Archive

Archive for the ‘Obituary’ Category

George McGovern

October 21, 2012 2 comments

George McGovern died today. The first year I was old enough to vote for president was 1972, thanks to the 26th amendment to the constitution, which lowered the voting age to 18 and enfranchised many of us for the first time. I voted for McGovern. Forty years later, I am glad I did, and wish I could have voted for him again.

Nixon won 49 states. McGovern won Massachusetts and the District of Columbia. The greatest landslide in history. Since then, McGovern has been regarded by Republicans as something of a joke. And by many Democrats as well, eager to run the other way. Their loss. He was a good man. An honest man. And he was right about many issues, the Vietnam War most notably. While Nixon was busy committing war crimes and lying to the country, McGovern spoke the truth.

Here we are again, with a Republican presidential nominee who is incapable of telling the truth and with a Democrat, I’m sorry to say, who seems to have learned more from Nixon than from McGovern, Nobel Peace Prize notwithstanding. (But hey, Nixon’s parter in war crime, Henry Kissinger, won the prize too, for ending the Vietnam War. Words fail.)

Nixon didn’t much like whistleblowers, but at least he brought Daniel Ellsberg to trial. Under Obama, Bradley Manning still languishes, indefinitely. Obama could have taught Nixon a thing or two.

May we honor George McGovern with greater honesty in our political discourse, starting with the third presidential debate tomorrow night.

Categories: Obituary, Politics

Irving Adler

September 27, 2012 4 comments

Irving Adler changed my life. He wrote The Giant Golden Book of Mathematics, which my parents gave me on my eighth birthday. I loved math, but I hadn’t yet decided to make it my life’s work. The book opened my eyes to the wider world of mathematics and its history, after which there was no turning back.

Adler died last Saturday. Excerpts below from the NYT obituary give some sense of his extraordinary life. I wish I had written to thank him.

Irving Adler, who wrote dozens of books on the elegant essentials of science and math, almost all of them directed toward capturing the curiosity of children and young adults, died on Saturday in Bennington, Vt. He was 99.

The cause was a stroke, his daughter, Peggy Adler, said.

Mr. Adler joined the American Communist Party in 1935. In 1952, at the height of the Red Scare, when he was chairman of the math department at Straubenmuller Textile High School on West 18th Street in Manhattan, he was subpoenaed to testify before the Senate Internal Security Subcommittee investigating Communist influence in schools. Invoking his Fifth Amendment rights, he refused to answer questions.

Mr. Adler became one of 378 New York City teachers ousted under New York State’s Feinberg Law, which made it illegal for teachers to advocate for the overthrow of the government by force.

The United States Supreme Court upheld his dismissal in 1952 (Adler v. Board of Education), but declared the Feinberg Law unconstitutional 15 years later.

[snip]

The wonders that Mr. Adler would illuminate in his 87 books — many written with and illustrated by his late wife Ruth Relis Adler — are evident in their titles. Among them are “How Life Began” (1957), “The Stars: Steppingstones Into Space” (1958), “Thinking Machines” (1961) and “Inside the Nucleus” (1963).

[snip]

Irving Adler was born in Manhattan on April 27, 1913, one of five children of Marcus and Celia Kress Adler, immigrants from what is now Poland. His father first worked as a house painter and later sold ice, coal, wood, seltzer and beer.

Irving was an outstanding student, entering Townsend Harris High School at 11 and graduating from City College with a degree in mathematics at 18. Soon after “he was teaching high school students that were older then him,” his daughter said.

Categories: Books, Math, Obituary

Line of the Week

August 23, 2012 1 comment

[Jeff Weeks]

It’s tough to compete with Missouri representative Todd Akin, who in the last week has given us what may be the line of the year. But let’s put politics aside — along with its concomitant lies, ignorance, and stupidity — and turn instead to mathematics. Bill Thurston, one of the great mathematicians of our time, died on Tuesday, way too young, at 65.

The NYT obituary does a passable job of conveying some sense of his importance, though it borders on the bizarre to learn that “Thurston was among a very rarefied group in his field that thinks deep theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application, a luxury he reveled in.” Just about everyone I spend my days with thinks theoretical thoughts with no particular practical application. I never thought we’re part of a rarefied group. But maybe the point is that our thoughts aren’t deep. In my case, I won’t argue.

The line of the week? It’s a remark by Thurston’s son Dylan:

Dylan Thurston, also a mathematician, said that despite working in a realm of rather cold abstractions, his father was personally very warm.

I picture Dylan saying this with a wink. We mathematicians don’t live in a realm of cold abstraction. Our abstractions are warm and fuzzy, good company in all circumstances. How warm we are is another matter.

——-

For more on Thurston’s work, see the short note by Evelyn Lamb at Scientific American.

Categories: Life, Math, Obituary

Louis Boroson

February 19, 2012 Leave a comment

My 11th grade math teacher, Louis Boroson, died last November. I just learned of his death, thanks to a posting of the obituary notice on Facebook by one of my classmates. Reading the obit, I was reminded yet again of how little we know about the adults who mattered to us. We see them as one-dimensional, not appreciating the complex, multi-faceted lives they lead, nor how much we miss as we pass through our self-absorbed youth.

Mr. Boroson (as he was known to me) is described in the obituary as “labor union organizer, math teacher and longtime activist for social justice.” I knew him only in the second capacity, and even then, I wasn’t convinced he was all that knowledgeable a teacher, though his decency and concern for others shined through.

We were not the best match. I, talented at math from a young age and deciding at 8 that I would be a mathematician; Mr. Boroson, as the obit explains, becoming the entire math department of a small school in his first position, having to teach “himself the curriculum every night before teaching it to students.” Our high school, now widely recognized as among the best in New York State with a vast array of offerings, had few options for accelerated students at the time. And through an unfortunate set of circumstance, owing to an experiment with the math curriculum in 9th grade for those of us in the accelerated or honors track that apparently was deemed a failure, we were basically covering much the same ground in 11th grade. It was a lost year for me. I would take my math at a local college the next year, but that year I just bided my time. Class was deathly boring and Mr. Boroson wasn’t equipped to offer me any alternatives.

One consequence was that for the only time in my years at school, I became something of a nuisance. I was always a good boy, never talking out of turn, never causing any behavioral problems, doing everything asked of me. But not in Mr. Boroson’s class. I was unhappy, he was unhappy, no solution presented itself. Later in the year he would suggest, on occasion, that I help other students who were having difficulty. I can’t remember how that worked out.

The memory that stands out, though, is of an entirely different nature. Spring of that year was the spring of 1968. War. Assassination. And locally, protests at Columbia University culminating in the student takeover of the president’s office in Low Library. That events of the real world could enter our high school classroom was beyond my imagination, until Mr. Boroson brought them in. On April 30th, the New York City police forcibly removed the occupiers. The next day, Mr. Boroson put math aside and led a discussion of the Columbia protest.

This is the Mr. Boroson I remember with respect, warmth, and admiration, one whose “commitment to his students went well beyond the math curriculum.” The obituary goes on to explain that “he was committed to helping students think critically about the political environment, and was particularly devoted to supporting students who seemed adrift. He began every math class by hosting a discussion on current events, encouraging friendly debate among his students.” No daily current events discussions back then, but the seeds were there.

The obituary quotes Barbara Murphy, my 10th grade English teacher, describing him as “a generous, progressive, open-minded man who willingly and wholeheartedly gave to his students, to his colleagues, to the world at-large with an optimism and spirit that encouraged the best in those he touched.” A good man. I wish I had the opportunity to renew our acquaintance later.

Categories: Math, Obituary

Carmine Smeraldo

January 16, 2012 Leave a comment

[From the website]

Gail and I were sad to learn of the death of Carmine Smeraldo, the founder-owner of the Seattle restaurant Il Terrazzo Carmine. I have written about Carmine’s many times, most recently after we ate there in November to celebrate Gail’s birthday. We have celebrated many birthdays there in recent years, and always wonder why we don’t go more often. I love their cannelloni, their rigatoni, their constantly changing risotto specials, their lamb, their green peppercorn steak. Gail’s partial to their ossobuco. But more than that, it’s such a warm and welcoming place. Carmine will be greatly missed.

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s Seattle Times obituary.

The food is one thing at Il Terrazzo Carmine.

Then there was the man.

Carmine Smeraldo would greet customers at his Pioneer Square restaurant with warmth, offering a handshake, or oftentimes, a hug. He knew loyal crowds turned up for perfectly smoked salmon dishes and handmade ravioli stuffed with bursts of wild mushroom.

But he also knew his customers wanted more. They came for an experience, an escape, a desire to envelop their senses and return to their lives a little happier than how they felt an hour — or two, or three — before.

At this, Mr. Smeraldo was the master.

[snip]

The interior summoned Mr. Smeraldo’s homeland with its terra cotta floors, rustic chandeliers and high ceilings. It conveyed a feeling of “old-school romance,” said Seattle Times restaurant critic Nancy Leson.

Categories: Obituary, Restaurants

Joe Frazier

November 8, 2011 Leave a comment

You know, of course, that Joe Frazier died last night. I write only to note my surprise at how moved I’ve been today by some of the pieces I’ve read about him, most notably David Remnick’s reflections at The New Yorker.

I so dislike the mere existence of boxing that I avert my eyes when I accidentally stumble on an article about it in the paper or at a website, turning the page or clicking away as quickly as possible. Yet, I grew up at a time when boxing still was part of mainstream culture. Indeed, heavyweight championship bouts were as big a part of the sporting calendar as the World Series, or as the Super Bowl is now. Surely the first Swede I knew of, or, to be more precise, the first person whose existence brought to my attention the notion that there were such things as Swedes, was Ingemar Johansson. (But then there’s that contemporaneous Swede, Dag_Hammarskjöld. I’m pretty sure I knew of Johansson first. Hammarskjöld would be Swede number two.) Johansson’s championship victory over Floyd Patterson, or maybe Patterson’s win in the re-match, would have been the first boxing match I knew of. And then Patterson lost to Sonny Liston, and then Liston lost to Muhammed Ali (still Cassius Clay), and so on, until we came to the two great Ali-Frazier matches, the first and third of three.

I can almost make myself believe, as I read today about the third one, the Thrilla in Manila, that I watched it live. Then I remember that that wasn’t an option. The major boxing matches would be shown on TV days later. For live action, one would have to be content with round-by-round summaries on the radio. I listened to those summaries. I actually cared.

Remnick, who knows a thing or two about Ali and Frazier, gives some sense in his remembrance of why one might care:

I’ve watched the fight more times than I can count. I rarely watch boxing much these days, mainly because it’s hard to countenance a sport that I would never let my kids take part in. And yet I can’t resist this spectacle of will. As Frazier sat on his stool after the fourteenth round, a round in which Ali had punched him so hard with a right hand that Frazier’s mouthpiece went flying into the seats, a round in which it became obvious that he could no longer defend himself, his manager Eddie Futch had to insist that it was over. He would not allow his man to die in the ring—which, if you watch the video, seems like a distinct possibility.

“Joe,” Futch said, “I’m going to stop it.”

“No, no, Eddie you can’t do that to me,” Frazier said softly.

“You couldn’t see in the last two rounds,” Futch said. “What makes you think ya gonna see in the fifteenth?”

“I want him, boss,” Frazier said.

“Sit down, son,” Futch said, placing a hand on his fighter’s shoulder. “It’s all over. No one will ever forget what you did here today.”

Categories: Obituary, Sports

Duncan

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment

Duncan, the family cat back on Long Island, died today. He was a good cat, and he thrived for years, but he has not been well for much of the past year.

Duncan came into our family’s life unexpectedly over a decade ago. One of several kittens who appeared in the yard one summer, he was persistent after the others drifted away. Eventually, my family fed him. But with parakeets in the house, his coming in wasn’t an option. As the weather cooled in the fall, he moved into makeshift lodgings by the kitchen door. With bedding and a steady source of food, hewas content.

A year later, he moved again, into the house. The basement was his domain, a door separating him from the parakeets. He would come up to eat or to go outside, but otherwise spent much of his time downstairs sleeping.

Over the years, his domain continued to expand. He still liked his basement bed, but he established alternative sites upstairs. And he treated the parakeets like a gentleman. When one managed to get out of his cage last year and land on the dining room floor, Duncan was there to watch over him and meow until he could be rescued.

But Duncan had not been eating much in recent months, for whatever reason, and that began to take its toll. He remained friendly and affectionate, eager to get outside to keep up with the latest developments. However, it was only a matter of time. And that time came today.

We’ll miss him.

Categories: Cats, Family, Obituary