Tuesday, August 10, 2021

"April 1865: The Month That Saved America"

Most people know that Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, and that Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox that same month. It was the beginning of the end of the Civil War.

What most people don't know (but I learned from Jay Winik's excellent book, April 1865: The Month That Saved America) is that the military and political leadership of both the Union and the Confederacy were involved in momentous decisions in April that helped bring the war to an end, and bring the country back together. These were decisions that, had they been made differently, could've resulted in catastrophe for our nation. Even if the Union had won the war, and the South readmitted, our identity as a unified country might have been in jeopardy had these decisions been made differently. 

As Winik points out, using contemporary examples, some countries and regions never fully recover from civil wars. To increase the probability of long-lasting peace, Lincoln and Grant chose to disregard the railings of those who would bring shame and severe punishment on the heads of their conquered enemy. Though Jefferson Davis was all for a last-ditch attempt at preserving the Confederacy by sending the army into the hills for prolonged guerrilla warfare, Lee chose the high road, knowing the impact of a sustained war would only make matters far worse than they already were. Winik covers both the strengths and faults of Lincoln, Grant, Lee, Sherman, Johnson, Davis, and Forrest, and shows that, despite these faults, they made the decisions at the end of the war that enabled the U.S. to come back together.

The only thing I wish Winik had not omitted was a discussion of Lincoln's presidential pardons for high-ranking Confederate officers and officials, and how that played out with Andrew Johnson once he assumed the presidency. I believe Lincoln's policies in this regard played an important role in achieving peace, and Johnson's policies almost aborted this.

For a different but equally engaging account of events in April and May 1865, I highly recommend James L. Swanson's Bloody Crimes: The Chase for Jefferson Davis and the Death Pageant for Lincoln's Corpse.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

How to Get from Jazz to Math in Sixty Seconds

In my post of June 29, I talked about connections among people, types of music, inspiration for writers, etc. Sometimes it's fun to play a game of "connect the dots." Here's a series of connections I recently picked up on:

Beginning with jazz

My wife and I recognize that we were not born with the gene for appreciating jazz. I have a feeling that that would apply to "progressive" jazz as well (if not more so). 

But progressive rock is a different story. I appreciate it a great deal, and my wife appreciates some of it too. This genre of music is represented by many bands, including Dream Theater (official website here), perhaps my favorite band of all time.

... to a progressive rock guitarist

Dream Theater's lead guitarist, John Petrucci, is an award-winning virtuoso.

Petrucci has also had a side gig, a band called Liquid Tension Experiment.

... and on to math

Liquid Tension Experiment is a favorite band of two German mathematicians, Peter Scholze and Johan Commelin.

"Liquid Tensor Experiment" was the title of a post on mathematician Kevin Buzzard's blog in December 2020, in which Peter Scholze described some of his recent work.

This work included the use of mathematical objects called liquid real vector spaces in a proof that was verified by a breakthrough computer system named "Lean".

Try it yourself!

Start with this and see where you can go with it: "The Girl With the Hungry Eyes", a song by Jefferson Starship whose lyrics reference Einstein: "I like to move at the speed of light / Albert says I can't but I can".