John von Nsoferatu

John von NeumannThe day is almost over and I am finally getting to the birthday post. As you will see, the main person today is difficult. And it isn’t much of a day for birthdays. That’s fine. My perfect day is one where there are two or three people who I have something interesting to talk about. The worst days are the ones where I have ten or more people like that, because most of them are just going to get piled in with the “other birthdays.” If all I did was the birthday post each day, I could make it really interesting. As it is, I think what I do is better than what most people do. At least this is personalized.

On this day in 1888, the great silent film director F W Murnau was born. He died very young, in a car accident while he was at the peak of his career. He will always be remembered, however, for his filmed version of Dracula, Nosferatu. Of course, he made the film without getting the rights and by a court ruling, all the prints of the film were supposed to be destroyed. All but one was. Here is a little taste of it:

Other birthdays: composer Johann Krieger (1651); astronomer Thomas Henderson (1798); chemist Carl Remigius Fresenius (1818); science writer Arthur Eddington (1882); the most over-rated man in comic book history Stan Lee (91); actor Martin Milner (82); actor Maggie Smith (79); musician Edgar Winter (67); humorist Charlie Pierce (60); and actor Denzel Washington (59).

The day, however, belongs to the great mathematician John von Neumann who was born on this day in 1903. It is hard to classify him because he did such varied work: pure math, applied math, and even physics. I know him especially because of his work with fluid dynamics. But his work has also had applications in economics and computer science. You really need to read a biography of him to get a good idea of the breadth of his importance. You may remember how Neil deGrasse Tyson went on about all the different things that Newton did. Well, Neumann makes Newton seem like a slacker. And Neumann only lived to be 53. He died of some kind of cancer. But what Godel was in his very narrow field of interest, Neumann was in his broad fields of interest.

Happy birthday John von Neumann!

Orcas In the Wild—Free!

Flying Orca

I just found this photo from Ms.OpRoar on Twitter. It led me to an amazing article in The Daily Mail, Look Out, He’s Behind You! Eight-Ton Orca Leaps 15ft Into the Air to Finally Capture Dolphin He Wanted for Dinner After Two-Hour Chase. Given the attack is on a dolphin, this must be a pod of transient whales; residents don’t prey on dolphins. But the main thing is that I had no idea that Orcas could jump that far out of the water. It’s an amazing counter example to the captive animals we keep at places like SeaWorld.

For more, see my article on the great documentary Blackflish. You really should see the documentary if you haven’t already. We need to get SeaWorld and the similar parks closed down. What we are doing to these animals is nothing short of torture. In the future, we will see this captivity for what it is: slavery. I am so disgusted. The least any of us can do is to boycott these parks.

Let me just quote one bit from my article:

There is a lot of emotional content in Blackfish. I jumped out of my seat a couple of times. But there is also a lot of information. For example, despite the claims of SeaWorld, Orca in the wild live to be about 50 on average. But they can live to be 90 years old. In captivity, they usually die by the age of 25. The film put me through the wringer, but I can’t recommend it more highly.

It is so beautiful and heartening to see these beautiful, intelligent creatures living free the way they were born to. I still feel sorry for that poor bottlenose dolphin, but at least it was allowed to live its life free, and not as a trained circus freak. I fear I am becoming radicalized. But how can you not when you see great pictures like this one that show how wild Ocras live. Click over to see a lot more.

More Evil English With Palate and Palette and Pallet

Palate and Palette and PalletWhat does your choice of restaurant say about your palate and your palette and your pallet? Is it important? Well, in speaking, it doesn’t matter at all. But if you don’t know the difference between these words, you may look ignorant in writing. And that’s a shame. Because all of these words are pronounced pretty much the same (I’m come back to that shortly). And they are all perfectly clear in context.

If you care about your palate, you may choose a restaurant where the food is most delicious. This is because “palate” means, “a person’s appreciation of taste and flavor, especially when sophisticated and discriminating.” But you might also choose a restaurant that does not serve pizza, which can burn the roof of your mouth. This is because “palate” also means, “the roof of the mouth.” Hot pizza has been known to badly burn the palate.

If you fancy yourself another Maurice Utrillo, you may choose a brightly colored restaurant, so that you can put a lot of different colors on your palette before you paint the restaurant as the sun falls below the horizon and many blues and reds surround the structure.

If you are a delivery man in a rush, you may choose a restaurant where the employees quickly process the goods you have delivered, so you can have your empty pallet back and get on with your next delivery.

The English language is a real pain. There is absolutely no reason to have these three spellings for four different things that all sounds pretty much the same. It is almost as if we had decided to have a language that is designed to make people feel stupid. At least they could have different pronunciations! And indeed, “palette” does have a very slightly different pronunciation. “Palette” has a slightly more distinct sub-accent on the second syllable. Or the main accept on the first is slightly less sharp.

“Palate” comes from Latin (13xx). “Palette” comes from the French (1622). And “pallet” also comes from the French (1558). So it really makes no sense at all. “Palate” isn’t so bad because it comes from a different language and is hundreds of years earlier. But the two French related words are from the same time. What a mess. No wonder Shaw was so upset!

But I do have a bit of help. “Palate” relates to eating. And if there is one thing that is easy to remember, it is that it is a bad idea to be late for dinner, because it will disappoint your palate. It helps that it is also the simplest and most reasonable spelling. Pa-late.

The second most reasonable spelling is “pallet.” Those are the things you stack. Or if you prefer: if a pal offers to help you stack pallets, let him. “Thanks pal for offering to help stack my pallets; I’m happy to let you!” Pal-let.

As for “palette”: that’s easy! Artists always want to put extra letters on the ends of words that don’t need them. Think: artiste. So that stupid thing painters use obviously needs an extra “e” on the end. But it can’t just be a single “e.” That would sound Spanish, “Pallete.” Pronounced, “Pa-zjet-a.” It has to stay French, so it’s got to have two “t” characters. That leaves us with “pallette.” Unfortunately, adding those two useless letters makes the word too long. So they removed one of the other unnecessary letters: the extra “l.” It’s silent, anyway. Problem solved! Pal-et-te.

If anyone wants to start a revolution, I’m ready. Until then, I’ll be using my palette to paint pallets whetting my appetite for the for the food my palate will enjoy afterward. (And yes: wet vs whet. What a pain English is!)

Too Bad Alan Turing Is Dead or He Would Really Appreciate That Pardon

Alan TurningThe Queen of England pardoned Alan Turing for his crime of being gay. That’s over 60 years after the state chemically castrated him for the crime and just 59 years after he killed himself as a result at the age of 41. Better late than never, you say? I don’t think so. I think that late is exactly the same as never. If you show up one minute late to stop an innocent man from being killed, you might as well have never shown up. Better later than never, is a phrase you can apply to lesser things. Sorry we wrongly locked you up for a couple of years. Here’s a hundred thousand dollars to try to make make up for it. That’s better later than never. Sorry we castrated and killed you. That’s not better later than never. That’s exactly the same as never.

In the video over at Crooks & Liars, sculptor Glyn Hughes rightly asks, “What about all the other gay men who were prosecuted? Don’t you think it rather says that if you’re useful to the state, the law doesn’t apply to you? We’ll let you off.” Indeed. How about one big apology? “We’re sorry that we allowed hatred and ignorance and bigotry to rule our laws in England for hundreds of years and so ruined the lives of countless gay and lesbian people?” That might actually mean something for the present. It might actually cause a few people to think, “What minorities are we oppressing right now that we will later have to apologize for?” I’m sure, some later queen will make an announcement that locking up all those drug addicts was wrong. Of course, it won’t matter then. They’ll be off to throwing people in prison for different stupid reasons.

As a society, we are always fond of being accepting of useful weirdos. I wrote about this recently, Unstable Weirdos and Business Success. A business consultant was trying to figure out how companies could keep the good (usable) parts of us weirdos and get rid of the bad (nonusable) parts of us. The fact is that you can’t. If there is a brilliant man who seems perfectly at home in his work environment, it is pure luck. Most of us don’t have that luck and so society misses out on all of the nice things we could add because it’s uncomfortable to have us awkward people around.

Of course, there are places for people like me: academia. But even it has its limits. And look at the way that conservatives think about academia: it’s that place where “dangerous” ideas come from. And even liberals want to turn it into nothing but a training ground for the brave new world of employment opportunities. In other words: the conservatives want the colleges to produce the same old cogs and the liberals want the colleges to produce new and improved cogs. But they are all cogs. And unfortunately for me, I am not a cog. And unfortunately for the society, many, many more brilliant people than I am are not cogs.

Of course, Turing wasn’t a difficult guy to work with. He just had this one small problem: he wasn’t sexually attracted to the “right” sex. It just shows how small minded people are about social deviance. Some day they may throw people in jail for not liking football. Unimaginable, you think? There was a time when some people drank and other people smoked cannabis. Yet almost a million people are arrested for cannabis every year in the Land of the Free. (Irony alert!) And the vast majority of those arrests were for simple possession. So if in a hundred years, I get a posthumous pardon after I died in jail for the crime of thinking that football is the most boring game ever invented, don’t be surprised. Well, be a little surprised. I think pretty highly of myself. But I’m no Alan Turing!

It’s Hard Out Here for Some Pimps

Hustle and FlowSo it was Christmas, and all day the same song was going through my head. “Santa Claus Is Coming to town”? “The Little Boy That Santa Claus Forgot”? “Santa Bring My Baby Back to Me”? No, nothing like like. It was “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from the movie, Hustle & Flow. You know, “It’s hard out here for a pimp; When you’re trying to get your money for the rent; With the Cadillac and gas money spent; Got a whole lotta niggers jumping ship.”

First, let’s take a moment to marvel at those lines. That’s four lines with three slant rhymes. I really do think that’s the most important songwriting trends over the last few decades. Full rhymes tend to make songs sound silly. One of my more recent songs rhymed “gas,” “dad,” and “match.” Soon we’ll all be writing in blank verse. (Interesting, the last song I wrote that I rather liked was in perfect iambic pentameter, even though I didn’t know it at the time, “Angela’s drilling a whole like of holes.”)

Anyway, here is “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp” from Hustle & Flow with Terrence Howard doing the lead vocals for the song:

I mentioned the fact that the song was going through my head to my nephew, because he was the only person at Chrsitmas who even knew the song. And he mentioned something that I didn’t know: the song was by the Memphis hip hop band Three 6 Mafia. They just used Howard’s voice. They used there own voices in their released version. I think it’s better:

I don’t know that much about hip hop, but as best as I can tell, it is an ironic art form. That’s not to say that the people making the music aren’t serious about the work. But they get the joke. Think of these lyrics the way a Phil Robertson might sing them: “It’s hard out here for a pimp; When you’re trying to get more money for your kicks; And all you did was talk some bigot shit; and a whole lot of sellers throwing fits.”

The problem, of course, if that the listeners—both of rap and of Duck Dynasty—think the shit is real. But least with the rap crowd, we get music people will be listening to decades from now. As soon as Duck Dynasty is over, no one will care about that rich family that pretends to be “authentic” on the TV box.

What’s worse: pimping out prostitutes or your own family while claiming what a good Christian you are? Give me an average pimp trying to make his rent any day.