December 2008


We drove from San Diego to Calexico, passing through some of southeast California’s deserts. In Calexico we had a classy meal at a Foster’s Freeze and purchased Mexican car insurance (a necessity for Americans driving over there, although we were never asked to prove that we had it). Another quirk of the law is that you have to bring the title for the car with you, which seems a bit risky. Going through the border to Mexicali was no problem, although getting out of Mexicali and on to the highway was too difficult for me, so Jen took over at that point and we coasted down the highway (which was in pretty good condition, despite what tour books suggested) to San Felipe. The drive was mostly uneventful, except for the obligatory stop and car-check by incredibly bored Mexican military dudes who are being paid by the US to look for drugs. Or at least that’s what I assumed they were doing.

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I was surprised to read in David Denby’s review of Australia in The New Yorker a rather stinging comment on the Baz Luhrmann’s colonialist (and racist) portrayal of the Aboriginal people:

In the midst of the spectacle, however, Luhrmann and his screenwriters, Stuart Beattie, Ronald Harwood, and Richard Flanagan, have attempted to denounce racism (Nullah is despised by the whites) and then to trace the beginnings of white respect for Aboriginal culture. Nullah’s grandfather, a shaman known as King George (David Gulpilil), is a major figure in the movie—well, in a way. Whenever the story gets stuck, he suddenly appears, in a loincloth, perched atop a peak, or perhaps a water tower—in any case, he’s up high. He then performs whatever magic is necessary to move the film along. At the end, King George summons Nullah to a rite of passage, a walkabout. Nullah’s disappearance into the desert, leaving the whites behind, is framed as a triumphant anti-colonial moment, but Luhrmann confuses the issue by accompanying the scene with, of all things, the stirring “Nimrod” passage from “Enigma Variations,” by Edward Elgar, the composer perhaps most closely associated with the glories of empire. With the same degree of appropriateness, Luhrmann might celebrate Barack Obama’s Inauguration with a thundering rendition of “Dixie.”

I can’t say I’m surprised at the ham-handedness of Luhrmann’s film — I hated Moulin Rouge and I’m sure Australia would be even worse, given how problematic the subject matter is. The film’s attempt at social critique fails because the writers never question their own intent. That’s the problem with lazy “anti-racism” — it acknowledges racism is bad but never digs in deeper to see how pervasive the problem really is.

I seem to have a penchant for picking books with amusing footnotes. Or maybe most math books have them and I’ve been remarkably unlucky. Here’s one from Random Fields and Geometry, by R.J. Adler and J.E. Taylor:

The use of T comes from the prehistory of Gaussian processes, and probably stands for “time.” While the whole point of this book is to get away from the totally ordered structure of \mathbb{R}, the notation is too deeply entombed into the collective psyche of probabilists to change it now. Later on, however, when we move to manifolds as parameter spaces, we shall emphasize this by replacing T by M. Nevertheless, points in M will still be denoted by t. We hereby make the appropriate apologies to geometers.

It’s a good book so far, and may help me solve some pesky technical point in a new problem I’ve been working on. Hooray for new problems!

I’m sure others who (perhaps secretly) read this blog have run into the Manuscript Central site. Several of the IEEE Transactions do their paper submissions via this site, which is a bit barebones for the money they are probably shelling out. However, there is no sharing of user data across different Transactions, so one has to make up a whole new profile and a whole new account for each different journal. That takes the Central right out of Manuscript Central.

I assume what brings this about is that the IEEE does not negotiate the contracts with MC, and instead each society is left to their own devices. Might it be possible to pool resources and develop a peer-review system that could be freely used by IEEE societies and integrated better into the IEEE site? It would probably save money in the medium-to-long run, especially if a lot of different societies signed on.

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