D & I went berry-picking, and brought home an infinite number of strawberries.  I think that Mark Bittman is right that strawberries are best just eaten raw with some kind of cream, but nevertheless when you have an infinite number of them you have to do something with them.  I made a strawberry-ginger pie from the Four and Twenty Blackbirds pie book.


(Their recipe calls for wild ginger, which they get specially flown in from Vermont or something; I rolled my eyes and made it with regular ginger.)  It was good (I mean, it was a fruit pie) but not amazing — probably if I did it again, I’d go a bit lighter on both the ginger and the allspice.

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Birds in the garden

My parents gave us a bird feeder for Christmas, and it has been a real pleasure this spring watching the various visitors: a pair of cardinals are regulars, as are some mourning doves and infinitely many house sparrows, but we have had at various times junkos, grackles, cowbirds, catbirds, house finches, and a bluejay.  This morning, though, I discovered that it is not the only part of the yard that birds are interested in: this pair of goldfinches was hanging about on the lavender and coneflowers.

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Bindu Ammini

Bindu Ammini is my new personal hero:

KOCHI, India — One morning this month, Bindu Ammini stood at the base of a steep, forested trail in southern India and looked up: She was a three-mile hike away from making history.

Two hours later, at 3:45 a.m., Ms. Ammini and a friend became the first women to enter the Sabarimala Temple, a centuries-old Hindu shrine, after India’s Supreme Court struck down a longstanding rule preventing women of menstruating age from visiting.

In the wake of that ruling, a dozen women tried in October to climb a slippery path leading to the temple. None of them made it, as men screamed in their faces and hurled coconuts.

Video of Ms. Ammini’s journey on Jan. 2 shows two women in long black gowns striding through a gilded archway. They maneuver past mostly placid men. “Our visit has been very smooth,” Ms. Ammini, 40, says to the camera.

A few hours later, the rest of India woke up. Pandemonium followed.

Protesters in the state of Kerala, where the shrine is, threw crude bombs at the police. Over 3,000 people were arrested. At least one person was killed. Dozens more were injured.

Within hours of the women’s trip, a priest had shut down the Sabarimala Temple to sprinkle water for a “purification ritual,” evidence to some that the ban was rooted in a belief that menstruating women were dirty.

For days, Ms. Ammini has been on the move: bouncing from one safe house to the next, separated from her husband and daughter and weighing the risks of returning home.

Still, in an interview near the city of Kochi, she said the trip had been worth it. A lower-caste woman who had grown up in grinding poverty, Ms. Ammini emphasized that her entering the temple should not fall under the category of activism. All she was doing, she said, was exercising a constitutional right to equality.

“We were not trying to start trouble,” she said. “Our goal was only to visit the temple. For the next generation of women, this is motivation.”
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Every year, millions of people wait for hours to climb the 18 gold-plated steps leading to the Sabarimala Temple, one of Hinduism’s holiest shrines. For centuries, however, pilgrims say they have observed a de facto bar against women between the ages of 10 and 50, thinking that to allow menstruating women inside would disturb the temple’s celibate deity, Lord Ayyappa.

Though the historical record suggests that women had sporadically visited the temple for years, Kerala’s High Court made the tradition a law in 1991, which was subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court.

In the face of the ensuing protests, Kerala’s governing Communist Party of India offered protection to women who wished to visit the temple. But the police struggled to contain crowds blocking the trail. Rosters of the women who had tried to visit the temple spread on social media. They were marked as “Hindu haters,” Maoists, atheists, Muslims and “Xtians.”

Ms. Ammini said she was unsurprised; many of the protesters were Hindu nationalists. Fallout from the Supreme Court’s ruling had emboldened far-right groups to promote anti-women “Brahmanical interests,” she said. These were issues she had thought about for most of her life.

Born to illiterate parents in Kerala, Ms. Ammini described her childhood as perpetually unstable. Tired of beatings by her husband, Ms. Ammini’s mother fled their small village with her young children, taking menial jobs in hotels and on farms.

Growing up, Ms. Ammini was always a bit of a rebel, bending rules that had restricted the lives of so many Indian women. She fell for an upper caste boy. At 17, she joined a feminist group.

The risks of speaking out were underlined during that period. Shortly after a local girl was raped and murdered, Ms. Ammini said she and two other women marched into the office of a senior police official and called for the arrest of the men responsible for the crime.

“They were siding with the criminals,” she said.

Instead, a few days later, the police arrested Ms. Ammini, she said, accusing her of attacking a man and knocking out one of his teeth. After a night locked in the police station, she escaped by jumping from the building’s first floor.

(Ms. Ammini said she was not convicted in the “fake case.”)

The first in her family to attend college, Ms. Ammini gravitated to leftist circles at the University of Calicut and joined the Communist Party of India. She also met her future husband, K.V. Hariharan, a party member, bonding with him over books by Pablo Neruda and humanist writers.

“Even his love letters were serious,” Ms. Ammini said.

With little money, Ms. Ammini wore a $2 sari to her wedding in a building called “Freedom Fighters Hall.” A few years later, she gave birth to a daughter, B.H. Olga, naming her for Olga Benário Prestes, a German Communist who was killed in a Nazi gas chamber.

In her 20s and early 30s, Ms. Ammini earned a law degree and climbed up the ranks of the Communist Party of India, weathering splits and realignments. She was often one of the few women at meetings, an observation that pressed on her. Fed up with the direction of the party, she left politics eight years ago and settled into a position teaching law at Kannur University in Kerala.

Then news of the Supreme Court’s verdict captured her attention.

In December, Ms. Ammini joined a Facebook group for women who were interested in visiting the temple. She connected with Kanakadurga, 39, a government employee who came from a Hindu family that had opposed the Supreme Court’s verdict. The women teamed up. Some 4,000 women had registered similar intentions with the police.

On Dec. 24, they made a first attempt to reach the temple, but retreated after a mob attacked police officers who were escorting the women. Officials encouraged them to forget it and return home, but Ms. Ammini refused.

“I decided I would start a hunger strike,” she said. The police backed off.

On Jan. 1, inspired by news that several million women had joined hands across Kerala to form a “women’s wall” for equality, they decided to try again, recruiting a few police officers to accompany them.

At 1:26 a.m. Ms. Ammini and Ms. Kanakadurga, who uses one name, started the climb toward the temple. Near the mouth of the complex, the women beelined for an entrance for V.I.P.s, seeing that the main door was too clogged with people.

But inside, nobody confronted the women, Ms. Ammini said. A pilgrim offered her water. They capped off a short visit by praying to the deity. “The violent mob was out of that place,” she said. “No devotee raised any voice against our journey to the shrine.”

On the way down, Ms. Ammini said she stopped cooperating with the police, who tried to keep her head covered with a shawl. The women lingered at stalls to buy rice and lemon juice.

“Some of the media said that the police used us,” she said. “The fact is that the police were always the ones who were afraid.”

In the days after the visit, other women tried unsuccessfully to visit the shrine. This week, two women in men’s clothing were turned back. Another woman angrily claimed that she was prevented from going to the temple even after telling the police that she had no uterus. Ms. Ammini burst out laughing when she heard this.

“We definitely have uteruses,” she said.

New challenges await the women. The Supreme Court plans to consider review petitions, though lawyers do not expect a reversal of the verdict. This week, after the women left a safe house, Ms. Kanakadurga’s mother-in-law beat her so badly with a piece of wood, she said, that she was hospitalized.

Ms. Ammini said she was realistic about her safety, fretting about a recent ominous “silence” in Kerala. But the way forward — “to serve the society, work with Dalits, women, for blacks” — had never been plainer or more urgent, she said.

“They may attack me, they may kill me, but I feel no fear,” she said. “I am struggling for existence.”


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Juan Valdez

Condolences to all my Colombian friends as you mourn the death of a national hero.

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“Administrative leave”

So one of the things that has happened in the course of my lifetime is that now everyone carries cameras around with them all the time. And this has a bunch of not-necessarily-foreseen effects, some good and some not good. One of the surprising good effects (also, of course, helped by an active activist movement) is that all sorts of low-level racial discrimination has become very documentable, to the extent that when the Times publishes an article about individual incidents, it sometimes includes a paragraph at the end explaining the broader nature of the phenomenon:

The incident follows several high-profile confrontations between white people and black people who are engaging in everyday activities, including several at pools. Many of them have been popularized by hashtags — the Indianapolis encounter has been tagged as #SwimmingSheriffSusie, in apparent reference to the off-duty officer.

In Memphis, a white manager of an apartment complex was fired after she called the police on a black man wearing socks in the pool on the Fourth of July.

In North Carolina, a white man was fired by his employer, a major international packaging supplier, after he demanded identification from a black woman at a private community pool on the Fourth of July and called the police when she refused.

In South Carolina, a white woman was charged with assault after she attacked a 15-year-old black boy at a neighborhood pool, telling him and his friends that they had to “get out” or she would call 911.

To me, this seems like a promising sign for the future. Actually, though, the reason that I decided to write a blog post about this particular article is the following sentence:

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, Barrett and Stokely Inc., the company that manages the apartment complex, said the apartment manager had been placed on “administrative leave” as the encounter is investigated.

I like the scare-quotes around “administrative leave”, but I would have liked even more to know what they said when asked to explain what that actually means.

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Tomoko Fuse’s origami units

On the suggestion of an acquaintance, I got a book of Tomoko Fuse’s from the library.  She has some very nice modules.  I have mostly been experimenting with the one she calls “convex hexagonal ring solid” — if anything, it is more flexible than the Sonobe unit.  Roughly, I think it can be used to construct any convex polyhedron whose faces are equilateral polygons of not more than 6 sides.  (I am not completely certain that 7 sides is impossible, but at some point the pyramids won’t close up.) Here are some first constructions with it:

That’s a tetrahedron, a cuboctahedron, and an icosadodecahedron (two shots of the latter, one while it is half-constructed).

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“Dialogues on mathematics” by Alfred Renyi

For various reasons I have recently been reading a bunch of books broadly addressing the theme “what is mathematics?”  (Linderholm was accidentally a lead-in, and clearly belongs in the category.)  This one is a short (under 100 pages) and snappy read, and should be accessible to just about anyone.  I read it in an hour or two and enjoyed pretty much all of it (although Galileo is a windbag and drags on a little bit).  Manages to touch at least briefly on all the really important things (e.g., mathematical beauty, the connection between research and teaching, mathematical Platonism, the broad applicability of mathematics).

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