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Mathematical Recreations Open Thread

by Carrie Wed May 26th, 2010 at 10:20:16 AM EST

Obituary: Martin Gardner dies at 95; prolific mathematics columnist for Scientific American - latimes.com

Martin Gardner, for 25 years the master of matters mathematical for Scientific American's "Mathematical Games" column and later the punisher of the paranormal and the pseudoscientific in his column "Notes of a Fringe Watcher" for the Skeptical Inquirer, died Saturday at a hospital in Norman, Okla. He was 95. No cause of death was announced.


Though Gardner was not a mathematician himself, his lucid explanation of puzzles and other mathematical phenomena seduced a generation of youngsters into the field.

...

In 1976, Gardner, Carl Sagan, Isaac Asimov and others formed the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of the Paranormal to debunk false science. The group, now known as the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, publishes a journal, the Skeptical Inquirer, for which Gardner wrote a monthly column until 2002.

Gardner, Sagan and Asimov were the staple of my teenage years. They wrote enough popular science material on all topics, cheaply published as paperbacks, to keep an inquisitive young mind busy for years. Unfortunately, the three of them are now gone.

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Martin Gardner, 1914-2010, one of the most influential figures in scepticism | Chris French | Science | guardian.co.uk

Like hundreds of thousands of other fans throughout the world, although I never met Gardner, I am sure I would have liked him if I had. By all accounts he was a shy man who did not enjoy appearing in public. I feel I know something of him through his books and I mourn his passing. However, his loss will obviously be felt so much more keenly by those who did have a close personal relationship with him. James Randi, himself a towering figure within scepticism, is one such person. I leave you with his words:

My world is a little darker...

Martin Gardner has died. I have dreaded to type those words, and Martin would not have wanted to know that I'm so devastated at what I knew - day to day - had to happen very soon. I'm glad to report that his passing was painless and quick. That man was one of my giants, a very long-time friend of some 50 years or so. He was a delight, a very bright spot in my firmament, one to whom I could always turn to with a question or an idea, with any strange notion I could invent, and with any complaint or comment I could come up with.

Also in the Washington Post: Martin Gardner, 95, revered author and 'Alice' expert, dies

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 10:23:11 AM EST
I knew Gardner less than Asimov or Sagan (read none of his books), but knew him from his sceptic and science popularizer activities. Sad indeed.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:09:40 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I periodically write about the total naivety of my colleagues regarding spam, chain mails and other internet pest. Today I found that my boss fell for one -- and it cost us a thousand Euros.

Last year he got a spam email with a registry form a company directory (really -- what are they good for?), and duly filled it out, misreading its advertisement as registration being for free. (Really -- and this is not a guy who would normally not get suspicious of a cheap bargain.)

When he got the invoice, he asked for cancellation, but was informed that he ignored the 7-day deadline for that, and only the next years' subscription can be cancelled. So he paid up. (Really -- and this is not a guy who otherwise doesn't ask for advice before paying.)

Fast forward to a week ago, when in comes an email that we please pay up on another invoice. Now the issue was pushed back and forth between boss, sub-boss and accountant, until it landed on my desk (resp. screen).

Looking through the past exchanges, several warning signs went up in me: no full fulfilment of contract terms on their side, lacking contract dates, shifty terms & conditions formulations, cancellation was already promised once, the invoice which we never received was supposedly sent well before it should have by terms & conditions, the emails from the supposed HQ in the Netherlands are signed by non-Dutch names, one of them a "Ms Alessia"... So I went googling, and the first hit is... STOP EU Business Services Trading as the EU Company Directory / Euro Business Guide / European Business Connection, a page on a whole site dedicated to the company directory scams (an invention of Hamburg native and Switzerland resident Meinolf Lüdenbach). Ironically, the worldwide operating fake Dutch scammers that got my boss appear to be a Romanian-Hungarian outfit, and they eluded law enforcement for four years.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 10:42:24 AM EST
I also have plenty of his books on my book shelves. Some of them are probably amongst the first books I read in English.

Wind power
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 10:53:40 AM EST
I find it wasn't reported on ET yet that ET 'favourite' Roland Koch, arch-conservative CDU PM of Germany's Hessen state and arch-rival of Angela Merkel, resigned from all his political posts yesterday.

For those less familiar with the man, while Merkel's neoliberal deviations are machiavellian appeasing of his FDP coalition partners and the economic-liberal wing of her own party, and her government's recent EU-level amok run is also a move of the self-overestimating clueless behind events, Koch is a market-fundie rambo (despite total failure in 11 years in his home state) and nationalist, with the additional distinctions of being a rabble-rousing xenophobe, a culture-warrior social conservative, a rhetorical sharp-shooter, and a stager of fake outrage who can survive being caught lying.

Koch claimed that the reasons for his resignation are private (and said he will enter the private economy in a few months...). Also, there are leaks out that he planned this a year ahead and told Merkel. I have my doubts, though: he tried to undermine Merkel until the end, the last time when in the wake of the CDU's big loss in the NRW elections. But, he lost that round against the chancellor, too. In suggesting a new route for the CDU, he of course tried to grab the federal government policy initiative, and that by suggesting a cut in education and daycare subsidies (daycares being a longtime anathema to social conservatives), for which he got flak even from Bavaria.

Then again, despite Koch's exit, the government is moving along a similar path: with the FDP's tax cuts now passé, the goal is now budget savings, and where to start it when not a reduction of Harz-IV...

On the longer run though, things could get interesting.

  • Koch's exit strengthens Merkel within the CDU again, after the façade of her hovering-above-the-ground politics was unravelled in the Greek crisis.
  • There is no replacement for Koch on the CDU's Right, or its economic-liberal wing. This means the whole CDU will move closer to the real Merkel, towards the left (though that's still somewhere 25 years in the past).
  • If that happens, the question will again arise if a party right of he CDU will emerge. For now still the only candidate I can see is the CDU's umbilical twin, the Bavarian CSU, which could go all-German.
  • Some German media also speculate about a new party uniting the heavyweight dropouts: Koch, former economy super-minister and recent SPD traitor Wolfgang "coal lobby" Clement, and onetime Merkel ally in opposition, later  easily sidelined rival, present neoliberal media ideologue Friedrich Merz. But I can't see how the three would meet in one party other than the already existing FDP.


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 01:59:37 PM EST
the whole CDU will move closer to the real Merkel, towards the left (though that's still somewhere 25 years in the past)

Just that line is worthy of a diary.

By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 02:09:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I know, I know -- but writing it would take a weekend...

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 02:23:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I hate the linearity of language! I forgot a point because it would be a bifurcation after this:


  • There is no replacement for Koch on the CDU's Right, or its economic-liberal wing. This means the whole CDU will move closer to the real Merkel, towards the left (though that's still somewhere 25 years in the past).

  • The corollary is that for the wider population, with no big bad wolf right of Merkel, now she and her minions won't score with being better in comparison.

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.
  • by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 02:23:12 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Glad you posted this. Was surprised it hadn't hit ET, though i had no chance.  Plus i do not have your long term insight into German politics. Danke.

    "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." - Ana´s Nin
    by Crazy Horse on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 02:42:25 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    US banks have been failing at an exponential rate for the past 2 years...



    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan

    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:04:15 PM EST
    Do I remember correctly that there was a similar curve for a previous crisis?

    *Lunatic*, n.
    One whose delusions are out of fashion.
    by DoDo on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:06:57 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    I don't know, but if the trend continues Obama will have seen "thousands" (two, to be exact) of banks put into receivership by the FDIC by the time the 2012 primary season rolls along...

    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:14:31 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    ABC News: Obama: No 'Easy Out' for Wall Street (Feb. 10, 2009)
    Well, you know, it's interesting. There are two countries who have gone through some big financial crises over the last decade or two. One was Japan, which never really acknowledged the scale and magnitude of the problems in their banking system and that resulted in what's called "The Lost Decade." They kept on trying to paper over the problems. The markets sort of stayed up because the Japanese government kept on pumping money in. But, eventually, nothing happened and they didn't see any growth whatsoever.

    Sweden, on the other hand, had a problem like this. They took over the banks, nationalized them, got rid of the bad assets, resold the banks and, a couple years later, they were going again. So you'd think looking at it, Sweden looks like a good model. Here's the problem; Sweden had like five banks. [LAUGHS] We've got thousands of banks. You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would -- our assessment was that it wouldn't make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.

    Obviously, Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and America's different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core -- core investment needs of this country.

    So, the FDIC has taken over 200 banks, sold them to other solvent banks,recapitalised them in the process, and they are going again. Too bad that is impossible because the US has too many banks...

    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:07:35 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Krugman: How many banks? (4 March 2009)
    But are we really thinking about thousands of banks? Here's Martin Wolf, today:
    The four biggest US commercial banks - JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America and Wells Fargo - possess 64 per cent of the assets of US commercial banks (see chart) [chart not available online]. If creditors of these businesses cannot suffer significant losses, this is not much of a market economy.
    So as far as this discussion is concerned, we've got, like, four banks. The "thousands of banks" line is just a diversion.
    Not only was it a diversion, but it was wrong that "thousands of banks" couldn't be handled.

    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:10:19 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    The putz just lacks the guts! And, perhaps, the vision to see that the world would not end with the dismantling of Goldman, Morgan, Citi, BofA and Wells-Fargo.

    "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
    by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 05:51:50 PM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Obama is only as good as his advisors and his ideology allow him to be:
    You know, the scale of the U.S. economy and the capital markets are so vast and the problems in terms of managing and overseeing anything of that scale, I think, would -- our assessment was that it wouldn't make sense. And we also have different traditions in this country.

    Obviously, Sweden has a different set of cultures in terms of how the government relates to markets and America's different. And we want to retain a strong sense of that private capital fulfilling the core -- core investment needs of this country.

    Whose assessment? Geithner's and Bernanke's and Summers'?

    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Thu May 27th, 2010 at 04:11:33 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    Persistence in a failed worldview in the face of massive, calamitous disconfirmation is Obama's failure. He could convene a round-table in the White House and invite Stiglitz, Johnson, Warren, and Hudson to meet with Geithner, Bernanke, Summers, et. al. He lacks even the courage to look at alternatives.

    "It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
    by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Thu May 27th, 2010 at 11:50:25 AM EST
    [ Parent ]
    What a spineless clown.

    you are the media you consume.

    by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 06:51:02 PM EST
    [ Parent ]


    By laying out pros and cons we risk inducing people to join the debate, and losing control of a process that only we fully understand. - Alan Greenspan
    by Carrie (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Wed May 26th, 2010 at 03:17:27 PM EST


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