More than thirty years ago I lived for a year in Cambridge MA and spent time in the Harvard undergraduate library. A young man who looked kind of like a bullfighter was always there, used to walk down the halls of the library with his nose in a book, stepping over the legs of students who were sitting on the floor, never looking up. Curious abouit this man, I learned his name was Roberto Unger, a junior faculty member of whom the university expected great things. One person described him to me as "the next Karl Marx."
When I saw an online headline -- "Former professor says Obama must be defeated" -- I followed the link and saw that the professor was Roberto Unger, who had taught Obama at the Harvard Law School. The video below is not the one where he speaks about Obama, but it is a more substantial representation of his thoughts. Viewers can form their own conclusions. I am inspired by the Unger's revolutionary perspective, which he expresses with Miltonic or Dostoeveskian fervor.
Unger has run for office in Brazil. He's one of those guys who has read every book in the world. I really like him. You can see his comments about Obama on Youtube. It's really more about the Democrats collectively.-
The clip of Steven Jobs at the start of this tape is an interesting touch. There's a lot to say about this but I'm too tired.
This goes on for about thirty more episodes -- in Chinese or Mongolian, your guess is as good as mine. Genghis Khan (real name: Temujin) was a pretty bad guy but what the hell. The Mongols under GK and his successors did great until defeated by the Mamluks in 1260, partly because the Mamluks had stronger horses. The Mamluks were also horrible. Interesting that a couple of Mongol expeditions sent against Vietnam by Kublai Khan were defeated by the Vietnamese guerilla fighters. I guess "Charlie" had some tricks up his sleeve even then. As longtime visitors to this site know, Mongols today are very interested in poetry. The film entitlted "The Weeping Camel" is a wonderful resource about contemporary Mongolia.
After more research on Olga Holtz, the beautiful math professor, I've come to an unfortunate conclusion. While she is clearly beautiful and brilliant, perhaps she is not a great teacher or lecturer. This is what I gather from her reviews on ratemyprofessor.com -- and also from the clip below. What do you think?
But there is good news too. Over at the University of Massachusetts we have Professor Carlin Barton. I first learned of her when I read her book entitled The Sorrows of the Ancient Romans; The Gladiator and the Monster. I was fascinated by this book, and becamse fascinated also by the author when I met someone who had been her student at Berkeley. He described her passionate lectures about gladiators, Stoicism, and related topics. I've also read portions of Prof. Barton's subsequent book, Roman Honor, which is great too.
In contrast to Prof. Holtz, Carlin Barton gets rave reviews on ratemyprofessor. And I myself have found her to be quite wonderful. When the HBO miniseries "Rome" was showing, I wrote to Prof. Barton asking whether she'd seen any of it. I also inquired whether she'd seen any old movies like Demetrius and the Gladiators, The Robe, or maybe Land of the Pharaohs (written by William Faulkner.),
I got an email reply from Carlin Barton that gave no hint of her standing as a world class authority on ancient Rome. She said that unfortunately she had not seen Demetriius and the Gladiators or the HBO series. She also remarked that it was possible that her work had nothing to do with what the anicent world was really like. Maybe it was all just something she'd made up, she said. There's no way to tell. But in my opinion she's a great writer on this topic. Again, read her for yourself and see what you think.
Here's Carlin Barton with a rabbi or at least a man in a kepah after they gave a lecture on martyrdom in the ancient world.
That is, the topic of the lecture was martyrdom. They were not actually in the ancient world when they gave the lecture.
If you watched the recently posted video of Staven Smale, you saw Professor Smale reference Amie Wilkinson of the University of Chicago. Perhaps before long I'll show you some of Amie's work on pathological foliation. Along with Dmitry Dolgopyat, Anatole Katok, Rostislav Grigorchuk, and others, Amie Wilkinson is on the board of directors for the Journal of Modern Dynamics, published by the American Institute of Mathematical Sciences.
In view of Amie Wilkinson's professional accomplishments, it may seem irrelevant to some people that she's a very beautiful woman.
But since it wouldn't have seemed irrelevant to Socrates, let's meet some other beautiful women of mathematics.
Margot Gerritsen is a professor in the Department of Energy Resources Engineering at Stanford. She seems like a very good natured person. She is from Holland, Below, we see Olga Holtz, professor in the Department of Mathematics at Berkeley. The picture (from Wikipedia) shows Olga Holtz in action at the Institute for Advanced Study, where Kurt Godel and Albert Einstein were wont to roam. TS. Eliot too!!!
Frankly, Olga Holtz looks hard to beat!
Here's a video of an interview with Prof. Holtz. Notice that she's speaking German. Naturlich, she also speaks perfect English. She was born in Russia, Olga Holtz probably speaks Christ only knows how many languages..
Finally, here's a video of another lecture by Professor Steven Smale. By the way, Smale has one of the world's greatest collections of crystal formations. As Larry King might say, "a man of many facets!"
I first heard of Steven Smale back in the '60s when he was a professor at Columbia. I was casually interested in mathematicians through my friendship with Bernie Berlowitz. In some ways Smale is a bit like Richard Feynman, both colorful eccentric geniuses. But while Feynman was something of a ham, Smale is lower key but "out there." Google him! There's a lot of great stuff about Smale online, including more lectures on youtube!
Smale made one of his greatest discoveries on a beach in Rio, kind of like how Feynman used to do equations at a strip club in Pasadena. These guys are true poets! Early in the video above,Smale makes the statement that "no great problem is ever solved." Wouldn't you like to know what he meant by that -- especailly since he immediately goes on to say that Gregori Perlman finally solved the Poincare Conjecture (on which Smale himself had done great work earlier in his career.)
Also in this lecture, Smale gives a "shout out" to Amie Wilkinson, surely one of the most attractive women in math today.
I wish to apoligize to my readers for the length of time it's taken me to post this new chapter. The emotional challenges (sniff, sniff, sob) of writing an autobiographical novel are intense, I will try to be more consistent from now on (sniff)!
For the convenience of anyone interested, I have created a gmail account where the chapters of Guide for the Perplexed are archived. Go to gmail.com, then sign in with 'reader1830' as the username. The password is 'perplexed.' Of course, the earlier installments can be seen here (chpter one) and here (chpter two) on this site as well.
Midday approached and I saw how profitable a beachfront sunglass business can be. Bill stayed busy at the front of the stall. This man was a great salesman. For ten or twelve dollars buyers got sunglasses and admiration as well: “You look hot enough to fry an egg!”
But his sales magic was wasted on me. Fourteen hundred dollars for an aphrodisiac bracelet? I didn’t have the money. It could not happen.
But it would happen. I was going to buy the bracelet. There was no doubt. I would get the money. There were ways to do that. I had some old silverware. I could sell the old silverware to buy the aphrodisiac bracelet. It made perfect sense.
Now the woman returned to the stall. Her full length, sleeveless garment – her “maxi-dress” – trailed along the ground. The maxi-dress was sand colored, like a grocery bag. Gliding past Bill, who was busy with customers, she sank into the vacant beach chair.
“Gonna take a load off my feet.” She smiled shyly, or slyly. “Darlene.”
“Yes, Mitch, I know your name. I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation with Bill. So you want one of the magic bracelets? You won’t regret it. Women can’t control themselves around a man who has a bracelet, and I say that as a woman. It doesn’t mean women on the street will physically throw themselves at you, but they will want you. They will yearn for you. They will hope and pray you make the first move!”
She bent toward me. “What price did Bill quote you?”
“You can get it for a grand. But Mitch, you’re sixty-one years old, right? Did I hear that correctly? Then let me ask you a question: why? True, some older men want to have sex until their dying day. We had that man here who was a hundred and seven years old, or so he said! But most men, when they get on in years, they aren’t that interested any more. They’re sixty, seventy, eighty years old and they’re ready to sit under a tree. So what is it? What really is it that makes a certain man – a man like you – what is it that drives that man, that motivates that man so that at this point in life that man wants to…wants to…”
“To be sexually active?” I offered. “I believe that’s the correct phrase.”
“Well, yes. Ha! But I was going to say beat a dead horse.”
“Beat a dead horse?”
“Yes! Beat a dead horse!” she repeated, laughing. “Beat a dead horse! Beat a dead horse!”
“But isn’t that the whole idea of the bracelet. The horse comes back to life.”
“Well, not exactly,” Darlene said, with a look of concentration. “What the bracelet does -- and this is actually even more amazing than bringing a dead horse back to life -- is to get women turned on by the horse even if it’s dead. Of course, if the dead horse just stays dead….” She shrugged, and spread her hands in a helpless gesture.
Her tone, her superciliousness – this means to raise one’s eyebrows in a superior manner – suddenly made me furious. “I have to object to what I’m hearing!” I blurted out. “This is a matter of survival! Because for every man, regardless of his age, regardless of his finances, his marital status, or anything else – for every man, a certain level of concupiscence is present every minute of every day of every year as a sort basso continuo….”
“A what?” she inquired. But I paid no attention.
“….that only death interrupts. The whole dead horse metaphor, the notion that when you reach a certain age you have to give up certain things – I reject it, because when a man gives up his sexuality he’s dead. And in the same way that you remarked, ‘I say that as a woman,” I say this as a man, and I say it as a man who hasn’t had intercourse in ten years. But I say it also as a man who entering his seventh decade of life has masturbated in front of computer screens, adjusting the monitor just so, and while there is pain attached to the realization that one is an elderly man alone in a room masturbating in front of a computer there is also the spark of hope that ignites when you really hit bottom once and for all, plus the realization – quite amusing, actually – that at sixty years old I can still do at least one thing that I did when I was twelve. I’m not dead yet! I masturbate, therefore I am. Christ, when you mention horses I think of Buckpasser at Arlington Park in 1966 setting a record for the one mile distance. That day Buckpasser lagged so far off the pace that finishing in the money seemed not only impossible, but an embarrassment to even try. At the top of the stretch he was still far behind. A dead horse? The dead horse set a world record for the mile! Along the same lines in 1976 the seven year old gelding named Forego carried 137 pounds on a muddy track to defeat Honest Pleasure by a nose. Forego was so far on the outside that he actually ran a much longer race than Honest Pleasure. Seven years old! A muddy track! Far on the outside! A gelding! In boxing, something similar happened in Archie Moore’s 1958 fight with Yvon Durelle for the light heavyweight championship. Moore, just a few days short of forty-five years old, was knocked down three times in the first round, and today the fight would have been stopped because of the three knockdown rule. He was down again in the fifth. In the eleventh Moore won by knockout.”
Darlene stared at me. A blank stare. “Seems like you’re a big sports fan…”
“No, I’m really much more of a literary person, but there are very similar stories from the lives of great writers. Around 1834 for example John Stuart Mill suggested the idea of writing a history of the French Revolution to his friend Thomas Carlyle. Mill would have done it himself but he was too busy. Instead, he supplied Carlyle with relevant books and other materials for research. Carlyle planned a three volume history. He worked like a dog and when he’d completed the first volume he sent the manuscript to Mill, but Mill’s housekeeper thought it was garbage and burned it in the fireplace. Carlyle was devastated of course, but he was most worried about Mill. He didn’t want Mill to feel bad. That was his biggest worry, after busting his balls like a maniac! Carlyle told his wife – they never had sex, by the way – that they couldn’t show Mill how upset they were. Then Carlyle went on and wrote volume two and volume three of his history of the French Revolution and when those were finished he went back and rewrote volume one.”
Now silence descended in the sunglass stall. Even Bill’s sales patter had ended. Perhaps I’d been speaking louder than I realized. Perhaps I’d been screaming at the top of my lungs. With a patronizing smile on his face, Bill gave me a little pat as he walked back toward Darlene. He stood beside her as they both regarded me, posed as if in one of the tintype photographs I used to buy at the Long Beach flea market. His left hand was on her right shoulder.
I met their gaze. I got to my feet. Then, with what struck me as real feeling – though I might have been wrong – they broke into spontaneous applause.
Some girls browsing sunglasses glanced up, laughed, but fell silent as I shot them a reproving look. Then I turned back toward Bill and Darlene. “I shall return,” I said grandly, quoting General MacArthur’s words after a humiliating defeat.
An hour before noon Venice Beach was crowded, but something had changed in the rather extended period since my last visit. There were no longer any pit bulls strolling along with their masters. A prohibition against dogs, which at Venice Beach meant pit bulls, was announced on signs posted every twenty yards or so. The dogs had added a special look of malevolence to the always dense crowd but, after all, it was only a look. This was in truth a peaceful location: really just a parade of low end fashion choices. On either side of the boardwalk stalls offered silver jewelry, paintings on cardboard, reggae cassettes, t-shirts, hats, sunglasses.
I approached a sunglass stall across the boardwalk from a bicycle rental. This had been my instruction on the phone. The vendor was attired against the heat in a sort of beekeeper’s outfit, all in white. It could also have been a fencing costume, absent the mask. From under his white baseball cap a towel hung to protect his neck. Nonetheless, what I could see of his face was deeply sunburned. He wore reflecting sunglasses with wraparound lenses of a bluish hue.
“Bill?” I said. “We talked on the phone?”
“You look great.” I couldn't help commenting.
“It’s hot, bro.”
Was this the man to whom Bean had referred me? Apparently so. He had seemed comfortable with what I’d said to him in my call. I told him I wanted exactly what I’d told Bean. There had been no hesitation: “Cool. Venice Beach. Sunglass place across from bike rental.”
We stood there. Then he turned, and I saw a woman in the shadows of the stall. At his glance she rose from her beach chair and moved to the front of the stall. She was older, heavy set, like the fortune tellers and palm readers on the boardwalk. "Take over for a sec, will you, babe?" he said, and then to me: “Come on in, bro,”
I walked past rack of sunglasses as he unfolded another beach chair in the back of the stall. “Have a seat.”
We faced each other in the beach chairs. He removed his glasses. I saw his blue eyes, the white skin around them, the whitness of the whale...
“What was your name again?”
“Oh yeah. How you doing today?”
“Mitch, when’s the last time you had sex?”
“Five years ago. Ten, maybe.”
“So you want some changes in your life, right? In your sexuality.”
“Okay.” From his pants pocket he took a green and yellow bead bracelet. “Fourteen hundred dollars. Bro, days of free pussy are over. But put this on and see what happens.”
“What will happen?”
“Show me the money!”
This guy -- Bill -- he had to be kidding. I had never felt so low. As if from a great height, I saw myself informing this jive talking con man that I’d not had sex in ten years. Even worse, I could not have cared less what he thought. Part of me found certain nobility in that. I was honest, and it is said that honesty is the best policy. But really, honesty meant no more to me than the thoughts of the jive talker. I’d just gone numb. Anesthesia was my everyday experience. In the bank, for example, I had no inhibitions about announcing I was broke. In fact, it was quite enjoyable to make that announcement. Having nothing, I hid nothing. But was I now nothing?
Sartre’s title Being and Nothingness came unexpectedly to mind. What was it in French?
“Snap out of it, Mitch.”
I cocked my head. “What?”
“You’re spacing out. This is a business, bro. Yeah, the bracelet costs money. But it gives you what money can’t buy. You haven’t had any of that in five years. Maybe ten. By your own admission. You said so yourself. But if you don’t want it, that’s okay. Suit yourself.”
He put the bracelet back in his pocket.
“I do want it,” I heard myself saying. “I’ve got the money,” I lied.
“Yeah? But you were spacing out, Mitch. You weren’t acting like you wanted it. You were acting like you didn’t want it. I can tell when people want it. I know when a dude wants beautiful, luscious women to go nuts over him no matter how pathetically shriveled up he is. How old are you, bro?”
“Sixty-one? Hey, that’s nothing. Seventy, seventy-five? That’s nothing. You know how old the oldest dude that bought one of these was? A hundred and seven. Dude walks in here, he’s a hundred and seven years old, he’s totally shriveled up, he knows there’s not a woman in the world that will go to bed with him, but he still wants beautiful, ripe, luscious women -- just like when he was a kid! So he pays the money because he still wants it! Ha! He pays the money and he takes his choice! Dude is a hundred and seven years old! One hundred and seven!”
He fell silent. In the sudden quiet I detected a shuffling noise. It was the woman from the front of the stall. “I got to take a piss, Bill,” she said over my shoulder.
The woman moved into the sunlight. “She’s going to the Starbucks,” Bill said, as if to reassure me. Did I think she would squat in the alley? He got to his feet, replaced his sunglasses. “Just hang out here a second here, bro. I got to man the fort.” As he passed, he clapped me on the shoulder. “Now don’t space out! Ripe, luscious, succulent babes! Fourteen hundred dollars. Want it or no?”
A police car flashed lights in my mirror and I pulled to the curb. The cop approached -- young, Asian. I lowered my window as he wished me good morning. “I’m officer Tsai from the LAPD. Do you have your license and registration with you today?”
I gave him the documents. Looking them over, he mentioned that my plate tag was expired. I explained that I simply hadn’t had the money – almost two hundred dollars -- for the renewal.
The policeman was very understanding. However, he said the renewal had to be done in the next six weeks or my car would be impounded. “Go to the DMV to get the tag, then go to a sheriff’s station with the receipt, and then go down to the court on Hill Street to pay the ticket. It’s a hassle but you’ve got to do it.”
I assured him I would somehow make it happen.
“Great. Drive carefully.”
In the mirror I saw him walking back to his car. What a nice policeman, so different from the Chicago police where I grew up. Shouldn’t I get the license tags right away, so as not to disappoint him? As it turned out, I delayed until the last day on the ticket.
That day began with a long wait at the DMV, and then trying to locate a sheriff’s station. It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at the big court building on Hill Street. I had never been there before, but I suspected it would be a madhouse, and it was. I had no idea where to go to pay my ticket. Fortunately, there were police officers wandering around and I asked one of them for help. He directed me to a large room where hundreds of people, maybe a thousand, were waiting in a switchback line to pay their tickets. Their objective was five or six windows where clerks sat behind Plexiglas barriers.
As I recalled a description of an overcrowded railroad station -- or was it a steamship line? -- from Kafka's America, one window at the far end of the room caught my attention. It seemed to have no traffic. Why was the crowd overlooking this window? But when I approached, the woman behind the transparent barrier explained that her window was only for people who had some special status with the court. I couldn’t really understand what she meant, but it didn’t matter. My payment could not be made at the empty window.
At that moment a policeman walked up. With the same good-natured familiarity I’d noticed in Officer Tsai, he asked if he could help.
“I wanted to pay my fine at this window,” I said, “but it seems that won’t be possible. Can you tell me what to do now?”
“You’ll have to go though the line.”
I glanced toward the milling crowd of traffic violators. The line seemed to have moved not at all. At that rate, paying my ticket was going to take hours. The court building might even close before I reached the front of the line. Since the ticket had to be paid today, even greater complications might develop.
I turned back to the policeman. “Isn’t there any other way?”
“Well, you could put the payment in the drop box.”
“The drop box?”
“That’s right. I’ll show you.”
I followed him down a hall toward the main entrance of the court building. There, in the even more congested lobby area, he pointed toward a wooden box in a corner of the room. The box could not possibly have been less conspicuous. Somehow, it was almost invisible.
“That’s the drop box,” said the policeman.
I was puzzled. “But what about all those people waiting in line?”
He shrugged. “They don’t know about the drop box.”
Taken aback by the utter simplicity of this, I just stood there. I saw how this phrase -- “They don’t know about the drop box” – was going to echo throughout the rest of my life. It was startling, humbling...
Then the voice of the policeman brought me out of my meditative state. “Is there anything else?”
I glanced at his well-polished badge and, on the other side of his black shirt, his nameplate: “Bean.” We were about the same height, though Bean was of course much younger. With his willingness -- if not eagerness -- to please, he might have been a waiter in some casually chic restaurant near the ocean.
“Yes, there is one other thing...”
“I’d like to be irresistible to women. Is there a way to do that?”
Bean didn’t flinch. He seemed relieved. Was this another simple matter, like the drop box? “Do you have a cell phone?” he asked.
“Save this number on your phone.”
He took his own phone from his belt and looked up a number. As he recited the number to me, I thanked Officer Bean. I began to feel at home with the realization of how simple life could be. “They don’t know about the drop box!”
“Just call that number," Bean said in parting. Have a good day.”