Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Russian humor

The January issue of the Notices of the AMS is out, and it contains an article by Anatoly Vershik on the Clay Millenium prize. You may remember a discussion we had on the wisdom of awards in general, in the context of the AMS idea of creating a fellows program and of the pros and cons of having a best paper award at STOC and FOCS.

Vershik returns to some of the standard points in this debate, and makes a few new ones. Although the tone of the article is completely serious, there are hints of deadpan humor (especially in the way he characterizes the opinions of others).

There is really no connection, but I was reminded of Closing the collapse gap, the hilarious presentation by Dmitry Orlov (found via the Peking Duck), in which he argues that when the U.S. economy will collapse, we will be much less prepared than the Russians were, and we will be in much deeper troubles. As stated in the comments at the Peking Duck, when Russians are deadly serious about something, they deal with it through dark humour.


  1. Anonymous Anonymous
    12/13/2006 07:45:00 PM

    I can sympathize with his perspective, but disagree with his statement "one must understand that somebody fascinated by mathematics as a teenager needs no additional stimuli...." This is patently untrue. How many people genuiniely interested in mathematics leave pure math to pursue careers on wall street, in engineering, and, yes, in computer science?

  2. Anonymous Anonymous
    12/14/2006 07:45:00 AM

    How many people genuiniely interested in mathematics leave pure math to pursue careers on wall street, in engineering, and, yes, in computer science?

    Indeed, I switched from Math to CS for several reasons, one of them being greater monetary rewards (the others were: (i) great awe at the computer as a technological invention, (ii) the belief that theory of CS has as deep or deeper mathematical questions as any other area in traditional math, i.e. TCS is where modern math is at (iii) the overspecilization of math research due to how mature Math is and (iv) attraction to the elegance of techniques in network flow algorithms and computational complexity).

  3. Anonymous Anonymous
    1/23/2007 11:57:00 PM

    I comment not on Vershik, but on the collapse gap (Dmitry Orlov); you may say that it is a perverse patriotism (I am Russian), but Russia, indeed, has centuries old tradition, and recent, by historic standards, experience of survival in collapse.

    Actually, centralized command economy beats the market economy under one peculiar condition: real physical shortage of resources (the fact that the command economy creates intrinsic shortages of everything is irrelevant when the shortages are real and global). I do not know what is the situation now, but the old Soviet Union had 24 hour readiness for introduction of food rationing: ration cards had been printed in advance, and stored locally, in every administrative district, lists of population maintained, etc. Of course, it did not help Soviet Union to survive, but that happened only because it collapsed in time of (relative) plenty.

    Of course, the political price for Russia's next survival will be totalitarianism, but this time not of communist, but of fascist kind.


Post a Comment

<< Home