DAY 201: The Trump Fact Breakthrough

January 29th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

An old friend of mind has called my attention to the amazing proof of mathematics’ toughest problem, the Riemann Hypothesis, by one Donald J. Trump using a startling new theory, which I have the honour to present to you. Known as the Alternative Facts or AF theory, it was first presented  by  White House representative Kellyanne Conway in an interview with NBC. You’re probably familiar with the tired arguments about the number of spectators at the Trump inauguration (a question of simple mathematics, you’d think if not that interesting). In the middle of one of these, Conway, who was being repeatedly questioned by NBC’s Chuck Todd about why Trump would ask “the White House press secretary to come out in front of the podium for the first time and utter a falsehood?” In reply, said Todd was being too extremist about the truth. ‘Don’t be so overly dramatic about it, Chuck. What you’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that.’ Chuck insisted on the old-fashioned position: ‘Look, alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.’ (Slate in However, it looks as though whatever the more hidebound defenders of old-style facts may say, AF are here to
stay. And Trump’s breakthrough paper ‘‘ shows how powerful a tool they can be in pure mathematics as well as, of course, explaining US policy on torture etc. I recall that I claimed a week ago that the new president would be unable to change the value of pi. It seems I made a grave mistake; the paper just cited contains a theorem to the effect that circles have 11sides11 sides which clearly bears on the pi question.

I suppose we mathematicians now have to begin asking ourselves if we’re being extremist about the truth in an era which Susan Glasser has aptly described as ‘post-truth’. It (extremism) is supposed to be our job; and many’s the time I’ve failed a student for saying (for example) that nine squared was ‘eighty, more or less’. But as it says in verse 71 of Sura 3,

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or, ‘O People, why do you confound truth with falsehood and knowingly conceal the truth?’ There’s a sort of general feeling, which has been around for a long time, that facts are facts and alternative facts aren’t. Not for the first time, we find the Prophet (pbuh) and the current President of the United States in disagreement – which may be why the POTUS is heading for a major conflict with Islam. He (Trump, not the Prophet) is, however, a spectacular figure; and if Bob Dylan can win a prize for literature, could Trump be awarded a Fields medal qua mathematician? I think I’ll stick to the law, which isn’t so much about facts as about interpretations and precedents and such.


Here’s a letter from Chios passed on by Izzy Tomico Ellis:

‘Dear Europe,

My name is Abdo and my wife and three children have lived in Souda camp in Chios for over four months.

When we arrived to the island we tested positive for tuberculosis; my children are aged two, four and six. We were first put into hospital and then to a hotel where we were told we would be transferred to mainland Greece; there I have family who can take care of us.

Yet, four months later we are still here. I no longer want to take the medication and I have given up hope on Europe and the dreams I had of a new start for me and my family.

Our life in Syria was good, I had a business and a large, lovely home. We didn’t come here for a holiday – we came because there was no other choice. We lost everything.

My children are getting sicker everyday, my daughter is lying in a makeshift tent with a high fever crying. The doctors don’t even have the correct notes for my family and the UN only talk about us in their meetings – they send us to the hospital to pick up reports they know we don’t have the authority to collect.

ISIS killed us quickly, the UN is killing us slowly; what is the difference between them?

Where is the humanity? The UN is supposed to take care of us and they leave us here, making false promises everyday. We have been abandoned. You share videos and pictures from Aleppo expressing your solidarity and your shock but we are people from Aleppo and we are here. We are suffering and you ignore us, the ones you can help.

I am being driven crazy, I am a good man and I know the implications of myself and my family not taking the medication but we have had all of our rights taken away, not by Syria as your media present but by Europe. Do you want us to go crazy so we go away, back to Syria and you can express your guilt from afar?

I hope not but I write this letter to everyone who wants to listen and know the truth. If we are forced back to Syria maybe it’ll be the pictures of my


children you share in your press and on your social media – yet you had the chance to help us.



Has anyone any suggestions about how to help?

Truth poem

This poem is about truth, and about my own life, and about justice, and it has something to do with refugees:

How long shall we try to convince her to see the truth?
How long would she pretend, when the truth sits in-between her 
breast cursed?
Deception and lies she fed her children but she hypocritically 
crave for peace in the midst of injustice
She is an adulterous who slept with corruption, tribalism, 
nepotism and soiled her white garment on the day of marriage to truth 
At the dawn of her great tribulation, she clandestinely 
assembled all her bravest children i.e. Nkrumah, Haile 
Selassie, Lumumba, Kenyatta and lied to them about how 
corruption, tribalism and nepotism of the white man raped her of her virginity
They started an uprising with burning flame of emancipation in 
their hearts because they were willing to shed their blood for 
the pride of their deceptive mother i.e. Africa
I felt thunderous roars from Cairo to Soweto that broke the 
cord between mastery and slavery
The awaken of a lost history
Restoration of a broken dynasty
The nations ruled on the moral fiber of love and unity
Their own hailed them but their own also murdered their dreams 
because they stood for something that was more powerful than 
blood diamonds, oils, and dictatorship i.e. the truth and serving humanity
Wipe away your tears for there is no reason to love and fight 
for Africa; when tyrants like Mugabe, Al-Bashir, Museveni, 
Biya, Eduardo Dos Santos, Obiang Nguema are stealing and oppressing 
their own 
Oh! No truth for her
No truth for Africa



I haven’t publicized, as I should, the Oxford Maqam who are playing a gig at King’s Place on Friday – and you may be unable to get a ticket given the huge popularity of this music. In case not, here’s a sample. (It comes with surrounding blurb about the concert, which I was unable to disconnect.)


DAY 200: Cold

January 23rd, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

What’s going on in France? (and Greece, and Serbia, and indeed in the Sahara, I believe, but it isn’t so heavily policed):

“Last night, leaving work at 6:30 pm, with my colleague and well covered, big coats, bonnets, scarves and gloves, we headed towards the car shivering with cold. Parked since morning 7 am, we realize that it had frozen in broad daylight; The windows of the car bear witness. Then, in the cold, we sprayed the anti-frost on the windows and start scratching them. Also, once we got in the vehicle, we realize that despite the excellent upkeep of my colleague’s car, it had also frozen inside. Then we also scraped the windows inside. Little by little, the visibility appeared and we gradually began to feel the heat in the car. On the road, I see quite a few people preparing their cars at night by placing cardboard on the windscreen.
Phew! We are going home !

And then, I think back to the problem of poor housing or no housing at all.
I think of this man we saw lying dead last week! I think of people like him, the Exiles, in short I rethink without distinction about all the people who do not have the chance to warm themselves up by rubbing themeslves after using an anti-freeze spray . They only have cardboard, and not much more …
I think of things seen and reseen: the police and construction companies, then demolition, often responding to the mad and degrading orders of the leaders of the country and the city or by acting often on their own initiative, destroying shelters, tents, snatching blankets from the hands of human beings.

In Calais, the concept “zero migrant” has been born. But in fact, they are there! So!
What are we waiting for to build solidarity?

What are the authorities in the city waiting for to call for the immediate implementation of measures concerning a cold weather plan ? It is not by concealing a situation that it is sorted.

Let’s demand actions! Let’s pick up our phones, send emails, fax, bother ourselves and ask for a shelter at least for the winter. Contact your town halls, prefectures … Dare to ask them! Let us say that as citizens we no longer want to endorse these acts, we no longer want to witness the assassination of people in the street !


Valerius de Schaedeleer : Winter.

Taken from ‘Passeurs d’hospitalités’, the blog you should be reading instead of this.


A day or two ago I raised the question of whether the current new dispensation in Washington  might go so far as to change the accepted value of pi (you know, as in circumference/diameter). But this led me on to the whole vision of a contest between ‘Science’ and the US Government. For example, look at the periodic table with those uneven bits (why should there be an arbitrary difference between the lanthanides and the uranides, you might ask?). Or the speed of light which at currently 299 792 458 m/s obviously  should be 300 000 000 if you insist on using metric units (but maybe we’ll get rid of them). There’s so much in science that is crying out for someone with a business background to sort it out. I expect that’ll come.

But conversely, we might see science fighting back. I don’t mean the hackneyed image of a mysterious unknown deathly virus 12552584_10208330056591165_1734558816355349333_n Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 18.25.10










which has been developed only to attack rich Islamophobic misogynists. Though it’s not the stupidest idea I’ve heard (don’t ask me what is). But what if there was a theory of everything and we did know the mind of God and the universe was about to stage a massive comeback, punishing the overweening humans for daring to guess its secrets? What if a new particle (let’s call it the Koppa) existed, which under certain circumstances (like elections going the wrong way) caused the laws of electricity to seize up, currents to flow backwards, gravity to reverse so that everything became detached from the earth? What if that, eh?

I think my imagination is running away with itself, not for the first time. Let’s stick with the law, which perhaps we can do something about, and try to introduce a bill called the 2016 (Abolition) Bill. The main provision would be to make it possible to abolish, nullify and do away with the year 2016 or a number of events which took place in it e.g. Brexit and the US elections; and if that led to the return of Prince and David Bowie, I wouldn’t complain.  Could we get a petition on – which I know something about – to promote such a measure?

At this point either imagination or the word count run out. Can I possibly have some more constructive ideas to get us out of this morass – preferably without too much marching?


Trying to combine poetry, snow, sex and fascism (do try if you can – I thought Ovid might be a good place to start – ) I gave up and came up with Craig Raine’s ‘How Snow Falls’:

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I expect there’s any amount of street music which is fitting for celebrating (if that’s the word) Paris this January. Here are Z.E.P. (Zone d’Expression Populaire) in ‘La gueule du patrimoine’, a joyous multiracial rap obviously staged in better weather.


DAY 199: Not yet

January 21st, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

PEOPLE! It’s like a bad hangover;hangoverand everyone is going around like Trumpday is the end of the world. I know a number of truly appalling things can happen, and you don’t need me to remind you. But remember:

1. The USA is not the only country in the world! In terms of population, it’s tiny, with 4.34% of world population (compare China and India, around 17). The vast majority of people in the world aren’t Americans.

2. It isn’t EVEN the richest country in the world. It has 16.14% of world GDP (which isn’t near to being a majority), while China has 16.32%, ahead by a very small margin.

3. Most people in the USA AREN’T Trump supporters; he notoriously didn’t get a majority of the popular vote (Clinton beat him by 2.1%), and as usual a lot of Americans either chose not to vote or were prevented from voting. There are some wonderful Americans, like Beyoncé or Judith Butler (BLM and JVP respectively)


4. A lot of people in the world, however misguided they may be, either don’t know or don’t care who the President of the United States is. If you live in Bethlehem or SowetoSoweto_township or Irkutsk or Mogadishu or… your immediate oppressor is likely to be the important one, and events in distant America may impinge less than we (in Western Europe) think they should.

Yesterday I was teaching a class about the history of Babylonia in the 3rd millennium BCE, when notoriously life was a bit nasty, brutish and short, and empires had a habit of wiping one another out violently with little regard for the living standards of the population. (As Ibn Khaldun, who I’ve referred to earlier, remarked in relation to medieval North Africa.) And I was reminded in a lecture at SOAS the other day, what seems terrible to the population (e.g. living under Daesh, being massacred and having your cities and monuments

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destroyed) may be what the psychoanalysts would call ‘secondary gain’ to the archaeologists; more broken bits to put together.

Indeed, as a mathematician, I believe that there are many things that even Trump can’t monkey with, like the value of pi. (I recall that in 1897 the Indiana legislature attempted to pass a bill defining it to be 3.2 – an attempt lost, according to Wiki because ‘one senator observed that the General Assembly lacked the power to define mathematical truth’. Will Trump see his power as extending further?) 

It may have only marginal relevance to all these reflections: but here’s a clip of the Oxford Maqam, due to perform at King’s Place. I would give you the dance sequence from Bande à Part which I posted a year ago; but that would be self-indulgent, you can look it up.

DAY 198: New year?

January 12th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve more than once by now had occasion to notice that there’s nothing particularly ‘new’ about the new year; and there’s particularly nothing new about that observation. I promise to be more innovative in future. (Promises are easy.) It’s



cold, but nothing like as cold as it is on the Greek islands where refugees, with no hope of reaching Western europe, are blanketed in snow. And I’m gearing up for various new year things; a return to the old teaching, the Babylonian number system where it all started off, and much else. [I can’t remember whether this blog has ever explained to its patient readers how we can consider modern exploitation as having had its roots in the extraction of the surplus by the priests of ancient Iraq; and how they invented mathematics in order to compute the surplus they were extracting] Plus, I sincerely hope, a career or at least a couple of days a week (a bit late in life) as a volunteer in the Islington Law Centre which seems to be my best hope, in my current debilitated state, for a way of contriculting, on however small a scale, to the refugees’ continuing struggle for justice and a decent life (Can I prolong this sentence any more? I think not). With all this exciting stuff going on, I expect I’ll have to suspend my Arabic lessons, and just when I’d mastered the dual with a touching story about my two female friends the two female students who were both refused visas. But given that they were finally both given visas and are in Norway Screen Shot 2017-01-12 at 08.52.30with three friends, this is perhaps appropriate.

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