Friday 12 February 2010

Nuts! Peanuts That is.

It was on a Sunday ten years ago today that the last original Peanuts hit the papers. Snoopy, atop his
doghouse at the typewriter, ended the run of a comic that had been there for a half-century. It happened, by chance, on the morning following the death of creator Charles Schulz.

I guess it is a day for nuts. Stockard Channing and Jerry Springer were both born on this day in 1944... and at least one of them is nuts. About 25 years before that, Tennesse Earnie Ford was born. He described himself as a pea-picker rather than a peanut, but close enough.

And in 1920, the National Negro League was founded by a nut from Chicago named Rube Foster. Rube was perhaps the greatest negro pitcher of the period...and he was the founder of the longest lasting of the negro leagues. When he started the league,he actually owned the contract of every player in the league. He managed to get the use of Mack Park in Detroit for one of his charter teams, the Detroit Stars. Mack Park was located about four miles from downtown Detroit at the corner of Fairview Ave. and Mack Ave, hence the name. Although the area was predominantly German immigrants, the Mack trolley made it easy for supporters to make it out to the park from the black areas of the city.

And then one day, as the story is told by Wikipedia, "In July 1929, the Kansas City Monarchs were in Detroit to play a doubleheader with the Stars. Two days of heavy rain left the ball field with standing water and threatened to postpone the game. Roesink,(the Grand Rapids hat maker who owned the park) working with the grounds crew, ordered gasoline to be spread on the field for eventual ignition to dry out the field and save the game from cancellation. (You know that was nuts..) After dispersing as much gasoline as they needed, the grounds crew stored the spare cans below the wooden bleachers(Uh oh... probably not a good idea). It is thought that a discarded cigarette butt accidentally ignited the gasoline on the field. Flames quickly spread to the storage area, resulting in a raging fire that engulfed the wooden framework of the stadium." (how totally unexpected..... if you are nuts.)

After the fire, Mack Park was rebuilt and managed to provide a site for HS baseball until in the sixties, then an influx of federal money turned it into a home for the elderly. There are some nice looking condo-like apartments there...but it isn't a very good place to play baseball.

And so the Stars moved to Hamtramack. By 1931 the depression had brought the Negro National League to an end. The Stars continued playing as an independent team, and then as part of various short lived leagues. The team was still alive in 1958 when the owner, Ted Rasberry, decided to rename the team after former negro league star Goose Tatum... Now there is a real nut, but you probably know the Goose better for his antics on the Basketball court. He was the original "Clown Prince" of the Harlem Globetrotters. Tatum started his career in the 1940s as a baseball player for the Birmingham Black Barons and the Indianapolis Clowns of the (new)Negro National League. It was during this time that he started clowning around on the field to amuse the crowds. Abe Saperstein spotted Tatum clowning around on a baseball field and put him to work. Not so nutty, he invented the "sky hook" that would make Kareem Jabbar one of the most potent offensive forces in both college and professional basketball.

The Stars lived only two more years, and the Goose lived seven more after that.

And this was the day on which the celebration of Lupercalia began in Ancient Rome. The Holiday derived from the festival of Februa, from which this month gets its name. It came originally from the Sabine tribes, an ancient tribe from central Italy who were conquered by the Romans around 290 BC. The festival was a fertility ritual in which the women were flogged with an appendage, or organ, of an animal (sorry, I'm not sure what,,,or I'm not bold enough to tell you what) with the supposed result that they would be more likely to bear children. It is through association with this festival that the romantic associations of St. Valentine's Day began, a day that originally had no association with love or relationships. And the theme today is....... yeah, that's nuts.

For the math history freaks, you know who you are.. today is also the birthday of Peter Gustav Dirichlet, the German mathemtician, who was born on Feb 13,1805. Dirichlet is remembered for a theorem he used in working on Pell's equation, which has more recently become known as the Pigeon-hole theorem. It seems that term was originate by Paul Erdos in a 1956 paper. Before that... well here is a note I have from a not-too recent discussion on a history group by Julio Cabillon. He added that there are a variety of names in different countries for the idea. His list included "le principe des tiroirs de Dirichlet", French for the principle of the drawers of Dirichlet, and the Portugese "principio da casa dos pombos" for the house of pigeons principle and "das gavetas de Dirichlet" for the drawers of Dirichlet. It also is sometimes simply called Dirichlet's principle and most simply of all, the box principle. Jozef Przytycki wrote me to add, "In Polish we use also:"the principle of the drawers of Dirichlet" that is 'Zasada szufladkowa Dirichleta' ". Dirichlet first wrote about it in " Recherches sur les formes quadratiques à coefficients et à indéterminées complexes" (J. reine u. angew. Math. (24 (1842) 291 371) = Math. Werke, (1889 1897), which was reprinted by Chelsea, 1969, vol. I, pp. 533 618. On pp. 579 580, he uses the principle to find good rational approximations. He doesn't give it a name. In later works he called it the "Schubfach Prinzip" [which I am told means "drawer principle" in German]

I had assumed, as stated on the Wolfram "MathWorld" site, that,"This statement has important applications in number theory and was first stated by Dirichlet in 1834". In truth, the principal has been around much longer than Dirichlet, as I found out in June of 2009 when Dave Renfro sent me word that the idea pops up in the unexpected (at least by me) work, "Portraits of the seventeenth century, historic and literary", by Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve. During his description of Mme. de Longuevillle, who was Ann-Genevieve De Bourbon, and lived from 1619 to 1679 he tells the following story:
"I asked M. Nicole (See below for description of M. Nicole) one day what was the character of Mme. de Longueville's mind; he told me she had a very keen and very delicate mind in knowledge of the character of individuals, but that it was very small, very weak, very limited on matters of science and reasoning, and on all speculative matters in which there was no question of sentiment ' For example,' added he, ' I told her one day that I could bet and prove that there were in Paris at least two inhabitants who had the same number of hairs upon their head, though I could not point out who were those two persons. She said i could not be certain of it until I had counted the hairs of the two persons. Here is my demonstration/ I said to her: M lay it down as a fact that the best-fiimbhed head does not possess more than 200,000 hairs, and the most scantily furnished head b that which has only 1 hair. If, now you suppose that 200,000 heads all have a different number of hairs, they must each have one of the numbers of hairs which are between 1 and 200,000; for if we suppose that there were 2 among these 200,000 who had the same number of hairs, I win my bet But suppose these 200,000 inhabitants all have a different number of hairs, if I bring in a single other inhabitant who has hairs and has no more than 200,000 of them, it necessarily follows that this number of hairs, whatever it be, will be found between 1 and 200,000, and, consequently, be equal in number of hairs to one of the 200,000 heads. Now, as instead of one inhabitant more than 200,000, there are, in all, nearly 800,000 inhabitants in Paris, you see plainly that there must be many heads equal in number of hairs, although I have not counted them.' Mme. de Longuevillle still could not understand that demonstration could be made of the equality in number of hairs, and she always maintained that the only way to prove it was to count them. "
The M. Nicole who demonstrated the principal was Pierre Nicole, (1625 -1695), one of the most distinguished of the French Jansenist writers, sometimes compared more favorably than Pascal for his writings on the moral reasoning of the Port Royal Jansenist. It may be that he had picked up the principal from Antoine Arnauld, another Port Royal Jansenist who was an influential mathematician and logician.

It is the kind of tool you need if you want to prove that there are two people living in Detroit who have exactly the same number of hairs on their head. ( really, that is NOT nuts).

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