Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

May 24, 2005

In Memoriam, George Dantzig

Filed under: — Different River @ 7:54 pm

Professor George B. Dantzig, one of the founders of linear programming, and the inventor of the simplex method, the most practical method for solving linear programs and one of the most successful mathematical algorithms of all time, has passed away at age 90.

For those of you who are not mathematically inclined (linear programming is a field of math, not computers): You should appreciate this as much as your mathematical friends, since the simplex method has found very widespread use. If you’ve ever used Mapquest or any other software to find directions, you’ve used (a modified version of) the simplex method. If you’ve every flown on an airplane, the crew was scheduled for the flight using (another modified version of) the simplex method. Those are just two of thousands of examples.

For those of you who are a bit more mathematically inclined: If you’ve taken more than two college-level math classes, you’ve probably heard the story of the student who arrived late to class, saw some math problems on the chalkboard, and copied them down assuming they were homework. He found them more difficult than most homework, but solved them anyway. It turned out they were not homework, but two famous unsolved problems the professor had shared with the class. Well, this really happened (even Snopes admits it), and George Dantzig was that student. (The professor was Jerzy Neyman.)

George Dantzig was one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century. His work was pioneering, creative, revolutionary, important theoretically, and extremely useful for solving real-world problems. The simplex method is revolutionary in part because it can’t be proved theoretically that it works as well as it does in practice. (“It works in practice, but it doesn’t work in theory.”) There have many mathematicians were more interested in problems that were theoretically elegant, but had no practical usefulness, like art for art’s sake. George Dantzig was not like that. His method was shown to be emminently useful, and for him that counted, even if it was not that “elegant.” (The simplex method can be proved to produce the right answer, but it can’t be proved that it will do so in a reasonable amount of time. However, in the overwhelming majority of real cases, it does.) He himself said in the opening sentence of his 1963 book Linear Programming and Extensions, “The final test of any theory is its capacity to solve the problems which originated it.”

He is also special to me personally the first “great mathematician” who was still alive when I was taking the course based on his work. Most of them passed on centuries, or at least decades, ago.

A biography, written on the occasion on Prof. Dantzig’s 80th birthday, is here. More information on linear programming is here.

(Hat tip: Slashdot.)

How the Left Betrayed My Country – Iraq

Filed under: — Different River @ 6:59 pm

This article is from a few months back, but I just found it now, and it’s never too late for the truth. Especially a truth that is still relevant and that a lot of people don’t believe or understand (yet).

This is a lesson in:

  • Be careful what you believe.
  • Even if it comes from well-intentioned people.
  • Even if it comes from respected media organizations
  • Even if it comes from nearly all respected media organizations

Naseer Flayih Hasan lives in Iraq, and wrote an article on the Iraqi reaction to the war, and the opposition to it by those in on the left in the United States and European countries. Here it is, with my comments. (Bold emphasis is mine, italic emphasis is in the original.)

Before the last war, we Iraqis spent decades cut off from the outside world. Not only did the Baathist regime prevent us from traveling during the Iran-Iraq conflict and the period of the sanctions, but they punished anyone possessing satellite television. And of course, internet access was strictly limited. Because of our isolation, most of us had little idea or sense about life beyond our borders.

(Now the phones are untapped, satellite TV is legal, and not only is internet legal but there are many Iraqi bloggers giving the world an uncensored view of what’s going on there.)

We did believe, however, that democracy and human rights were important factors in Western civilization. So it came as a shock to us when millions of people began demonstrating across the world against America’s build-up to the invasion of our country. We supposed the protests were by people who had no idea about the terrible atrocities that the regime had inflicted upon us for decades. We assumed that once they learned what had happened in Iraq, they would change their minds, or modify their opposition to the war.

My first clue that this would not happen was a few weeks after Baghdad fell. I had befriended a French reporter who had begun to realize that the situation in Iraq was not how the international media or the so-called “peace camp” described it. I noticed, however, that whenever he tried to voice his doubts to colleagues, they argued that he was wrong.

So, a French reporter starts to believe his own eyes instead of his preconceived notions, and all the other reporters try to talk him out of believing his own eyes, and back into his (and their) preconceived notions. How’s that for being open-minded? How’s that for “unbiased” journalism?

Soon afterwards, I met a Dutch woman on Mutinabi Street, where booksellers lay out their wares on Friday morning. I asked her how long she’d been in Iraq and, through a translator, she answered, “Three months.”

“So you were here during the war?”

“Yes!” she said. “To see the crimes of the Americans!”

I was stunned. After a moment, I replied, “What about the crimes of the regime? It killed millions of Iraqis. Do you know that if the regime was still in power, the conversation we’re having now would result in our torture or death?”

Her face turned red and she angrily responded, “Soon will come the day that the Americans will do worse.” She then went on to accuse me of not knowing what the true facts were in Iraq—and that she could see the situation better than me!

She’s been in Iraq for three months, she doesn’t speak the language, and she claims to know the situation of the people in the country better than someone who’s lives his whole live there!

And, she knows that the crimes of the previous regime — no matter what they are — are nothing compared to the “crimes of the Americans.” Even if the regime killed millions of Iraqis, that’s nothing compared to the “crimes of the Americans,” who have done no such thing.

This is such a common view on the left it doesn’t even surprise me any more — in fact, it’s more like a basic principle of leftism than an observation of fact. The principle is, no matter how many millions of people are killed by a third-world dictator, that third-world dictator is morally superior to the Americans who oppose or try to get rid of him, either by war or peaceful means. Furthermore, any attempt by the Americans to get rid of a dictator who is murdering “his own” people (he owns them?) is actually an attack on those people he is oppressing.

Thus, if Saddam is murdering Iraqis and the Iraqis want to be rid of him, and the Americans try to get rid of him, this is termed “an attack on the Iraqi people.” Likewise, in the Cold War, opposition to Communist oppression of Russians and ethnic minorities in Russia was termed “being against the Russian people,” opposition to the Mengitsu regime in Ethiopia was “against the Ethiopian people,” opposition to Castro is “against the Cuban people,” etc. The only exception to this that comes to mind is the apartheid government of South Africa — but on second thought this is not entirely an exception, because though the left deemed it acceptable, even obligatory, to oppose the South African government’s oppression of non-whites, it was unacceptable to oppose the (black) African National Congress, even though they regularly murdered their political opponents, often by burning them alive by throwing gasoline-laden tires around their necks and lighting them. This was euphemistically called “necklacing,” and anyone who opposed it — or even mentioned it, was accused of supporting apartheid.

She was not the only “humanitarian” who expressed such outrageous opinions. One afternoon, I was speaking to some members of the American anti-war group “Voices in the Wilderness.” One of the group’s members declared that the Iraqi Governing Council (then in power at the time) were “traitors.” I was shocked. Most of the Council were people whom we Iraqis knew had suffered and sacrificed in a long struggle against the regime. Some represented opposition parties who had lost ten of thousand of members in that struggle. Others came from families who had lost up to 30 loved ones to the Baathists.

After those, and many other, experiences, we finally comprehended how little we had in common with these “peace activists” who constantly decried American crimes, and hated to listen to us talk about the terrible long nightmare that ended with the collapse of the regime. We came to understand how these “humanitarians” experienced a sort of pleasure when terrorists or former remnants of the regime created destruction in Iraq—just so they could feel that they were right, and the Americans wrong!

Worse, we realized it was hopeless to make them grasp our feelings. We believed—and still believe–that America’s removal of the regime opened a new way for democracy. At the same time, we have no illusions that the U.S. came to Iraq on a white horse to save our people. We understand this war is all about national interests, and that America’s interests are mainly about defeating terrorism. At this moment, though, U.S. interests are doing more to bring about democracy and freedom in Iraq than, say, the policies of France and Russia—countries which also care little for the Iraqi people and, worse, did their best to save Saddam from destruction until the last moment.

Well, there you go. America is trying to protect itself from terrorism, so its (our) actions in Iraq are not entirely altrusitic. But at least these policies benefit the people at the expense of the dictators — both in Iraq and in Afghanistan — rather than the other way around.

It’s worth noting, as well, that the general attitude of peace activists I met was tension and anger. They were impossible to reason with. This was because, on one hand, the sometimes considerable risks they took to oppose the war made them unable to accept the fact that their cause was not as noble as they believed. Then, too, their dogmatic anti-American attitudes naturally drew them to guides, translators, drivers and Iraqi acquaintances who were themselves supporters of the regime. These Iraqis, in turn, affected the peace activists until they came to share almost the same judgments and opinions as the terrorists and defenders of Saddam.

This was very disappointing for someone like me, who thought for decades that the Left was generally the progressive power in the world. You can imagine how aghast I was when my French reporter friend told me that the Communist Party in his country actually considers the “insurgents” to be the equivalent of the French Gaullists! Or how troubling it is to hear Jacques Chirac take satisfaction from the violence wreaked by the terrorists—those bloody monsters that we Iraqis know so well—because they justify France’s original opposition to the war.

And so I have become disillusioned, at least with the Leftists I met in Iraq. So noble in their rhetoric, they looked to the stars, yet ignored what was happening around them, caring only about what was inside their minds. So glorious in their ideals, their thoughts were inflexible and their deeds unnecessary, even harmful. In the end, they proved to me how dogma and fanaticism had transform peace activists into—lifeless peace “statues.”

Yet another example of how useless it is to judge people motivations, rather than their actions.

Other bloggers comment on the article here, here, and here. And this blogger thinks it’s all Republican propaganda. After all, it contradicts his preconceived notions, so what else could it be?

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