Political Animal

Human Creativity

HUMAN CREATIVITY….I’m currently reading a book about a mathematical problem called the Riemann Hypothesis and came across a paragraph so breathtakingly wrong that I just have to share it:

In the math department….the mathematicians are doing one of three things ? staring out of the window, writing furiously with a pencil, or scribbling with chalk on a blackboard. This is what they are paid to do, and they appear to be doing it very well. This is, I suppose, what also goes on in a literature or history department at any university. But there is one difference ? on the whole, historians, literary critics, and even writers are recycling material; adding their own spin, certainly, but essentially recycling facts, words, emotions, and descriptions that usually exist in some form already. Mathematicians, however, are innovators….

Mathematics is symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are numbers and variables and operators, which, although few in number, can be combined and manipulated to create stunning and unanticipated vistas of abstract thought.

Literature is also symbol manipulation. The basic symbols are words, and they too can be manipulated in wildly complex ways that produce stunning and often unanticipated vistas of human knowledge and emotion.

Manipulating the abstract symbols of mathematics is a different ? and generally less accessible ? kind of genius than the manipulation of words on a page, but can there really be any question that great writers and historians are creating new works every bit as much as great mathematicians?

It perplexes me that smart people so often say things like this. Geniuses like Shakespeare and Newton and Jefferson are just different faces on the vast, multi-sided dice of human achievement, not stairsteps in a heirarchy. Only a very small mind could think otherwise.

Shorter Atrios

SHORTER ATRIOS….Lots of good stuff over at Eschaton this morning:

Sin, Sin, Sin!

SIN, SIN, SIN!….So it turns out that virtue czar Bill Bennett is a bit overfond of gambling. The comeuppance is pretty amusing, and since I think Bennett is one of the most annoying little prigs around I guess I’m all in favor of piling on over this.

As Atrios points out, there’s nothing wrong with gambling per se, and Bennett has never condemned gambling, so he’s not a hypocrite. But why not? Why did he write book after book condemning other private conduct such as homosexuality, drug use, porn, etc., but never included gambling in that list of sins? It is certainly a coincidence that he blamed the decline of western civilization on an entire catalog of garden variety sins except for the one he happened to practice himself, no?

Actually, though, my favorite part of the article was this:

Bennett claims he’s beaten the odds: “Over 10 years, I’d say I’ve come out pretty close to even.”

“You can roll up and down a lot in one day, as we have on many occasions,” Bennett explains. “You may cycle several hundred thousand dollars in an evening and net out only a few thousand.”

But the guy only plays slot machines. It’s literally impossible to believe that he’s gambled millions of dollars over the span of a decade on slot machines and come out ahead. One might as well believe that in a gigantic thermodynamic coincidence all the air in a room suddenly drifted off into a corner and that’s why there’s a dead body on the floor.

So not only is he a gambler, he’s obviously a liar too. His sins are mounting….

UPDATE: It just occurred to me to go check and see what the Cornerites have to say about this. Jonah Goldberg’s not sure; before he writes anything he wants to know if any other conservatives think this is a big deal. Way to stick to your guns, Jonah! Better check with the Wurlitzer before you make up your mind.

Jonathan Adler, on the other hand, needs no hand holding: gambling is perfectly legal, so there’s nothing wrong with it. Even if, um, you do make a living telling everyone else that they should rein in their animal urges. Note to Jonathan: cheating on your wife is legal too. For now, anyway.

Kathryn Jean Lopez opines that “Bennett’s never sold himself as the model of virtue,” he’s only written lots of books about the virtues of being virtuous. She continues: “You know, there are conservatives who drink, too. And some are divorced.” Funny how conservatives only seem to object to other people’s vices, isn’t it?

The Domestic War on Terror

THE DOMESTIC WAR ON TERROR….Instapundit reports today about a guy who lost his job at a gun store because of a police memo:

The case started when a Gwinnett detective issued a classified “intelligence release” warning police of Wynn’s new job, that he has “insinuat[ed] the use of violence against law enforcement officers” and often carries guns in his car. The report said the job would allow Wynn “to collect intelligence” on police, getting officers’ home addresses when they complete federal paperwork when buying guns.

Jimmy Wynn, the guy in question, was the commanding officer of the Militia of Georgia and apparently a tinfoil hat brand of wingnut, but there were no charges outstanding against him and working in the gun store was perfectly legal. But when a Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent called the gun store owner and told him about the memo, the store owner immediately fired Wynn (although he claims he was planning to fire Wynn anyway for poor job performance).

There are always going to be close calls in this kind of thing, and no one thinks that police just have to sit on their hands waiting for explosive situations to catch fire. But this kind of generalized suspicion and vague fear is exactly what J. Edgar Hoover exploited in the 60s to shut down civil right groups ? he just knew they were up to no good ? and if it was bad then it’s bad now.

“Keeping an eye” on someone is part of law enforcement. Getting them fired from their jobs because they annoy you isn’t.