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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Your Tax Money At Work (back when Erdös was around)


Somewhere in the Great Beyond, Paul Erdös may be saying, 'My file is open...*
A h/t to Nicholas Christakis for passing along the below article (via Twitter):

For years, the FBI maintained a surveillance file on eccentric, peripatetic genius Paul Erdös -- because, as you know, he was such a dangerous, menacing presence... in fact here he is in 1985, inculcating impressionable American youth** with heady (perhaps subversive) formulations and sly propaganda (notice too his frumpy apparel and deceptively simple-looking trademark coffee cup, all designed to lend Paul an innocent, innocuous appearance to the untrained eye):


Anyways, read the article below, which at the end actually links to Erdös' full, boring file:

http://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/the-fbi-files-of-one-of-the-most-prolific-mathematicians-ever

Of course little of significance was ever found in tracking the incredible Erdös (...yo, FBI, you feel obliged to start a file? ...fill one on Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, Karl Rove, Clarence Thomas, or other real dangers to democracy and the American way).

Perhaps J. Edgar Hoover's only true goal was to claim an Erdös number of 1: The final sentence of the piece reads, "His FBI surveillance, then, appears little more than a clever way to get J. Edgar Hoover's name on a paper with Paul Erdős."  (...yes, J. Edgar was a clever one... and, according to some, looked better in a dress than Paul ever would have! ...not that anyone even wants to imagine that).

The non-seditionary parts of Erdös' life (i.e., his entire life) have been well-chronicled in two biographies:
"The Man Who Loved Only Numbers" by Paul Hoffman
"My Brain Is Open" by Bruce Schecter


p.s...:  this coming Saturday would have been Erdös' 103rd birthday, so in case you're looking for a reason to party this weekend (now that your March Madness bracket is in a shambles) there you are! Have some coffee, dream up some theorems, and party hard.

p.p.s...:  I can only imagine what the FBI's file on Keith Devlin must look like by now ;-)


      *  a take-off on Erdös' signature phrase, "My brain is open" (or, more likely, "My  
          br-r-r-r-a-ain eeez o-o-open).

     **  lest anyone not be familiar with it, Paul Erdös pictured with 10-year-old Terence Tao,
         via Wikipedia.


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