Arthur S. Covert
112 Front Street
Schenectady NY 12305
September 26, 1987
I have a simple filing system. When I have finished a letter, I tell the machine to print two copies, one goes to the addressee the other goes in to a loose leaf book which contain other machine output. The magnetic record remains o the disk and when I want to write another letter to that person, I erase the meat of the letter, change the date, leaving the return address, the salutation and whatever you call the other end of the letter. Sometime I start this process and stop. This will explain why the following between asterisks may be familiar.
I found myself in front of the A-BOMB shelf in our local library the other day and noticed a book by Ferenc Szasz. There is a psychoanalyst in Rochester named Szasz who has taken some way out stance, I think he denies that there is anything called ‘mental illness’, you can be insane, psychotic etc but you are not sick. Any way I wondered why he was interested in Trinity and before I discovered that this Szasz was a UNM historian, I had taken the book out. I have really only glanced through it but believe it is a serious historical study, but I looked through copious notes I spotted a quotation from Cryil Smith who said ‘only half jokingly’, “The bomb was not built by theoretical physicists”. Now this is note 28 in Chapter 1, and you have to search through the chapter to find that it supports a statement of General Groves that Los Alamos was an unimportant part of the Manhattan District.
There is a photograph in the book taken at Trinity of a lab which looks like a rather dirty cellar to which a ham radio operator has been banished by his wife, with a replay panel, pliers, spaghetti, the only thing missing is the sealing wax and string, so it must have been built by a non-physicist. Current scientists wouldn’t use this for an outhouse.
I have developed a new hypothesis as to what is wrong with the world. This is the Grandmother Theory which be simply illustrated by the following example. Imagine a prosperous middle class household in early twentieth century Budapest. Father and Mother have gone to a dinner and a concert. Grandmother is baby sitting. ‘Edward’, she says, ‘eat your crusts or your hair won’t be curly’. Edward doesn’t want curly hair so he gives themto the Pomeranian under the table. ‘Edward’, she says, “eat your fish, it’s good for the brain’. He does. ‘Edward go to bed this moment or a big hairy Russian will come and take you off to Siberia’. This is why Edward Teller has straight hair and builds bigger and better weapons.
The Grandmother Test can be applied to all pieces of information, particularly dietary information.
I found the above in the machine dated March 25, I found a completely different letter dated the same in the loose leaf book. I conclude that the above were preliminary notes. I don’t want to waste them. Harvey called me this morning and reported that he had seen you last week and that you spent every morning waiting for the postman in the hope that I had written a funny letter. It apparently is the fate of a few serious thinkers that they are regarded as clowns. There is nothing to do but laugh, laugh. After his call I went out on my bicycle and considered what I would write, one thing I considered was my grandmother thoughts. It was s hock to see that I might have already shot that bolt.
Anne gave Harvey another Los Alamos book which had received good reviews. I picked it up and found that a dog was examined by the vet who recognized immediately that it was suffering from radiation sickness. Now I met that vet, the army had brought him there to keep the MP’s horses and dogs healthy, I assume he had no clearance or need to know and wouldn’t recognize radiation sickness nor have nay means of diagnosis. I didn’t believe it. I don’t think dogs had these opportunities [but then some scrap Uranium turnings ended up burning in the dump].
As you will have learned from Harvey the Slatins have acquired a Catskill home. It would take a whole letter to do justice this. Strangely the towns history was written by Jay Gould before he started buying railway, and it was the summer home of William Sumner the head of the New York Society for The Suppression of Vice who raided the Art Students League in 1904 and seized all their representations of the female nude. He then went to his summer home in Stamford while the students went to Woodstock.
Since writing to you my stepdaughter became a Jewish mother. I attended the bris, shook hands with my second son in law, said hello to his parents and that was about it. I was about as close to the center of things as I was at Steph’s wedding. I never can bring myself to ask questions tho intensely curious about other people. I have heard that Steph’s husband was a convert. His father was Italian and did not wear the yamulka at the ceremony, his mother came from Finland they had met in Scotland. Why didn’t they talk to me. Had they heard I was an ogre, maybe that I was anti-semetic. I learned all about them from a six page program written by a bilingual word processor. The ceremony occurred in sort of commune, the mohel came from Rhode Island, there was no one nearer to Boston sufficiently flexible. My impression of the community is they were grown up Orthodox flower children. If you wanted a beard you had a beard, if your wife wanted to wear a yamulka she could and if it was red velvet with gold trim that was fine. The room in which the ceremony took place had no chairs but cushions on the floor, it was here I believe that they celebrated the sabbath. I guess I really must overcome my reluctance to ask a direct question. I have to tread lightly in this area as I don’t have a great deal of respect for nay religion, but if you continue to attend the ceremonies of your childhood you don’t lose my respect, or rather I won’t behave disrespectfully, but if you are a convert I think you have at least to defend yourself.
It would be interesting to develop a matrix of transition probabilities between sects. What is the probability of a Roman Catholic becoming a Jehovahs Witness. Rather high I believe if you are a first generation non Irish, non-Polish, even if you are Polish in an Irish neighborhood. The Unitarian to Hindu value as I suspect much higher than the Hundu to Unirarian, here the Indian caste system introduces complications. Estimating these number would be very difficult, only a grandmother could do it, grandmothers get their information directly from God.
Harvey tells me you are immersed in molecular biology and have concluded we are an accident that has occurred only once. Strangely enough I have been reading a bit on the other side. There is John Updike’s latest novel ‘Roger’s Version’ in which a sort of born again hacker is saying that the world on all the frontiers of science is that God is waiting around the corner, then there are the novels of Percy Walker. This set my intuition to work, but I need a theorem which says in effect that an improbable event cannot discuss its own improbability. This might be stated as P(X|X)=1. Probability of X occurring given that X has occurred is one. I don’t offer this as a final statement. I myself think we are an accident not necessarily unique and if by chance there is a God he plays tricks that no white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant gentleman can condone. Harvey hay have misstated your belief. When I first reached this point in typing I wanted to mention Harvey’s statement that you didn’t believe in other civilizations ad did Carl Sagan. When he said this, I said Sagan was a jerk and Harvey seemed quite shocked, as if I had spoken ill of Oppenheimer. I base my view on several things, there is The Case of the Samurai Crabs, my memory which may be false that when there was a meeting in Princeton of rather radical scientists (that is their science was radical) to reconsider the case of the author* of ‘Worlds in Collision’, Sagan was expected to join them but he decided to side with Newton, then there was his incorporation of himself in the anticipation of the tremendous profits he would make as a television personality and author.
Percy’s latest book is an interesting case, in it there is a bit of a computer printout, NA 24 0 C137 0 which are referred to in the text as zero levels of heavy sodium and of heavy chlorine, which have been produced from common salt by the neutron irradiation in a commercial reactor. Naturally I read the C137 as cesium 137 did a double take, looked up at my study wall for a chart of the nucleides but I had left it in the office when I retired. Then I discovered my best reference was an 1938 Commercial Rubber Handbook (today at the Library’s used book sale I picked up the 1978 edition for $0.50.). The confusion is complete. You may think that the C1 is really C1 but it so why NA rather than Na. At any rate would the heavy sodium and chlorine be produced by the neutron bombardment and what would they decay to and would they have finite half lives, they would have to be handled as they were in the text.
Our neighborhood, the Stockade, has in it’s center a tiny park with a Statue of an Indian. It is dedicated to Lawrence a Christian Indian who rode to Albany to announce the Schenectady massacre and to warn the Albanians. These statues are quite common in New England and were sold from a catalogue in the late nineteenth century.
There is a steel/wrought iron fence around hum but Lawrence has been hit by cars, a metallurgical PHD once tied the wire that provides power to a Christmas tree in the park to Lawrence’s head and the first truck going around the park brought him to the ground. I have always assumed bother the statue and its base were cast iron and that Lawrence was enameled in dark red and black. After all its hardships and the octagonal base was coming apart at its edges, each face being a separate unit. At any rate the local politicians and some neighborhood yuppies dug up some money to have him refurbished. I saw him taken down with a crane put on a truck and taken off to Milford, Pennsylvania where there is an art foundry. Months later he was returned, his base was now an off white, with polished brass plaques, Lawrence himself was a bright, fresh off the plating bath, slightly matte, copper color. I did not know how the color was achieved. Lawrence stood on his pedestal a month or so and then developed some defect which I did not see, I pass within twelve feet of him several times a day, and was taken back I was told for replateing. All this took maybe six months, the pedestal has now been empty almost a year, so long that one has gotten used to it being empty. Suddenly last week I thought of Harvey as I passed the park, immediately I had a vision of a lace like Lawrence shoved in a giant drawer after they left him in the cleaning bath too long, or set the current too high when electro-polishing. I even thought of going down to General Electric’s scrap heap and getting some aluminum splashes, maybe twenty pounds, and put them on the pedestal with a note saying ‘Sorry About That’ signed ‘Your Friendly Electroplater’. But who else would enjoy the joke. The local newspaper from the date when he was originally taken away, says Lawrence was Zinc in which case could he have been enameled, did they know. As soon as one looks closely at what one thinks he knows one finds it lacks foundation all the way down the line.
I develop any of the above topics at much greater length, given a properly attentive audience, particularly the Grandmother Touchstone. When confronted by a problem you ask yourself, “what would my Grandmother say”. And when you have the answer you say, “how the hell would she know”.
*I couldn’t remember Sagan’s name when I first reached this point. Then a paragraph later I decided to go downstairs for a whiskey and soda, as I stood up I suddenly remembered Sagan.
When I came upstairs again I had forgotten the name, but I had whispered it to my pocket tape recorder. I think the other fellow was William Z_____, but this may have been the president of The Flat Earth Society.
It was Velacowfsky, Emmanuel I think, but that was the name of The Flat Earth People who called themselves Zetetics. This fellow was a political force in this country when I was a child. I am not thinking of William Z. Foster. I won’t print this until tomorrow, maybe it will come to me.
What came to me Zolliver, the Brittanica index changed this to Wilbur Glenn Voliva who in 1904 succeeded John Alexander Dowie who was guilty of peculation and polygamy as head of The Christian Catholic Apostolic Church in Zion. Apparently Dowie and his wife were the Jim and Tammy of their day, she turned him in, objecting to the polygamy rather than the peculation.