Sunday, March 31, 2013

Locked Room Mystery (redivivus)

The caterpillar   with shrivelled skin
in a tent of silk    was laid therein.

This crumpled thing,   shrunk like a shroud,
was laid in silk   white as a cloud.

The sons of men   stood round about
warding the worm   should not get out.

Three days they stood   with solemn face,
never eyes wavering   from that place.

Then did they open   that mute cocoon,
and stood amazed:   the worm was gone !

Then some believed   and some did doubt
how that the worm   could have got out.

Yet to the sky   in spiral rings
the new flew forth   on crystal wings.

For a tale of Paschal miracle:
Murphy Makes a Mitzvah


Saturday, March 30, 2013

Of Crime and Sin -- and Mercy

Here is how the Pope spent Maundy Thursday:

Le pape François a lavé jeudi les pieds de douze détenus, dont deux jeunes filles, dans une prison de Rome. Un geste sans précédent.

The press made a big deal out of how some of the prisoners whose feet the Holy Father washed, were women -- as though everyone involved were Salafi.
In the section of readers’ comments, Christians ‘got it’, whereas a couple of baffled agnostics worried whether, by this action the Pope were being “soft on crime”.  (The fingers twitch, itching to add an editorial “[sic!]”:  but in fact, on reflection, there is a kind of truth in this view.   But it is not a truth of the marketplace, nor indeed of this world.)

The foot-washing ceremony is not really doctrinal:  it is exemplary and physical.  When Jesus did it, it prefigured that final physical act of grace, the sharing of the bread and wine, commemorated in Communion.

Crime, like war and pestilence, and all the other woes of this vale, are concerning;  yet Christ and his church are after bigger game :  Sin.   This distinction is signally illustrated that supreme scene of all our literature, in which Jean Valjean, having been hosted to dinner by the Bishop, makes off with the silver tableware;  is caught, and hauled back to the Bishop’s dwelling in custody.  “Ah, so glad to see you again, my friend!” cries the Bishop, to the amazement of the constables.  “You forgot the candletsticks!”
Only in the shallowest view  was the Bishop being ‘soft on crime’:  He had spotted in Jean Valjean something much worse than any crime:  a soul in peril.   On the usurer’s balance-pan, the Bishop’s act makes no sense;  but it had a transcendent sense -- it gave sense to a life that erst had lacked it.


All this leads us to the mystery of Mercy -- and thence, to the Merchant of Venice.

Some choice passages of Theodore Reik would here be in point, but the volume lies not to hand.  The upshot, if memory serves, was that, although Shakespeare wore very lightly  whatever religion he may have had, he grew up in an England steeped with Christian legend if not theology, and may have been influenced by it here;  and that we are to take the play (whether Shakespeare himself so intended it or not) as a serious confrontation between Judaism and Christianity.   Our only point in raising this here, is to angle back in on the mystical import of the Pope’s gesture (so strange to the unchurched).   In light of this, we are not really practicing textual criticism here, so much as suggesting a possible staging of the play.

The Merchant is of course  a painful puzzle for the modern metteur en scène:  No one wishes to appear anti-Semitic.   Do you downplay Shylock’s Jewishness?  Do you insert apologetic mumblings into the program notes?
The reading (or staging) that I suggest, confronts this question in a way that has nothing whatever to do with political correctness:  that of not playing down, but playing up Shylock’s Jewish faith and ancestry, playing it up to its full and mighty stature, whose long shadow has ever lain across the world.
That Shylock could be a money-lender, followed from well-known sociohistorical reasons;  the status neither shocks a modern audience, inured as we are to the world of promiscuous high finance, nor has it any theological significance:  it simply is perfect for the plot.  That Jews in the Middle Ages were the ones who must finance the follies of the Gentiles, is historically amusing, but does not go to the heart of Moses, nor of Abraham.   The covenant of Abraham, and the laws brought down by Moses, are the rock upon which all that was later solid  rests.   Shylock, as such, should not be edulcorated, and he needs no excuses.   He is (or, let us depict him as) a pillar of Old Testament rectitude.   In insisting upon the force and vigor of his bond with Antonio (for the Jews well know about bonds, as well as bondage), he is as righteous in his way, as the cadi ordering the amputation of thieving hands.   Basanio -- the feckless debtor whose follies set the whole thing in motion -- is callow by comparison.  (Were I to stage the play, he would be played by one of the Monty Pythons.) 

Shylock movingly depicts  the plight and trials of his long-oppressed people;  but when it comes to the case in point, he needs no lawyer’s rhetoric or tricks:  he has the law on his side.    Portia herself admits the literal justice of Shylock’s claim, by all the judicial reasonings of this world.

Shocking Corporate Secret Revealed!

The secret formula for Coca-Cola remains impregnable, locked away in a vault whose very location is known only to a hereditary caste of blind Tibetan monks whose tongues are cut out at birth.   But recently, our operatives have managed to retrieve the corresponding formula for Pepsi, from a safe in the office of the administrative assistant of the CEO (which also contained the AA's lunch, and whose combination turned out to be 1-1-1-1-1).  It reads as follows:

(1)  Start with a vat of Coca-Cola.
(2)  Add sugar.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Triduum (redivivus)

Spring is here, merry and jolly, though Easter’s re-Resurrection  is not yet.  (Did you know that Lent is cognate with the German word for 'Spring' -- Lenz  ?)

But Karfreitag is upon us (ahd. chara ‘Wehklage, Trauer’), and it is meet that we should mention this.

A sombre mediation, with musical accompaniment,  here:

Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Further Adventures of Doctor Dolittle

The day dawned   bright and breezy,
so Doctor Dolittle  hopped onto his adventure-ship
and sailed  the seven   seas …
He sailed them up, he sailed them down,
borne on   by the breeze …
He looked at things through his spyglass;
by night, he took his ease.

While A-L-L-l-l-l    /the animals --
Gubgub  and  /Dabdab  /and all his friends,
frolicked on the deck,
in seventh heaven.

Eventually, they grew sleepy;
they thought of their nice warm beds.
And so they sailed back, tired and happy,
to Puddleby,  in time for their bedtime snack.

“What a swell adventure,”
they said.

Night / night;  sleep /  tight;
Don’t  / let   //  the bedbugs bite!!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Cartesian “Cogito”, adapted for hamsters

~  I am cute, therefore I Am. ~

Saturday, March 23, 2013

The Latest Pawn-Sacrifice in the Great Game (bis)

A little fait-divers,  buried in the back pages:

Boris Berezovsky, self-exiled Russian tycoon and Putin rival, found dead in England

LONDON — Boris Berezovsky, a self-exiled and outspoken Russian tycoon who had a bitter falling out with Russian President Vladimir Putin, was found dead in southeast England on Saturday. He was 67.

The cause of Berezovsky’s death was not immediately clear, and Thames Valley police said it was being treated as “unexplained.” The police would not directly identify him, but when asked about Berezovsky by name they read a statement saying they were investigating the death of a 67-year-old man at a property in Ascot, a town 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of London.
Lawyer Alexander Dobrovinsky told Russian state TV that his client — who had survived assassination attempts in the past — lately had been in “a horrible, terrible” emotional state.
A mathematician-turned-Mercedes dealer [!], Berezovsky amassed his wealth during Russia’s chaotic privatization of state assets in the early 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In return for backing former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, he gained political clout and opportunities to buy state assets at knockdown prices, making a fortune in oil and automobiles.
He also played a key role in brokering the rise of Yeltsin’s successor, Vladimir Putin, in 2000. But Berezovsky later fell out of favor with Putin, and eventually sought political asylum in the U.K. in the early 2000s to evade fraud charges he contended were politically motivated.
Berezovsky was one of several so-called Russian “oligarchs” to butt heads with Putin.
After coming into power, the Russian president effectively made a pact: the oligarchs could keep their money if they didn’t challenge him politically. Those who refused often found themselves in dire circumstances. Some were imprisoned — like the former Yukos Oil chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky — while others, like Berezovsky, fled Russia.
The assets of these pariah businessmen, meanwhile, were acquired by state corporations or cooperative tycoons, often at bargain prices.

Those of you who are witting to the Riemann Conspiracy   will have no difficulty  sorting out the major players.  Indeed, we are astonished to see the level of intelligence and inside information among Washington Post readers:

I'm waiting for the Koch Brothers to absolve themselves from having any connection with the unfortunate accident Karl Rove is about to have. 
 You don't spend $400 Million Dollars with NO RESULTS without consequences ....

[How could that reader possibly know this?  There are no more than half a dozen principals  read-in to that black op.]

Obama is behind this!
to the batmobile!
But... Dubya looked into Putin's eyes and saw his soul. He said he was a good man. This cannot happen.
Shoulda seen that umbrella coming....
Got the message, Cypriot Parliment? 
oh and by the way if the US executive wanted to kill US citizens, this is how they would do it and not with drones 

why would you use a sledgehammer for a job that can be done by more easily accomplished by a little hammer?  

this is what a goverment killing its dissidents looks like for real. pay attention

Alas all the posters in question  have just this night died  in unrelated accidents.

I - am - telling - you -  nothingk

But what will have escaped the attention of all but a select few, is that the assassination in question had little or nothing to do with politics …  and everything to do with mathematics.
Read again, the following key passage, which you assuredly missed:

A mathematician-turned-Mercedes dealer, Berezovsky …

A well-informed reader of Le Figaro  picked up on this as well:

Dans son interview il avait aussi dit qu'il voulait rentrer en Russie et recommencer son travail de chercheur (en maths!).

Another replies:
En effet!  Le côté mathématique en est bien la clef.  Googlez
=> berezovsky математический riemann conspiracy

Si cela vous parle,
savourez la série noire
en argot authentique d’Amérique :

The fact of the matter is, since selling-off his Mercedes dealership (which had never been more than a front),  Berezovsky had returned to mathematics, and, together with his fellow mathematician-billionaire,  J&^^e$ $|^^*n$, was at the point of finally resolving the legendary RIEMANN HYPOTHESIS -- but in a way that no-one had anticipated, and which certain powerful forces were sworn to suppress.

[Further particulars are restricted to those in compartment PIEMAN.
Click on the invisible steganographic microdot  for access.]

[Declassify on:  18/19/2222]

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
Relief for beleaguered Nook lovers!
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

Footnote:  The following attempted cover-up by the KGB  will naturally fool no-one:

Борис Березовский родился в Москве 23 января 1946 года. В 1967 году окончил факультет электроники и счетно-решающей техники Московского лесотехнического института, в 1973-м — механико-математический факультет МГУ. Член-корреспондент Российской академии наук, член Международного научного общества по теории принятия решений, основатель Международного научного фонда. Автор более 100 научных работ и ряда монографий. Лауреат премии Ленинского комсомола, был награжден Международным орденом Святого Константина Великого.

(Were you fooled?  I wasn't !)

~ ~ Посмертный Одобрение

"Если бы я был жив сегодня, и в настроении для тайны,

это то, что я хотел бы читать: "

Я не делаю случае развода

Мерфи на горе.

Иосиф Сталин, и я одобрил это сообщение.)

~ ~

Flash update!  For some possible hints as to the direction Berezovsky was working at the time of his assassination, click here:

For another, exceedingly strange story,
and not unrelated in theme,
try this:


[Breaking update]   IC connoisseurs will of course remember the recent Cryptographic Carrier-pigeon scandal at Bletchly park:

It now appears that Berezovsky may have been that late pigeon’s Controller.  This certainly adds a perplexing wrinkle  to an already-convoluted case.

~  Posthumous Endorsement ~
"If I were alive today, and in the mood for a mystery,
this is what I'd be reading: "
(I am Alan Turing,  and I approved this message.)
~         ~

[Mise à jour -- Alerte !]  L’affaire vient de prendre un tournant plutôt  déconcertant.  Vous remarquez bien comment ce soi-disant “Berezovsky” et DSK se ressemblent comme deux gouttes d’eau:

Je nie formellement

Or, l’Interpol suit actuellement la piste d’une possible consanguinité, voire  statut de jumeaux  séparés depuis le berceau.
Nous avons cela  de source sûre -- une ‘taupe’ enfouie dans les rangs des chercheurs (qui, malheureusement, vient de mourir).

Travaillant au noir,
le détective  se trouve aux prises
avec le Saint-Esprit

 [Red alert]  An incredible development:  It turns out Berezovsky was mixed up in the NY sting of OBJ SATYRE, recently identified as DSK:

He is the man in the raincoat in the video.

*     *     *
~ Commercial break ~
We now return you to your regularly scheduled essay.

*     *     *

[Minor update]  A curious item just appeared in the Garden Tools section of the Des Moines (Iowa) Register -- and nowhere else.   Veteran investigator Roger Crispmann of the LAPD/NKVD  has just been flown to Bletchley Park to aid in the investigation.   The significance of this detail is unknown.

[A curious sidelight]  In an apparent countermove to the unexpected GCHQ/LAPD collaboration, the DGSE has just brought the Murphy Brothers out of retirement, to work on a related case.
We have no further information at this time.

[Dateline London] Locked Room Mystery
According to The Telegraph:

But what they don’t want to tell you is -- that door was locked from the outside !!
They do, however, reveal  this tasty detail:

He had been due to be a witness at the inquest next month into the death of Alexander Litvinenko, the former KGB spy who was murdered in 2006 after being poisoned by radioactive polonium-210 in what is believed to have been a Kremlin-sanctioned assassination.

Wheels within wheels …

[Update]  The Comments below  are quite disturbing.  We object to this website being used as a link in a merciless manhunt!

The Iceman cometh .... 
He cometh ... for thee ....

[Strange update]  This scenario (true or not) bears a remarkable resemblance to the history of Stalin’s persecuted and penitent acolytes:

Erst vor zwei Monaten habe Beresowski einen sehr persönlichen Brief an Putin geschrieben und darin Fehler eingeräumt. Beresowski soll Reue gezeigt, seinem Erzfeind die Hand gereicht, um Vergebung und die Chance auf eine Rückkehr gebeten haben

Für psychologisch tiefgreifende Krimis,
in pikanter amerikanischer Mundart,
und christlich gesinnt,
klicken Sie bitte hier:


[Even stranger update]  The Des Moines Register has apparently issued a retraction -- though it is difficult to say for sure, since their website has been hacked.

Nostra Culpa
We earlier reported that Detective Crispmann had been recruited by [agency redacted] in England.
This is false on the face of it, since, as we are now informed, Lt. Crispmann died several months ago.
The Register regrets the error.

(…… Now can I have my daughter back ???)

~    ~    ~    ~    ~

[Update 25 March 2013,  0700 hours]   A ridiculous report has just surfaced in the Swiss press, alleging  against all probability  that the man who died in that locked bathroom  was not Berezovski (who remains at large)  but his possibly fraternal but more likely identical twin, DSK.   We denounce this fabrication in no uncertain terms.

[Update 25 March 2013,  0815 hours EST]  Certain delicate technical evidence, seemingly tending to corroborate the bizarre hypothesis above, has just been brought to our attention from a clandestine source.   There is no further information at this time.

[Update 25 March 2013,  0845 hours  EST]  … pending further developments …

[Update 25 March 2013,  1100 hours  EST  (1600Z)]   Pursuant to a Consent Agreement, the World of Doctor Justice  formally retracts our initial assessment of the Swiss report, as well as the contrary of that assessment.

[Update 25 March 2013,  1800Z]  We hereby retract, rescind, and repudiate, everything we have ever said about anything, or ever might say in the future.
[Note:  This sentence is false.]

[Update, 25 April 2013]  The above was satire;  but reality has a way of catching up.  The Russian state channel NTV has broadcast a 'documentary',  See Big Ben and Die, which claims that Berezovsky, Litvinenko, and other Russian exiles (whom it would be a euphemism even to dub 'dissidents') were in fact assassinated by ... MI6.
In the face of such events in the actual world, satire hobbles off with its begging bowl ...

Difficulty is Hard

Updated here:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dr Massey does it again

A delightful nugget of both Latin and literary-criticism  can be savored here:

(For more on any of these aspects, simply click on one of the Labels below.)

[Update]  I just noticed -- that same pair of ladies, an argumentum ad veretrum,  were used to reach a different conclusion here:

Such is the fungible quality of imagery.

Aus dem Nachlass

[Any one of us  might die tonight;  none knoweth when his soul might be required.
And when I expire, should any glance into my drawers, they shall find
many upon many
unfinished thoughts and fragments.
Here, just a sample.
Should I survive, I might flesh it out.]

Chesterton’s “The Wrong Shape”;  but this I shall defend:
the wisdom of the Yin-Yang symbol -- that dot of white  within the swirling black tadpole; that patch of black, within its mirror counterpart….

The Ball and the Cross -- each needs the other.  The Cross, said Chesterton, needs the round earth whereon to stand.  And the great globe needs the cross, …

The honorable atheist, straightforwardly depicted in the autobiography of  CSL.
Yet, more dialectical in the fiction of GKC.
The atheist in this fantasia, respects -- in oppostion - that which he so strenuously denies.
Not outlined, but, by duality, implied -- the theist as well needs the atheist.
-- I don’t want to say more on these lines, lest I turn into some fatuous Frenchman flatulating-out bogus profundities;  but leave this little seed, to work in your imaginations ….


Quoted from memory, from Samuel Beckett:

I did what I could,
a thing beyond my strength,
  and often
  for exhaustion
gave up doing it.

This was set as prose; but harbors within it  a five-line rhythm,
pinched at the waist,
reminiscent of the classic limerick.

On What is Round (ter)

teres atque rotundus
 -- Horace  ('smooth to perfection, to perfection  round')

I saw Eternity the other night
like a great Ring of pure and endless light,
   All calm, as it was bright;
and round beneath it.  Time in hours, days years
   driven by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d …
-- Henry Vaughan, “The World”

Could we but fill to harmony, and dwell
Simple as our thought, and as perfectible, […]
Grow to a radiant round love, and gear
Unfluctuant passion  for some perfect sphere.
-- Rupert Brooke, “Thoughts on the Shape of the Human Body” (1910)

In Vergleichende Anatomie der Engel (1825),  Fechner argued that the angels, as the most perfect beings, must be spherical, since the sphere is the most perfect form.
-- quoted in James R. Newman, ed. World of Mathematics (1956), p. 1152

We have discussed round squares (which do exist, despite everything you’ve ever read)
and round cows (which don’t, and more’s the pity)

G.K. Chesterton wrote a whole book about the subject, called The Ball and the Cross.  As a Christian apologist,  he naturally reveres the Cross, but adds
            There must be some round earth to plant the Cross upon.

He put the case more tartly in Manalive:

“Science!” cried the stranger. “There is only one good thing science has ever discovered -- a good thing, good tidings of great joy -- that the world is round.”

It is difficult to find any passus  in which round  is used in dispraise.  The closest we can come is this:  Brian Greene,  in The Fabric of the Cosmos (2004), p. 294, tells us of “a famously caustic scientist  whose appreciation for symmetry led him to call his colleagues  spherical bastards:  because, he explained,  they were bastards any way you looked at them.”  Still, it sounds nicer than flat bastards.

Why did you do it.  And hearts.  And why was love so round.
-- J. P. Donleavy, The Ginger Man (1955)


Well-rounded (character, education) is another sterling term.  At the simplest level, it contrasts with Fachidiotie -- Merriam-Webster defines it using the terms “broad” and “comprehensive”.  But there is more to it than that -- more than the idea of a well-spread smattering,  jack-of-all-trades (and master of none).  There is the deeper education that all this learning and life experience has -- to borrow the language of topology -- rounded ‘round to form a compact surface.  As such, it gains in structural integrity -- much as a ping-pong ball, though made of inherently thin and flimsy material, shows great spherical strength.


Notions of ‘roundness’ crop up in mathematics as well, well beyond that of straightforward plane or three-dimensional geometry:  for instance, the “unit ball” in a normed linear space. 
The notion is generalized as that of convexity, which has various subtypes, and some surprisingly complex implications in functional analysis.   A lecture at the University of Alberta (Edmonton) in 1982 (Professor Lewis presiding) introduced an especially tasty flavor of this idea:

Definition:   A normed linear space is strictly convex (or ‘rotund’) iff the following holds:
||x|| < 1, ||y|| < 1,  =>  ||(x+y)/2|| < 1

He then added a historical observation:

This sort of thing was introduced by Clarkson in 1936, with  view to integration theorems for functions from the reals to such a space holding also for functions from Euclidean space to such a space.  Community interest switched to linear operators beginning around World War II;  and this remained the case until the late 1960s.  Now we’re back to rotundity.


We leave the last word to C.S. Lewis (English Literature in the Sixteenth Century, 1944):
"Columbus, a man of lofty mind, with missionary and scientific interests, had the original idea of acting on the age-old doctrine of the earth's rotundity, and sailing west to find the east ..."

[Update]  We still leave the last word to CSL, but from a different work, discussing medieval cosmology, and its explanation for the ‘natural’ orbiting-patterns of the celestial bodies:

A modern may ask  why a love for God  should lead to perpetual rotation. [It is because] the nearest approach to His eternal imobility, is eternal regular movement in the most perfect figure … the circle.
-- C.S. Lewis, Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Literature (1966), p. 51

 Does not Saint Thomas remark somewhere, that the most perfect shape, beneath the moon, is the belly of a penguin?  (One feels sure that he did;  yet I cannot  at present  lay my hand upon the passage.)



Further kudos to rotundity:

Dieser rasche Rundgang  durch Schuchardt’s mehr als 50 Jähre umspannende Wirksamkeit  zeigt, daß wir es tatsächlich mit einer  in sich geschlossenen, “runden” Lehre  zu tun haben:  das Bild des Kreises scheint mir am ehesten geeignet, Schuchardt’s Gedankenweben zu versinnbildlichen.
Leo Spitzer, ed., Hugo Schuchardt-Brevier (1921; 2nd edn. 1928), p. 6

Anyone who is up for 'another round', can find more here: