The most compassionate solution (for them and the wider society) is to put them, not in jails or work camps, but in a Peter Pan (dys/u-)topia colony with like-minded, responsibility-free individuals. Every colonist receives, gratis, his own Radio Flyer Classic Bumper Car, fueled by pedal power, which he is free to crash to his heart’s content with other bumper cars on a large circular track encircling the Big Rock Candy Mountain. The BRCM is constructed of day-after-the-event Halloween eyeball gumdrops, Valentine’s gift boxes, candy canes, chocolate Easter bunnies, *et al* that businesses would typically deep-discount. Instead, (with an appropriate government incentive, of course) capitalists arrange for this consumer-preferred food supply to be collected and airdropped periodically right in the middle of the Peter Pan Towns, where every citizen has almost everything he needs, if not everything he wants. That’s right. We don’t kill babies in Peter Pan Town; neither do we encumber the grownup ones with any responsibilities at all (for instance, the responsibility for using birth control). That’s why there’s a girl Peter Pan Town and a boy Peter Pan Town, separated by several hundred miles of uninhabited wilderness. (Imprisonment? No. You’re forgetting that each colonist is furnished with a vehicle.)

Now, there are many would-be colonists who were neither Intelligently Designed, nor Evolutionarily Evolved, to feel fulfilled living this way. Instead of warehousing them in housing projects or jails where they are given the illusion that they are fully functional adults who have just been given a tough break; the collective, occasionally nonpartisan we could provide them with pre-colonization mental health screening and treatment (bear with me here, you members of the radical religious right who are skeptical) in recognition of the fact that most of them *would* be fully functional adults — if the source of the tough break were identified and its impact addressed directly. Some of them would have to remain in expensive treatment for a rather long time, but hey, if we have the heart and resources to offer our military in compassionate service to whichever inhabitants of a foreign land our government tells us are on the “correct” side of a civil war, then we have the heart and resources to show compassion to our own walking wounded, don’t we?

Not all tough breaks are mental illness-related, and not everything that looks like a mental illness is one. Example: the reasonable depressed state resulting from a lack of fulfilling work to look forward to, few prospects except signing on as a soldier in modern-day wars, the wars the Republicans get behind, and alternatively, the wars the Democrats get behind; both kinds leaving in their wakes a trail of mentally scarred vets. There are rivers to clean up, new kinds of energy to develop, HIV- and crack-orphaned babies to care for, and a nationwide megalopolis of Peter Pan Towns of people who could be doing those jobs. Hook them up? Rant away in the comment section, or not. What care I? For me, it’s Lent again.

]]>Diderot and Euler actually were in Russia at the same time, both at the invitation of the Czarina, but this is a joke at Diderot’s expense that neither Euler the man nor Euler the mathematician would have made. Even if it had been, Diderot—who was actually a fairly capable mathematician himself—would not have been stumped. Who might have started this rumor, and why? Bear in mind, accounts of it are found in literature predating the advent of the Internet message board.

Years before, Euler had been slated to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Protestant minister. While pursuing a master’s degree in philosophy at the University of Basel, Leonhard met Johann Bernoulli who recognized and fostered the young man’s mathematical talent. He convinced Euler’s father that the church was not the best showplace for his son’s extraordinary gift. Euler’s connections with the Bernoulli family led him to the St. Petersburg Academy in Russia, where he became the chairman of the mathematics department.

Euler’s correspondence with Jean le Rond d’Alembert gives evidence of the falseness of the Euler-Diderot Incident tale. D’Alembert was Diderot’s close associate, and contributed articles on mathematics, philosophy and religion to the Encyclopedia on which he and Diderot were collaborating. Euler, too, was a prolific writer. His very popular *Letters to a German Princess—*a compendium of what he considered essential knowledge for a young member of the Prussian nobility who had been entrusted to his tutelage—contained, just as the French Encyclopedia did, treatments of topics mathematical as well as metaphysical. While Euler remained, throughout his life, a devout and traditional Christian, d’Alembert rejected traditional religion and tended toward atheism. Though Euler and d’Alembert held to and defended in writing quite divergent views on Deity, their mutual interest in mathematics, and significantly, the mutual respect each man had for the mathematical contributions of the other, laid the foundation for a friendship unmarred by dismissive disrespect over religious matters. Their friendship did hit a snag, but it concerned a mathematical disagreement over “the vibrating string problem,” nothing to do with religion.

Euler and his wife Katharina had thirteen children together, but only five survived to their teens. While it is true that infant mortality rates were high during the eighteenth century when Euler lived, the death of eight young children would have stung him particularly. Euler was an involved and affectionate father, writing that some of his most important mathematical ideas came when he was holding a baby in his lap. Some of these children, it is likely, were in one stage or another of some fatal disease.

Another significant challenge was the loss of sight in one of Euler’s eyes. He carried on in spite of this, but it was a real blow when he lost the use of his other eye as well, two years before his wife died. Because he had a phenomenal memory, a spirit to match, and supportive friends and family who could be scribes for him, he continued to make contributions to mathematics right through his last day on earth.

People who have learned to maintain a positive outlook toward life in spite of deep pain often learn compassion as well, and are unwilling to knowingly inflict suffering, not even in the form of mild retaliation. Even if Euler had been inclined to cruelty, though, he was aware of far too many impressive mathematical curiosities to have resorted to the nonsense equation mentioned in the Euler-Diderot Incident.

An unusual mathematical imagination allowed him to visualize, between two apparently unrelated concepts, relationships that are generally non-intuitive. He had insight into the significance, in terms of mathematical modeling of observable phenomena, of what came to be known as the natural logarithm, and saw connections between it and infinite series. He calculated a numerical approximation for the base, which he named *e*, of its inverse function. He also related various infinite series to the natural constant *pi* (the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter) which yielded many pleasingly symmetrical mathematical formulae. Another beautiful curiosity Euler discovered was the link between harmonic series and prime numbers, which he used to give a new proof for Euclid’s assertion that there are an infinite number of primes.

Euler assigned the notation *i* to the square root of -1. Euler was largely responsible for making the formerly skeptical mathematical world comfortable with this “imaginary” number by describing the essential role it played in the field of analytical algebra. Euler’s facility with algebraic analysis carried into his explorations in the field of geometry. There was a general feeling among geometers in the eighteenth century that results derived from calculations involving algebraic symbols were less elegant than proofs made up primarily of logical constructions. Leave it to Euler, though, to intuit with his mind’s eye the geometric relationship within the elements of triangles that no other geometer, not even Euclid, had seen, and to use analytic geometry to prove this observation that might have defied proof without Cartesian analysis. This result is the discovery that every triangle has what is called the “Euler line” containing the circumcenter, the orthocenter, and the centroid, and the distance from the centroid to the orthocenter is exactly twice the distance from the orthocenter to the circumcenter. Here again is another beautiful and surprising result that delighted the mathematical aesthete while winning him over to the power of the newer computational innovations, in this case, algebraic analysis within the framework of the Cartesian coordinate system.

All this fulfilling mathematical research proceeded through times of more personal trials. He had to leave his post at the St. Petersburg Academy when the political climate in Russia made it an unsafe place for foreigners. At this time, Euler accepted an invitation by Frederick the Great of Prussia to fill a post at the Berlin Academy of Science. At first, Euler’s mathematical reputation had impressed the monarch, but soon after Euler’s arrival at Frederick’s court, the difference between the quiet, traditionally religious scholar and the witty free-thinking French *philosophes* with whom Frederick surrounded himself became apparent, and Euler was devalued in the Prussian King’s eyes.

Voltaire, who was a favorite at Frederick’s court, was particularly contemptuous of Euler. Matters worsened when a local mathematician claimed that Euler’s friend, Maupertius—who was the president of the Berlin Academy—had stolen his work on the “Least Effort Principle.” Euler, who had personally helped Maupertius develop it, knew this to be false, and worked hard to vindicate his friend against the slander. Voltaire had a personal grievance against Maupertius to settle, and he took advantage of the dust-up to get revenge. Voltaire used his influence as a popular novelist to discredit Maupertius, whom he mocked viciously as the main character in his *Diatribes*. Maupertius had been made a fool of in front of all of Europe, and he left the Berlin Academy, irreparably disgraced. William Dunham, in the biography *Euler: Master of Us All*, quotes Voltaire, who, in a sequel to his *Diatribes*, gives his opinion, as arrogant as it is ignorant, of Euler:

“…never learnt philosophy…fame [consisted only] of being the mathematician who in a given time has filled more sheets of paper with calculations than any other.”

Euler bore up under it patiently, acting as de facto President of the Berlin Academy after his friend left, filling an administrative gap in spite of Frederick the Great’s continued refusal to grant him the permanent presidency position. The King had developed a nickname for Euler, alluding cruelly to the deforming nature of Euler’s eye troubles: “our Cyclops.” In time, the political situation in Russia reversed again, and Catherine the Great extended to Euler another invitation to the St. Petersburg Academy. Grateful for an escape from Frederick the Great’s abuse, Euler accepted. D’Alembert tried to convince Frederick the Great to grant Euler the presidency, so that this renowned mathematician would stay, but to no avail.

Having come full circle in the study of Euler’s life, one finds himself back in the Czarina’s court. Here is the site of Euler’s alleged confrontation with the good friend, Diderot, of Euler’s good friend d’Alembert. With the additional knowledge that Voltaire’s good friend Frederick the Great had developed an antipathy to Diderot (jealous over the latter’s devotion to the court of Catherine the Great, perhaps, rather than his own), one begins to form a hypothesis about the genesis of the Euler-Diderot rumor—which puts both gentlemen in such a bad light—and how it came to be spread throughout Europe, believed as fact, and passed down through the generations as such.

Euler rose above it all and spent his very productive final years in Russia, where, on the last day of his life, September 18, 1873, a brain hemorrhage interrupted investigations the now virtually blind Euler was making into the orbit of Uranus. He was gone within hours, but he lives on in the work of the many mathematical masters who built upon his work.

Who knows? Voltaire, much to his very great surprise, may be living on, too, in a small library somewhere in the cosmos, with all 25,000 pages of Euler’s quite impressive *Opera Omnia* as his only companions.

**Theocracy:** Christians marching shoulder-to-shoulder at a pro-life rally may have certain political objectives in common, but establishing a theocracy in the USA shouldn’t be one of them. Most of us (them?) know this already, and if the rest of them (us?) could see a cartoon representation of such gatherings, with the staunchest and most inflexible eying one another suspiciously, the thought bubbles above their heads bearing unflattering caricatures of either Bloody Mary (if the head was submerged at baptism) or Oliver Cromwell (if the head was sprinkled), they’d know it, too.

**Abortion:** About those pro-life rallies. If the ACLU can go to bat for Fred “That’s Your Funeral” Phelps’ right to be an odious nuisance at public gatherings, it can jolly well go to bat for people who wait near the entrances of abortion clinics to make up the deficits in “informed consent” for women who are about to undergo a procedure some of them — notice I said *some* of them — will regret for the rest of their lives unless someone shows up at the eleventh hour to offer help and an alternative. It can jolly well go to bat for a group of nuns and stroller-pushing parents holding aloft, in front of the capitol building, posters of fetuses at various stages of development. Granted, some of those pictures are graphic and disturbing, and in contexts other than this one, perhaps even tasteless. Outlaw the display of disturbing and graphic images, though, and you’ve just stopped the beating heart of the entire enterprise of photojournalism. Photo. Journalists. Embedded. Cognitive. Dissonance. See “Middle Eastern Wars.”

On the other hand, all the grassroots rancor that exists between the passionate pro-lifers and the passionate pro-choicers should convince us that this country isn’t ready for a decision, one way or another, handed down from the Federal heights. There is a hue and cry raised, and there should be, when a person who possesses his own dog, as a woman possesses the fetus inside her own body, abuses that dog, who in turn is in possession of a nervous system as sensitive to noxious stimuli as the nervous systems of fetuses — or indeed, of embryos, depending on whose fetal pain research you believe. Conversely, there is no hue and cry raised, and there shouldn’t be, when a family brings a pet suffering the final stages of an incurable disease (or one they can’t afford to cure) to the vet to be put down as painlessly and humanely as possible. There are animal rights extremists, but most people seem to be able to agree on what is a reasonable level of respect for the life of a dog.

Oh, that the life and death decisions about every individual on the human life continuum — the embryos being considered for use in stem cell research, and the Terry Schiavos of the world, and the clients of Dr. Kevorkian — could be so straightforward! But they’re not, there it is. It’s hard to imagine what common ground between the abortion-pro and abortion-foe camps would even look like. That uncharted territory is nowhere near Washington DC, and until somebody discovers it, it isn’t a cop-out to remember that the Constitution gives States the right to make decisions about matters like these on their own. A poor woman living in South Dakota may have to get bus fare if she feels she needs an abortion, and a Catholic family living in upstate New York State may have to subsidize through taxes the abortions of welfare-recipients in New York City.

And in every state, there will be an Auntie Minty thumbing her nose at the Hippocratic Oath, her competitors in the abortion industry, and legislators of every stripe. She knows what she’s doing, her methods are safe (for the mother, I mean) and reasonably priced, if not legal; they’ve been used effectively for centuries by people who understand and can manage their deadly potency. Better to spend money on Pampers and baby clothes you find on sale to give to Birthright or a Crisis Pregnancy Center, than to spend it paying a soldier in the war on drugs to perform the Sisyphean task of scouring the land for pennyroyal.

**Middle Eastern Wars: ** Of course, most of the above discussion on abortion was completely moot. Repeal Roe v. Wade? *Just* as if! Some of us (them?) have spent the last thirty-five years reaching for the same old tarnished brass ring of a campaign promise, as the calliope goes ‘round, and ‘round, and ‘round. Pro-lifers, in good faith, have helped to elect people they thought were going to finally, this time maybe, once and for all, save babies in America. Meanwhile, the neoconservatives they’ve ensconced in office have few qualms about sacrificing babies (in or out of the womb) from Iraq, and Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan on the altar of Empire. The Democrats, willing to make the same sacrifice have other brass rings with which to lure the electorate. Madeleine Albright (President Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State) when asked on CBS’s *60 Minutes* in 1996 to justify US sanctions in Iraq, directly responsible for the deaths of half a million children, described that sacrifice as “worth it.”

On the other hand, where I’m always looking to get a balanced perspective on things, Saddam Hussein put people through plastic shredders. Who put that clown in power anyway? The Iraqi people, the Christian ones certainly, have the good sense to be grateful for what the US did for them five years ago. What do you mean, you say they don’t? Do you think I’m being unfair to people who support the war? Us? Them? Look, it’s *my* other hand that I’m looking at, the hand that I smugly believed could keep me free from the taint of blood if it pulled the right levers in a voting booth.

I could give a Gospel message now, but sometimes a gal needs to sit in quiet contemplation of the filth on her *own* two hands. “There is a balm in Gilead, that makes the wounded whole. There is a balm in Gilead, that heals the sin-sick soul.”

I

With twenty seconds left

In last Sunday’s Super Bowl,

I decided I was a Giants fan.

II

You were of three minds,

And only three,

McCain and Mitt and Huckabee.

III

Grassroots growing in aught-eight’s autumn winds.

The Dark Horse has no part in scripted pantomimes.

IV

A man and a woman

Are one.

A man and a woman and the Federal Government

Is a really bad idea.

V

I do not know which to prefer:

Absence of HRC’s hysterics

When crap hits national fan,

Or absence of the GOP’s

Pre-anointed man.

VI

Peeking through ‘net windows at

Super Tuesday, almost past.

Shadows cast by Revolution,

Now shortening, now lengthening.

The mood

Remains fierce loyalty

To not entirely quixotic cause.

VII

Oh Nine Eleven Truthers,

Why do you fear the Bilderbergs?

Do you not know I played Bunco

With Rockefeller’s second cousin once?

She seemed Okay.

VIII

I know Wallace Stevens

Wrote these “lucid, inescapable rhythms,”

Paid rent with his insurance company salary.

Dr. Paul’d be cool with that,

So long as it was not an HMO.

IX

Will the Dark Horse ride out of sight?

He still has an edge

In many voters’ circles.

X

At the sight of the Dark Horse

Basking in the limelight

Would the bawds of journalistic perfidy

(FOX and Time and ABC)

Keep it a secret?

XI

His old nemesis today in Connecticut

–Where bedroom towns are left each day for jobs in NYC–

Months ago, fearless Dark Horse

Gave him what-for in a debate

About 911, the war–

–And a reading list, too.

XII

His lips are moving.

A certain Dark Horse opponent must be lying.

XIII

The news outlets say, “No” to Dr. No this afternoon.

They’ll be continuing to do so.

I’ll bet you didn’t know

In Maine,

Paul came in second before McCain.