfect character. Not a beauty,
but an attractive personality, she is the one who could capture imagination.
And so she does, for some people who met her, and follow her story as much
as it is possible to follow.

I will not be re-telling the story here, it is a short one and charming to
read. I will rather ask myself why it is that such a character would halt our
mind in admiration? Is it because it is a personification of youth? Freedom
itself wandering the world?

Is it? She did not, obviously, have an easy life. But she kept the
lightness... so, is it the vitality, which captivates us? Eternal longing
for child in us, re-discovering good in the world every day, and ignoring
the bad?

I will leave it to you to decide, book is a good read.

I will only add here that Capote's short stories, of which there was an
example in four stories added to the thin volume I had, also seem to be
worth attention. It was a pleasure to read them, little jewels.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Coetzee's Barbarians

Reading J.M. Coetzee's "Waiting for the Barbarians" one can not escape the
reverend precursors: Cavafy and Buzatti.

The first wrote a poem which imprinted the Barbarians for ever in the stone
of our culture. The second played magnificently with the waiting itself,
Barbarians lost the importance.

Coetzee bravely put his foot in the door, already closing, to down on us his notion
of the Barbarians. No, it is not the tribes who are to smithen us into the
dust of our cities. No, it is not the wind hurling through crumbling
pyramids, after the last of the defenders falls. Not the flames of
Alexandria Library. It is not even ourselves, barbarized and inflicting the
doom of the Empire onto ourselves.

Barbarian is the Time, Barbarian is the ossification of Evil in us,
Barbarian is the knowledge and skill, when abused. Barbarian is the
gluttony, the hedonistic, Ego of ours, fed by the blind ...stupidity. And
cruelty, born of the degeneration, brought by the luxuries of the Empire.

Through a Magistrate of the Empire outpost, a benign, slow administrator,
Coetzee shows the hopeless nature of Good when it meets the Evil. It is
overriden, raped, exorcised to the level of being laughable.

A Magistrate is not without his guilt, but he was, as all benign creatures,
just doing his job, more or less successful. He becomes problematic at the
times of trouble, when the sickly torturers of the Empire come to effect.

Coetzee's Magistrate fells prey to his humanity: he is imprisoned and
ridiculed to the death of his old himself.

There is nothing surprising in the fall of the Magistrate. Those who are
high, fall low. What is more surprising is Coetzee's creation of the
another tenure for the fallen administrator.

Was it because of his humanity, being closer to nature than stiff
brutality with which the Third Bureau treated the opponents, creating them
in the course of "investigation", rather than trying to understand them?
Brutal force never tries to understand, it seeks to break, destroy. Humanity might
fail, but if given chance, it creates hope, it does not destroy it.

What about the case when there is no chance, when humanity plainly does not
help? It is wrong to think this way: it might not help against outside enemy,
but it is in fact the last resort of a falling Empire, it establishes its
moral right.

Even if it would remain only the empty letter in a chronicle,
it is worth maintaining it. Probably it goes back to Kant's "moral law in
us", which, however ancient it might seem, still prevails. Until we get
eaten for breakfast by some senseless heptapedic cosmic travellers.

Coetzee created a valuable addition to the notion of Barbarians. It is a dense read,
and I am yet to see how it withstands the battering by time, but I am, indeed, impressed by his writing skills. A master.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Yan Pradeau: "Algèbre"

"Maths is fun!", often exclaims over-eager (usually young) teacher, and
people tend to shrug at her/him and turn to their infinitely more interesting
gossip or politics or trade-exchange pages.

But in France, mathematics is serious business since centuries, and French
school, by its personalities, certainly IS fun, indeed.

Recently I had pleasure to read Yan Pradeau's "Algèbre", a short booklet
about one of most controversial French mathematicians of the XX
century-Alexander Grothendieck. As it often goes, he was also one of the
best mathematical minds of XX ct.

About him even to say "French" is over-statement, as he
was barely French, acquiring the nationality only at older age (in 1980-ies,
and he was born in 1928, in then Prussia). Most of his life he was
stateless, as his documents were destroyed in 1945, and he was reluctant to
obtain the other nationality, because of conscription obligation.

Following his parents, he was of an anarchist and pacifist political
orientation. His father, A. Schapiro was of a Hassidic Jewish origin, from
the borders of Ukraina, Belarus and Russia, and mather was of a German
protestant origin (his surname is by her). Both were from a rather bourgeois
background, but were declared, and fighting, anarchists of the leftist colors.

Alexander was a mathematical autodidact, and he brought novel generalizations
in geometry and algebra after the WWII. One thing which is well exposed in
the book, and which I was not aware of before, is that in the world wars
expired whole generations of mathematicians, and there remained a profound
vacuum in moderinzation of the discipline in the XX ct. Works of people like
A.G., alone and through group Bourbaki which was organized to promote the
program of novelization of mathematics, were instrumental in this. A.G. was
a kind of celebrity in French mathematical world in 1960-ies and 1970-ies.

Genius had it's price here, A.G. became more and more controversial in
1970-ies, fighting against militarization of the society in the Cold War.
In 1980-ies he completely abandoned the society, secluding
himself in a mountain village of few ten inhabitants. But he was not idle,
he was productive in "philosophical" writing of dubious value.

There is lots in the story about Groethedieck which is new to me, and I will
try to learn more about group Bourbaki. I was not aware of the program they
pursued, and their achievements. And today in Physics we often use results
of their work.

It is a kind of irony that I was recently living in the place where was important
centre of this movement-in Orsay, near Paris, and nearby Burres-sur Yvette,
and I did not know anything about this part of the history of the place.
The very paths I was walking, running or biking, were taken by those people,
not so long time ago. It certainly added an additional spice to my reading, as
also the fact that it was my 2nd book read in French.

Definitely a good read, I warmly recommend it.