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the various and sundry creations of sylvus tarn

27jul2021

cropHi all.

I see I totally missed the boat on Pride Month. Well, trusting you had a happy Pride Month! I can't help admitting a certain appreciation for a holiday—and movement—that celebrates with rainbows:)

My library has opened back up for browsing, huzzah, and I recently went over there to pick up a reserve, Shape, which I'd ordered some time ago on the basis of some recce or other online. I'm not sure what I was expecting—possibly some deep delve into social justice concerns from a mathematical perspective, I suppose—but much of the book is simply the author exploring the joys of math in general and geometry in particular.

Geometry, he explains, is “the cilantro of math” —you either love it or hate it; because it was (as the title of this book implies) more about pictures than symbols, it came (a bit) easier to me, putting me firmly in the ... not hating it camp. I haven't got much to say about this book, because it's the sort of thing where, to get the maximum enjoyment out of it, you have to do the work and I haven't the mental energy to take even the simplest problems on.

But I can certainly note a couple of bits that particularly caught my attention:

  • The gorgeous 1870s map illustrating the spread of an ‘epizootic’
  • the explanation of that suit about gerrymandering at the Supreme Court (which honestly I'd already encountered (in the John Oliver Last Week Tonight episode?) in which the author rather tartly complains of the unprepared supreme court justices, that it was like a graduate seminar in which only one of his nine students had done the reading (Elena Kagan) —why yes Supreme Court justices should be prepared to do the reading, even if it is math.
  • And, most of all, his wry observation that yes, actually math is hard and it's deeply unfair to set up one's students’ expectations that it's easy, because then the students all figure they're stupid, and that they...hate math!

I was able to stumble along my college prep math classes in high school, more or less, deeply helped by the fact that my father not only liked math, he was good at it, and a fantastic teacher. But then I went off to college and calculus, and though I sort of got derivatives and integrals, maxes and mins defeated me. I sucked (i.e. failed) at those.

I often wished there'd been all those visual tools where you could play around with formulae and watch the graphs change in real time—but computers weren't powerful enough for that back then. Or topology! Braids and knots, now that would've been cool...

I can actually do basic algebra, geometry and statistics— very basic. Enough to get by. —My mom never got even that far, cuz her crappy teachers could never explain properly the why of algebra, and by the time she got to college and competent teachers, she too was done. So she took philosophy instead, which I rather count as a win, as discussing some of that stuff surely sharpened up my own thinking.

So I'm sorry so many people hate math, for much the same reason a lot of them say they can't make art—because they encountered bad teaching, even more endemic amongst art teachers than math teachers—math is at least considered important.

But it should be joyful, too, at least some of the time.

Well. Instead of an assortment of math topics, I have a collection of cute critturs. Enjoy.

26jul2021

cropOoooh, linkies.

Everyone likes linkies, right?

  • The Revival of Stocism...besides, perhaps, its audience, which (stereotypically) are rich atheist technodudes of the silicon valley sort (or hopefuls wishing to become such), there's nothing wrong with stoicism; in fact, its appeal distinctly reminded me of people getting into yoga and transcendental meditation back in the day, except yoga became too girly and old-fashioned as its popularity transformed it from an exotic pursuit of a few, determined (male) hiker-travellers going to India to (mostly women attended) studios found on every US street corner moderately well-to-do city/suburb...the thing is, dig into yoga, or stocism, or buddhism, (or whatever the spiritual-answer-du-jour is) past the sound-bites and memes of ‘follow this path and become healthy-wealthy-and-wise’ and all of these disciplines tend to emphasize those pesky ethics & concern for neighbor (especially marginalized neighbors) that get stripped from the popular packaging.
  • Cool (women) makers making engineering cool stuff!
  • Via the NYT's puzzle page featuring math fonts, I figured this glass cane font would be, I dunno, like pictures made of shorts, all different colours, mebbe, but it's not: it's a recipe for making (if you used white and clear, at any rate) latticino that reads as letters in cross section. Pretty cool, and utterly beyond my technique to create, though I expect it would be child's play for the average Italian cane maker.
  • This trans blogger's searing reaction to (admittedly) a horrifying experience of a trans person's effort to explore that part of herself via fiction is the sort of reason I have difficulty claiming trans-ness: sure I was enraged by a relative's effort to undermine my gender presentation but have never undergone the agony cited here: Twitter has a lot to answer for.
  • Murders of Crows and other fun collective nouns (the comments are especially fun, and I won't spoil them;)

Also, I have pictures of peonies fading in the rain.

12jul2021

cropWell, since CRT (which, cuz I'm old makes me think of Cathode Ray Tubes, instead of ‘Critical Race Theory’) seems to be the current bogey[wo?]man du jour, some linkies associated with that...

  • To start, a SJW's primer, or at least touching-upon, of CRT with some commentary. The second link is only about 5–6 minutes, by a prof working in the discipline and can be summed up with, ‘CRT wanted to explore why the Civil Rights/Voting Rights (etc) laws of the 1960s didn't fix racism (as we hoped they would)—see, not scary at all!’
  • the first video by some dude named T1J, who is not a CRT theorist (but is promoting anti-racism) is longer, in the 20–30 minute range, and a good place to begin, I think, for people who want a bit more nuanced take from someone who's adjacent but has criticisms to make.
  • For those of you wishing to discuss the controversy at a more advanced level (well beyond my pay grade—any time I suspect people are being disingenuous but I can't tell for sure is pretty clear evidence I'm in over my head) Crooked Timber has an essay, Not CRT but critical thinking about race which has some lively, interesting comments.
  • Some of those comments wandered into interesting territory, such as the one reccing a pair of essays about hiring orchestra musicians —I thought I'd read the NYT essay so I skipped to the rebuttal which had kind of an interesting effect on my feelings (evidently I tend to sympathize with the folks who get their opinion in first? Kinda like being in the beginning of the slide caroulsel for juries, I guess) but eventually I sided with the dude wanting more explicit efforts to hire PoC for orchestras. I don't, however, like his suggestion for fixing the problem, which was to get rid of blind auditions. As a female bodied person I frankly think is a mistake; the real problem, as a number of people pointed out—in both essays—is the lack nurturing musicians of colour further down, that is, focusing on the beginning of the pipeline...

It's fairly clear to me that right wing politicians glommed onto the ‘critical’ because the lay person tends to focus on the negative connotations of that word as it's typically used, whereas the academics who created the theory were using the word in its analytic sense of ‘why is this $thing-we're-examining working, or, more likely failing to work the way it was intended?’ Nowadays, some people call this deconstruction: the taking apart of something to see its (ahem) critical failure point.

That said, just as Miss Manners is less than pleased to admit that etiquette can be used against you, so too ‘critical thinking’ as fostered by university education in general, and academic theorizing in particular, can indeed have real consequences for the status quo. Why yes education can broaden your horizons. It can give you a bigger, more powerful toolbox for thinking. Universities do foment change. (If they're any good, that is. And change is hard, and sometimes very scary.)

CRT isn't anything I pretend to have a clear understanding of: I'm not a lawyer, and that bailiwick is not even my hobby. But I'm guessing it's part of the arsenal of tools that Black folks have developed in their long struggle against racism, and as such, it can be used to deliver home truths that comfortable whites would rather not have to face, thank you very much, we like our comfy lives just the way they already are.

What little I have gleaned suggests that it could be a powerful way of thinking about how to dismantle systemic racism, which to my mind is a good, because racism is a pernicious waste of resources, and as I've noted many many times, I hate waste. Not to mention, I want to walk (or ride my bike) down the street without being assaulted (by men) or run over (by automobile drivers)(1). I want to not have to even think about it—and that, in a nutshell is privilege. If you as a (white) man can strut down the street without the thought ever crossing your mind that someone is gonna make a nasty comment about your presence in public, let alone actually physically attempt to hurt you—well, that's the very definition of privilege—obliviousness. PoC, I presume, would also like to live their lives without the constant stream of microaggressions (ride on the sidewalk!) and macroaggressions (getting raped, hit or killed), the worry of which is a constant load. That part of their Weltanschauung I get.

When I got to go inside the library the first time since the pandemic began and actually browse books—they have tables with new books, staff picks and the month's features—I picked up a collection of essays by Tim Wise called Dispatches from the Race War, which is mostly on themes I've encountered many, many times before: at 2–3 pages each, these bite sized chunks are, shall we say, “beginner” material. —But one theme running constantly through the pieces ( especially when he quoted James Baldwin, who, if Frederick Douglass was the dude to speak of Black inequities of the 1800s, Baldwin was the It Guy for the 1900s) is that, however varying their levels of optimism that racism might one day be conquered, no Black folk are under any illusion it will happen soon (& are more than a bit exasperated by the constant stream amongst whites of, ‘now we're past the problem of racism...’)

I s'pose I could forgive white men for being clueless about this, but women have faced sexism at least as long as recorded history, and while things are certainly better now, I think very few believe we will achieve equality any time soon. —I don't really think racism is much more tractable; we're in for the long haul.

Hence the need for every tool at our disposal for persuading people that sexism and racism are to be, if not eliminated, than reduced, as much as feasibly possible.

This seems painfully obvious to me, but clearly there are a lot of people who do not want to kids to learn about Black history (such as the Tulsa race massacre) or the 1619 project—but if we don't read up and discuss this stuff, how are we to do better? I don't have any bright ideas for combatting racism, any more than I do sexism, except to speak out when I see it. This is my tiny effort, I guess. (I'm much better at making art.)


(1)Wise is a nice, approachable writer for whites, especially white dudes, being of that persuasion himself. And he's clearly on board with other marginalized groups’ struggles; but in the department of ‘you can't know everything’ he makes that ‘stepping on my foot’ argument of intent, and features this example, ah ha ha...

So too, if my careless driving results in my running you over on your bike, I doubt “Whoops” would suffice. (p. 166, Dispatches from the Race War)

Uh, actually, it would. In much the way I consoled myself after my father died by thinking I'd never have to hear him make a homophobic comment ever again (before my kid realized they were gay, thank dog...) I coped with the fact that the cop on the scene coached the driver out a traffic citation by thinking, ‘well, at least the cop's sympathy for a driver over a cyclist trumps the typical American's privileging a white lady over a Black man...why yes it is dismaying to be of so little account that while you moan in pain on top of someone's roof the person who is supposed to be safeguarding your rights colludes with your victimizer (however accidental, and this was in fact a case of not paying attention) to strip them from you.

Which is, I'd guess, how a lot of Black folks feel about cops. All the time. And one reason I keep making this comparison.

19jun2021

cropHappy Juneteenth, all. I haven't been posting much, because nothing seems quite good enough; and so decided simply to throw up an assortment of pix I like, however imperfect, out-of-focus/fuzzy-from-high-ISOs (or better yet, both) at full resolution they may be.

Enjoy, and wishing you a delightful Juneteenth (& if I don't get my act together, Summer Solstice as well).

18jun2021

cropOh look, pages two days in a row. (Aka procrastinating over something else I should be doing...) but first, a brief rant about tiktok: It's not the wiggly logo, wretchedly short attention spans, kids these days—no, I can deal with all that. But making it impossible to turn down the volume before the damn thing starts playing? That's just rude. Boo, hiss.

It boggles the mind that people still in this day and age say things like you sound white (but only to Black people) as if it's a complement (which it isn't—no-one has ever complemented me on my pretty-close-to-broadcast-standard speech[1] any more than they have on my having a head on my shoulders) because, hello

  1. RP is not solely the province of white people
  2. PoC do this thing called code-switching
  3. Which means they can speak (at least) two dialects to my one.

Anyone (that's pretty much everyone) who speaks slangily to their friends and formally to a boss or other higher status person is moving up and down registers; alas, since some dialects (or pronunciation thereof) have much higher (perceived) status than others, in order to navigate our society (more easily) folks can and so shift across them, often in a continuously variable way (say, to make snarky, subtextual comments about clueless white folk...)

That people shift between RP and AAVE might have been news to white people in the 60s and 70s—I recall my dad being impressed by early research back then—but c'mon, that was half a century ago.

Ok, enough rants—now some raves: this nerdy Black dude shares my love of manga & anime, and better yet, it's inspired him to create some. Yay, more manga.

But if delightful (& free!) online manga don't float your boat, I have some truly fugly sample beads.

[1]I did used to get complements on my vocabulary when I was younger, though it's not actually that great.

16jun2021

cropI was gonna post this one the 6th. Then the 12th. Now, the 16th. Whoops. Well, I have links, at least...

  • First up, via FTB, an absolutely appalling police tactic that sends their victims’ autos into an uncontrollable skid & then flips them onto their roofs. I can—just barely—imagine considering this horrific tactic on a driver who is endangering huge numbers of people; but the idea that any cop should persecute a speeder simply because she merely put on her flashers, slowed down, & moved to the right lane until she could exit (as recommended by her state) but didn't pull over to satisfy the cop's impatience is beyond heinous. (& I say this as someone who loathes speeders, especially ones that weave in and out of traffic.)
  • As a unicorn chaser, some outdoorsy type suggests that spending time outside every day 3x/week (say, a walk in your neighborhood), in a semi-natural environment...unh 5 hours a month in a park or hiking, and three days of off-the-grid type camping once a year to get that mental-calm from nature:) This sort of thing certainly improves my outlook on life, but I'm healthy, don't suffer from asthma or other conditions that would make rustic camping problematic; also on the debit side of the leger SAD responds really well to outdoor therapy. Appalling allergies, though, would kill the desire of anyone so afflicted during pollen season to be outdoors. Even so I do think most people like spending some time outside, and the more people who treasure those experiences, the greater the momentum for cherishing such spaces.
  • Well, this citizen scientist gets his outdoor time cataloging the 1200 and counting species in his yard; he was (justifiably) pretty chuffed to document one of those fancy peacock jumping spiders amongst his finds, which has become an all-consuming passion.
  • And why not? Nature is fascinating. Frex: turns out baby birds in the shell are listening to their parents’ incubation calls. And that it has an impact on their survival. (Dunno why anyone who's a parent would be surprised by this—our first, born in a hospital cried when anyone except her dad held her: if human babies recognize familiar voices, then why not birds, for whom calls are vitally important...?)
  • NYT has a list of 10 YA novels that looks pretty enticing.

Oh, and I have some gift-decorating.