Wednesday, March 30, 2022
Monday, March 28, 2022
Human beings are born helpless. This is due to the unreasonable size of our heads. They are too big. It is already all a woman can do to express one in the natural manner. The baby, having been so delivered into the outside world, is nonplussed, perhaps somewhat angry, and totally helpless.
Horses, on the other hand, are born from an altitude of about three feet and, upon falling to the ground, almost immediately stand up and start to walk around. The mare nudges the already substantial beast, and soon he is moving faster and kicking a bit with his hind legs, to get the feel of things. Before long, he can almost keep up with the other horses. Which is a good thing, because horses are prey animals in many of the habitats that they call home. The predators are hungry. Predators are always hungry, and doubly so when they smell a birth in the area.
Horses do need the assistance of a mother, for nourishment, and a herd, for protection. Humans, however, need orders of magnitude more assistance from a whole team of adults. We need to be carried around for at least one year! It will require at least one additional year before we can successfully guide a spoonful of food into our own mouths. Thus, the existence and importance of families.
I often wonder, or “have wondered,” because it's not so often anymore, how the baby feels about all of this. The temperature has suddenly dropped by about twenty degrees F, for one thing; where did that light come from? Oops, I'm upside down; what is that smacking my feet? Now there's a new sound, and it's coming from me! Now I'm being passed around like this is a game of some kind! That blanket feels good. Thanks for that. Something is missing...oh, there it is. I'd know that heartbeat anywhere. This could all be worse, I suppose. Why can't I see anything but white light?
It doesn't always go that smoothly. Luck is involved, right from the beginning.
Then, immediately, you find yourself at the big-stakes table. One hand, and you're all in, no questions asked. The hand is dealt. Five cards, no draw. You are now part of a family. You may be dealt any hand that it is possible to create with fifty-two cards, and you are stuck with that hand for the rest of your time on earth. You may either grow up and go on to have a happy family of your own, or you may run away and become a carny at age fourteen. You may experience love and security throughout your upbringing, or you may be treated badly by people who are so far short of loving that they can't even see it from where they are. You may appreciate your lot in life, or you may die of an overdose in a filthy stairwell, or both! Whatever comes to pass, you will carry the residue of your family in your veins as long as their blood runs inside of you.
This is the part where I generally start to complain, but I'm not in the mood for complaining today. I look around me and I see too much misery. I see too much block-headed stupidity from people in positions of great authority. I see people who were dealt a full-house, aces over tens, and still they complain because someone else got the four ladies.
How can I complain when we are now, for the first time since the ice age, together, every man, woman, boy and girl, together on the same train? Destination, “Doom on the Express Track.” And it's such a shame, because as I look around I see only problems susceptible of solution. I see, for the first time ever in our history, as plainly as the nose on my face, that our world, and our people, possesses all of the money, talent, and resources necessary to straighten out every mess that we find ourselves in. But I know for an absolute certainty that it will not happen.
The Family of Man is doomed, because it will not let go of corruption, it will remain mired in the Rasputitsa of self-interest. We will continue to be ruled by the graspers, the robbers, and those disinterested in anything outside of themselves, unless it is something that could enrich them.
Our situation longs to be poignant, but really it's only pathetic.
Monday, March 21, 2022
The study of language itself is a wonderful source of amusement, the origins and the development, etc., and the many languages themselves present endlessly fascinating possibilities. The points of intersection and divergence of languages that share a similar background can be surprising, or obvious, or dubious. The student can always find sources of information, but sorting them out can be difficult. They agree; they partially agree; they disagree. You can come to your own conclusions. You may be right, or you may be wrong, and it really doesn't matter. Language is a very elastic thing.
Take, for instance, the term, “carpet eater.”
I am currently one third of the way through the marathon epic that is “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich.” One of the few silver linings in this COVID mess is time to read. The term carpet eater has a common meaning in English slang, and I have been familiar with it for many decades. Imagine my surprise when Shirer rather casually quotes a friend, a German anti-Nazi editor, as referring to Hitler as a carpet eater.* That took me rather aback, it did.
The editor made the reference in the original German, “ein Teppichfresser.” (Der Teppich: carpet; fressen, the verb to eat, applied to animals. For humans, the verb, to eat, is essen.) The matter was quickly cleared up to Shirer's satisfaction, if not to the satisfaction of anyone else.
I cannot judge the quality of Shirer's German, but he claims that the friend told him that Hitler was so hysterically nervous that he was literally throwing himself onto the floor and chewing the edge of the rug in a tizzy about Czechoslovakia. This is highly unlikely, since Teppichfresser is a slang term in German, strictly figuratively, for anyone who frequently flies off the handle in fits of rage.
The French also use the term for someone who is subject to fits of nerves, using it to indicate a person who may pace back and forth over the same space, wearing out that piece of carpet.
Note that in neither case does the term have any similarity with our impolite, but well known, usage in English. And no, Hitler was not on the floor biting the carpet. Nor was Eva Braun involved in any way.
*Kindle location 9554 to 9560, 31% mark.
Saturday, March 19, 2022
Tuesday, March 15, 2022
Monday, March 14, 2022
Is Common Core Math good for anything? Probably not, but then again, maybe.
I had no experience with Common Core Math when I came across a short video on YouTube the other day. A real teacher was running down multiplication using the Common Core principles.
The problem was “35 x 12.”
She made a box on a white board (imagine the boxes; they don't copy-paste to other company's products):
The top line is for the “35,” (three tens, thirty, and five ones, five) and the side labels are for the “12,” (one ten and two ones).You multiply the left by the tops and fill in the intersecting box:
10/ 300 50
2/ 60 10
You need to work with me here. Ten times thirty is three hundred; ten times five is fifty; two times thirty is sixty; two times five is ten.
Then you put the four numbers into column formation, positionally, and add them up.
Adding them up, you get a total of 420.
Of course you do! Most adults just say, okay, 35 times ten is 350; two times 35 is 70; 350 plus 70 gives you the answer: 420.
I could see the pedagogy for this kind of introduction to multiplication, however misguided I believe it to be. Then I wondered: since Roman numerals are not positional, could this system make sense in that context?
What do we get if we try that?
XXXV times XII
The top of the box shows three tens, thirty (XXX), and five ones (V);
The side of the box shows shows one ten on top (X), and two ones on the bottom (II). When you multiply them out, this box is the result:
X/ CCC L
II/ LX X
Ten times thirty is 300 (CCC); ten times five is 50 (L);
Two times thirty is 60 (LX); two times five is ten (X).
You can make a column to be added, but positionality does not occur in Roman numerals.
Adding them up, from top to bottom, just following them along in your head, you get a total of CDXX (420).
The box works for Roman numerals, but someone with more patience than I possess would have to multiply 127 x 1,795 to really see if it worked all the way out. It's so much easier to do the simple positional multiplication that we are all familiar with:
You know how that goes, so I won't bother. The calculator says 227,965. I'm going to take their word for it.
No wonder that the entire world uses Arabic numbers.* That positionality thing really comes in handy. And the zero! Those fellows were certainly onto something. The Romans did not know about the zero.
I have no idea how Romans did it, but they did. They could obviously perform complex calculations, I mean, just look at the architecture. Huge domes! Aqueducts! However they did it, they understood complex math, at least for engineering purposes.
*Thailand does not use the Roman alphabet. The Thai alphabet is unique to Thailand, although it is very similar to the Lao alphabet. Both are based on an Indian alphabet still used to write in Hindi. (The Indian words look so different because they put a line over the word, right across the tops of the letters.) Thai has its own numbers as well, probably also from India, but they are after the fashion of the Arabic numbers and therefor fully positional, and they do employ the zero. They function exactly like Arabic numbers. The Thai numbers would work fine for accounting and complex math, but they are slowly disappearing from Thai life. You see almost exclusively Arabic numbers, everywhere. I've spent several hundred days proctoring Thai university examinations, and the only subject where you are likely to encounter Thai numbers is Thai Language. I've never seen Thai numbers in test from a math class, or an accounting class.