Dark Music

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This book made Tom Nolan's list in the WSJ of the The Best Mystery Books of 2022. The author, David Lagercrantz, is known for his continuation of Stieg Larsson’s "The Girl Who…" novels.

As sometimes happens, I was not as impressed as Nolan was. In fact, my initial impression from wading through the first couple dozen pages was similar to watching a poorly-dubbed Japanese monster movie. It's translated from the original Swedish, so maybe that could explain at least part of it: an over-literal translation of Swedish idioms? Anyway, it eventually got easier, either because I got adjusted to the style, or the translation got better. I don't know.

There are apparently conscious parallels to the Holmes/Watson stories. In this case, "Holmes" is Hans Rekke, a reclusive ex-professor with psychological and substance abuse issues. "Watson" is a Swedish cop, Micaela Vargas, daughter of Chilean refugees who apparently ran afoul of the Pinochet regime. She has two criminal brothers, and chafes under police bureaucracy.

The case in question is the murder of a soccer referee after a match. The obvious suspect is a livid parent upset at a call that went against his kid. In fact, the cops view it as such an open-and-shut case, the only issue is how to get that parent to confess. Vargas has doubts, but the investigative team goes to Rekke for advice on how best to get a confession; instead, Rekke claims that it's pretty clear the guy is innocent, drawing the contempt of all the cops except Vargas.

But of course Rekke's right. Vargas, after saving him from an apparent suicide attempt (!) tries to enlist him in futher investigation, but she's shortly dismissed from the case herself. It seems there's political pressure involved. The victim was an Afghan refugee with an iffy past involving some nasty American torture at Abu Ghraib.

I think Holmes and Watson could have solved this case in about a couple dozen pages. But Rekke and Vargas have to deal with the previously mentioned problems too. (Is it my fault I didn't find that particularly interesting?)

Last Modified 2024-01-09 9:03 AM EDT

The Big Bang of Numbers

How to Build the Universe Using Only Math

[Amazon Link]
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Not exactly what I expected.

I keep hearing that some scientists theorize that the universe we know and love is entirely a creation of pure mathematics. (There is, of course, a Wikipedia page about that.) Can I be excused for seeing this title in the library, and thinking that the book might be a dilettante-level explication of that interesting speculation?

Well, it's really not. The author, Manil Suri, likes math. (So do I.) And he tries to build up math from its foundations: first, the natural numbers, then integers, rational numbers, real numbers, and complex numbers. Then, using the visuals developed: geometry, analytic geometry, higher dimensions, the golden ratio, fractals, infinities, … Finally, "nature" is brought into the picture. He does a pretty good job of arguing for inverse-square behavior of simple gravity and electric fields.

Gripe: Poor Emmy Noether is relegated to a short endnote in the back of the book. She really did show how the big three physics conservation laws (momentum, energy, angular momentum) can be developed using (uh, relatively) simple arguments from symmetry. That's beautiful. It would have been a better book if she got a few pages in the main text, because that's the kind of thing I assumed Suri would have been talking about!

All this is tied together with an offbeat style that ranges from whimsical to daffy. A running gag involves Suri's NYT 2013 article, "How to Fall in Love With Math" which was denied the top spot on some NYT ten-most-discussed list by one of Pope Francis's pronouncements on homosexuality. So Suri promises/threatens to send Francis a copy of the book, and references what he imagines his reaction would be throughout. Sigh, fine.

This might be an OK book to give to a smart middle-schooler who is showing signs of being interested in math and science. (Or you can try One, Two, Three, … Infinity, by George Gamow, which is what got me started.

Last Modified 2024-01-09 9:02 AM EDT

Sadly, It May Not Be a Good Year for "Patient and Practical"

Seen on Twitter: [crickets are delicious]

Where can I buy?

It's Sunday, so let's look at what the oddsmakers are saying:

Candidate EBO Win
Donald Trump 38.4% -0.1%
Joe Biden 32.3% +4.2%
Nikki Haley 8.6% +1.2%
Gavin Newsom 6.0% -3.9%
Robert Kennedy Jr 3.2% -0.5%
Michelle Obama 2.6% -0.6%
Other 8.9% +2.0%

Whoa. Notice who's missing? Ron DeSantis! He's dropped below our 2% criterion for inclusion. Below Gavin Newsom and Michelle Obama, who aren't even running.

Not yet, anyway.

George Will plugs our girl, who's now in third place in the bettor's hearts and pocketbooks: Nikki Haley, patient and practical, awaits her moment.

Delicacy is rare in the mass-mobilization politics of democracy, where candidates prefer bold brushstrokes of primary colors rather than pastels. But while the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination is a fountain of colorful rhetoric, Nikki Haley’s ascending candidacy is using tactical reticence to reach the right moment for becoming the last challenger standing against Donald Trump.

Critics in, as it were, the bleachers, fault Haley for not focusing her campaign against the former president. What these critics have in common is that they do not have what she has: responsibility. She is competing in the game. They do not have the challenge of prudence — of applying personal preferences and principles to untidy realities. This task falls to the few who are in the arena where great power is at stake.

Critics of Haley’s judiciously modulated nomination campaign can haughtily disdain compromises and maneuverings. These critics can concentrate on curating their pretty political profiles. They have the luxury of ignoring stubborn facts while proclaiming the importance of stopping Trump. Haley, however, must attend to the practical politics of doing that, which begins by accommodating this fact:

Americans gave Trump 62,984,828 votes in 2016 and, after watching him govern for four years, 74,223,975 of them asked for four more years. Many voted for him not as a complaint about the nation’s distribution of material rewards but to protest a more searing deprivation: of dignity. The large and widening “diploma divide” between the roughly one-third of Americans who acquire the (often foolish) prestige that comes with a four-year college degree, and the nearly two-thirds who do not.

Interesting points about campaign strategery. How to criticize Trump without insulting the people who like him?

Also of note:

  • Worst Poltergeist sequel idea. Robert Graboyes says The Jew-Movers Are Back.

    Sages of social media and swarms in the streets tell us, “It’s time to move those Jews again.” “From the river to the sea,” they inform us, “Palestine will be free.” Free of Jews, that is. Or, some Germans once put it, “Judenrein.”

    Following Hamas’s livestreamed orgy of murder, torture, rape, beheading, kidnapping, and necrophilia, and before Israel had reacted in any way, celebrants took to Western streets and campuses to condemn Israel, not Hamas, and to chant their ambiguous little rhyme, which has three plausible interpretations: (1) extermination, (2) coexistence in a binational state, and (3) expulsion and exile. Hamas has always made crystal-clear that their ambition is option (1)—the murder of every Jew on earth. Rep. Rashida Tlaib chose option (2), saying the phrase “is an aspirational call for freedom, human rights, and peaceful coexistence, not death, destruction, or hate;” but she proffered that definition while dodging censure and repeatedly spreading Hamas’s murderous lie that Israel had killed 500 by bombing a hospital.

    So, let’s explore interpretation (3)—expulsion and exile. We’ll examine a whole array of questions: How long have Jew-Movers been forcibly relocating Jews? How did European and Arab governments force Jews to move to what is now Israel? What would happen if Israel’s Jews suddenly left Israel en masse? Where do Jew-Movers insist they go?

    Graboyes looks at the long history, often gory, of Jewish persecutions and forced exile from various countries. A useful, if painful, history.

Last Modified 2024-01-16 5:24 AM EDT