Friday, June 15, 2018


Thinking today about ZERO -- zero tolerance, zero fear!

     In recent days, there's been widespread reporting of results of a study done by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine concerning the large number of instances of sexual harassment in scientific professions, the most common type being   "degrading jokes and comments that made women feel excluded."
     These findings take me back to the 1980's and "affirmative action" at Pennsylvania's Bloomsburg University (where I was a member of the Mathematics Department).  The University had an Affirmative Action Officer who worked to help faculty and staff develop behaviors and policies that endeavored to end discrimination against women and minorities.  One important test of the appropriateness of an activity was a "symmetry test" -- if a remark or act did not seem proper when the roles of two participants were reversed, then the original was probably something to avoid. In those days, my male colleagues needed to reconsider some of their behaviors and I needed to overcome my fear of speaking up.
      The concept of  zero as "something" that signifies "nothing" is an ever-thought-provoking one.  In support of ZERO TOLERANCE -- with a goal of NOTHING, I offer the following poem, "The Zero," by Israel Har.   

The Zero    by Israel Har, translated from the Hebrew by Gabriel Levin

         for Masha, in lasting love

When nothing remains 
trace a small circle 
that the place 
won't stay empty. So 
Muslim mathematicians 
man's thought. Creator of the universe, 
my little circle craving emptiness, 
our fathers told us:
a fly
won't bat a lash
without your gaze falling on it— 
creator of the universe 
your song and singer are shut in the valley of dejection.
Levin's translation of Har's poem may be found in the collection Strange Attractors:  Poems of Love and Mathematics (AK Peters/CRC Press, 2008) .   

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