Once this Mexican local artifact was exotic to Canadians, and available only to tourists who visited Mexico and shopped in places like Pueblo Viejo.
Okay, they were for sale in the Puerto Vallarta airport too.
Now the Mexican-style pinata has arrived here in force, and can be seen in your local grocery store.
Fisherman's Memorial Park marks the confluence of the green Kalum with the Skeena. Long ago, at the behest of my Grade 11 Math teacher, I stood on the bank near this bridge and calculated the distance across the river. I wanted to measure the Skeena, but it was too wide. In order to use triangulation, I had to select and keep my eye on a particular tree on the forested bank opposite.
I have another memory of the Kalum River. During one spring flood, I was standing on the bank with my brother, watching the roiling river. As I turned away for a moment, I heard a mutter. "Rats!" But his voice was coming from too low down. I looked back and saw why. His head had disappeared from shoulder height and reappeared at waist height when the bank quietly gave way under him. He was scrabbling at the willows in an effort to clamber out of the muddy water.
These days, when a Vancouver house with a mature garden grows a For Sale sign, we know what to expect.
Will a family renew and refurbish a charming and cosy home like this one? Probably not. More likely is the destruction of a mature garden and a wrecking ball for the house. The very features that give Vancouver such appeal are rapidly being sacrificed on the altar of Mammon.
People used to buy houses mainly to live in. Now, as investment trumps living, the green and quiet city is going down: tree by tree, house by house, street by street. Along with affordability, our region's livability is being lost as homes are snapped up by investors. Public schools are under threat of closure as families are driven out, leaving their city an exclusive playground for the very rich.
Gardens go down as land is bought up. Cash-strapped middle-class Vancouverites can barely to afford rent in the city, let alone buying homes. As they flee across the river, Surrey and Langley are reeling from the effects. It seems like every time we leave home, we see more missing trees, felled to make way for building to feed the boom. Richmond, with its rich delta soil, was once a farming paradise. Its proximity to the city and airport means it is now being built up and paved over.
Waterton Lakes Park is one of several places where wild buffalo still roam Alberta. Within a large paddock, they roam free as they did of old. Aboriginal people used the buffalo pound, a round trap, to catch these all-important animals that provided food, clothing and shelter to the people of the plains. The name of the great chief Poundmaker refers to this skill.
Tuesday evening the Golden Ears writers hosted an open mic at ACT. Ronda Payne took pictures, while performing writers chatted at the break.
Below are some intriguing lines from the evening's performance.
First to go is the Jackie Kennedy look.
If you don't speak for yourselves, your silence will speak for you.
She's learned it from the camels, he says.
And don't go cloning the grocery boy!
Gophers whistle...before upending themselves in their holes. Bottle brush, buffalo grass, porcupine grass...
I gear down and stand on my pedals...The wheel wobbles like a loose tooth.
Stinky got loose again...Crashing through carrots, leaping over lettuce, and pooping in the peas.
When the last petal falls...Two goats live in an abandoned asylum for children.
From my roomette...I kept looking out that window until it was dark.
The clothes pretty well stand on their own.
The knife I gave my daughter is more of a talisman.
Good performance, everyone. Have a happy writing summer.
Random lines heard during Wednesday evening's delightfully varied readings:
From Bora Bora to Glacier Bay/we drank our beer/I don't care if my stomach grumbles/I don't see your name here, Herr Doktor/The feminist femme fatale is a humanitarian/living gloriously and free/a gaudily dressed woman on a horse/eyes scanning the sacred grove/I dance and my feet go into the earth/We cheer for rains of hope/Build a hoist, fix the pump, set traps/shine and fly, laugh and cry/permanently on guard against the terribleness of the unknown/God help me, I want the risk/I wanted to savour his wrongness/Choosing a barbarian woman, a campaign wife/fighter pilot father I'm pretty sure he didn't have/Regret is a good teacher/What's your view of coincidence?/Dear humans, you got it all wrong/You can go back to the time before they taught you to hate/Silence war. Sing peace.
Historical fiction is educational as well as entertaining, and this one excels at historical verisimilitude. Even though WWII is a period I've researched lot, there was plenty to learn from this latest novel by Jennifer Robson.
While following the ups and downs of Ruby, an American columnist on loan to a London magazine called Picture Weekly, I learned new details about daily life during the blitz and women's roles in WWII.
The author sensitively conveys the confusing cultural differences that Ruby must meet with understanding and tolerance. As the shy American orphan adapts to a new kind of life, she learns to value the courage and tenacity of her beleaguered hosts, and finds friends in whom she can confide. She also adopts a homeless cat and falls in love.
Having read a great deal about SOE, I suspected long before Ruby did what her sweetheart was up to that made him so secretive.
This novel was partly inspired by the author's journalist grandmother, her historian father, and the many WWII veterans she interviewed in the course of her history studies at Oxford. Jennifer Robson has also written a fascinating trilogy of novels set in WWI. Definitely, a writer to watch.
Gently to Nagasakiis much more than a memoir of Canada's wisest elder. This book is an education in the ambiguity, and ultimately unknowability of the suffering and deception that lie hidden in history. Canada's first woman senator, Cairene Wilson, was complicit in mistreating fellow citizens of Japanese descent. The art of the beloved Dr. Seuss included propaganda cartoons portraying Japanese Americans as sub-human monsters.
Chinese American historian Iris Chang documented the atrocities committed by Japanese soldiers in The Rape of Nanking, then committed suicide before reaching forty. The Anglican church took over Japanese properties after the Canadian government interned its nisei parishioners. Though Japanese speakers were needed in wartime Burma, the Canadian government sidelined the pleas of its British allies to recruit such Canadians for the cause.
After the war, properties stripped from Japanese Canadians as "enemy aliens" were given to Canadian vets. Yet a Japanese Canadian veteran who volunteered for the British army when the Canadian forces refused to admit him tried and failed to get back his confiscated home.
A scholar as well as a poet and activist, Joy Kogawa has long pursued unpalatable truths, opening herself to an unblinking awareness of terrible human history. She decries the deluded nationalism that taught the Japanese to obey their emperor as a god. She visits museums of remembrance, and quotes authors as diverse as Simone Weil and Dag Hammarksjold. She studies the history of the peace-loving Okinawans, and the hidden Christians of Nagasaki, who got the brunt of the atomic bomb not because they were the intended target, but because the weather didn't cooperate, The bomb was heavy, and too much circling would burn the fuel that would be needed to return the bomber to base.
As she tried to make sense of the rags and tatters of the dark history she was uncovering about her nations, Joy Kogawa had to face some disturbing family history. She needed to confront the fact that her father was a pedophile who abused young boys. This was a double betrayal for an Anglican priest. Yet he also helped his community tremendously through terrible times. In the face of rage and vilification, his daughter was divided by painful and conflicting loyalties.
She would never give up loving her father. She also loved both her countries, in spite of all the water under the bridge. Thirty years ago, the Canadian government apologized for its treatment of Japanese Canadians. Today, communities of victims compete and clamour over whose wartime suffering was greatest. Out of love for Japan, Kogawa hopes that nation's people will "forthrightly acknowledge the facts of their country's past, and shameful denial will be swept away."
This genre-defying memoir, filled with history, philosophy and sociological analysis, has much to offer. Listening to Joy Kogawa's impressive talk at the recent CNFC conference at Green College, I knew I had to read her memoir. I found solace in such wisdom as this: "Throughout the world, histories suppressed enable crimes to repeat. Victims and victimizers trade places unawares." To be aware and to witness is to be open to the possibility of healing.
After a lifetime of seeking after truth, this wise elder has completed her journey. Trust has opened a space for this questing seeker, allowing her to lead the reader to the place of peace she has found at last. As the thoughtful commentator Douglas Todd says in the cover blurb, the book "reveals how, in the midst of betrayal, there is still a place for trust."
Last month, Lisa See was a guest of Hal Wake at Incite, at the VPL. Before the event, I read Shanghai Girls. It had been sitting on my shelf since a writer friend recommended it a couple of years ago.
The story of the two sisters is a gripping tale of family, war, emigration, identity and the search for belonging.
From their privileged life of modernity, wealth and modeling as "beautiful girls," for hand painted ads for products from batteries to bicycles, Pearl and May are cast suddenly into poverty and war. In spite of her bound feet, their mother helps them escape from Shanghai.
Unfortunately, their plan to escape the marriages their father has arranged to save himself from the gang that demands he make good for his vast gambling debts does not work out. Instead of running away to Hong Kong, they escape to America to join their husbands in Los Angeles. Due to the strict screening of immigration, they are delayed on an island with other immigrants for many months, and enter the United States with a shared secret they'll have to protect for years to come.
In LA, as in China, nothing is as it seems. All is shift and change, and life becomes a long and often weary process of adaptation. When the moment of greatest crisis arises, it seems as if Pearl and May have hidden the truth of their history in vain.
To close out the math posts, here's an ancient board game from Africa. Today, we can learn to play online. It's usually played on a wooden board, but in a pinch, players can use an egg carton and forty-eight small stones, seeds or marbles. Mancala has a long history. Also called oware, it has many variants. Math began with the Ancient Sumerians, and this game is thought by many to have originated with them, five millennia ago.
Was its original function record-keeping, or did it have a ritual purpose? Historians aren't sure, but the presence of the game boards at African temples, laid out in alignment with the rising and setting sun, suggests some sort of symbolic significance.
It is thought that Arab traders brought the game from Sumeria (today Iraq and Kuwait) to ancient Egypt, from whence it spread over Africa and beyond. In its various forms, this mathematical game of skill and strategy is still played widely today.
Much like Germany's David Hilbert, American mathematician Julia Robinson saw her breed as a single nation, "without distinction of geographical origins, race, creed, sex, age, or even time." (quoted in Marcus du Sautoy)
Born in Missouri, Julia Bowman lost her mother and was raised by her grandmother in the Arizona desert. A childhood illness afforded lots of time to think. After marrying a fellow mathematician, Rafael Robinson, she settled in California. Advised against having children by her physician, she devoted her energy to mathematics, tackling Hilbert's tenth problem of existential definability.
After spending much time on this problem, she collaborated with a twenty-year-old Russian mathematician, Yuri Matiyasevich, and visited him in Leningrad. Together they proved Hilbert's tenth problem unsolvable. Julia was delighted to meet the young man, opining that she must have been waiting for him to be born and grow up so they could work together on their proof.
Robinson was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1975, the first woman mathematician to receive this honour. She received a professorship at Berkeley the same year. In 1983, she was elected president of the American Mathematical Society, again the first woman to hold this post. Sadly, she died of leukemia before her term was complete.
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) was a well known 20th century mathematician and philosopher. His books include Principles of Mathematics (1903), Why I am not a Christian (1927), The Conquest of Happiness (1930) , and A History of Western Philosophy(1945).
He made new mathematical contributions to formal logic and discovered what came to be called Russell's paradox. He is ranked with Kurt Godel as one of his century's top logicians.
In 1950, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, and in the 1960s, his anti-nuclear and anti-war protests inspired the youth of the day.
Russell was known for his bons mots, many of which are ironic or paradoxical. He said for instance, "...fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts." Another of his statements: "It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence which could support this." He said that humans were born "ignorant, not stupid," and "made stupid by education," and that "To be without some things that you want is an indispensable part of happiness."
Alan Turing was an avid cyclist and marathon runner, and the mathematician who conceived of artificial intelligence. He built the world's first computer at the WWII code-breaking centre of Bletchley Park, enabling the break of the German naval code, Ultra. Many believe this breakthrough shortened the war by a couple of years. Math and computing science were not his only areas of knowledge. For his groundbreaking work on morphogenesis, he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Sadly, although Turing's nation used his skills in war time, the government treated him shockingly afterwards. In 1948, he'd been named Deputy Director of the computer laboratory at Manchester University, where he became the first person to use a computer for mathematical research.
The trouble began in Manchester in 1952. While investigating a theft of money from Turing, the police learned of a homosexual affair which he did not attempt to hide, though homosexual activity was illegal. He was tried for gross indecency and found guilty. To avoid a prison sentence, he agreed to take estrogen injections.
In the post-war period, Alan Turing was still working for GCHQ, with Hugh Alexander, whom he'd known at Bletchley Park. However, under the cold war alliance with the Americans, who considered homosexuals ineligible for security clearance, his own government stripped him of the clearance he'd had since the war.
In June of 1954, he was found by his housekeeper, dead of cyanide poisoning. The presence of a half-eaten apple and the presence of cyanide on his fingers led to speculation that he'd died accidentally, while carrying out an experiment. However, the coroner found the death to be suicide. Yet it seemed strange; for one thing, he'd just enrolled in an upcoming conference. At the time of his death, this talented thinker was only forty-two years old.
The Turing Award for Computing was established in 1966, and later a Turing monument was put up in Manchester. In 1998, his birthplace in London was marked with a blue plaque, according to the custom. In 2013, Queen Elizabeth granted him a full pardon for his former "crime."
After an exchange of letters with Srinivasa Ramanujan revealed his amazing mathematical insights, GH Hardy and John E. Littlewood, two Cambridge dons, encouraged the talented but untrained young mathematical genius to come to Cambridge. There they arranged to get him a position and collaborated with him on mathematical work. Sadly, Ramanujan did not adapt well to the climate of England, and found it difficult as a vegetarian to stomach the food in college. When his health began to fail, Hardy encouraged him to return to India for a holiday. He lived to see his home and family, but died in Madras of a parasitic infection. He was only thirty-three years old.
At the request of a friend, Hardy penned a memoir, A Mathematician's Apology, during his final illness. This is a seen by many as a study of the creative mind and process. Published in 1940, a year into the war, the book reveals a somewhat gloomy outlook.
"Mathematics knows no races or geographic boundaries;...the cultural world is one country." So thought David Hilbert. He wrote Mathematics and the Imagination, and Nature and Mathematics, among other books.
Born in 1862 in Konigsberg, where Euler solved the problem of the Seven Bridges of Konigsberg, Hilbert died in 1943 in Gottingen, which had been the European centre of mathematics before the war. He contributed to geometry, invented "Hilbert space" in calculus, established a formalist school of mathematics, and expanded his work into mathematical physics.
At the Paris International Congress of Mathematicians in 1900, he gave a key lecture in which he assigned his fellow mathematicians "homework" for the new century. Among his twenty-three problems, several remain unsolved today. At the top of Hilbert's list is the Riemann Hypothesis, about which he once said, "If I were to awaken after a thousand years, my first question would be, 'Has the Reimann Hypothesis been proven?'"
In a blog post seven years ago, I recorded an anecdote about something strange Hilbert did. It's right here.
Bestselling novelist Elinor Florence carries Canadian history in her DNA. Wednesday she talked to Canadian Authors about salting fiction with nuggets from real life. The protagonist of Bird's Eye View is a prairie farm girl who works as a map interpreter at RAF Medmenham.
Born and raised on a former airport in North Battleford, Florence spoke of going to sleep thinking about the ghosts of airmen on her family's farm. One pilot crashed and died across the road on a training flight. Her father bought the farm land from the air force, and until he built the house, the family lived in a former airport building.
A journalist who worked on newspapers in BC and across the prairies, Florence talked about how she unearthed the telling details that place readers in the heart of the story.
The book was a long time in the making, and over a period of years, she interviewed people who remembered and served in the war. She read memoirs, including one by Constance Babington-Smith, the map interpreter who discovered the first V1 rocket on a German aerial map. Known today as cruise missiles, these flying bombs were a serious threat to London, and potentially to Halifax and New York as well, before the Normandy invasion.
To ensure she described the setting accurately, Florence visited Danesfield House, now a hotel. At this former site of RAF Medmenham, she met and interviewed a woman who had worked there during the war. By an amazing coincidence, this was the former map reader's first one day visit back to see her old workplace.
Florence also tracked down letters and pictures from obscure corners of museums. Astonishingly, a photo of the pilot who crashed in North Battleford led her, via the internet, to his relatives in Tasmania. She learned that the mother knew the young man and had written to his mother when he died. The Tasmanian cousin was delighted to learn where he was buried, and arranged to have the RCAF lay a wreath in remembrance.
A warm audience of Canadian Authors members and guests enjoyed Elinor Florence's fascinating presentation. Another book, My Favourite Veterans, is based on interviews she posts regularly on her blog, Wartime Wednesdays.
Chris Cleave begins this war novel with page after page of lighthearted and relentless repartee. At the outbreak of war, Tom thinks himself possibly "the only man in London who did not think the war was an unmissable parade lap." Raised to the post of running a school district, he reflects that he "might celebrate the promotion if he didn't have the gift for noticing that the schools were empty."
Tom's friend and flatmate, Alistair, restored paintings for the Tate before the museum's treasured works were trucked to Wales and hidden in a mine shaft for the duration. When he decides to sign up, Tom gives him a jar of blackberry jam he's just made with wild fruit and the last of their sugar ration. When his friend vows to "lay it down" to "open together at war's end," the reader knows that jam will return, sadly not shared by the two pals in peacetime.
The author then introduces Mary and Hilda. Unlike their male counterparts, the women friends are from wealthy families. They talk and laugh and argue and fight and have known each other for a lifetime. The war tests this friendship and throws their different attitudes into sharp relief. While Hilda proclaims herself content to find a handsome man in a uniform, Mary volunteers for war service and stumbles upon her gift and calling for teaching children.
When her class is evacuated, she prevails on Tom to give her a job teaching the children who've been left behind, or sent back unwanted from the countryside. Some are physically disabled, and one child, eleven-year-old Zachary, is a black American with whom Mary forms an instant bond.
Mary and Tom fall in love, and she prepares her classroom, complete with a basement air raid shelter. In the midst of the Christmas pageant, the sirens sound and they go down, along with spectators Tom and Alistair. Due to Mary's pre-planning, they're able to continue the pageant below stairs. Knowing that Alistair has now been accepted by the army, Tom broods beside his friend, wondering if their friendship is over. Perhaps "it is not possible, after all, for a man who had gone to war to abide a man who had stayed."
Cleave alters his language as the situation darkens. The light witticisms that initially mark the conversations between Tom and Alistair and Tom and Mary give way to images of ruthless realism. The reader is party to Alistair's grim thoughts about "the crushing fatigue and the fear, and the constant mental strain of saying to others, We shall prevail, and to oneself, I am defeated." Under the air raid, Tom speaks seriously to Mary, admitting that now he really hates the Germans, though "he never thought he had it in him." Her witty reply is filled with brittle bitterness, "'That's why we call them the enemy. See how it works now, darling?'"
Tom reveals that he too volunteered, and was refused, adding that he thought she might be proud of him in uniform. "'Do you really think so little of me?'" she responds. When in a funk, he tries to break it off with her, Mary speaks of life and fate and choices in this simple speech. '''But it wouldn't be my life, don't you see? You're the one I've chosen, and I love you even more for being good enough to ask me not to choose you.'"
Meanwhile, on the detested rocky starving island of Malta, a gloomy Alistair remembers London, where one views history "as a reworkable legend, a great entertainment of doubtful veracity and liable in any case to revision whenever the next mudlark waded into the Thames at low tide and pulled out some iconoclastic sherd." His irony deepens with his gloom, and he bitterly supposes "the War Office had established a vast cache of polishes" to make boots glow "as if with an inner light" and the band instruments blaze "like the armor of Achilles." Since the arrival of letters might leave his men "upbeat or homesick, or a queer mix of the two" he drops by them to "project a soothing equanimity." Then he goes to Christmas dinner made of "bread crumbs and canned malevolence."
In London, Mary watches "the devastation roll by, each bomb "a breach in the carapace, laying bare the living nerve." When she writes to Alistair about her guilt and regret over the air raid that struck her classroom, she tells him she was "brought up to believe that everyone brave is forgiven, but in wartime courage is cheap and clemency out of season." For his part, Alistair feels unequipped to reply to her letter, believing that in all of history "there was not one example of a man ever having written a satisfactory letter to a woman who mattered to him."
When they do meet, he suggests she drive an ambulance, asking, with a flash of his old gaiety, "'Why wander through your thoughts when you could drive through them quite recklessly, with sirens?'" After he returns to duty, they begin to exchange humorous letters. One day, he looks up after reading one of hers, "surprised to find the war." The mood is lifting, and with it, Cleave's fresh and incisive language.
We see more of this upshift in the language as the novel moves toward a hesitant hope. In the Ritz with friends, Mary reflects that "Here they honored one's name in that generous way the Ritz knew, which was to remember it only when one was sober."
Yet even with the promise of light, there are dark moments, as Mary feels herself stepping "into the dark, even though she knew that each step took her no further from who she was," and foresees that when the zoo animals are "returned to their old labeled cages," the world will remain unable to "wake from its pattern."
At the end of this unputdownable story, the reader is left with the hope of "an air one might still breathe, if everyone forgiven was brave." Cleave's grandfather was in the war, and from the intimacy of this portrayal of the effects of war on individuals, one is tempted to believe that he too might have witnessed it at first hand. Perhaps in another life.
Peaceful Green College, surrounded by lush gardens and ocean views, was a great setting to hear the wise words of CNFC guest speakers, who made the recent gathering of nonfiction writers uplifting and inspiring. One big topic was the effect of new media on thought and language. Andreas Schroeder sadly commented that while people rely on the speed and accept the shallowness of internet research, you could "drive a truck through the new Koerner library." Blogging may have its place, but "I defy anyone to be able to produce anything worth reading every single day."
Fellow writers learned much from the thoughtful journalist Deborah Campbell, who has just won the BC Book Prize for Nonfiction and the Hillary Weston Prize. A Disappearance in Damascus took years to write, and many times she was tempted to quit. The insight that kept her going was this."The point of writing is not to change the world, but to keep the truth alive." The challenge of keeping the truth alive in a "post-truth world," when journalists are told that "Iraq is over," and "Refugees are over," Campbell pointed out that this problem is not new. Like Jonathan Swift in "A Modest Proposal," the writer must engage the reader using the ancient techniques of storytelling. She offered words from Berthold Brecht, written in 1956, as an aid to comfort and hope. Writers in all places and all eras, said Brecht, need the courage, keenness, skill, judgment and cunning, but it is possible to get our words in front of the audience that needs them.
Joy Kogawa recently published a memoir, Gently to Nagasaki. She spoke about the paradoxes that attend the writing life, and the struggle to discover how to live. She acknowledges the evil in the world; it has challenged her mightily in her own life. Her family were evicted from their home as enemy aliens in 1942, and sent to internment camps. Yet now that re-purposed house has become a beacon for diverse writers and a historical reminder of our past. Kogawa loved an ancient and scarred cherry tree in the garden of that house, and wanted to take cuttings of it and plant elsewhere as symbols of love and reconciliation. Nevertheless, somebody deliberately killed it in a displaced expression of rage against her deceased father, a minister who had been exposed as a pedophile.
Kogawa also shared some bizarrely ironic history about the bombing of Nagasaki. This place was not the initial target, and was hit when changing weather conditions and low fuel in the bomber made it urgent to drop the deadly payload. The people the bomb fell on were a hidden community of Japanese Christians, long persecuted by their own government for their religious difference.
"Getting your own back is sweet, and we call it justice," said Kogawa, "but it doesn't satisfy for long." The wisdom I took from this wise elder was more nourishing. "If you can't forgive yet, you can still intend to." If we live with two parts mercy to one part abundance, we can "be with people who have different truths, even Donald Trump." Humans are a "sense-making species, and we make our stories by struggling with them" (a message also shared by Campbell).
But the line that makes my scalp prickle with resonance as I retype it from my notes: "Have confidence in this: The long arc bends toward the good."
Last Thursday evening at Frederic Wood Theatre at UBC, Hal Wake and The Vancouver Writers' Fest hosted another wonderful evening with a writer: the hilarious actor and comedian Mary Walsh is now the author of a novel. When CBC's Lisa Christiansen interviewed Mary about her latest artistic accomplishment, the answers to the journalist's questions were true, evocative and hilarious.
Crying for the Moon portrays a Newfoundland Catholic girl, inspired in part by Mary's growing-up years in St. John's. Maureen makes it to Expo 67, but when she actually meets Leonard Cohen in a bar, she can't think of a thing to say. What a lost opportunity. The novel has been called gritty, and it involves poisoning a wife beater. If what Mary read to us was any indication, it also has humour and heart. I can't wait to read it.
By chance, I sat in the front row beside Lisa Christiansen's mother, and we chatted before the show. Hearing Mary explain to Lisa how to pronounce NewfoundLAND, I thought about Mompy, my own late mother, also from St. John's. For a moment, I heard her speak in the Newfy brogue she kept in spite of more than half a lifetime living "out west." This is what she said in my mind's ear: "Don't be crying for the moon, my dear." No, Mompy. Indeed I won't.
In 1535, a young Venetian called Nicolo Fontana won the Mathematics Competition at Bologna University. His achievement, formerly considered impossible, involved using the square roots of negative numbers. Ten years later, this work was claimed and published by Cardano, along with work by Cardano's student, Ferrari, whose formula was inspired by Fontana's work.
A bookkeeper as well as an engineer in the Venetian army, Fontana was a topographical surveyor who designed fortifications. He was wounded in an attack by the French army, and the resulting facial scar stuttering gave rise to the epithet he became known by, Tartaglia, the Stammerer.
Taken in and trained by Gerolamo Cardano, he learned from his patron's lectures and eventually succeeded him as a lecturer in mathematics in Milan. Ferrari publicly challenged fellow mathematician Nicolo Tartaglia over how to solve a cubic equation, and won a math contest against him in 1548. This success brought him a chance at the job of tax assessor in Mantua, where he gained considerable wealth. Later he quarreled with the Cardinal and had to leave this post.
Yesterday I spent a luxurious afternoon at Van Dusen Gardens. After lunching at Truffles, I spent most of the afternoon sitting on a sofa on the empty outdoor deck under a wide overhang, reading and dozing. When the weather cleared, I took in the rhododendron walk, sadly damaged by the recent harsh winter, but still lovely. Umbrellas are a necessity in Vancouver this spring.
Leonardo Pisano, often called Fibonnaci (son of Bonacci) was born in Pisa in 1150 CE. He travelled through North Africa in childhood with his diplomat father before returning to Pisa to write math books including Practica Geometriae and Liber Quadratorum.
Another book, the Liber abaci, introduced what came to be known as the Fibonnaci sequence. Beginning 1,1,2,3,5,8, this sequence predicts the numbers of seeds on a sunflower head, and numbers of rabbits descending from a pair. It is also foundational work predating Pascal's Triangle.
This sequence in important enough to be the subject of a modern journal called the Fibonnaci Quarterly, which delves into the mathematics of Fibonnaci numbers.
Today Omar Khayyam is well-known as a poet. This 11th century native of the learned city of Nishapur (now in Iran) was an expert in music and geography, and also an astronomer, philosopher, and mathematician. His math books included Problems of Arithmetic and Treatise on Demonstration of Problems of Algebra.
Omar Khayyam contributed to calendar reform, and accurately calculated the length of a year to 11 decimal places. He also solved a cubic equation using the intersection of a circle with a rectangular hyperbola, a new method. He said this equation could be solved, not by the ruler and compass method, but using cubic sections. Indeed, this claim was proved 750 years later.
The following are probably his most famous poetic lines:
"The moving finger writes, and having writ,
Moves on: nor all thy piety nor wit,
Shall lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out a word of it."
The great mathematician Muhammad Al-Khwarizmi was born about 780 CE and became one of the first directors of the House of Wisdom in Baghdad, where he had the work of earlier mathematicians translated into Arabic.
An advocate of the Hindu number system, and advocated their use. Indeed, now known as the Hindu-Arabic numerals, they remain in worldwide use today. His name is remembered through the Arabic-derived words algebra, from one of his book titles, and algorithm, his Latinized name.
Brahmagupta was born in Rajahsthan in 598 CE. He became the head of the observatory at Ujjain, and wrote math and astronomy texts. His Corrected Treatise of Brahma exposes flaws in earlier mathematical work. He introduced negative numbers, used math to predict positions of planets, and calculated the length of a solar year.
Qin Jiushao was born in Sichuan province in 1202. His great opus, Mathematical Treatise in Nine Sections, cast light on extracting positive and negative roots, among other things. Author of a method of solving the Chinese Remainder Theorem, he also discovered what Europeans called the "Ruffini-Horner method" of solving polynomial equations about six hundred years before they did.
The discoverer of the Pythagorean theorem was born less than two kilometers off the west coast of Turkey, on the Greek island of Samos.
He left no writings, but established a school to teach mysticism as well as mathematics. The idea that "all is number" was dominant. Odds were female, evens male and each number had meaning, eg. three: harmony.
Under his tutelage, students were vegetarians, following secret rites and bizarre prohibitions. The also extended and developed Pythagorean mathematical and scientific ideas.
Lisa See's novels tell "stories that have been lost, forgotten or deliberately covered up." The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Laneconcerns a baby who is abandoned on a remote tea growing mountain in China and adopted by a US couple.
Archimedes was born in 287 BCE in Syracuse on Sicily, then a Greek city-state. The son of an astronomer, he was a brilliant mathematician, engineer, astronomer, physicist, and inventor.
Perhaps his greatest mathematical contribution was his calculation of an upper limit to pi. This lasted until the late twentieth century, when electronic calculators came into play and made even more precise calculations possible. He also discovered and proved formulae for the surface area and volume of spheres. He was a pioneer in applying mathematics to the physical world.
It was he who was said to have leapt from his bath and run down the street naked yelling "Eureka," I've found it, after an insight hit.
Euclid was born in the city of Alexandria, now in Egypt. The father of geometry died in 265 BCE, but his name lives on. Mathematicians still study Euclid's Elements, and his name defines Euclidean geometry. The Euclid Mathematics Contest is hosted annually by the University of Waterloo, with e-workshops available online for those wanting to bone up for the competition.
The town of Euclid, Ohio, is home to the Euclid Public Library, both names derived from this much revered mathematician. A Euclid Branch Library is located in Anaheim, California, and Euclid Avenue can be found in Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago and Thunder Bay.
Mathematics and philosophy have long been intertwined. The ancient Greek philosopher Plato was also a mathematical thinker.
He conceived the idea that these five convex and symmetrical polyhedrons with equivalent faces, the only ones that could exist, were the building blocks of the universe. That's why they're called the Platonic solids.
The Story of Math, a film by Oxford math prof Marcus du Sautoy, mentions the connection between these figures and the old idea of the four basic elements. These elements in turn connect with the chakras. Earth (Root chakra) is represented by the cube and Water (Sacral chakra) by the 20-sided isocahedron. The octahedron or Fire element relates to the Solar Plexus chakra and the tetrahedron, Air, to the Heart chakra. The fifth solid, the dodecahedron, is a twelve-sided figure associated with a fifth element, Spirit or Ether, which connects to the Throat chakra, seat of communication.
It is interesting to note that yogic tradition also teaches of five elements, Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Ether. Traditional Chinese medicine postulates five elements as well: Earth, Metal, Wood, Fire and Water.
In ancient Alexandria, Hypatia was killed rather than appreciated for her mathematical and astronomical skills. The daughter of Theon, another mathematician, Hypatia became the head of the Platonist School at Alexandria in about 400 CE, where she taught mathematics and the philosophy of Neoplatonism, emphasizing Plotinus, who said reality lay beyond human comprehension.
Some Christians studied with Hypatia, but others saw her emphasis on science and learning as pagan, and therefore anathema. Unfortunately, by befriending the Roman Prefect Orestes, she got caught up in a political power struggle before (St.) Cyril became Patriarch of Alexandria. She was killed by a mob in 415.
Ivan Coyote said it years ago: "I can't write in a messy house; I have to tidy up first." At the time, my office was a bit of a mess, so I had a vested interest in not fully attending to this. Now with the office clean and organized, I'm attuned to the essential clear desk top (oak not screen). Never begin a new task without it. Two simple cures for those sticky notes that keep trying to pile up on my desk. File the info and schedule the tasks.
Before reading The Skeleton Road, I associated mystery writer Val McDermid with simple Scottish noir. I've now discovered that her work is much more wide-ranging. In this opus, she paints -- some would say skewers -- Oxford University in a way that reveals a more than passing association with her alma mater. The "skeleton" murder goes back to the Balkan wars, connecting to an Oxford professor of human geography who built her career on time spent in a besieged Dubrovnik.
After the war ends, lawyers and others work tirelessly to bring war criminals to justice at the Hague. But in the aftermath of such bloody civil strife, how can a neutral justice system repair the damage? What happens when cycles of vengeance become self-perpetuating? What about the war criminals who got away?
Having witnessed Balkan horrors first-hand, how can academics and seekers of impartial justice remain separate from this history? Can they remain coldly pragmatic enough to lay charges where evidence can be obtained, hope for convictions, and then get on with their lives? Even Scottish detective Karen Pirie, working on an eight-year-old murder, is deeply affected by the war story that led to what turns out to be a revenge killing, though not pure revenge. Personal ambition, sexual jealousy and ego come into it too.
McDermid's novelistic creation reflects the complexity of how we live in society. No person, group or nation can stand above or apart from another. We are all tarred by various forms of chauvinism, tainted by the history of our innumerable warring tribes, both within and without.
From this book, I moved on to a masterpiece of another sort. Splinter the Silence features detective Carol Jordan and psychological profiler Dr. Tony Hill, two damaged souls who still come down on the side of right. This novel portrays the contemporary issue of cyber-bullying. In this case, it's bad enough to lead three high profile women to kill themselves. But could the apparent suicides be murders? Are they connected to the deaths of prostitutes who are being bumped off at the same time?
McDermid's fictional world can be harsh. Though characters like Jason "the Mint" provide a welcome relief and counterpoint, the author's troubled but deeply sympathetic protagonists implicate the reader in a dark world. I can't decide whether the author's determination to educate readers in the seamy side of life is salubrious, or just morbid. Meanwhile, I keep reading.
In emotional evocation, McDermid's work reminds me of the work of Anosh Irani, After reading Irani's The Song of Kahunshaon a cruise, Idropped it like a hot coal in the ship's library.Splinter the Silence was another of those books I was glad I read, but relieved to finish. I couldn't wait to get it out of the house and back to the library.
Five months since my novel query. Time to follow up. I brooded on the wording, prepared to polish those crucial early pages once more. This time, I'd send her an even more honed version. Next day I woke with a stiff, sore neck.
"Aha!" I said to the pain, "I'm onto you." On other occasions, the fear of getting it down had caused chest and leg pains. "This won't stop me," I told myself ominously. But I still had to see my naturopath for treatment.
I'm writing again now. Query on the query goes today. It sure is nice to have my neck back.
Wednesday at the Alliance for Arts and Culture, Canadian Authors-Metro Vancouver celebrated a Night of Verse. Host poet Kevin Spenst (right) calls Kevan Cameron, aka "Scruffmouth the Scribe" (left), "a force for dub and diligence to the spoken word." Adele Barclay is "a force of poetic benevolence and dreamtime surrealism." Rob Taylor (left below) is "a force for poetical organizations on the page and across the country." Added Spenst, "What fun it was being able to help promote these great talents." See below:
Photo credits: Group shot by Margo Bates, other photos by Kevin Spenst Evocative lines heard during the presentation:
A.B. "to make maple syrup from autumn" and "the ink of your letters is so like you I don't need to read them."
K.C. "Scruffmouth" "buzzer rang like a wrong answer on a quiz show" News flash! Kevan has been chosen for the Callaloo Creative Writing Workshop at Oxford University this coming July.
R.T. "hammers woke me today" and "have to go before you start hoovering"