Archive for June 7, 2009

Tank Man

June 7, 2009 Leave a comment


The NYT has a photojournalism blog that I hadn’t paid much attention to, but I will from now on. It’s called Lens: Photography, Video and Visual Journalism, and it had two great entries this week as part of the NYT coverage of the 20th anniversary of the Chinese government’s crackdown of protestors at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989. In the first of the two posts, Tank Man of Tiananmen, the four photographers who took the now-iconic photos of the young man standing in front of the tanks discuss where they were and what they did.

But it’s the second post — A New Angle on History — that really grabbed me. Having seen the first post, the journalist Terril Jones contacted the NYT to share the story of his own tank man photo, taken a minutes earlier and never before published. A low resolution version is above, but go to the NYT site to see the higher-resolution image. It allows us to better appreciate the deliberateness of tank man’s action, as he took his position long before the tanks reached that spot. Here’s part of what Mr. Jones writes:

Adrenaline and the drive to stay close to the action took me back to the street on June 5. I was in front of the Beijing Hotel and I could hear tanks revving up and making their way toward us from Tiananmen. I went closer to the street and looked down Changan Avenue over several rows of parked bicycles when another volley of shots rang out from where the tanks were, and people began ducking, shrieking, stumbling and running toward me. I lifted my camera and squeezed off a single shot before retreating back behind more trees and bushes where hundreds of onlookers were cowering. I didn’t know quite what I had taken other than tanks coming toward me, soldiers on them shooting in my direction, and people fleeing.

I stayed in Beijing for another month, until after Tiananmen Square and the Gate of Heavenly Peace were reopened to the public. It was only some time after I returned to Tokyo that, as I was going through my negatives, I printed this photo and noticed that I, too, had captured the so-called “tank man,” but from a completely different angle. He is small but unmistakable as he stands in the center of Changan Jie, clearly positioning himself for a confrontation with the approaching army. I was stunned to see him in my photo because his image had become a global icon of the events in Beijing. But I made the discovery several weeks after the fact, and the A.P. had already sent out a defining photo of that moment. So I filed away my picture …

Not that it matters, but I remember watching news of the Tiananmen Square protests in my Paris hotel room. I was there visiting my sister and her family on my way to a math conference at the famous mathematical conference center in Oberwolfach, Germany. I would have left Paris on the 4th on the train to Strasbourg, then taken a train to Offenburg and another train into the mountains to Oberwolfach, a trip I used to make regularly. Oberwolfach wasn’t the best place to keep up with the news, so I might have missed out on some of the coverage once I got there. (It also happens to be where I was on another fateful day, April 26, 1986, when the nuclear reactor exploded in Chernobyl. I didn’t have a proper sense of how alarmed I should be, given that we weren’t all that far away.)

Categories: History, Photojournalism

Surprise Wedding Reception

June 7, 2009 Leave a comment

The video above (hat tip: Andrew Sullivan) is the latest production from Improv Everywhere. I knew about their annual no pants subway rides in New York City, but I hadn’t realized that they have many different types of missions. After watching the video above, I went to their website (linked above) and discovered how much more they do. Some great stuff. I’ve added their feed to my news aggregator, so from now on I’ll be able to see their reports and learn about each new mission as it gets posted.

Plus, when you go to the website, you see photos and read more about each of the missions. For example, the wedding webpage describes how they were lucky to get the tents for the reception because another group was finished using them and they were able to pay extra to extend the rental time.

Below is the video from their Welcome Back mission last November. In this mission, a group of people went out to JFK, where they would find a driver with a name sign waiting for an arriving passenger. They’d tell the driver that they know that person and will wait with him. Then, since they now knew the passenger’s name from the driver’s sign, they would quickly prepare more signs greeting the arrivee. The video shows some of the surprised passengers as they are warmly greeted by a group of total strangers.

Have a look. And go to the Improv Everywhere website to see many more videos, along with photos and mission reports.

Categories: Culture, Theater

Abel Prize

June 7, 2009 Leave a comment
Mikhael Gromov

Mikhael Gromov

Monday brought not just an article on Grape Nuts (in the WSJ, discussed in my previous post), but also an article on mathematicians. And that’s rare. The NYT, in its New York region section, discussed the awarding of the 2009 Abel Prize to Mikhael Gromov in Oslo last month, focusing on the fact that three of the seven prizes awarded so far have been to mathematicians at NYU.

The Abel Prizes were established with funding by the Norwegian government in 2001 to honor the great Norwegian mathematician Niels Abel of the early nineteenth century and to serve as a counterpart to Nobel Prizes in other fields. Jean-Pierre Serre received the inaugural prize in 2003. Of course, there are also the Fields Medals, awarded to two to four mathematicians every four years at the International Congress of Mathematicians, going back to 1936 (with a break after that until 1950 because of the war and a lack of congresses). These have long considered by mathematicians to be our counterpart to the Nobel Prize, but the Abel Prize is more like the Nobel in its being given annually in Scandinavia. Indeed, according to the history of the Abel Prize given at their site, the idea for a math prize that would parallel the Nobel Prizes and be named after Abel goes back to 1899, when it was championed by that other great Norwegian mathematician, Sophus Lie.

I could go on about this, but mostly I’m writing a post on the subject because I can. When the NYT pays attention to mathematics, I don’t want to let the moment go unobserved. I’ll just add that the work of Abel and Lie has played a large part in my own mathematical life.

Categories: Math

Grape Nuts

June 7, 2009 Leave a comment


The WSJ’s daily feature last Monday was a fabulous article about Grape Nuts. It turns out that Grape Nut production at Grape Nut’s historic home in Battle Creek, Michigan came to an end in 2005. The article focuses on the one remaining plant, in California’s San Joaquin Valley. An excerpt:

In 2005, four Grape Nuts ovens in Battle Creek were scrapped, leaving just the one here in California. With a share of the cereal market below 1%, the stuff was tilting toward crunchtime.

“We need to bring it back to life in a relevant way,” says Kelley Peters, the “insights” director who charts Grape Nuts psychographics for Ralcorp’s $5 million resuscitation attempt. Her target: men 45 years old and up. “Men aspire to it,” she says. “It’s strong and stern, the father figure of cereals.” Her marketing chief, Jennifer Marchant, points out: “It tends to break your teeth sometimes.”

True, but Grape Nuts loyalists don’t all welcome the focus on maleness. Sylvie Dale, 38, an editor in New Jersey, and a woman, says: “The rhythmic crunching that reverberates around your skull could be ambient sound meditation. To have the patience to get through a bowl, you have to practice mindfulness.” Ms. Dale adds: “I have a special place in my heart for this cereal.”

David Smith does, too, though he says, “I don’t want Grape Nuts and testosterone in the same sentence, ever.” As a teenager, he biked cross-country, eating the stuff out of a saddle bag. At 52, he sells flooring an hour’s drive from Battle Creek. His devotion to Grape Nuts remains constant. “It’s a cereal that doesn’t require much from me,” he says. “I guess it isn’t a real relationship.”

When Ms. Peters conducted psychological interviews for the ad campaign, she was sometimes asked how Grape Nuts are made. “I asked back,” she says, “how do you think they’re made?” Mr. Smith’s guess: “Wheat, barley and nuclear fusion.”

Fission is more like it.

That’s just a tease. Learn more by going to the article.

I love Grape Nuts myself, though I don’t eat them regularly. I go in phases. There’s the no-cereal phase, especially when we’re back on the South Beach diet. Then there’s the limited-cereal phase, during which I naturally gravitate to Grape Nuts. And the eat-anything phase, when I allow myself my true love, Rice Chex. No cereal is better wedded to milk than Rice Chex. Just the right amount of open space, the right density. It’s perfect. But grape nuts have their own special way of mixing with milk, provided you let them sit and soften a bit.

I miss them. The article came out on the very day that returned to phase one of the South Beach diet. Bad timing.

Categories: Food

The Making of Mainstream Consensus

June 7, 2009 Leave a comment


This cartoon from Tom Tomorrow (click on the link for a larger image) says it all. Sigh.

Categories: Media, Politics