Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Passion of Dantzig, among other things

0. Precariously on leave, which here means much is to follow. Very much.
{I am asexual and reproduce via budding. Yee Chien has found my offspring at her staircase.} Excuse me, but what the photon did that mean?

1. I haven't forgotten to enjoy myself meanwhile.
Got this at a time just when I thought I've had enough of expository literature; astronomy, linguistics, philosophy or whatnot. Picked up the book Number: The Language of Science (1930) by Tobias Dantzig from the Mathematics shelf, because you can say that the Maths shelf is an underexplored last refuge. It had a quote from Einstein on the cover saying that this is beyond doubt the most interesting book on the history of maths that he's ever read, so it must be something.

1 The front part narrates the mathematicians' equivalent of lurching around in circles in a mangrove swamp. Progress is made on counting, adding and subtracting, which Dantzig reveals is not easy. The exploration of numerical symbols in different cultures is a good tidbit, and probably supplied the spark for my latest art project.

2 In the middle parts we learn that the Greek, while brilliant, were also very bored people. Skip especially the Diophantine algebra, which I don't think you will need or want very much to know. At this point, I began to doubt Einstein.

3 In the later parts, rapid progress is made in mathematical fields. Infinite processes are now in exploration, leading mathematicians to discover new entities in mathematics. Dantzig marvels at how such entities, e.g. transcendantals and complex numbers, while having mothing to do with the real world on the onset of discovery, nevertheless finds some relationship eventually and now acts as a firm foundation for modern science.

At part (3) Dantzig's style morphs into some kind of wild-eyed passion, dramatising the phenomenal shifts of mathematical discovery deep into the realms of the absurd. Of the most arresting and most dramatised of such accounts is the one of Georg Cantor and the theory of aggregates. He writes as an intro:

"It was fortunate for Cantor that mature reflection had thoroughly steeled him to face the onslaught, because for many years to come he had to bear the struggle alone. And what a struggle! The history of mathematics has not recorded anything equal to it in fury.

"The story beginnings of the theory of aggregates show that even in such an abstract field as mathematics, human emotions cannot be altogether eliminated."

4 By the time we reach the epilogue, the climate has become very philosophical. Dantzig now talks about what mathematics has got to do with reality, and here is the conclusion to this question that I think it draws:
There is no reality without Number

2. I'm taking a liking to Cape Breton fiddling. Cape Breton Island is part of Nova Scotia, which is a Canadian Maritime Province. Do not confuse with the Bretons of Brittany, who are subjects of the French Republic. The island of Cape Breton is a stronghold for Scottish diaspora, who brought their music along when they came. Natalie MacMaster fiddles in an interesting way; it sounds very wholesomely-toned for something which also sounds maltreated.

Natalie MacMaster's fiddling is oddly appropriate to listen to while one is reading Dantzig's stories of swashbuckling mathematicians.

3. Last Sunday I was confirmed at Church of the Holy Cross accompanied by godmother and mentor Ms Helen Isaac in a mass ceremony headed by the Archbishop himself. Oh, and Ernest was there too.

The days 25-27 October were basked in a warm glow, because I was well-prepared to become Stefan.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Inscription 497

Disparate stuff hastily arranged thus:

0.6 days to Confirmation Day
18 days to Red Beret Day
27 days to Marie's Baptism Day (with the name Dominique)

I. Signs and Coincidences
When Marie mused upon which name to choose as her baptismal name, she went to the Patron Saints Index and searched under just about anything that caught her attention under the topics section, like problematic children, choirs, Bohemia etc. The name Domini(c/que) appeared enough times to arouse some suspicion. It might be just that Domini(c/que) is a very common name in saints, but we picked Dominique for baptism anyway; it suits the name Marie as well.

Today's trip, intent on preparing me for Sunday, was spent instead on a wild goose chase for a priest who wasn't there. Instead, while whittling away time in the library, I found this:

II. Personal rituals
1 Passing SOC (overcoming a mental obstacle)
2 35k (in this context, interpreted as a pilgrimage of toil before the ceremony)
3 Confession
4 Get a pair of black pants

III. An Observation on Instrumental Music
One major difference between listening to songs that are sung and listening to songs that are just played, is that while the voice of the singer fills the mind, the sound of instrumental music makes space.

Really! While listening to Natalie MacMaster's fiddle today on the road my mind was racing to the beat, thinking about quite many other things. It's something I haven't been able to do under the influence of Tri Yann, even if they sing in French.

I've just watched Xiangjun's application video to ADM. It's cool to hear her voice again after such a long while, even if it's a recording. She used fiddle music by Christian Lemaître for the start, which fit the monologue like a glove, but towards the end of the video she used An Cailin Gaelach by Altan, in which the lyrics had a brief clash with the narration, but it's still okay. [Oi Xiang, you still here?]

IV. A New take on Aesthetics
Q: So what makes something or someone beautiful?
A: Their integrity.

I would venture so far as to explain thisaways:
1 First you have an entity, a person or an object
2 An entity exist by themselves, but they also have a overarching context (e.g. London is in England) and subordinate attributes (e.g. London has x boroughs and a population of y) that define them.
3 The integrity of an entity is the totality of the entity itself, its context and its attributes alike.

4 This integrity is important in many aesthetic experiences--
(e.g. which one gets when touching down to Heathrow for the first time. The aesthetic experience comes in the form that this moment holds a lot of meaning and implications by virtue of the aforesaid three components.
ENTITY: London Heathrow, its infrastructure, the bustling city of London itself, or if you land at night, the light pollution
CONTEXT: You're coming to fabled England / You're going to a prestigious university you've been fighting for in a long while
ATTRIBUTES: London has a neat nightlife, virtuoso graffiti artists, Westminster Abbey, access to places like Cardiff or Stonehenge, and et cetera)

5 Stripped of any component, the object loses integrity and its beauty becomes banal
(e.g. suppose you take a whole album of photographs of London and you show them to your friend, who hasn't gotten anywhere near London but studies in Providence instead, she will see and feel the city's beauty in itself (ENTITY) but will not experience it (CONTEXT and some of the ATTRIBUTES))

6 When the integral beauty of a large entity is rendered irrelevant, the focus is narrowed (if you are focusing on the beauty of the London Eye instead of London, you will tend not to mind too much the context and attributes of London itself)

a. Abstraction should be used with caution in Art and Design. While abstraction does provide for a sense of cleanliness and creates visual treats often, it is essentially whittlng at the integrity of an object.
If you want to abstract a tree, you could take a real tree, take away the landscape, take away the unique form of its leaves, smooth out every kink in its trunk and branches, or what does you to make something which is the archetypal tree, is no tree at all and yet stands for all trees, or the truth underlying all trees etc.
It has a virtue of impact and universality, but it has lost the virtue of integrity. The tree you have made isn't interesting, hasn't got a history, hasn't got a life even.

bi. Integrity is even more important when applied to people, because a person's integrity (in this aesthetic sense) is his/her dignity.
bii. A person cannot afford to (and has the rights not to) be disassembled into entity, context and attributes, because each of these is inalienable to humanness.
biii. Any attempt to disassemble anyone into entity, context and attributes is an act of objectification.

biv. objectification = injustice committed
This happens a lot of times in our daily lives, consciously or not.

Example I: Pornography. You didn't really care who the girl is, where she was born, who her dad was, what books she likes to read in her spare time and all those things that defines her being-- You just did aherherherrrmmherm

Example II: Portraiture. You're doing the portrait of some noble with a flattened nose. You're afraid of offending the fellow so you straighten it up for him in paint. Yes, it may look better, but it's not the portrait of the fella anymore, and you had better be sacked for your troubles.

Example III: You're a tourist in Singapore and you are invited to come to all these spiffy places -- but it turns out that the city planners had it for you tourists and predominantly for you tourists. Something is amiss! Is Singapore a city of Singaporeans, or is it a city of tourists? If it is the former, then is it not better for our Integrity to let them visit where the Singapore atmosphere is at its thickest, in the heartlands and suburbs and countryside, instead of where all the other tourists are? Same goes for many other cities as well.

Example IV: A French song. You enjoyed listening to this song sung in French, though you do not know the language. You like it for the instrumental accompaniment, the way the words sounded, the mood that the singers conveyed, but you are ignorant as to what it meant, its context and its devices.
So when you obtain a translation, be in for a shock and you may never see the song the same way again; it becomes way more interesting, it makes an impact by telling a story, and the language, context and mood start fitting together coherently like jigsaw pieces. The beauty of this song becomes so much more complete!

Q: What is the most important thing you should look out for when doing Art?
A: Integrity.
Q: Which means?
A: The totality of the subject.
Q: Which means in turn?
A: Everything-- aargh, this is going nowhere

Sunday, October 12, 2008


2 more weeks to Confirmation, and feeling unready. Firstly I haven't been thinking much about it, being more fretful about other stuff i.e. criteria for me to receive the Red one in November, and secondly, because I haven't been all that good. Helen (my Saturday school teacher not the chapess from HCI) said that if one is baptised, one should get confirmed pretty quick by the age of reason, in a state of grace, among other things. Am I in a state of grace?

My confirmation name is Stefan. It's been Stefan from the first time I thought about it. Might it be that the image of Saint Stephen's martyrdom before the stonechucking crowd for his outspoken beliefs is a powerful image in my subconscious? Or would it be the visit to the beautifully-decorated Saint Stephen's Basilica in Budapest that inspired me to choose the name?

On October 26 I'll be called Andy Stefan Paul Chen
Please let it be a name that I can live up to.

Oh and I've finally cleared my SOC; please excuse this brief moment of conceit:
I did it in 8 minutes and 24.16 seconds!!!

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Black tolls the bell over the Lancastria

I see the black of the sea devouring the drowned,
The oiled lungs, the black singing of soldiers,
The black bones of burnt corpses thrown to the waves
While black tolls the bell over the Lancastria

- extract from the song Lancastria (Tri Yann 2007) own translation
[Link to the Lancastria Association of Scotland website]

A Google translation revealed that the song was not what it first appears to be like. Rather, this brightly tranquil piece is filled with hellish warlike imagery. The context: The sinking of the liner, the RMS Lancastria, off the coast of Saint-Nazaire on 17 June 1940 by German bombers; considered one of the worst naval disasters of all time in which more than four thousand civilians and RAF personnel perished.

I might need the help of a real translator to figure out what the whole song means. The power of Wiktionary is limited, and so is the power of Collins.

Tri Yann 2007

Licorne, Qu'as-tu vu du ras de l'océan,
Que ta peau fendue coule jaune ton sang ?
J'ai vu jaune l'ajonc, au loin une fumée,
Jaune le rire des hommes cachant leur désarroi,
Les châteaux des enfants sur les plages de Retz,
Les flèches du soleil sur Lancastria.

Licorne, qu'as-tu vu sur la côte ? A présent,
De ton flanc lacéré gris s'écoule ton sang.
J'ai vu gris sur les quais des trains de réfugiés,
Gris les coeurs des Anglais revenant des combats,
Les daurades fuyant loin du Grand Charpentier,
Mais l'espoir d'embarquer sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, qu'as-tu vu à dix milles au ponant,
Que ton sang devient bleu comme bleu l'océan ?
J'ai vu bleu dans le ciell'hirondelle s'envoler,
Bleue la barre des pins à l'horizon là-bas,
Bleus les yeux d'un enfant, tenant son chien serré
En montant rassuré sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, d'où viens-tu, de quel fol ouragan,
Que ton ventre brûlant vomit rouge ton sang ?
J'ai vu rouge un volcan dans la cale exploser
Des torrents rouge feu crachés par des stukas,
Le cheval du gymnase par les flammes embrasé,
J'ai vu rouge la mort sur le Lancastria.

Licorne, d'où viens-tu d'où l'on ne revient pas ?
De tes chairs déchirées gicle un sang noir, pourquoi ?
Jai vu noire la mer dévorant les noyés,
Les poumons mazoutés, le chant noir des soldats,
Les os noirs des brûlés dans les vagues jetés,
Noire la cloche du glas sur le Lancastria.

Blanche colombe ! Du levant venue,
Sue tes ailes dépoyées, dis-nous, qui portes-tu ?
Une fillette née au milieu des combats,
Aimez-la comme vôtre : elle s'appelle Europa.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

October Update

Don't balk when I say that I expect each month now to be tougher than the last. July was definitely tougher than June, August was tougher than July, September was spent in Brunei and now it's October-- here's the time I have to pass my IPPT (i.e. Gold Award) and pass my SOC and I tell you from my heart I can pass dozens of field training sessions without getting much more than a runny nose but for the aforementioned 2 tests I have been falling short for more than 8 months since enlistment.

October starts on a high note: passed all 11 obstacles today with good timing, with the only inconvenience being the fact that it wasn't a test. Also for the first time this year (as well as in my lifetime) I got an ankle sprain which didn't immediately recover afterwards, which I hope will not last. It had better not!