Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What a Feeling!

Just moments I ago finished one of the most thrilling conversations  of my life!

Yeah, I know, you've heard that kind of Styble hyperbole before.  But this ain't hyperbole, Pal.  Nope, this is genuine excitement, generated by a lengthy chat with a long-retired high school mathematics teacher--and then subsequently a highly successful St. Louis-based tax preparer--named J. Harold Vaughn, or as I merely knew him starting back in 1969, just Mr. Vaughn.

I've been hugely desirous of speaking with him again for many years, but I just finally made the telephonic connection within the hour.  If the RadioactiveUniverse reader finds that name a bit familiar, it's because you read my "The Count Ends at Three" essay, easily accessible just a few entries below.

And I'm this excited because I not only had the most wonderful chat with this man who has meant soooooo much to me in a considerable number--pun intended, yes--of ways, but also because I learned I'm going to soon meet with him over lunch or dinner, perhaps this coming January.

I told him, without exaggeration, that literally he's the third-ranking person on the planet I'd like to meet with at a nice restaurant over a fine meal.

Those familiar with Bryan Styble's quirky ways already know who Number One is (that would of course be Dylan [reference sister blog]) and that Number Two would be my late father, Lewis John Stibal (1921-1986), but of course that's flatly impossible.

But I kid you nor even exaggerate not:  Number Three is James Harold Vaughn, and I am delighted to report his mind clearly remains as razor sharp today as it was in 1969.  And I'm going to again shake his hand, G-d willing, as soon as January 2013.  (Wish I could say the same about Audrey Stibal, longtime beloved wife of Lewis cited above, whose brain has been gradually and oh so heart-wrenchingly wasting away, due to the scourge known as Alzheimer's, since 2004.)

I just can't wait until January.  But I'll have to.


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Kindly Place the Accent on the First Syllable!

Despite the nonstop national nattering about the Herman Cain mess, I've yet to see this all-important issue addressed: which is the preferred pronunciation of the word "harassment"?

In fact, amid the dozens of newscasts, talk radio calls and cable roundtable chats I've listened to since The Politico broke this story nine days ago, I've heard the accent placed on the first syllable a total of once thus far. (And that was just a couple minutes ago, by the Wall Street Journal questioner at Cain's ongoing press conference in Phoenix.)

Now it so happens that I have a decided preference for "HAIR-iss-ment", and in turn also positively abhor the almost-universally-used "huh-RASS-ment".

And make no mistake, both pronunciations are equally acceptable as Standard English. It's unfortunate so many people incorrectly believe lexicographers rank pronunciation preference; in fact, virtually every dictionary publisher sequences so-called "variant" pronunciations by usage frequency, rather than to reflect any supposed consensus of expert preference. So you're skating on grammatically thick ice with either pronunciation. (Now mind you, it's always considered terribly bad form if you fail to stick with just one.)

But I'm here to make the case for the, ahem, pronounced superiority of the first-syllable option. Call me a bluenose if you like, but I just don't enjoy hearing the sound "ass" uttered, even if it's merely three-quarters of a syllable sandwiched betwixt two other quite innocuous syllables.

This considerable--to me, at least*--consideration would be reason enough to a verbally punctilious type like myself, but there's a bonus. The pronunciation I invariably employ also alludes to Jean Harris, the Virginia finishing-school dean whom you'll remember served time for the upstate New York shooting death of another famous Herman, the Scarsdale Diet guru Dr. Tarnower.

The late physician and author may or may not have ever sexually harassed his longtime galpal per se, but by every account the two-timing Tarnower clearly done her wrong in that sad 1980 case. Of course, he didn't deserve to pay for his callousness with his life, either accidentally, as Harris implausibly contended at trial, or accidentally-on-purpose.

Harris survives in quiet post-prison retirement in Connecticut, incidentally, and remains at age 88 at least a somewhat sympathetic figure to anyone who holds cads in contempt. And, as an old-school headmistress responsible for the education of a couple generations of daughters of the Eastern elite, Harris presumably regards elegant grammar as rather important. So even if your ear isn't annoyed like mine is by that darned A-sound, if only to pay homage to Harris, why not argue the Cain matter with the accent on the first?

BRYAN STYBLE/somewhere

*Or perhaps at most; I'm fully aware few and maybe even no others are as absolutist as I am regarding verbal vulgarity, on or off the air.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Don't Believe, I'm an Atheist—I mean, I Don't Believe I'm an Atheist!

In addition to the Obama-vote inquiry ("Stuck on Obama?", directly below), the question has also been e-raised as to whether I'm a closet atheist.

The short answer is no, I remain an agnostic.

The long answer is no, I remain an agnostic, but one who is definitely sympathetic with the growing atheistic movement being spearheaded by the likes of such serious thinkers as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins.

Most specifically, I'm an agnostic who sees absolutely zero convincing evidence of G-d's existence. Alas.

I'm also a putative Jew, having converted through the Society of Humanistic Judaism in 1999, but SHJ definitely is an atheist-dominated movement. If one equates simple non-belief with atheism, then I'd be an atheist by that elastic definition, for I see faith as being in direct conflict and mutually-exclusive with reason.

For those who are still unclear on what exactly agnosticism is, and most important, why it's not synonymous with or simply a euphemism for non-belief, this is a good definition: a stance that argues that the way nature seems to be structured, it is impossible to rule out or in the existence of a natural intelligence or consciousness that we normally refer to as G-d. As you know, the true atheist avers the impossibility of G-d's existence. But even I must grant the possibility of some intelligent force making itself undetectable by us, hence my nominal agnosticism. And yeah, I know, even that's a stretch. So I remain thoroughly dubious as to the likelihood any religion got correct what Michael Kinsley (and I) call "the central question of the universe".

But I could be wrong, and am always willing to be persuaded.


Stuck on Obama?

The question has been raised in the Radioactive e-mailbag as to whether I yet regret my vote in November for Barack Hussein Obama.

The answer is: Nope, not yet.


Monday, August 24, 2009

The Count Ends at Three

My long-suffering readers might be justifiably concerned that the Radioactive brand is proliferating out of control. If so, rest assured, this third blog RadioactiveUniverse is my absolute final one. And I can even prove it mathematically.

Speaking of math class, as I often did to those suffering in the audience of my newstalk radio broadcasts, algebra was repository of many of my favorite scholastic memories. Perhaps my most inspiring moment ever in my mathematical education came, as they so often did, courtesy my all-time fave teacher in any subject, Mr. J. Harold Vaughn.
Now mind you, only about half of my math education ever took place in class; the rest came on my own via lay books which popularized the concepts which animate advanced realms like topology, nonEuclidian geometry, number theory, set theory and the calculus. But it was in Algebra II when I learned that—just as you above were surely relieved to find will be no more additional Radioactive blogs—there would be never be a need for more types of numbers beyond the so-called complex numbers.

You see, as Mr. Vaughn explained, primitive man needed only the positive integers to count his livestock, or wives, or enemies. Then commerce created a need for negative numbers—in the red to a patient neighbor for a certain number of whatever the barter currency of the day was. So they invented negative integers.

And by that point, the divvying up of certain commodities necessitated the invention of fractions. And eventually, problems like the length of diagonals of geometric figures mandated the invention of irrationals. And many of us also know of the centuries-long struggle to invent zero. And thus we had invented all the real numbers. And then when the need came along during The Enlightenment to solve equations like x times x = -1, my hero Euler invented the imaginary numbers, but, like so many 21st Century software engineers, failed to dub them with an intuitive name. So math students to this day are confused by these nominally "imaginary" numbers, when in fact they are no more or less imaginary than any of those invented prior to them.

But this process was starting to scare me. What if the further I went in math, the more types of exotic number systems they'd keep inventing and for me to increasingly struggle to understand? How could I ever sort it all out?

But as he so often did, Mr. Vaughn set my mathematical mind at permanent ease. For it turns out the Fundamental Theorem of Algebra, proved by Euler himself and many others, forever limits the need to invent new systems! This, on top of my favorite theorem's most elegant charm—that any nth degree equation has precisely n complex roots—meant the complex numbers limits forever the array of fields mathematicians must till. That is, no matter how exotic a mathematical realm you dream up, the complex numbers will be able to computationally describe it.

Likewise, my initial blog (RadioactiveSeattle, regarding the commercial newstalk radio biz) in 2007, my second blog (Radioactive Dylan, regarding Dylanology, an utterly fascinating and esoteric realm, but not for the faint-of-heart) earlier this year, and now RadioactiveUniverse, whose domain is everything else. So this third blog is, for better or for worse, it. And I intend to make it for better.

And of course, you can make it better too, with your constructive—or just vindictive—posted comments hereto. Feel free to point out typos even, if you like.


Birth of a Universe

A verbose guy shall be succinct:

This RadioactiveUniverse blog is being established for essays, brief or lengthy, by Bryan Styble on any matters unrelated to the respective realms of its two sister blogs, newstalk radio (sister blog RadioactiveSeattle) and Dylanology (sister blog Radioactive Dylan ).