Memoir

Rose Marie Bertrand

 Rose Marie Bertrand with granddaughter Marie
Rose Marie Bertrand with granddaughter Marie
March 20, 1943 — July 9, 2015

MADISON, WI — Rose Marie Leona Wnek Bertrand, age 72, of Madison, Wisconsin, passed away on July 9th, 2015.

Rose Marie was born on the south side of Chicago, to Bernice (Zajac) Wnek Miller and Joseph Wnek on March 20, 1943. Rose Marie attended St. Roman’s grammar school, Our Lady of Good Counsel grammar school and Visitation High School in Chicago and moved to Madison at age 17 to attend Edgewood College. Rose Marie attended UW-Madison for graduate school, where she met the love of her life, Michael Bertrand. Rose Marie and Michael married at St. Paul’s University Catholic Center in Madison on August 29th, 1970.

Robert E. Lee Moore -- Topologist and Racist

 Robert E. Lee Moore
Robert E. Lee Moore (1882-1974)

It's a statement when someone names their child after Robert E. Lee, a man who did his best to destroy the United States in order to preserve slavery. Robert E. Lee was lionized more in death than in life, a paragon of the Lost Cause, the glorious if doomed rebellion of a brave people who wanted nothing but to be left alone, crushed by the soulless and brutal industrial juggernaut (Sherman's march to the Sea!). It's the big lie, forwarded for 150 years to defend the indefensible. What a wretched history of oppression, assiduously rebuilt over the generations by people like Moore, Sr. and his illustrious and vicious son Robert E. Lee Moore. The Compromise of 1877, peonage, disenfranchisement, lynching, Plessy v. Ferguson, Jim Crow, the Dunning school false flag on reconstruction. Read the old classics by W. E. B. Du Bois, Eric Foner, and C. Vann Woodward (himself a son of the south), among others, if you still doubt the long-standing construction and reconstruction of anti-black racism in this country down through the generations since 1865.

Dandelin Spheres and the Conic Sections

 Apostol's ice-cream-cone proof
Apostol's ice-cream-cone proof — click image for the entire page.

In high school, the fact that the conic sections are derived from the cone was mentioned in passing, but they were defined in the plane by their equations and tied to their focal properties. So seeing the Dandelin spheres in Apostol fifty years ago was a revelation, effective and surpassingly elegant. He called it the ice-cream-cone proof, virtually a proof by picture that a cone cut obliquely by a plane results in an ellipse as defined by its focal property. The book in question is Calculus, Volume I, by Tom Apostol[1], among my top three favorite books all-time, first for math. Originally published by Blaisdell in 1961 in large format — unusual in that day, 10" x 7" — Apostol did not condescend, but did not batter you either. After many miles, you look back on an old teacher and think, he did that perfectly, not fully comprehending yourself that he taught you once and for all what mathematical taste is one day in 1965. The book is deeply informed by history altogether apart from the historical introductions, economical and suggestive of hidden depths as they are. Some subjects are one with their own history, philosophy for example, and math is a little like that.

Mary Lydia Bertrand

 Mary Bertrand
Mary Bertrand
Nov 29, 1918 — Feb 13, 2003

PITTSBURGH, PA -- Mary Lydia Bertrand, age 84, died on Feb. 13, 2003 in Pittsburgh. She was the beloved mother of Michael A. (Rose Marie) Bertrand of Madison, and of Susan M. Bertrand and Kathleen L. Bertrand; devoted grandmother of Lydia J. Bertrand and Eve Marie Bertrand, both of Madison; sister of Paul (Clara) Hidinger, the late John (Carmel) Hidinger and the late Helen Hidinger (Noble) Stewart; and aunt and great-aunt of numerous nieces and nephews.

Mary Lydia Hidinger was born on Nov. 29, 1918 in a Saskatchewan farm house with no electricity, central heat or running water. She attended the local one-room school traveling by horse and sleigh in winter and by horse and carriage in fair weather.

Stephanie Miller in Madison

 Stephanie Miller

Stephanie Miller is a radio talk show host with a devoted national following, nowhere more than in Madison, Wisconsin. She's on the local progressive radio station, 92.1 the Mic, from 8:00 AM to 11:00 AM CST and has been for close to ten years (the poor thing starts at 6:00 AM in LA, aka insane o'clock). She's done shows in Madison at the Barrymore Theater four or five times and always sells out far ahead of time. Some friends and I went the first time - she was broadcasting the show from Madison, so out of bed at 6:00 and on the street at 6:30 to join the stream of people passing my door, two blocks down from the theater.

Bill O'Reilly had just said Madison people communed with Satan and a good number of the patrons had little Satan hats on that lit up the dark theater - blink, blink, blink all around. Stephanie has this running gag that she's a sot, box wine her favorite, so she starts in on that and a good 25% of the audience raised their beer cups in salute. That set her back for a moment, which was funny right there - you're in Wisconsin now, baby!

Teaching at MATC

 MATC circa 1912

After driving truck for eleven years, it was time for a change. Education was important in my household coming up. I have a Latin book from a great-great-grandfather on Mom's side. Half of Mom's family were teachers, including her parents for brief stints as young people in Iowa - two of my first cousins became Math and Computer Science professors in Canada. Mom did her entire high school through correspondence on the plains of Saskatchewan; she said trig just about sunk her. Dad too, where education was seen as a deliverance from poverty. He was an engineering student at the University of Manitoba and struggled through school for many years, having to support himself from a very young age. Struggled academically too, but was in awe of mathematics. I told him once as a kid I wanted to be an engineer like him; he said, oh no, shoot higher - go for mathematics. I still have his calculus book and gave his rebound copy of Men of Mathematics to my daughter Lydia when she graduated with a major in mathematics. On occasion I'd get some recognition at school, the honor roll or something, and would throw it aside as of little interest. Later it would appear framed and on the wall in Dad's home office. I essentially ended up teaching software engineering, that was typically my job title when working in the field; I think he would've been Ok with that.

My Life in the Labor Movement

 Mike on Square Feb 2011

We moved around a lot when I was a kid, people always asked if my Dad was in the army. No, he was a construction superintendent for S S Kresge, later to become Kmart. He was born in Winnipeg in 1914. The family was large and poor, a poverty that sat heavily on an unhappy family and was close to an obsession for all of them. Aunt Sonya's stories at 75 sounded like they had happened the day before and it was like that with Dad. Grandma was a strait-laced Irish lady, grandpa an illerate elevator operator at the train station. I remember visiting her in Los Angeles when I was thirteen or so. I'm named after her revered brother, who died young, and she sat me down and told me never to forget that I'm Irish (I'm 25% Irish). They say the Nazis are bad, but they're nothing compared to the British, who oppressed us for hundreds of years. Brash even at that age, I wasn't so stupid as to utter a word of opposition. The girls were to start in show business in order to meet wealthy men and find one to marry; the boys' path was education. The girls left home in their teens and became show girls (I've got pictures!). Uncle Wally got a PhD, but Dad was on the ten year plan for an engineering degree at the University of Manitoba. Grandpa beat the boys and Dad knocked him down once when he was starting in on Uncle Ed, said I'll kill you next time. So that was the end of life at home and up to the gold mines at 14, the Rio Grande Mine in northern Manitoba.

High School English

 Jesuit High Dallas - 1943

I always laugh when people deprecate Catholicism as mindless superstition, because I know better from direct experience as a product of four years of Catholic high school. I started out at Jesuit High in Dallas in 1961. Mr. Joubert was my home room, religion, and English teacher. A lot of French names - it was the New Orleans Province after all, not missionaries from Chicago (like my grade school, St. Luke's in Irving). So a tip of the hat to Mr. Vavasseur, my sophomore geometry teacher, a tall, skinny, kind and intelligent man who knew and valued his subject and also knew how to transmit intellectual excitement. He was an important milestone in my mathematical education, especially considering that geometry is where students first encounter the axiomatic method and proofs, the cornerstones of modern mathematics. Between proofs, Mr Vavasseur regaled us with stories of how geometry had been the canonical science for two thousand years, even people like Spinoza modeling their philosophical speculations on Euclid. He quite rightly mentioned Giovanni Girolamo Saccheri, S. J., who foreshadowed non-Euclidean geometry. He was hell on wheels when crossed though; I remember him thundering more than once, "I'll be in Room 214 after school, Jones, be there" (emphasis on the last two words).

Pittsburgh

 Cathedral of Learning Flying back to Pittsburgh with an old Elmore Leonard in hand (The Big Bounce, 1969) jogged some memories. Our man Jack Ryan, someone pulled his chain, the same phrase an upperclassman used on me the first day on campus in August 1969 and the first time I'd heard it. You're in the big leagues now, boy.

What a great English teacher the first semester and after a string of them in high school; the reading list as much as anything - he was a part-timer and probably wanted an excuse to read or reread some favorites. He had Swann's Way under his arm one day. For us it was Iris Murdoch (The Severed Head), Hard Times (Gradgrind!), and Middlemarch, the last my all-time favorite after many re-readings. I remarked in class one day that among the main characters in The Severed Head, almost every possible romantic combination had been consummated or at least entertained. He liked that and rejoined that two female characters were always touching each other, seemingly casually or mistakenly, he thought it was pretty funny. He was making the point with us one day that people can walk through their own lives as zombies without even noticing their remarkable surroundings, most appropriate in the immediate environment of Pitt with the amazing buildings. He said, consider the Civil War Museum, how many columns are there in front of it? Eight, I said (Math Department reporting). He was a little miffed, as if I'd interfered with his lesson.

The Art of Mathematical Problem Solving

I still remember the day in seventh grade when, alone in the classroom, I found the geometry problems section in the appendix of one of our books and started to work them out, tentatively at first, but increasingly confidently as they started falling into place. Joyfully too -- bitten by the bug and still infected after all these years. The problem notebooks become buried under files with more pressing business, always to be brought back to the top after a time to receive another solution.

The preoccupation can become an ongoing part of your psyche. Ramanujan used to say that a Hindu goddess came to him in dreams with his formulas and he would write them down first thing in the morning. Poincaré has a story (as I remember it) that he had hit a stone wall on a problem after considerable application. He decided he needed a break and took a trip to the country by bus. When disembarking, as his foot rose from the last step and before it fell on the ground, the solution came to him. I was waiting for a friend at a bar once and drew a diagram of a geometry problem I'd been working on unsuccessfully on a napkin, not even applying myself, just doodling absent-mindedly, when the solution revealed itself.

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