DAY 126: The Big Time

April 1st, 2015 § 0 comments

Following on from posts 115 (Hebron teenagers win international math competition) and 124 (critique of the dreadful cinematic representation of mathematicians in recent offerings), I can unveil my plan, seemingly obvious, to break into the world of festivals and awards. The story couldn’t be simpler: A Palestinian teenage girl and math whiz from Hebron (perhaps autistic as a consequence of the traumas of occupation), whose father is in preventive detention, wins the right to enter an international mathematical Olympiad.mschl
(She has already solved the Goldbach Conjecture, which helps as IDF patrols through Hebron march in even numbers patroland the resistance can weaken them by breaking them up into primes.)

I haven’t yet worked out the rest of the plotting, and perhaps some more practised hand could fill in the details. I imagine that obtaining exit visas for the Palestinian team to attend the Olympiad will be almost insuperable. A Mossad agent (Bruce Willis?) will offer our heroine a chance if she informs on her team-mates, an attempt foiled by the team’s charismatic coach (Amal Clooney); using a combination of string theory and human rights law, the team arrive successfully at their hotel in Bogotà.bogota

It’s here that everything starts, I think, to unravel – problems centre round a question on the construction of the regular heptagon which of course goes back to a tenth-century Baghdad work of al-Qūhī; and someone like John le Carré or Ahlem Mostaghanemi who is better at plotting than I am can give me a hand with the tragic dénouement. Working title perhaps ‘The Book of Numbers’. I’m prepared to be pretty free with the rights, money and so on, all I want is a) fame b) that the film should be directed by an auteur, preferably Middle Eastern. Oh, and it would be nice to see an appearance, if only a cameo, by Maryam Mirzakhani.

In the run-up to Easter, when we all get a bit tetchy not to say cross, a group of American Jews who must be almost my age have been caught stirring up trouble on campuses. Veterans of the civil rights movement, they ‘spoke to an overflow crowd at Muhlenberg College, introduced by former Hillel president Caroline Dorn. Dorn had to quit Hillel in order to host them—and she also had to meet with the college provost even to get permission for the four to come on campus because the college administration was afraid of alienating Jewish students. “It was devastating,” she says. And the previous night they spoke to more than 100 at the University of Michigan. Again: barred from Hillel.

So these four travelers are freedom riders twice. First in their 20s in the civil rights movement, now in their 70s, sponsored by the Open Hillel movement.’

Arts and Sciences

So literary/historical research has come to the aid of medicine, with the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon remedy for MRSA. As I’ve been anxious about hospital visits in case I contracted this disease, it was good news that the ingredients for a cure, as listed in Bald’s Leechbook, were available in my own kitchen or down the road. You seem to need cropleek and garlic, wine and bullock’s gall; and let it stand in a brass vessel for nine days.

dn27263-1_300The recipe

Luckily, ‘Freya Harrison (@friendlymicrobe), a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to Christina Lee, an Anglo-Saxon scholar’ at one of those interdisciplinary get-togethers that universities are always hosting in the hopes of saving money (one lot of drinks for two departments).  Contrary to what you might expect, the problem was not the bullock’s gall which is common as dirt, but the garlic:

‘Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Harrison. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard. As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.’ (Should have thought of that.) ‘After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”‘



I went down to Smithfield, got me some bullock’s gall, and brewed up; and I haven’t had a moment’s trouble with MRSA since. Will the same recipe deal with C. Diff?

 Poetry Corner

I’m not much of a one for ‘found poems’ (it’s getting too hard to bend and pick them up), but this one, which hit my email today, is a winner.

The Social Amoebaamoeba

During starvation, the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum

aggregates artfully

via pattern formation into a multicellular slug and finally spores.

The aggregation process is mediated by the secretion and sensing

of cyclic adenosine monophosphate (cAMP),

leading to the synchronised movement of cells.

The whole process is a remarkable example of collective behaviour,

spontaneously emerging from single-cell chemotaxis.

The precise mechanism of aggregation starting from single cells

is still surprisingly unclear. Here, we extend

a detailed single-cell model

by adding cell-cell communication.

Quite aside from the oxymoron implicit in the phrase ‘social amoeba’, the text is highly ludic, peppered with alliteration and assonance (‘aggregates artfully’, ‘secretion and sensing’). And yet  the movement in the poem from starvation to PalmBeachPopFestivalcrowd-300x300spontaneous collective behaviour is – one could say – a metaphor for the autonomous self-conciousness of the deprived masses, and provides an underlying seriousness.


Again with a sort of crucifixion theme I thought I recalled a sequence from Kenneth Anger’s 1963 movie ‘Scorpio Rising’ involving (I may be wrong) motorbike homoeroticism, Nazi insignia, crucifixion, and Little Peggy March’s ‘I will Follow Him’. I can’t find it (the extract) to post, but here’s the song anyway, you’ll have to imagine the rest.

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