Typewriter of the moment: Nelly Sachs

December 10, 2018

2010_sachs-typewriter2

Typewriter of Nelly Sachs. It’s a Mercedes, if I have identified it correctly.

She fled Nazi Germany for Sweden in 1940. In Sweden, she adapted to a new culture. Then she wrote about the experiences of flight, and adaptation.

In 1966 the Nobel organization awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature to Nelly Sachs. Sachs was born December 10, 1891. Google’s Doodle honored her on December 10, 2018, with a short video and image of her typewriter. The animation shows Sachs’ typewriter in a suitcase, an homage

Google explained at YouTube:

December 10th, 2018: Google honors Nelly Sachs. She was a Jewish German-Swedish poet and playwright.

Nelly Sachs was born on 10 December 1891 in Berlin. In 1940 Nelly fled with her aged mother to Sweden. Nelly Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight.

Her best-known play is: … “Eli – Ein Mysterienspiel vom Leiden Israels” (1950) 1957 she got the Nobel Prize in Literature. Sachs’ poetry is intensely lyrical and reflects some influence by German Romanticism. Happy birthday Nelly Sachs.

* * * * *

Music: “Trio for Piano Violin and Viola” by Kevin MacLeod

Google shows 3 sketches of the doodle.

More about this doodle: “Nelly Sachs 127th birthday” https://www.google.com/doodles/nelly-…

She was also honored by a stamp by German Bundespost in 1991: https://www.briefmarken-bilder.de/brd… #nellysachs #googledoodle

Nelly Sachs Biography (Wikipedia): Born Leonie Sachs in Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany, in 1891 to the wealthy natural rubber and gutta-percha manufacturer Georg William Sachs (1858–1930) and his wife Margarete, née Karger (1871–1950),[1] she was educated at home because of frail health. She showed early signs of talent as a dancer, but her protective parents did not encourage her to pursue a profession. She grew up as a very sheltered, introverted young woman and never married. She pursued an extensive correspondence with, and was friends with, Selma Lagerlöf and Hilde Domin. As the Nazis took power, she became increasingly terrified, at one point losing the ability to speak, as she would remember in verse: “When the great terror came/I fell dumb.” Sachs fled with her aged mother to Sweden in 1940. It was her friendship with Lagerlöf that saved their lives: shortly before her own death Lagerlöf intervened with the Swedish royal family to secure their release from Germany. Sachs and her mother escaped on the last flight from Nazi Germany to Sweden, a week before Sachs was scheduled to report to a concentration camp. They settled in Sweden and Sachs became a Swedish citizen in 1952.

Living in a tiny two-room apartment in Stockholm, Sachs cared alone for her mother for many years, and supported their existence by translations between Swedish and German. After her mother’s death, Sachs suffered several nervous breakdowns characterized by hallucinations, paranoia, and delusions of persecution by Nazis, and she spent a number of years in a mental institution. She continued to write even while hospitalized. She eventually recovered sufficiently to live on her own, though her mental health would always be fragile. Her worst breakdown was ostensibly precipitated by hearing German speech during a trip to Switzerland to accept a literary prize. However, she maintained a forgiving attitude toward a younger generation of Germans, and corresponded with many German-speaking writers of the postwar period, including Hans Magnus Enzensberger and Ingeborg Bachmann. Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nelly_S…

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.

Apartment of Nelly Sachs, with her typewriter, in Stockholm, Sweden. Gewerk.com image.

More:

Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com

Nelly Sachs, undated photo (probably after 1966). Image from Heavy.com

 

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Nobel Peace Prize winner pledges the award to making peace

October 10, 2018

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

Nadia Murad, in a photograph for her book, The Last Girl.

It’s the same thing the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., did with the prize money he got from the Nobel Committee for winning the Nobel Peace Prize.

But when King did it, it was about $50,000.

Bloomberg news noted: “Nadia Murad, co-winner of the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize, says she will commit 100% of her share of the $1.01 million prize money to continue the work of ending sexual violence in war zones.”

In the press release announcing the prize for peace, on October 5, the Nobel Committee said:

The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided to award the Nobel Peace Prize for 2018 to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict. Both laureates have made a crucial contribution to focusing attention on, and combating, such war crimes. Denis Mukwege is the helper who has devoted his life to defending these victims. Nadia Murad is the witness who tells of the abuses perpetrated against herself and others. Each of them in their own way has helped to give greater visibility to war-time sexual violence, so that the perpetrators can be held accountable for their actions.

*     *     *     *     *

Nadia Murad is herself a victim of war crimes. She refused to accept the social codes that require women to remain silent and ashamed of the abuses to which they have been subjected. She has shown uncommon courage in recounting her own sufferings and speaking up on behalf of other victims.

Nadia Murad is a member of the Yazidi minority in northern Iraq, where she lived with her family in the remote village of Kocho. In August 2014 the Islamic State (IS) launched a brutal, systematic attack on the villages of the Sinjar district, aimed at exterminating the Yazidi population. In Nadia Murad’s village, several hundred people were massacred. The younger women, including underage children, were abducted and held as sex slaves. While a captive of the IS, Nadia Murad was repeatedly subjected to rape and other abuses. Her assaulters threatened to execute her if she did not convert to their hateful, inhuman version of Islam.

Nadia Murad is just one of an estimated 3 000 Yazidi girls and women who were victims of rape and other abuses by the IS army. The abuses were systematic, and part of a military strategy. Thus they served as a weapon in the fight against Yazidis and other religious minorities.

After a three-month nightmare Nadia Murad managed to flee. Following her escape, she chose to speak openly about what she had suffered. In 2016, at the age of just 23, she was named the UN’s first Goodwill Ambassador for the Dignity of Survivors of Human Trafficking.

Below, a Twitter Moment prepared by Bloomberg News on Ms. Murad’s plans to dedicate her prize money to fighting sexual violence.

 

 


Still necessary: Banned Books Week 2018

September 29, 2018

Weren’t we supposed to be more free by now?

And yet, we still need Banned Books Week (#BannedBooksWeek) to push against censorship and suppression of books.

I’m running behind. Banned Books Week 2018 started on September 24. I don’t really have much brilliant to say about it, except we’re still fighting to keep history in Texas history standards, to keep history in Texas school history texts, and the latest outrage is the “deletion” of Helen Keller and Hillary Clinton from the list of historic figures kids ought to rub intellectual elbows with in their studies.

So let me offer a quick and dirty, but often compelling compendium of some of the best Tweets about banned books this week, and the celebration of freedom.

Ray Bradbury had it right:

Ray Bradbury had it right: “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them.”

What’s the best banned book you’ve read lately?

What books have people tried to ban in your town or state this year?

What good, controversial books have you read that you recommend we read, before it gets banned?

Some old banned books offer great wisdom for our present crises. Like Tom Sawyer:

The Mental Floss list of 35 most-banned books over the last five years is instructive. It tells us something about what issues “authorities” want to keep quiet, and what people read enough to annoy other people enough to complain to libraries. The article lists these:

Since most requests to remove books from schools or libraries go unreported, these lists are not definitive; instead, they offer a “snapshot” of book challenges, according to the [American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom (OIF)]. In recognition of Banned Books Week, which runs from September 23 through September 29, we’ve compiled a list of the most banned and challenged books of the past five years (2013 to 2017), including the years they were challenged and the reasons why.

1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Discussion of suicide

2. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
Year(s): 2013, 2014, 2017
Reason: Anti-family, cultural insensitivity, drugs/alcohol/smoking, gambling, offensive language, sex education, sexually explicit, violence, and “depictions of bullying”

3. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
Year(s): 2014, 2016, 2017
Reason: LGBT characters

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason: Sexual violence, unsuited to age group; was thought to “promote Islam”

5. George by Alex Gino
Year(s): 2016, 2017
Reason: Transgender child character

6. Sex is a Funny Word by Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Addresses sex education; was thought to lead children to “want to have sex or ask questions about sex”

7. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Violence and use of the N-word

8. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Year(s): 2017
Reason: Drug use, profanity, offensive language

9. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell, Justin Richardson, and Henry Cole
Year(s): 2014, 2017
Reason:Anti-family, homosexuality, political and religious viewpoints

10. I Am Jazz by Jessica Herthel, Jazz Jennings, and Shelagh McNicholas
Year(s): 2015, 2016, 2017
Reason: Addresses gender identity, homosexuality, sex education, religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

11. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
Year(s): 2016
Reason: LGBT characters, drug use, profanity, sexually explicit content

12. Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
Year(s): 2015, 2016
Reason: LGBT and sexually explicit content

13. Looking for Alaska by John Green
Year(s): 2013, 2015, 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit scene, unsuited to age group; was thought to lead students to “sexual experimentation”

14. Big Hard Sex Criminals by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Sexually explicit content

15. Make Something Up: Stories You Can’t Unread by Chuck Palahniuk
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Profanity and sexually explicit content; was called “disgusting and all around offensive”

16. Little Bill (series) by Bill Cosby and Varnette P. Honeywood
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Criminal sexual allegations against Bill Cosby

17. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Year(s): 2016
Reason: Offensive language

18. Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James
Year(s): 2013, 2015
Reason: Sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group; was also called “poorly written”

19. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Offensive language, homosexuality, sex education, political and religious viewpoints, anti-family, unsuited to age group

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Profanity, religious viewpoint (atheism), unsuited to age group

21. The Holy Bible
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint

22. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Violence and graphic images

23. Habibi by Craig Thompson
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Nudity, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

24. Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter
Year(s): 2015
Reason: Religious viewpoint, violence, unsuited to age group

25. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Gambling, offensive language, political viewpoint, graphic depictions; was called “politically, racially, and socially offensive”

26. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Sexually explicit, unsuited to age group; was said to “contain controversial issues”

27. It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris and Michael Emberley
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Nudity, sex education, sexually explicit

28. Saga by Brian Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Anti-family, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

29. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Year(s): 2013, 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, offensive language, sexually explicit

30. A Stolen Life by Jaycee Dugard
Year(s): 2014
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

31. Captain Underpants (series) by Dav Pilkey
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Offensive language, violence, unsuited to age group

32. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group

33. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl by Tanya Lee Stone
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit content

34. Bless Me, Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit content, unsuited to age group

35. Bone (series) by Jeff Smith
Year(s): 2013
Reason: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

A good list of reading. Irony that The Holy Bible and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night both appear on the list; one might imagine advocates of one book complaining about the other.

A literature or history teacher can find a whole school year’s worth of graphics from Tweets during Banned Books Week.

This post may be updated. Please comment, and come back to discuss.


May 11 is Feynman Day! How to celebrate? (It’s his centenary!)

May 8, 2018

May 11, 2018, is the 100th anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Most Feynman fans are celebrating through the entire year — appropriately, for a man so much larger than life and unable to be constrained after death.

We should mark the actual day, I think. It would be a good thing to celebrate science on May 11 in his honor, I think. And, there are lots of other good ways to commemorate a great guy.

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity, may have gotten us through the birth of the Atomic Age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women. Women should read it, too, to know what’s happening. Consent is necessary. His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)
US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I thought I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day, May 11!

This is an encore post.

Yes, this is an encore post. Defeating ignorance takes patience and perseverance.

 


Perils of self-publishing, a book lovers’ event!

April 19, 2018

Poster on the event!

Poster on the event! “Joys and Perils of Self-Publishing,” April 26, 6:00 p.m., Half-Price Books at Northwest Highway in Dallas (the Mother Ship). Bob Reitz and Gardner Smith.

Bob Reitz is the curator of the Jack Harbin Museum at Camp Wisdom, one of the finest museums of Scout materials in the country, focused on Scouting in the Circle 10 Council BSA (Dallas and surrounding counties). He and Gardner Smith trek and travel about Texas and the West, and for a time published a series of exquisite books, string bound, fancy paper, and extraordinary content. Great reads.

This presentation is probably a good one for authors, publishers, book lovers, poetry lovers and travelers.

I wonder if there is CPE credit available — and for which professions?

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation

Bob Reitz at an earlier presentation, on Dallas history.


Reckless Daughter: Yaffe’s book on Joni Mitchell

December 9, 2017

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

Reckless Daughter, a biography and analysis of Joni Mitchell, by David Yaffe. (Photo: Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

David Yaffe’s biography of Joni Mitchell is out. Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell (Sarah Crichton Books/Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 376 pp.) gives solid analysis from a good writer to a favorite artists whose music classed in folk, rock or jazz, always transcended categorization.

Yaffe spoke with PBS NewsHour:

Another interview with Yaffe, from Global News (CBC?):

And a 2014 interview with Joni Mitchell, by Tavis Smiley:


May 11, Feynman Day! How to celebrate?

May 11, 2017

May 11 is the anniversary of the birth of Richard Feynman (born 1918, died 1988).

Richard Feynman

Richard Feynman. Borrowed from Luciano’s Tumblr, LikeaPhysicist

Feynman’s birthday falls on Statehood Day for Minnesota.  You can fly your flag for both causes, if you wish, Minnesota’s statehood AND Feynman’s birthday.  No proclamation will issue from the White House, but you can fly your flag any day.

Why Feynman Day?  To celebrate invention, physics, interesting characters, and that essential, American quality of je ne sais quoi.

In addition to his winning the Nobel Prize for Quantum Electrodynamics (QED), Feynman popularized the critique of science and other enterprises with what we now call Cargo Cult science, or education, or whatever, where people follow the dance steps, but without the rhythm and music.

Those two things alone would make him a remarkable man.  But, like a product offered for $19.95 as a good buy in a 2:00 a.m. infomercial, with Feynman, there’s more.  With Feynman, there is always more.

I got alerted to Feynman in the first days of the old Quality Paperback Book Club, when they featured his new memoir, Surely You’re Joking, Mr. Feynman!  QPBC was hot on the book, and with a title like that, how could I resist?  When I got the book a week or so later, I read it within two days, while attending law school and working full time.  I remember Feynman.

Norton published the book — and their description, alone, should make you want to read it:

A New York Times bestseller—the outrageous exploits of one of this century’s greatest scientific minds and a legendary American original.

In this phenomenal national bestseller, the Nobel Prize­-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman recounts in his inimitable voice his adventures trading ideas on atomic physics with Einstein and Bohr and ideas on gambling with Nick the Greek, painting a naked female toreador, accompanying a ballet on his bongo drums and much else of an eyebrow-raising and hilarious nature.

All true, and that’s not even the half of the outrageousness, all done with great good humor, about a life lived in great good humor through what should have been a memorable age, but often was just terrifying.

I think sometimes that Feynman’s calm, alone, borne of that great good humor and insatiable curiosity,  may have gotten us through the birth of the atomic age and the Cold War.

Feynman was a giant, and we don’t revere him enough.  Consider:

  • Feynman’s high school sweetheart, Arlene, came down with tuberculosis.  He married her, and took her with him to New Mexico to make the atom bombs.  The stories of her confinement to a hospital, and the laborious trekking he had to make between Los Alamos and her bedside in Santa Fe, are touching, and heartbreaking.  It is one of the great love stories of the 20th century, certainly, and perhaps for all time.  It also provided the title for his second memoir, What Do You Care What Other People Think?
  • Every single, college-age man should read Feynman’s stories of how to date, and how to seduce women.  His approach was unique, and endeared him to women — in legend, to many women.  Feynman’s dating must have been part of the inspiration for the comedy series, “Big Bang Theory.”  Feynman’s stories are better.  (Heck, it’s even the subject of a popular, classic XKCD comic — probably only Feynman and Einstein among Nobel-winning physicists have made so much money for so many cartoonists.)
US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

US postage stamp featuring Richard Feynman

  • Yeah, he’s already been featured on a postage stamp, see at right.  That’s not good enough for Feynman, though — the U.S. Postal Service created a special cancellation stamp for Feynman, featuring a version of his Feynman Diagrams.

    USPS authorized a special postal cancel (United States Postal Service) to honor the 80th birthday of Richard Feynman. This cancel was used in Lake Worth, Florida. For this special day the post office was renamed “Feynman Station.”
    Feynman Commemorative Cancel Feynman Diagram

    The Feynman Diagram used for the postal cancel on this envelope depicts what is known as a “bubble process.” It shows a high energy particle, for example, a cosmic ray (a) from a distant supernova, which emits a high energy photon, for example, a gamma ray (b). The photon, in turn, creates a particle (c) and an anti-particle (d) that exists for a brief moment and then recombines.

    As Feynman liked to point out, an anti-particle is the same thing as a particle with negative energy traveling backward in time (which is why the arrow at (d) points backwards, i.e. to the left). So you could say the photon created only one particle that, at first, traveled forward in time (the bottom semi-circle) and then reversed and went back in time (the top semi-circle) and annihilated itself! By inventing diagrams like this, Richard Feynman made it much easier to understand what is going on in the interactions between sub-atomic particles without getting lost in tremendous amounts of tedious math

  • Working at Los Alamos on the Manhattan Project, Feynman developed a keen appreciation for bureaucracy and all its follies.  His vexations for the security managers are also legendary.  Here’s a quick version of one story — he asked friends and family to write to him in code, but to not include a key to the code, so he’d have to crack the code to read the letter.  Feynman could do it, but the security people couldn’t.  Hilarity ensued.
  • Feynman developed a love for the still-relatively unknown, landlocked Asian nation of Tannu Tuva.  It’s just the sort of place to appeal to a character like Feynman — so obscure most atlases didn’t, and don’t, show it at all — seemingly consumed by the Soviet Union, but held in a special status.  Home of throat singing — and almost impossible to get to.  During the Cold War, Feynman struck up correspondence with people in Tuva, to the concern of Soviet and American intelligence agencies, who seemed not to understand someone might do such thing out of curiosity.  Feynman hoped to travel there to visit new friends, but his final bouts of cancer took him before it was possible.  Tuva, famous among philatelists only, perhaps, honored Feynman with postage stamps and postcards.
  • Just try to find a photo of Feynman not smiling. The man was a joy to be around, for most people, most of the time.
  • Quantum electrodynamics?  No, I can’t explain it, either — but his work had a lot to do with how particles wobble.  I remember that because, according to Feynman, he got the inspiration for the work for which he won the Nobel while spinning plates, like a Chinese acrobat on the Ed Sullivan Show, to the delight of students in the Cornell University cafeteria, and the shock and horror of the food service people.  Who else has yet confessed to such an inspiration for a Nobel?

There’s more — a lot more.  Feynman outlined our current generation of computer memory devices — in 1959.  No, he didn’t patent the idea.  He did patent an idea for a nuclear-powered spacecraft.  Another delightful story.

Feynman in an Apple ad

Feynman was featured in print and broadcast ads for Apple — not one, but two (did anyone else get that honor from Apple?). “Think Different.” This is one of Apple Computer’s most successful advertising campaigns. The theme of the campaign is one that celebrates figures in history who changed the world by thinking differently. Richard Feynman was among the chosen figures. Image from the Feynman Group.

Feynman served on the board that approved science books for the California school system –– his stories of that work will shock some, but it will make others shake their heads as they recognize the current crop of cargo-cultists and political bullies who dominate textbook approval processes, knowing nothing at all about what they are doing, or why.

No, I didn’t forget his brilliant work on the commission that studied the Challenger disaster, for NASA. There’s so much stuff to glorify!

In history, Feynman should be remembered much as we remember Thomas Jefferson, as a renaissance man in his time, a man who put great intellect to great work for his nation and all humanity.

Feynman's second Apple ad

The second Apple ad featuring Richard Feynman. An excerpt from Apple Computer’s campaign commercial: “Here’s to the crazy ones, the misfits, the rebels, the troublemakers, the round pegs in the square holes, the ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules and they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them… about the only thing you can’t do is ignore them, because they change things, they push the human race forward; and while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius, because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.”

The sages say we shouldn’t have regrets, but I do have one. When the Challenger Commission was meeting in Washington, D.C., I was working on another commission up the street. I knew Feynman was ill, but our work was important, and we’d heard his disease was in remission. I didn’t goof off a day and go to any of the hearings to see him, to get an autograph, to meet the man. I though I’d have other opportunities to do that. Now I regret not having met him in person.

In print, and in film, I know him well. In our family, reading Feynman is something everybody does. Feynman’s memoir was one of the last books I read to our son, Kenny, as he was growing up, and growing into reading on his own. Even reading about Feynman, together, was an adventure. Our son, James, took us into the real physics of Feynman, and though I struggle with it more than James, we still read Feynman, for humor, and physics.

What would be appropriate ways to mark Feynman’s birth? At some future date, I hope we’ll have public readings of his books, showings of the documentaries about him, recreations of his lectures, perhaps. And then everyone can get in a circle, beating drums and singing about getting some orange juice, before sending postcards to our friends in Tuva.

Richard Feynman, we still need you, and miss you dearly.

Tannu Tuva

Tuva’s capital is the delightfully-named Kyzyl. From this map, can you figure out where Tuva is, or how to get there — without Google, or Bing?

Tuva postcard honoring Richard Feynman

Tuva postcard, in honor of Richard Feynman — who loved to drum.

There will always be “More” about Richard Feynman, if we’re lucky:

Richard Feynman, unlikely leader, from Open University

Have a great Feynman Day!

Yes, this is mostly an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

Yes, this is much an encore post. Fighting ignorance requires patience.

 


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