Calculus … ‘n’ stuff

Calculus : the branch of mathematics that deals with the finding and properties of derivatives and integrals of functions, by methods originally based on the summation of infinitesimal differences. The two main types are differential calculus and integral calculus. – Oxford Dictionary

Syria is presenting a difficult situation to the world and to the United States – still.  The US press has taken to referring to the difficult situation as having difficult calculus.  From this, they get their cue from the president, who has referred to “the calculus” of Syria.  Such as: clear evidence of chemical weapons use would change “the calculus.”

This language clearly tells us that, regardless of what they might know or don’t know, they want us to think they are intelligent … and serious.  Anyone who uses the word calculus must be smart and somber, capable of deep thought.  And since they want us to think they are intelligent (and … ahem … serious), … well then … the fact that they must resort to such a word should send us to a safe place.  They probably aren’t.

To politicians (i.e. lawyers) and the press (i.e. journalism majors) using such a word as calculus is a smoke screen – a curtain – meant to deceive.  As in: the wizard must consult with the infinite through the magic of “calculus.”

That’s right.  Here — sit right down here.

That’s it. Ha ha!  This — this is the same

genuine, magic, authentic crystal used by

the Priests of Isis and Osiris in the days

of the Pharaohs of Egypt — in which

Cleopatra first saw the approach of Julius

Caesar and Marc Anthony, and — and so on

— and so on. Now, you — you’d better

close your eyes, my child, for a moment —

in order to be better in tune with the


We — we can’t do these things without…

…reaching out into the…

…infinite.  Yes.”  

— Professor Marvel, in The Wizard of Oz [1]

That’s it!  Marvel’s use of “crystal” – like the use of “calculus” by the political and press community – actually triggers a sense of cheap chicanery combined with complete inauthenticity and utter ignorance.  Our BS-alert meters light up.  At least – like Professor Marvel in MGM’s adaptation of L. Frank Baum’s fantasy story – our president and press are sincere and mean well.  Still.

Let’s help them out a bit.  There are many fields of mathematics that could apply.  In fact, simply substitute Mathematics for calculus, and our BS-alert systems wouldn’t overheat as much.

How about Arithmetic?  Chemical weapons use by Assad, or presence of al-Qaeda among rebel leaders, would change the Arithmetic.  That’s a little too weak, isn’t it?  Bill Clinton and Joe Biden beat us up during the 2012 campaign season – especially at the Democratic Convention – explaining that the government’s role in the economy was as simple as Arithmetic.  Gosh, did I feel dumb.  Who knew it was so easy?

How about Geometry?  Or even Algebra?  Those are subjects that many people in non-math, non-science and non-engineering roles have taken, studied, and passed.  We could appreciate that it’s difficult, but it’s doable.  Evidently, those words convey too much simplicity.  [Algebra would have a special applicability though, as it crept into European languages from Arabic].

OK then.  How about some related fields that actually have uncertainty and variability built into them? How about Probability and Statistics, or Computational Quantum Physics? – which pretty much couldn’t exist without uncertainty and probability.

I also suggested Chaos Theory and Fractals, where even knowing all present facts as perfectly as possible cannot lead us to absolute certain knowledge of any future facts.

Or the best: Fuzzy Logic.  A true branch of math and logic, it is.  And unlike Computational Quantum Physics its very name suggests uncertainty!  The application of such math already accepts that a perfect picture of reality at this moment may not be – in fact cannot be – a perfect picture in the next moment.  And better yet, a perfect picture is not attainable!

Lamentably, this is the unfortunate situation the world faces.  It is a situation of certain uncertainty.  We can be absolutely sure that there is significant information – like how things will unfold 1, 2 or 10 years hence – which we absolutely certainly cannot know.

It could be so much easier, couldn’t it?

  • What if Bashar Assad (Syria’s dictator) was known to have 550 tons of uranium yellow cake?  It’s not weapon-grade fissile material, but could make a heckuvalot of dirty bombs.
  • What if Bashar Assad were also known to casually lob missiles into civilian populations – not just his own country, but to neighboring countries?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew certainly that he had not just used chemical weapons, but had repeatedly used those dozens of times – over a period of decades? With many thousands of victims each time.
  • What if he actually bragged about having tons and tons of the stuff … both Sarin and VX?  And what if, when challenged, he denied it, saying it was destroyed?  And then if, when further challenged to provide evidence, he produced 13,000 pages of gobbledygook … sending the world’s truth-seekers into a wild goose chase?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if we knew he’d order mass rapes, ran brutal torture chambers, burned people slowly to death with their families watching, and had multiple mass graves scattered across his country?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier if he were to invade a neighboring country, in naked aggrandizement, to seize highly productive oil fields as his own?
  • And gosh, would it be easier if Assad also bragged about paying money (first $10K, then $25K, and finally $50,000 per event) to Palestinian families as a pay-off when their teenage children blew themselves up in crowds of Jews?
  • What if the UN actually passed numerous resolutions saying: this regime must stop what it is doing, or face military action?
  • What if the United States had dozens of countries ready to stand side-by-side in a grand alliance, including a willingness to provide “boots on the ground”?  What if there were corroborating intelligence from organizations like the UK’s MI6, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB and GRU … and many others?

If only it were so easy.  But no, it’s not so easy at all.  Those are the circumstances under which we went to war in Iraq in 2003.  We so easily forget that both presidents named Bush went and got congressional approval to fight a war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq under brutal facts (those are the 2003 war; the 1991 war liberated Kuwait).  They also built huge international coalitions in support of those wars.

Virtually every Democratic voter who was born before 1986 has voted for such people to become president multiple times (or by inference, vice-president, which means “a heartbeat away”): Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton, John Kerry, John Edward, Joe Lieberman. They all voted to go to war against Iraq (Democrats by a 28-21 margin in the Senate) under far more strict and severe criteria than we now consider to justify lobbing cruise missiles and few airstrikes into Syria.  [2]

In short, a YEA vote now is validation — ok, perhaps some thin vindication — of the 2003-Iraq war decision.

Sadly, there was no end game, even though it was pretty obvious we would “win” in a matter of weeks.  And we have no end game now, with Syria, either.

There are two possible heroes of that now forgettable and infamous 2002 vote.  The Republican tally was 48-1 for the resolution.  The lone Republican was Rhode Island’s Lincoln Chafee, a fellow who literally inherited his father’s (John Chaffee’s) Senate seat, both well-known as very “liberal” Republicans; and in 2006, shortly after re-election, Chaffee-the-younger switched party affiliation.

Surprisingly, I nominate Senator Edward “Ted” Kennedy from Massachusetts for hero.  During debate on Iraq, the Senator declared that (I’m paraphrasing here) … given all the bad stuff we know about Saddam Hussein, and even if you provided me with total undeniable proof that he had useable Weapons of Mass Destruction and the means to deliver them … I would still vote no.

That is a man of principal.  He didn’t need calculus, algebra, arithmetic, geometry or even fuzzy logic.  No “known unknowns” or “unknown unknowns.”  He saw it clear with no equivocation.

And speaking of arithmetic vs. calculus: modern economics does indeed require much more calculus than arithmetic to understand and explain.

If you want to make the other guys sound dumb, say “it’s just arithmetic.”  And if you want to make yourself sound intelligent, say “it’s calculus, … yeah, ‘n’ stuff like that.”

But if you want to be honest, you’d probably have to call these situations their own class of Fuzzy Logic instead of Calculus.  The latter has a definitive correct answer that can be arrived for each set of given initial conditions – follow the correct process of derivatives, integrals and infinite series, and you clearly get the same repeatable answer, every time. The former, Fuzzy Logic, not so much.

There may be little hope for total peace on earth; still I wish all of you peace in your lives.

Joe Girard © 2013

[1] Script to the Wizard of Oz.

[2] Senate Roll Call vote, Iraq War Resolution:

Acknowledgement: to my friend in Indianapolis, who clued me in to all the talk about “calculus.”

Notes: (1) I confess that a couple of paragraphs are paraphrased from that evil, evil woman, Ann Coulter.  I don’t normally read anything from her, but someone sent me this link and it seemed interesting.  Next thing I knew I was half way into it….

Community Organizer Goes to War:

(2) in the 1991 Senate vote, it was very tight 52-47 in favor of liberating Kuwait by military force.  10 Democrats voted for it; 45 opposed.  Biden voted against this one, which likely cost him some of his chance for the  ’00 nomination.  That’s probably why he voted YEA in 2002 and got his hair implants … he still wants to be president.

(3) House votes in 1991 and 2002 are not reported here, but both carried YEA for military force.