Friday, May 30, 2008

If there were only a few more Ruskies

So here's a new segment.

Grand historical question time.

So all you history buffs out there, let me give you a thinker...

Now Russia in the first World War lost more people than any other combatant. Moreover, many of these were Russia's best and brightest. Some historians (including I believe, Orlando Figes) have cited Russia's lack of a strong middle position party between the militarist White Russians and the Bolshevik-led Reds in the Russian Civil War as the cause of the Bolshevik victory. Many of those historians have assumed this was then due to Russia's incomplete industrial revolution (often using a progress/stages version of history which I'm always suspicious of).

But what if there was the potential for a middle position party? What if there were dynamic youths who could have led a new faction of Russians who could overcome the Reds and charm/defeat the Whites... that is if they hadn't been killed in the early years of the first World War.

The early years of the first World War gutted the Russian officer class, and the military was often the best route for advancement for upwardly-mobile Russians. If it hadn't been for all that slaughter, perhaps the even greater slaughters to follow might have been avoided.

If the idea is true, it adds another layer of tragedy to early 20th century history, but perhaps it also gives us a new way to interpret the Russian Revolution. And then the lessons derived from the birth of the Soviet Union might need some rethinking as well...


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Politics of Grandeur

I like acting grand. After all I am the great and glorious Rand!!!

A part of this can be attributed to slight bursts of semi-mania, when I really do believe everything's in my grasp and if I just try...

Well, those feelings I can elaborate on later.

But even when I'm away from those delusions, I still like to act grand. Even when I know that I am standing far from grandness with the subject at hand. I like to talk and think as if I had abilities and courage far beyond my actualities. And it's more than pretend.

What it is, is a philosophy I've detailed better elsewhere, called "False Bravado." It is a philosophy targeted best for those dealing with moments of the profoundest self-doubt (like me on occasion), but I like to think it also has some everyday value.

Because I like to think human beings are creatures of immense potential. I think most people would agree with that statement, but people rarely think what that means. It means we too have immense potential. Then why is not realized?

Fear, Circumstance, Personal Flaws, Lack of Direction, Misguided Philosophies, the list can go on infinitely.

But I like to think we can transcend those limits, with God's help of course (that is important to remember, as remembering our insignificant (power-wise, although in His eyes we are His precious creation) stature before God is often the barrier between False Bravado and true delusions of grandeur).

How is the big question here. And my proposal, and the heart of False Bravado, is that we can achieve this transcendence by acting and thinking beyond our current means. By pushing ourselves beyond who we are to who we want to be. By acting grandly, even if we fall short...

But False Bravado is a process. Here is a key to remember. Acting grandly does not give you grandeur. It can start you on the path to self-improvement, but it is not magic. Sometimes our limitations are illusions and denouncing them alone is enough to overcome them, but more often, our flaws are real and cannot be dismissed within a thought.

Instead we must strive...

And at times we must fail. Practitioners of False Bravado must be prepared for failure, because when you push yourself beyond your means, sometimes you won't be able to make up the difference, and sometimes no one will be around to help you out, and sometimes...

You fall. But a true student of False Bravado must be willing to get back up again, and even if he or she is hurting, he or she must believe that the pain can be overcome. And with the help of God it can.

But every now and then, even a master of False Bravado like myself must face the gap between his or her intentions and reality and feel sorrow and a bit of desperation. And perhaps fail. But even then the way of False Bravado demands that the sorrow be conquered and the desperation tossed aside even if only in the imagination of grandeur. And then with learning every day, especially after each fall, with God's help, there will come one fine day when sorrow can be conquered and desperation can be tossed aside. And grandeur can then be grasped (not the grandeur of mastery mind you, grandeur's definition depends always with the definer, but the greatest grandeur a human can achieve in my book (I think you know which book I'm talking about) is the grandeur of the servant of God).

Or so such is the philosophy of False Bravado.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Primes, they aren't just for Transformers

It has to be said.

There is just something magical about primes.

I mean they are numbers that represent something basic. Multiplicatively, they can't be broken down and they end up becoming the special cases upon which every mathematical theory must be tried. And yet once you throw them into the world of math theory you get all sorts of weird math facts, that are just undeniably cool.

Like the fact that (p-1)! + 1 is divisible by p, if and only if, p is a prime.

Dude, like awesome.

And yet primes remain mysterious. It was only a few years ago people learned how to test if a number was prime within polynomial time (see here), people still can't prove that there are an infinite number of primes where p and p+2 are prime. And there's the fact that as you go to infinity, the number of primes approaches the function x/ln(x). Zuh?!

I say zuh not because prime numbers are hard to understand, although sometimes they are, but because their wonder and bounty are just mind-boggling.

So let it be understood then, primes are awesome.

And since primes are awesome, math is awesome.

Of course, this is but one of the proofs of math's awesomeness, which are as numerous as prime numbers themselves, and thus proven to be infinite.

Tipu, if not Sultan then what?

My brother's doing a report on Tipu Sultan, and since he is a most fascinating character I thought I might share a little on the man with you.

But here I'd like to display a little of my oft-maligned superpower, random history knowledge off the top of my head, so there will be no references here, there will be perhaps a few errors, ah, but this should be interesting. (I'll try to give a more researched overview of Tipu Sultan in the future)

First of all, for those who do not know, Tipu Sultan was the ruler of the Kingdom of Mysore in the late 18th century. Mysore now is a city in the Indian state of Karnataka (I did look up the proper spelling there, but just so I could avoid any offense), but it once was a center of a Kingdom that covered perhaps a good 1/3 to 1/2 of South India. Tipu Sultan was not born of the line of Mysore Maharaja's that are there today. Rather his father overthrew that line, which was restored after Tipu Sultan's death.

It is interesting then to note that Tipu Sultan was essentially a usurper, and the fight between him and the British was between two usurpers, ah, but India in those days was a land of usurpers.

In those days of the late 18th century, the British East India Company was near hegemony (although not quite dominance) in North India and was making deep in roads into South India. The great forces which could oppose it, such as the Mughal Empire or the Maratha Confederacy were in steep decline. The French remained even their influence was starting to drop. One striking exception (there were a few others such as the Sikh's to the northwest and the Afghans, but those are other stories), was the Kingdom of Mysore. Whereas other powers were declining, Mysore was ascendant, and Tipu Sultan was an important cause of that ascent.

There were other causes, such as the wise management of his father, the key location of Mysore in trade routes, and Mysore's position within the Franco-British contest, but Tipu Sultan was a strong ruler. He centralized the state, abolished the tax farmers, modernized the military, essentially accomplished all those steps which would save the monarchies of Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Thailand in later years. In short he was a formidable foe to the British expansion on the subcontinent.

The details of the Anglo-Mysore wars are beyond off-my-head knowledge, but they did involve the future Duke of Wellington, who was prouder of his victories here than those in Europe. But to summarize, while the first was a draw, the second saw Mysore gain, and the third saw Mysore weakened, and the fourth left Mysore a British dependency and Tipu Sultan dead.

The difficulty of defeating Tipu Sultan and that tantalizing counter-factual of his victory continues to taunt historians. Unlike some of the more recent historians, I do not wish to romanticize Tipu Sultan. He was ruthless, the surrounding states of South India were justified to be afraid of him and probably got better deals from the British to oppose him than Tipu would have given them. Moreover, he did devastate the countryside of Malabar in his campaigns there. Yet he was a strong and talented ruler, who did shape and develop his kingdom well. And he represents an alternate possibility. In essence, he did many of the steps that made the British East India company a formidable force within his own country. Could he have been the ruler of India? Could he have forced a split? Ah, but the could's of history are many, and while worth pondering, require more than off-the-top of my head knowledge. Maybe another day.

I hope therefore you have an idea of why Tipu Sultan is worthy of my brother's report. An impressive man, a cruel man, a blood-soaked man, a great ruler, essentially an important historical figure, with all the ambivalence of history carried in his name.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Cause you can't spell Rand Show without Rand

So I've been away. The first week or two I can excuse through finals and graduation (Wooo! Graduated! Thank you Lord!), but there's still a week or so which I can only say I chose not to post anything. Why such a thing?

Well, like I've said before, writing these posts, even if no one reads them, is something productive for me, and I have been ambivalent about being productive. With college and all over with, I no longer have a definite pressing obligation toward working (other than the fact I'm sucking up my parents money), and so I can drift a little bit, a bit detached from it all. There's something terribly peaceful about being detached from everything.

(Quick reference: watch the Fountainhead movie (you can read the book, but even if you're not a fan of Ayn Rand, the movie's pretty cool), there's a scene where the female lead drops a beautiful Greek sculpture down a garbage shoot, when asked why, she says because I loved it. Ties of love are ties that bind)

Well, as I noted in my reference above, ties of love are ties that bind. When you engage in anything productive you take on responsibilities to maintain such things or have the pain of watching them fade. As CS Lewis once noted, the only place the heart is at peace outside of heaven is in hell.

So there is that peace of utter lack of care in detachment. But screw peace.

So bit by bit I'm trying to shake off this feeling of, and a certain visceral desire for, detachment so I can start living again. And this is one step, and I have taken others, and I will take others.

And step by step, onto the silver sea.

Until the last step must be taken by us all.

And then if we're lucky, the steps will be a staircase to the kingdom in the sky.

So take it to your head, take it to your heart, and remember Rand rocks. Goodnight Folks!

And God Bless.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Still alive

But working hard for the money, so hard for the honey, I work hard for the money so give me some money and honey... yeah!

So got to go. Be back soon.