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Posts Tagged ‘Frederick the Great

What is Stephen Harper Reading?…

Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada

Yann Martel, well-known author of Life of Pi (and perhaps less well known, resident of Saskatoon), wrote the book that launched his career on a grant from the Canada Council for the Arts.  (“I was 27 years old and the money was manna from heaven. I made those $18,000 last a year and a half– and compared to the income tax I have paid since then, an exponential return on Canadian taxpayers’ investment, I assure you.”)

In March of 2007, Martel found himself in the Parliamentary Gallery for a tribute to the Council…

The Prime Minister did not speak during our brief tribute, certainly not. I don’t think he even looked up. The snarling business of Question Period having just ended, he was shuffling papers. I tried to bring him close to me with my eyes.Who is this man? What makes him tick? No doubt he is busy. No doubt he is deluded by that busyness. No doubt being Prime Minister fills his entire consideration and froths his sense of busied importance to the very brim. And no doubt he sounds and governs like one who cares little for the arts. But he must have moments of stillness. And so this is what I propose to do: not to educate—that would be arrogant, less than that—to make suggestions to his stillness. For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness. That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written. I will faithfully report on every new book, every inscription, every letter, and any response I might get from the Prime Minister, on this website.

And so he has– at the time of this posting, he has sent the PM 100 books, along with 100 extraordinary “introductions” in the form of the transmittal letters he’s enclosed…  all of which are available at What is Stephen Harper Reading?

Read it and reap.

As we find and expand our own stillness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1778 that François-Marie Arouet– aka Voltaire (author of Book #7, Candide, on P.M. Harper’s list)– returned to Paris after 28 years in exile (first in Potsdam, with Frederick the Great of Prussia, then in Switzerland); on this first day home, the Father of the Enlightenment received over 300 intellectuals and admirers.

“Doubt is not an agreeable condition, but certainty is an absurd one.”
– Letter to Frederick, 1767

Houdon’s Bust of Voltaire

Adventures in the Counterintuitive…

Your correspondent is headed away for a week or so, ranging more then ten times zones from home– the current limit to continuous timely posting of (R)D…  So, while regular service will resume on-or-around the 20th, a little something to keep one occupied:

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Readers will recall that, on the occasion of an earlier hiatus, your correspondent wheeled out “the Monty Hall Problem” (c.f., “Riddle Me This” and “Birdbrains“).  This time, with thanks to Prof. Stan Wagon at Macalester College:

Monty Hall Takes a Vacation

Alice and Bob face three doors marked 1, 2, 3. Behind the doors are placed, randomly, a car, a key, and a goat. The couple wins the car if Bob finds the car and Alice finds the key.

First Bob (with Alice removed from the scene) will open a door; if the car is not behind it he can open a second door. If he fails to find the car, they lose. If he does find the car, then all doors are closed and Alice gets to open a door in the hope of finding the key and, if not, trying again with a second door.

Alice and Bob do not communicate except to make a plan beforehand. What is their best strategy?

Source: A. S. Landsberg (Physics, Claremont Colleges, California), Letters, Spring 2009 issue of The Mathematical Intelligencer.

The answer is here— and more nifty puzzles, here.

As we craft our own strategies, we might solve a memorial problem for Gabrielle-Émilie Le Tonnelier de Breteuil, Marquise du Châtelet, the French mathematician and physicist who is probably better known as Voltaire’s mistress; she died on this date in 1749.  Fascinated by the work of Newton and Leibniz, she dressed as a man to frequent the cafes where the scientific discussions of the time were held. Her major work was a translation of Newton’s Principia, for which Voltaire wrote the preface. The work was published a decade after her death, and was for many years the only translation of the Principia into French.

Judge me for my own merits, or lack of them, but do not look upon me as a mere appendage to this great general or that great scholar, this star that shines at the court of France or that famed author. I am in my own right a whole person, responsible to myself alone for all that I am, all that I say, all that I do. it may be that there are metaphysicians and philosophers whose learning is greater than mine, although I have not met them. Yet, they are but frail humans, too, and have their faults; so, when I add the sum total of my graces, I confess I am inferior to no one.
– Mme du Châtelet to Frederick the Great of Prussia

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